Caring for the Australian countryside
The Australian Academy of Science’s 2012 public lecture series will examine sustainable communities, mining, agriculture, culture and environment in country Australia.
Tuesday 7 February 2012
The Biggest Estate on Earth: Aboriginal land management
Adjunct Professor Bill Gammage
Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University
The lecture outlines the logic of Aboriginal land management in 1788. It shows why Australia’s plants and animals made long-term, precise and detailed management possible. The lecture illustrates Aboriginal land management with examples, and explains how land management rules were enforced. Country was maintained locally, but conformed to universal religious sanctions and prescriptions. Australia was thus a single estate - not an untamed wilderness as newcomers thought. It was made to obey the Law, to ensure biodiversity, and to make all life abundant, convenient and predictable.
Tuesday 6 March 2012
From dust bowls to food bowls: the conservation farming revolution
Dr John Kirkegaard
Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Plant Industry
The challenges of global food security and climate change have re-focussed public and political attention on agriculture in Australia. Images of dusty ploughed fields and dying sheep and trees have generated a public perception of an inappropriate ‘European’ agriculture in Australia that belies the innovative, efficient and productive farming systems that have developed during the last 30 years. Underpinned by fundamental and adaptive agricultural research, Australia’s innovative farmers now grow a diversity of crops and pastures without tillage. They retain stubble to protect the soil, and use satellite-guided precision seeding, spraying and harvesting to provide highly efficient production with reduced environmental risk. Innovation is continuing apace, with rapid soil and plant sensing to guide management, better forecasting of weather and crop yields, and novel physiology and genetics to provide better crop varieties to meet the challenges of substantially increasing food production in environmentally benign ways.
Dr Anna Roberts
Senior Research Scientist, Victorian Department of Primary Industries
Most people want to know that ‘the environment’ is being protected, including water quality, habitat, threatened species and specific environmental assets. Agricultural land management greatly affects the environment and large amounts of money are being committed to protecting aspects of the Murray-Darling Basin, Great Barrier Reef and many other areas. A focus on process, including making plans, and setting targets, helps create a sense that outcomes will be achieved, but often they are not. In addition, many programs are based on an implicit assumption that largely voluntary adoption of improved agricultural practices will be sufficient to deal with environmental problems. Often this is not the case, leaving large policy dilemmas about trade-offs between land management and the environment. This lecture will explore interactions among science, economics, politics, and policy, and will address how to get more effective discussion about what aspects of the environment are sufficiently important and feasible to protect at acceptable cost.
Tuesday 5 June 2012
Australia’s desert heartlands: a vibrant future or a victim in decline?
Dr Mark Stafford Smith
CSIRO, Climate Adaptation Flagship
The lightly inhabited remote rangelands are the quintessential imagery of Australian advertising. When compared to their population, these lands are a disproportionate source of the country’s wealth, particularly through mining and tourism, and a source of the country's angst in the form of land degradation, species loss and social troubles. Ecologically, they are dominated by poor soils and a highly variable climate. These conditions have been well managed for grazing purposes, but not so well managed when variability affects managing businesses, settlements, service delivery and governance processes. How should we manage a variable natural and social environment? What implications does this have for our nation? And what opportunities could there be to apply this knowledge to the benefit of the rest of the world?
Tuesday 3 July 2012
Coal seam gas: alternative energy source or environmental hazard?
Professor Sue Golding
School of Earth Sciences, University of Queensland
The rapid development of the coal seam gas industry in the Bowen and Surat Basins has tested the current regulatory frameworks and lead to widespread community concern about the effects of gas extraction. Much of the debate around coal seam gas production is driven by social and political factors rather than by scientific and technical issues. Nevertheless, a better understanding of the likely groundwater and surface water impacts of coal seam gas production is essential. There is also a clear need to develop whole of region land and water use plans for these basins that make a major economic contribution to the country’s wealth through coal mining and coal seam gas production as well as agriculture and tourism. This lecture will provide an introduction to the science of coal seam gas and will explore the key issues and knowledge gaps in our understanding of the environmental impacts of coal seam gas extraction.
Tuesday 7 August 2012
Management of invasive plants
Dr Richard Groves
Honorary Research Fellow, CSIRO Plant Industry
Since 1908, the Federal Quarantine Act has tried to prevent the introduction to Australia of known invasive plants. Recent revisions to that Act have sought to prevent any plant being introduced unless proven harmless. Currently, Australia has about 27,500 introduced plants; the number of naturalised plant species is about one-tenth of this total and continues to rise linearly. The proportion of the total of known naturalised plants that goes on to become weedy depends on human perceptions of weediness. Richard will quantify the transitions from introduced to naturalised to weedy plants and discuss them in terms of past and present management. Some invasive plants have been introduced accidentally, in the case of agriculture, but more often they have been introduced deliberately as potential pasture plants or for ornamental horticulture and now cost the Australian economy more than $3.5 billion annually. Examples of plant species at different stages of invasion will be presented and their impact on the sustainability of both agricultural and natural systems as well as on human health will be discussed.
Tuesday 4 September 2012
Buying biodiversity - the role of philanthropy in nature conservation
Dr Michael Looker
Director, Australia Program
The Nature Conservancy
Most protection of our unique biodiversity occurs on public land, yet currently two thirds of Australia’s lands are privately managed. Therefore, public conservation management is not able to fully represent the Australian environment and its diverse habitats. Innovative programs are required to additionally achieve conservation outcomes on private lands. Over the past 20 years, private philanthropy has increasingly played an important role in nature conservation through mechanisms such as land acquisition, conservation covenants, management programs and the creation of other new models for conservation. In this lecture, Michael will highlight using examples the important role of private philanthropy through the work of environmental non-government organisations to achieve significant and lasting outcomes for nature conservation.
Tony Windsor MP
Independent Federal Member for New England
The Liverpool Plains is often referred to as Australia’s food bowl, but beneath its highly-productive soils are rich deposits of coal and coal seam gas worth many billions of dollars. This lecture provides an overview of the conflicting interests of agriculture and mining in sensitive landscapes such as the Liverpool Plains, and identifies the failures of the planning system to minimise the risk of permanently damaging our best land. It also discusses the recent signing of a national partnership agreement between the Federal Government and the eastern states on coal seam gas and large coal mining development, which provides for the establishment of an independent expert scientific committee. The lecture will outline how researchers will map the environmental values of sensitive regions, and then assess the impact of proposed coal or coal seam gas developments both individually and also cumulatively across several projects. Key to restoring the public’s trust will be the independence of the committee and the way its recommendations are integrated into the state planning system.
Tuesday 6 November 2012
Rural policy, people and place: sustainability in an uncertain future
Professor Margaret Alston OAM
Director of Gender, Leadership and Social Sustainability research unit
This lecture will focus on rural people and places. It will note the changes and uncertainties relating to climate, policy, population movements and socio-economic factors on Australia’s rural heartland. Professor Alston will examine issues and policies that are shaping rural spaces including those relating to water, production, climate change, environment, telecommunications, health and education. Underlying these factors is an unstated assumption based on technological and economic ‘certainties’ that rural people will adapt and that rural places will reshape in efficient, down-scaled ways. She will examine these assumptions and their impact on rural people and places, arguing for greater attention to the social aspects of rural life. She will suggest the goal of rural policy should be vibrant, well-serviced and supported people and places.
Tuesday 4 December 2012
Australia’s non-Metropolitan Population: Trends and Implications
Professor Graeme Hugo AO
Director of the Australian Population and Migration Research Centre
The University of Adelaide
A third of Australia’s population live outside the capital cities and they have distinctive dynamics and composition. This presentation demonstrates that there are a number of myths of non-metropolitan populations. It outlines the dynamics of growth, the increasing diversity and changing spatial distribution of populations outside the cities. There is an increasing gap between areas which are growing and those declining, giving rise to quite different implications for planning. Professor Hugo argues that there is a need for a new consideration of Australia’s settlement system in the light of contemporary and emerging economic, environmental and social trends.