Page 2135 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 22 June 2005

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The conservation council provides independent policy development and advocacy on all issues relating to the natural and built environment in the ACT. It is also a key communication link between the community and all levels of government on environmental matters. The conservation council plays a key role in encouraging, coordinating and supporting community participation in ACT environmental issues, as well as facilitating public education and sharing of the information on local, regional, national and global environmental issues. The conservation council has received “grants to volunteer, environment and heritage organisations” funding from the commonwealth, in the order of $25,000 per year over recent years, to support salary and administration costs. It was the only ACT organisation to receive funding from such a grants program.

As a result of the changes to the eligibility criteria, the conservation council will not be eligible for future funding. The new criteria require eligible groups to be directly involved in on-the-ground environmental work. This is a matter of particular concern to the council, as their funding base is significantly reduced. The Chief Minister, in his capacity as the Minister for the Environment, made representations to the commonwealth government Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, prior to the grants being announced, citing the valuable awareness raising and advocacy role of the council. Minister Campbell responded, affirming the Australian government’s position that funding would only be provided to groups that did on-the-ground work.

In the 2004-05 financial year the conservation council received $96,862 in funding from the ACT government to support salary and administration costs. Their current contract ends on 30 June 2005. A new three-year contract to 30 June 2008 is currently being negotiated, and it is proposed that the same level of funding be provided in 2005-06. The services the council is required to provide include systemic advocacy; representation to government; broad-based consultation, research, analysis and information; and environmental policy development.

The council ensures that broad consultation with ACT environment groups occurs, that environment groups are well informed and have their interests represented, and that key issues affecting the ACT’s environment are raised with relevant decision makers. All these areas are well covered by the council and, as I have stated, are critical to helping the government engage with the community on its environmental policy and broader sustainability agenda. The council has hosted a variety of forums on these issues and prepared submissions to government and others on an array of issues. In addition, the council has worked with Environment ACT to convene a series of community environment forums on topics such as water and community capacity, building and bushfire recovery.

The commonwealth government needs to pay its way on the issue of public advocacy work undertaken by peak environmental groups. Its record on environmental issues is deplorable. The decision not to fund any group that does not directly provide services is a case in point. The decision by the commonwealth to basically cost-shift to the other states and territories is disgraceful when we are already more than paying our way.

In the ACT we value our peak community groups and they have not received any funding cutbacks, despite a very tight and responsible level of fiscal management that is being applied by this government in the delivery of the 2005-06 budget. In fact, as

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