Rural programs take a hit

THE region’s Landcare offices will struggle to remain open and its paid professionals’ wages met, following the federal budget announcement of a $10.9 million cut to projected national Landcare funding during the next four years.

A further $70.4 million will not be delivered to Caring For Our Country natural resource management projects nationally over the same period.

Chair of North Coast network regional Landcare, Brian Dodd, said the announcement comes after nearly three years of funding cuts since Caring For Our Country became the main funding avenue for environmental restoration works in Australia.

In addition to the 10 per cent cut in Landcare spending, the Regional Food Producers’ Innovation and Productivity program, which helps niche marketing, has had $5.5 million shaved off it, too.

National Farmers’ Federation president David Crombie was critical of the cuts that mean the Environmental Stewardship Program, that recognises farmers as our main land managers and their role in sustainable agriculture, will not be extended.

“We were expecting it (funding cuts) but not to this extent,” Mr Dodd said.

“We are now looking at a severe funding shortage for necessary environmental works for the North Coast.

“All of out funding programs are being exacerbated.”

Mr Dodd said it was now up to the Catchment Management Authority to pass on funds to ease the funding burden.

“The CMA will help out as much as they can but their own funding cuts will be passed on,” he said.

Last year the co-ordinator position of the upper Clarence and Richmond Landcare area (West of Ranges Landcare Inc. at Bonalbo) was lost due to lack of funding, a situation that Dodd says could be repeated in the Clarence Valley.

“There are at least 12 paid Landcare community support officers on the North Coast and three in the Clarence Valley,” Mr Dodd said. “If we can’t retain them, we lose our expertise and the depth of understanding of the problems we face here. Our office in Grafton now operates on its bare bones.”

Federal member for Page Janelle Saffin has hailed the budget as a success locally, on the back of the Rudd government getting the budget back to surplus three years early, health reforms, tax cuts for families and investment in the new $652 million Renewable Energy Future Fund.

“The Budget’s new health announcements include investments that will improve access to general practitioners and primary health care, including better after hours services, 23 new GP super clinics, and upgrades to around 425 GP and primary health care clinics across the nation,” Ms Saffin said.

However Federal member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker was not so glowing about a budget that he said ‘is a massive expenditure on items of waste’ and a budget that largely neglects regional and rural areas.

“There’s a billion dollars being wasted to clean up the pink bats debacle and $500 million for a Commonwealth layer of new health bureaucrats but nothing specifically for our local hospitals,” he said. “We need more beds, not more desks.”

Mr Hartsuyker said no new money for the upgrade of the Pacific Highway was ‘quite clearly disappointing for the people of the Northern Rivers.

Greens candidate for Page, Jeff Johnson, said that while the extra funding for the health system and apprentices and training positions was welcome, it was disappointing that there was still more money for coal than for renewable energy.

“Climate change, however, is still the elephant in the room for this budget, it barely rates a mention,” Mr Johnson said.

At a glance

•Almost $80 million to extend the Apprentice Kickstart initiative which helped 262 local apprentices last summer across Page, more than tripling the commencement bonus for employers of traditional trades apprentices in the first year from $1500 to $4850.

•$390 million for 4600 new nurses to work in GP clinics and doctors to receive $25,000 each to put towards the salary of a registered nurse, with payments capped at $125,000 per clinic.

•$467 million to fund the introduction of individual electronic health records.

•Increase in the low-income tax offset from July 1 with individuals able to earn up to $16,000 without having to pay income tax.

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