Background

Since coming together in November 2002, the Wentworth Group has been the catalyst for a series of land and water reforms across Australia.

The Wentworth Group’s statement in 2002, Blueprint for a Living Continent, sets out what it believed were the key changes that needed to be made to deliver a sustainable future for Australia’s continent and its people.  It emphasises the need to:

  • Clarify water property rights and the obligations associated with those rights to give farmers some certainty and to enable water to be recovered for the environment.
  • Restore environmental flows to stressed rivers, such as the River Murray and its tributaries.
  • Immediately end broadscale landclearing of remnant native vegetation and assist rural communities with adjustment. This provides fundamental benefits to water quality, prevention of salinity, prevention of soil loss and conservation of biodiversity.
  • Pay farmers for environmental services (clean water, fresh air, healthy soils). Where we expect farmers to maintain land in a certain way that is above their duty of care, we should pay them to provide those services on behalf of the rest of Australia.
  • Incorporate into the cost of food, fibre and water the hidden subsidies currently borne by the environment, to assist farmers to farm sustainably and profitably in this country.

In 2003, the Group’s blueprint, A New Model for Landscape Conservation, was released.  It provides a model for native vegetation and catchment management across NSW.  It has been adopted by the NSW Government as policy.

In 2003, the Wentworth Group also released its blueprint for a National Water Plan.  It outlines solutions for the protection and restoration of fresh water ecosystems, water conservation and the restoration of environmental flows to catchments such as the Murray Darling Basin.  It contributed to the development of the National Water Initiative, a historic agreement by the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers.

In 2008, the Wentworth Group worked with other scientists, economists and statisticians to develop Accounting for Nature: A Model for Building the National Environmental Accounts of Australia.  This model creates an environmental accounting system to measure and track changes in the condition of Australia’s environmental assets, at scales that can inform catchment management investments and land use planning decisions.  Since 2008 the Wentworth Group has worked with NRM Regions Australia to undertake a regional scale, ‘proof of concept’ trial of the Accounting for Nature model with the objective of then aggregating this information to create national environmental accounts.

In 2009, the Wentworth Group released Optimising Carbon in the Australian Landscape.  It highlights the potential of the Australian landscape to store carbon and contribute to Australia’s emission reduction targets.  It shows that with the correct institutional settings, a carbon offsets market has the potential to also restore degraded landscapes across Australia.  Many of these recommendations have been incorporated in the Carbon Credits Act 2011, and also in government policies.

In 2010, the Wentworth Group produced an analysis of the options for achieving Sustainable Diversions in the Murray Darling Basin.  It identifies the scale of water reductions from rivers and groundwater systems required within each of the 18 catchments of the Basin, suggested ways to cost-effectively obtain the necessary water, while also assisting businesses and communities capitalise on opportunities and adapt to a future with less water.  The Murray Darling Basin Plan was signed by the Commonwealth Minister in November 2012, and is now a legal instrument under the 2007 Commonwealth Water Act.  This Plan falls well short of returning the volumes of water that science has shown are required for a healthy river, communities’ confidence in government has been shattered, and vast sums of taxpayer’s money has been wasted.

In 2012, the Group released a statement on Changes to Commonwealth Powers to Protect Australia’s Environment.  This statement puts forward proposals to simplify environmental assessment and approvals processes whilst also improving environmental standards.  It also recommends that by far the most effective way to manage environment and development is for Australia to develop long-term regional strategic plans to guide land use and natural resource management.

Today, the Wentworth Group is focused on a number of priorities for improving the long term management and conservation of the Australian landscape.

  1. Landscape Conservation: pursuing comprehensive policies to restore and maintain the health and productive capacity of Australia’s land, water and marine resources, and turn around systemic failures in biodiversity conservation;
  2. Climate Change Science: linking the latest IPCC assessment to Australia’s climate change mitigation policy, climate change adaptation and optimising carbon in the Australian landscape;
  3. Accounting for Nature: completing the regional proof of concept trials and gaining agreement to adopt a regionally based system of national environmental accounts to measure, and track changes in, the condition of Australia’s environmental assets;
  4. National Water Reform: pursuing progress in the Murray Darling Basin Plan and proposals for water development in northern Australia, focussing in particular on returning over-allocated rivers and groundwater systems to sustainable levels of extraction; and
  5. Science Scholarships: maintaining our investments in the next generation of leading natural resource scientists, lawyers and economists.

The Wentworth Group remains committed to using its combined experience, interdisciplinary expertise and shared values to work with others to improve the long term management and conservation of the Australian landscape.