Doug Humann AM, Chair, Landcare Australia
A couple of months ago, it would have been almost unfathomable to imagine the world could get to where it is now in such a short timeframe. COVID-19 was a growing but still far-away concern, and the focus of the nightly news was recovery from a horror bushfire season: a recovery that remains an immediate priority for many individuals and farming families.
We are now rapidly adapting our economies and way of life to save lives, while limiting the impact on jobs and economic activity. As an Australian, I am proud to see our Prime Minister and state Premiers work together productively and co-operatively, across party lines, and I hope we can emerge on “the other side” as a more cohesive Australian populous.
At some point, we will be able to roll back currently essential restrictions and begin to assist hundreds of thousands of unemployed Australians back to work. And if we are prepared to think big and be bold, we can use this moment of national renewal to build a lasting legacy for the land our nation is built on.
During the Great Depression, governments in Australia and the USA set up large scale employment programs in conservation and land management which have had enduring benefits.
Imagine if tourism operators, tradies, retail workers – amongst others who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own – were given a lifeline with safe, meaningful and socially beneficial work, which can leave enduring benefits, especially in rural and remote Australia, for the environment, tourism and farm businesses?
In this spirit, more than 70 farming, conservation and land management organisations across the country including Landcare, the National Farmers Federation and the Australian Land Conservation Alliance (who collectively work with and represent many hundreds of thousands of Australians), recently wrote to the Prime Minister and all state Premiers proposing a $4 billion economic stimulus package in the conservation and land management sector.
This proposal is designed to provide jobs to 24,000 workers at its peak, providing practical restoration responses across Australia through weed and pest control, river restoration and bushfire recovery and resilience.
These jobs would have significant economic multipliers, especially in regional communities, with work generated for local suppliers and hospitality businesses.
This proposal gives us a way to create meaningful jobs for people while helping our landscapes tackle the threats of fires, feral animals and noxious weeds.
These threats can’t now take up precious space in the nightly news bulletins, or sit at the top of the online news feeds. But they are real, they are growing, and they need to be tackled if we want future generations of Australians to enjoy the same quality of life that we have. The extended drought and the severe bushfires of our black summer have brought home for Australians the importance of our natural assets.
It’s far too early to say what a post COVID-19 society will look like, how it will differ from life before the virus or even how far off we are from seeing it for ourselves. What we can say is that the upheaval now allows us a window to rebuild a society that better values our landscape and the work needed to actively manage it.
Over the years, Landcare has mobilised hundreds of thousands of volunteers and workers, brought communities together and improved farm sustainability
We now want to be part of the ‘bridge to recovery’ from this crisis and are asking governments to work with us. Who’s with me?