What does the federal election mean for nature and people in Outback WA?

Governments can have a big impact on what happens “on the ground”, and the recent federal election is no exception.

Regardless of how you voted, the result creates a level of certainty about how the next three years will play out, at least in areas that are particularly affected by federal (rather than state) decisions.

So what might the election results mean for nature and people in Outback WA?

 

On carbon farming and regenerating Outback landscapes

One of the biggest, immediate impacts of the election result is for carbon farming, thanks to an increased funding commitment from the Morrison Government towards projects that reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Carbon farming in Outback WA involves reducing the pressure of grazing animals on the landscape in order to allow vegetation to regrow. This increases the amount of carbon stored – or sequestered – in the vegetation and soil.

In 2018, it finally became possible for pastoralists in Outback WA to earn income via carbon credits through revegetating bush on station country. 35 Outback carbon farming projects successfully secured contracts through the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, which will, in combination, bring in $60 million to the WA rangelands over the next ten years.

The Fund was nearly used up, but in February 2019 the Morrison Government committed a further $2 billion to similar initiatives. Now that they’ve been re-elected, this money is expected to become available for a broad range of carbon reduction projects – including but not limited to drawing carbon from the atmosphere by revegetating the WA Outback.

What makes carbon farming so important to WA’s Outback is that it will not only bring in income but it will also help regenerate vegetation in areas that have been degraded through overgrazing in the past. For many years, leaseholders have had to choose between caring for the bush and making an income – it wasn’t possible have a viable grazing herd and regrow vegetation. Now, carbon farming provides a way to do both.

However, the reality is that there’s a significant portion of WA pastoralists who don’t have this option due to some simple blocks that need to be addressed by both the state and federal governments. These are:

1. The need for a rangelands Diversification Lease.

Currently, 100 pastoral leases in WA can’t undertake carbon farming because the term of their lease is too short. This is a matter for the WA state government to address – and the clearest way forward is through the creation of a new form of leasehold tenure, a rangelands diversification lease. This would finally bring WA’s outdated pastoral lease laws into the 21st century.

2. Grasslands store carbon too.

Anyone can grow more vegetation or bigger trees and they’ll be helping draw more carbon down from the atmosphere. But unless their method of doing this is recognised by the government and can be scientifically measured, it won’t count for carbon credits. Currently, trees over 2 metres in height count towards earning carbon credits – but regenerating native grasslands is not yet a government-approved carbon farming method. This means that the northern Gascoyne and Pilbara areas of WA that are predominantly grassland can’t access carbon farming income. While the Labor opposition committed funds to develop new carbon methods, the Coalition did not - this is likely to prevent other areas of the Outback entering the carbon farming market.

 

For Indigenous Rangers

Indigenous ranger programs are a proven success story, looking after nature while providing meaningful jobs in places where employment is often hard to find. Indigenous rangers are particularly important for nature in the Outback, where the landscape has evolved alongside management by Traditional Owners over many thousands of years. They tackle feral animals such as cats, help look after threatened species, manage fire and prevent the spread of noxious weeds.

There has been support from both sides of politics for Indigenous ranger programs and funding grew under the Coalition Government since 2013, but Indigenous ranger programs remain under-funded. Rangers are often employed on short-term contracts which limits their job security and makes it difficult to plan land management work across the long time-scales that our Outback needs.

While the Labor Opposition said prior to the election that they would double funding for Indigenous rangers, unfortunately the Coalition Government has not, to date, made any commitment to increase funding for Indigenous rangers. It is promising, however, that governments of all stripes – including the WA Government – appear to increasingly recognise the importance of well-funded Indigenous ranger programs.

It's also exciting to see history being made this week with Nyoongar man Ken Wyatt named as Minister for Indigenous Australians. He is both the first Indigenous person in Federal Cabinet, as well as the first to hold the portfolio of Minister for Indigenous Australians.


On environment and conservation programs

The Coalition Government committed $100 million in the 2019-20 Budget for a new Environmental Restoration Fund to support environmental projects that deliver lasting impacts for nature. This includes $10 million for feral proof wildlife havens. While this is positive, it’s a relatively small amount and it’s unclear how much of this is likely to come to WA’s Outback.

Similarly, a commitment from the Coalition to put $30 million into an Agricultural Biodiversity Stewardship Trial is positive, but it is small in scale and appears to target “small and medium farm businesses”, which may rule out pastoral leases in WA’s Outback. We hope that, with your support, there may be opportunities to increase the size and impact of this commitment.

 

Our Outback is an amazing place, but what makes it special is at risk. 

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