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The Natural Heritage Trust and The National Action Plan for
Salinity and Water Quality

3 September 2003

Source: Ausrivas Mailing List.
1 September 2003.
Water Policy Section
Marine and Water Division
Environment Australia

Helping communities, helping Australia

The $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust and the $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality are the biggest action programs directed to environmental, social and economic sustainability in Australia's history.

They are based on partnerships between all levels of community and Government, working together to protect our environment and natural resources, and sustain our agricultural industries and regional communities.

The programs are driven by single regional plans, developed by local communities and supported by Government and the best available science to improve natural resources on a regional scale.

More than 60 'regions' have been identified covering all of Australia, and a natural resource management plan will be developed for each. Plans will consider all environmental, social and economic impacts of natural resource decisions on a regional basis.

What is the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality?

At the Council of Australian Governments meeting in November 2000, Premiers and Chief Ministers supported the Prime Minister's proposal for the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.

The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality is the first program of its kind, tackling two of Australia's most serious environmental threats, salinity and water quality.

Through the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments will invest $1.4 billion over the period to 2007-08.

These funds are supporting the actions of communities and land managers in 21 priority regions across Australia (see information kit map) to manage salinity and improve water quality in their region.

Each of the regions will develop comprehensive Regional Natural Resource Management plans which will focus on developing regional solutions for regional problems, and play a valuable role in contributing to the overall national objectives of combating salinity and improving water quality.

Governments will invest in regional plans based on clear targets and appropriate monitoring to ensure the best natural resource management outcomes.

The goal of the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality is to motivate and enable regional communities to:

What is the Natural Heritage Trust?

The Natural Heritage Trust was established in 1997. It is the largest effort towards environmental rescue and agricultural sustainability ever undertaken by any Australian Government. Since 1996, the Commonwealth Government has committed $2.7 billion to the Natural Heritage Trust.

The Natural Heritage Trust is a partnership with the community, providing funding for environmental activities at a national, state, regional and community level.

Its goal is to stimulate activities in the national interest to achieve the conservation, sustainable use and repair of Australia's natural environment.

The delivery of the Trust has three overarching objectives

What has been involved?

To date, $1.4 billion has been invested in the Natural Heritage Trust and related programs for more than 12,000 projects around Australia. These projects have involved about 400,000 volunteers.

Under the first phase of the Natural Heritage Trust, more than 36,000 kilometres of fencing has been erected to protect areas of remnant vegetation and protect sensitive areas, about 27 million seedlings have been planted and more than 7,000 square kilometres of native vegetation has been protected.

Natural Heritage Trust extension

In the 2001 Budget, the Commonwealth Government extended the Natural Heritage Trust for another five years, to 2006-2007. The States and Territories have agreed to match the Commonwealth's investment in delivering the Natural Heritage Trust at a regional level. Regional level funding invests in activities in regional investment strategies based on regional plans.

National and State/Territory investments may be funded solely by the Commonwealth or matched, either bilaterally or multilaterally, by the relevant States and Territories.

National and State/Territory level funding will be invested in projects of a national, multi-State or broad scale nature.

Community level funding, for local projects, is delivered through the Australian Government Envirofund funded solely by the Commonwealth Government (see below).

The new joint delivery structure between the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality builds on the outstanding commitment made by local communities to make a real difference in their local areas.

The Trust extension includes a $350 million commitment to water-quality issues.

Natural Heritage Trust programs

Since 1996, the Natural Heritage Trust has invested crucial funds to understand the problems facing our environment and help Australians deliver:

Australian Government Envirofund

The Australian Government Envirofund is the community component of the Natural Heritage Trust and provided $20 million in its first year (2002-2003) to support local on-ground actions.

Community groups can apply for grants of up to $30,000 to tackle local environmental and natural resource management problems at their source.

Envirofund funding is delivered in two funding rounds a year. The closing date for the final 2003-2004 round is 5 December 2003.

Due to the very localised nature of Australian Government Envirofund funding, applicants can apply direct to the Commonwealth rather than through regional planning processes.

The following tables reflects the two 2002-03 Australian Government Envirofund rounds, as well as a special $10 million Drought Recovery Round of the Australian Government Envirofund for drought-related environmental works.
Drought Round
StateFunding $# Projects
South Australia164,00010
Western Australia708,00046
Northern Territory20,0001


2002/03 Financial Year
StateFunding $# Projects
South Australia2,664,000173
Western Australia3,208,000209
Northern Territory800,00041


What is the negotiation process?

The Commonwealth and State/Territory governments have negotiated arrangements and signed a series of documents that contain the agreed framework for the administration and delivery of the Natural Heritage Trust and/or the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.

The intergovernmental agreement is a broad in-principle agreement, followed by the bilateral agreement which sets out details about State/Territory-specific arrangements for regional bodies, accountability and administrative arrangements.

The regional plan, partnership agreement and investment strategies are developed by the relevant regional organisation and are approved by the Commonwealth and respective State/Territory Government leading to investment (funding) for those regions.

The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality intergovernmental and bilateral agreements signed are:
StateNAPSWQ Intergovernmental Agreement signedNAPSWQ Bilateral Agreement signed
New South Wales2 July 200117 May 2002
Victoria13 July 20012 October 2001
Western Australia23 May 2002 
Northern Territory28 March 20017 February 2003
South Australia25 Feb 20018 June 2001
Queensland23 Jan 20011 March 2002
Australian Capital Territory26 June 2001In discussion
Tasmania19 June 200113 Feb 2002


Negotiations for phase 2 of Natural Heritage Trust investments have started and the bilaterals that have been signed are:
Natural Heritage Trust phase 2Bilateral Agreement signed
QueenslandInterim funding arrangements in place while bilateral agreement is being finalised
New South WalesJune 2003
Australian Capital Territory27 March 2003
TasmaniaJune 2003
VictoriaDecember 2002
South Australia17 April 2003
Western AustraliaDecember 2002
Northern Territory5 June 2003


How is National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality funding apportioned?

All State and Territory Governments have signed the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality intergovernmental agreement, which means that the State and Territory Governments will collectively match the Commonwealth's $700 million contribution to the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.

Indicative allocations for the $700 million National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality matching funding to be contributed by State/Territory Governments were agreed to at the Council of Australian Governments meeting, November 2000:
State$ Million
New South Wales198
Western Australia158
South Australia93
Northern Territory6


The new natural resource management framework

Integrated delivery of the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality will streamline planning and implementation of natural resource management based on regional needs.

Developing regional boundaries

The 21 priority regions for the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality were decided by the Commonwealth and based on data from the National Land and Water Resources Audit. This data included information about regions significantly affected by salinity and water quality and regions where there is potential for cost effective preventative action. States and Territories were consulted about what would be the priority regions under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.

More than 60 regions have been identified across Australia for the purposes of addressing natural resource management and sustainable agriculture priorities. The boundaries for each region have been established by agreement between Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments.

In most cases regions are based on catchments or bioregions and, where possible, these regions will be consistent with those established for the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.

Establishing regional organisations

Each region will have at least one 'regional body' formed to undertake the important job of managing and protecting their region's natural resources by developing a single regional plan.

Larger regions may need to have more than one regional body. Where possible and appropriate, existing structures are being used.

Developing regional natural resource management plans

Under the new framework, the major task for the regional bodies is to devise a single regional natural resource management plan.

These regional plans will be the basis for investment from both the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, removing the need for individual project applications in order to access different types of Government funding.

Regional plans set out the means for identifying and achieving the region's natural resource management targets. They are agreed by Government and the community and, together with investment strategies for implementing the plan, define the goals and contributions that all parties will undertake.

Regional plans should be:

Once bilateral agreements are signed with a State or Territory, the Commonwealth works with the State or Territory and regional bodies to develop a regional natural resource management plan for accreditation.

Accreditation by Commonwealth and State or Territory Ministers involves an extensive process of feedback and advice from regional bodies, all levels of Government, and specialist advisory bodies. Consultation and feedback between regional bodies and key stakeholders, is a crucial part of bilateral agreement conditions.

Key stakeholders include local governments, State/Commonwealth agencies, industry, communities, indigenous people, academic/scientific communities and environmental groups.

Accreditation of regional plans

The Commonwealth, States and Territories will invest in regional plans once they have been accredited using criteria agreed by the Commonwealth, States and Territories through the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council in May 2002:

Key elements of the accreditation criteria include:

Accreditation status for both programs

South Australia - Mt Lofty Ranges and Greater Adelaide plan has been accredited. The Northern and Yorke Agricultural District, SA Murray-Darling Basin and Kangaroo Island Plans have been submitted to the Joint Steering Committee for accreditation.

New South Wales Catchment 'blueprints' have been prepared to begin the process of joint accreditation. The Western blueprint is the first to be accredited.

Victoria Catchment management authorities are reviewing their regional catchment strategies. Strategies accredited include Glenelg-Hopkins and Mallee.

Tasmania Regional plans are likely to be ready for accreditation in 2004.

Queensland National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality regional bodies are seeking to have draft regional plans completed by late 2003 or early 2004.

Northern Territory Regional plans are likely to be ready for accreditation in 2004.

Western Australia It is anticipated that most regional plans will be ready for accreditation by early 2004, but the Rangelands region is not expected to be ready for accreditation until late 2004.

Australian Capital Territory The ACT is seeking to have an Integrated NRM Plan accredited by the end of 2003.

Interim funding

While regional bodies and plans are being established, and where a bilateral agreement is in place, Governments are working with communities to provide the support that enables communities to tackle natural resource management problems.

This funding is provided in two ways:

Capacity building in regions

The National Natural Resource Management Capacity Building Framework can be found on the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality website.

It focuses on building genuine community engagement, from planning to on-ground actions, through investment funding in four areas of natural resource management:

Joint investments: What funds have been announced so far?
NAPSWQ Foundation funding, capacity building and priority projects21 priority regions.
$ jointly funded by The Australian Government and State or Territory
Queensland$42 million.
New South Wales$27.7 million
Tasmania$2.9 million
Victoria$63.6 million
South Australia$35.3 ,million

Details of projects can be found on the website

South Australia - Foundation and priority action funding totalling $35.3 million has been approved in South Australia for the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.

The initial commitment of $15.1 million included foundation funding to assist regional planning, on-ground priority actions and capacity building. The on-ground actions included establishing salinity response teams, investigation of salt interception and management, salinity mapping and rehabilitation works to improve water use and reduce nutrient flows into the River Murray. Some of these projects are well advanced.

In November 2002 a further commitment of $20.2 million was agreed. Some of the funding will continue to support plan development. The majority of funding will be directed at on-ground actions, including revegetation, clay spreading, rehabilitation of the Lower Murray reclaimed irrigation areas and implementing on-ground works for salt interception schemes.

Natural Heritage Trust funding of around $25.5 million for environmental projects in South Australia for 2003-04 was announced in July 2003.

Victoria - Foundation and priority action funding totalling nearly $52 million has been approved, for activities including improving Corangamite drainage systems, addressing Wimmera waterway degradation, activities targeting salinity and water quality in Goulburn Broken, integrating regional and local government planning instruments. Included in this is a commitment by the Commonwealth and State Governments of more than $2 million for capacity building.

Queensland $3.7 million has been announced in foundation funding for National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality regions to establish their regional body and develop their regional NRM plans.

A further $11.5 million has been approved under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality to research salinity processes within the Queensland priority regions, particularly the identification of areas at risk from salinity and to provide regional bodies with adequate information to develop effective response strategies.

A joint investment of $16 million has been made under an agreed interim funding arrangement to release Natural Heritage Trust funding for urgent projects.

New South Wales - $27.7 million has been approved for the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality priority actions projects. Details can be found on the website.

NHT funding totalling $20.5 million has been committed to 72 projects across New South Wales during 2003-04.

Tasmania - Foundation and priority action funding totalling $3 million has been approved in Tasmania for the National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality. The initial foundation funding commitment of $350,000 was to assist regional planning in the Midlands region. A further $2.6 million has been approved for priority actions to assist the management of dry land salinity under the forthcoming integrated NRM plans in Tasmania.

Western Australia - The Australian Government has approved initial expenditure of $19.5m under the Natural Heritage Trust for foundation funding, priority actions and the employment of a network of NRM facilitators and coordinators.
NHT Foundation funding and priority projects$ jointly funded by The Commonwealth and State or Territory
Victoria$27.3 million
Western Australia$19.5 million
South Australia$25.5 million
Australian Capital Territory$2.8 million
News South Wales$20.5 million
Northern Territory$3.8 million

Investment strategies and partnership agreements

Once a region's natural resource management plan has been accredited, regional bodies are responsible for developing investment strategies that are essentially the business plan that is developed to attract investment in a regional plan.

No investment plan or partnership agreement has been agreed at July 2003.

All Commonwealth, State, Territory and regional joint investment decisions for the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the Natural Heritage Trust will be based on a region's investment strategy.

An investment strategy will detail specific actions, costs and timeframes required to implement the plan and achieve the regional targets, as well as expected returns on investment.

The strategy will also need to contain a fully costed plan, which describes the processes that will be put in place for monitoring and evaluating the strategy.

Investment strategies can be developed during or after the preparation of a regional plan, and are a necessary step before the final partnership agreement is signed by Commonwealth, relevant regional group, and the relevant State or Territory Government to formally release investment funds.

A partnership agreement will define:

Monitoring and evaluation

Ongoing monitoring and evaluation is an essential element of natural resource management planning.

The Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council has established the National Natural Resource Management Monitoring and Evaluation Framework to assess progress on the:

The monitoring and evaluation framework ensures processes are simple, affordable and practical.

Monitoring and evaluation arrangements are outlined in each State or Territory's bilateral agreement for both the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the Natural Heritage Trust.

Standards and targets

The Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council has established the National Framework for Natural Resource Management Targets.

Regions are required to establish their targets within three years of signing their bilateral agreement.

Property rights and pricing

Clarification of property rights and appropriate pricing of water is fundamental in the management and remediation of water quality and salinity.

Where catchment plans may indicate substantial land or water use change, the impact on regional communities, both social and economic, must be taken into account.

The States and Territories have primary responsibility in this area. Governments need to evaluate the social impacts of such reforms on regional communities and recognise that compensation and adjustment assistance may be required.

Local government's role

The important role of local government is identified in the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the Natural Heritage Trust bilateral agreements between individual States and the Commonwealth.

Local government support is a key component in the delivery of the outcomes of both programs:

At its April 2002 meeting, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to support arrangements that include adequate:

Market-based instruments

Market-based instruments (MBIs) are a new approach to achieving natural resource management outcomes.

MBIs use trading mechanisms, auctions and price signals to change behaviour to address important natural resource issues and fill knowledge gaps across jurisdictions

They offer an opportunity for governments or other interested parties to establish markets for ecosystem services that a landholder could provide in addition to producing traditional food and fibre products. These services could include, for example managing a particular area of land for its biodiversity values or planting trees to reduce salinity downstream.

Despite the potential that market-based instruments offer, knowledge of their practical application is still limited.

To investigate and improve Australia's capacity to use market-based instruments, the State, Territory and Commonwealth Governments have established a National Market-based Instruments Pilots Program launched on 21 June 2002.

The program will provide funding of up to $10million from the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality for on-ground projects using market-based instruments to achieve environmental outcomes.

Fifty-three projects were submitted for funding and were assessed by an independent selection advisory panel. Recommendations are now with the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council for funding approval and successful projects are expected to commence in mid 2003.

Murray Darling Basin Initiative

The Murray-Darling Basin Initiative is a cooperative community and Government approach to manage water, land and environmental resources in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Murray Darling Basin Initiative has a legislative basis in the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

Through the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council's Integrated Catchment Management Policy, Governments and communities are committed to a policy framework to develop new strategies in the Basin for:

Targets will also be developed for each of these elements as the basis for action and accountability.

Resources: how to make a natural resources atlas map.

A Commonwealth website has been developed to enable creation of localised maps about natural resources, the environment and primary industries. It's very easy to use and provides sophisticated information.

The Australian Natural Resources Atlas and Data Library combine to form a comprehensive natural resource information system. The maps provide information relating to agriculture industries, coasts, dryland salinity, irrigation, land, natural resource economics, people, rangelands, soils, vegetation and biodiversity, and water.

Copies of the user guide are available from the website:, or by phoning the National Land and Water Resources Audit on (02) 6257 9516, email: The name of the publication is User Guide Australian Natural Resources Atlas and Data Library.

Useful links: How do I find out more? - National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality home page Natural Heritage Trust - Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry - Australia - Environment Australia - Environment Australia water quality targets home pages - Australian Natural Resources Atlas. Make a map of your region. - National Land and Water Resources Audit Commonwealth and State legislation - EPBC Act 1999 - Murray Darling Basin Commission - Australia State of the Environment 2001 - Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council

New South Wales

Department of Land and Water Conservation


Department of Sustainability and Environment


Department of Natural Resources and Mines

South Australia

Department for Environment and Heritage

Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation

Department of Primary Industries and Resources

Regional Information


Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment

Western Australia

WA Natural Resource Management Council

State Salinity Council

Water and Rivers Commission

Department of Conservation and Land Management

Department of Agriculture

Northern Territory

Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment

For more information please contact the Natural Resource Management Communications Team on 6274-1184.

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