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"Fears the land is losing its goodwill"

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05 Feb, 2010 07:56 AM

Australia's Landcare volunteers have been ''alienated and disenfranchised'' by the Rudd Government's $2.5 billion Caring for Our Country environmental grants scheme, a Senate report says.

The hard-hitting report, tabled yesterday by the Senate's rural and regional affairs committee, stops short of calling the program a failure but recommends a comprehensive overhaul.

Caring for Our Country was launched in 2008 by Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett to replace the former Howard government's $3 billion Natural Heritage Trust and National Action Plan for salinity and water quality.

After an 18-month inquiry into national conservation networks, including Caring for Our Country, the Senate committee's report paints a damning picture of a ''closed shop'' Canberra-centric program, undermining morale and mateship among rural Landcare volunteers across the country.

The Senate inquiry, chaired by NSW Nationals senator Fiona Nash, received almost 70 submissions and heard evidence from more than 30 people involved in coordinating major Landcare projects in rural areas.

The report said Caring for Our Country's rushed introduction by the Rudd Government in 2008 had disrupted thousands of rural conservation programs, leading to widespread loss of qualified staff and high levels of stress and anxiety at the prospect of programs being wound up.

Two Labor committee members involved in the inquiry, West Australian senator Glenn Sterle and Tasmanian senator Kerry O'Brien, added a dissenting statement to the report, claiming it was ''excessively and unduly critical of Caring for Our Country, even to the point of being incorrect''.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert, who has been involved with Landcare groups in Western Australia since 1984, said the report revealed Australia was in danger of losing the goodwill and generosity of thousands of conservation volunteers ''motivated by a passionate love of the landscape they live in''.


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