A Rangelands Dialogue: Towards a Sustainable Future Vol 127

Sattler, P. S. OAM., Edwards, G.P., & Hynes, R. (2020)


The rangelands, covering about 80% of Australia, are renowned for their highly variable climate and low and erratic rainfall: they are indeed “A land of droughts and flooding rains” (My Country by Dorothea Mackellar). Unfortunately, these lands are progressively degrading from the cumulative effects of recurrent droughts and chronic and/or widespread under-management, amongst a range of other factors. In many locations, traditional pastoral enterprises are uneconomic, particularly at the scale of the family farm, which undermines towns and communities as less money is spent in local businesses, jobs are lost and people leave looking for work in larger centres. The rangelands are being placed under increasing pressure by a changing climate. Acceptance of climate change by some landholders who are already dealing with a highly variable climate is recognised. This influences the level of preparedness that is undertaken or indeed possible for pastoral production to be ecologically sustainable. The need for new economic settings for viable production, possibly new tenure for repair and protection of multiple values, and government support for the management of ecosystem services, will require a new public/private partnership. Increasingly, a social compact will be required between urban and rural communities to match their expectations of how the land and its resources are valued and managed. Already investment in pastoral lands for carbon sequestration is occurring. Clarification of the duty-of-care responsibilities between government and landholders in managing land and water will be important, particularly to protect ecosystem services and special values. This collection of papers is not only about pastoral production. There is a continuing degradation of biodiversity and a lack of representative national parks across many rangeland bioregions. There is a significant and growing nature-based tourism industry, and the Grey Nomad phenomenon provides a baseline of economic support for many towns. The tourism industry may become increasingly constrained by lack of access to natural places, and the industry could be invigorated by consolidation of the park estate. This Dialogue has raised many questions that require extensive, ongoing research and analysis, for example: • Are community expectations unrealistic regarding a sustainable future for the rangelands when in terms of the spectrum of values and purposes identified, most properties are under-resourced, under-staffed and under-managed? • How is it possible to adequately resource, staff and manage these properties to achieve a sustainable future for the rangelands? • Do rangeland industries need a social licence to operate and thrive? • Are the problems of rangelands economically intractable for individuals? • What should be the agricultural policy direction in a modern advanced economy? • How can we encourage groups of people to make their homes in the empty places outback? Many of these questions appear intractable at this point in time. This Dialogue and these Proceedings have strengthened the conversation amongst some of the key stakeholders and provide a focus for multidisciplinary enquiry to inform policy makers and the broader community. The key message is that the productivity, viability and resource condition of large parts of our unique rangelands will rapidly decline unless existing policies, economic drivers and management practices are urgently reviewed.