Questions are being asked about the transparency and effectiveness of environmental organisation Landcare Australia, after a petition and email alleging board members had conflicts of interest with coal seam gas appeared over the past few days. The email, which purports to be from Landcare Australia CEO Tessa Jakszewicz, has been referred to police, after Landcare Australia confirmed it was a fake. The email, a petition and multiple posts on Reddit claim to be by a group called “Australian Landcare”, but the identity of the person or people involved is not known.

But while the email itself is fraudulent, it is true that Campbell Anderson, chairman of the board of Landcare Australia, was formerly president of the Minerals Council of Australia and has other links to the fossil fuel industry.

Outgoing chair of the National Landcare Network (a volunteer organisation with links to Landcare Australia) David Walker told Crikey he had no idea who was behind the petition, but said that disquiet over the management of Landcare Australia had been made known at the national conference last week.

“I don’t know who made these allegations, and it is up to Landcare Australia Limited to respond. But I am concerned about any negative impact on the Landcare community and Landcare brand. Landcare is a great Australian success story,” Walker said in a statement. But he acknowledges that concerns exist in the Landcare community. “Many of our members have expressed concern that Landcare Australia Limited’s board is self-perpetuating. That is, the members elect themselves as the directors.”

A Landcare Australia spokesperson responded: “The board of LAL changes in much the same manner as any company of the same type: that being a public company limited by guarantee. We have in place a governance framework which stipulates the criteria for selection and appointment of new directors.”

The Landcare movement is dedicated to reducing and reversing the degradation of farmland, public land and waterways. Landcare Australia Limited receives government and corporate sponsorship and distributes it to local non-profit organisations.

Donors to Landcare Australia can specify where their money goes, which has ruffled some feathers. Walker has called for a review into the way the many bodies that contribute to the Landcare movement serve their purposes. “We are unable to ascertain exactly how much of the money is donated to local Landcare groups and how much is retained by Landcare Australia Limited. Local Landcare groups have also expressed concerned that the money is distributed according to the needs of sponsors, not local Landcare priorities,” Walker said.

Landcare responded:

“Landcare Australia works with a number of different partners in many different ways, and there is not a one-size-fits all model. We obviously need to be transparent in our reporting to our corporate partners, as they need to be transparent within their own businesses on how their investment in Landcare is being spent. Landcare Australia prepares its financial statements, which are audited and prepared in accordance with relevant Australian standards. Similarly, the sections of the annual report dealing with funding and grants are audited. From time to time we are asked about funding of various programs or projects and have addressed those questions as and when they arise.”

Hostilities are also brewing between supporters of the two prongs of Landcare’s mission — sustainable farming and environmental preservation. Last month Dr Peter Ampt, from Sydney University told a Senate inquiry into the National Landcare Program (which gives money to Landcare Australia) sustainable farming advocates felt that their voices were not being heard: “In some locations, the farming community was under-represented and so-called ‘townies’, ‘blockies’ or ‘greenies’ co-ordinated the local group,” he said in a submission.

Landcare Australia’s 2012-2013 financial statement says that the organisation received $2,660,860 in corporate donations and $1,857,541 in government grants. It also states that $3,581,971 was spent on project support, advertising and promotion. The specific amounts attracted by particular projects is not available.

It was reported in Crikey on Monday that Landcare Australia’s patron, Major General Michael Jeffery, was unhappy that he had been made patron of Landcare Australia Limited and not the National Landcare Network, the volunteer organisation. Crikey understands that he made it known at the annual Landcare conference last week that the movement should consider how it receives and spends funding going into the future.

Under the Coalition’s budget, Landcare was merged with the Caring For Our Country program and had its budget cut by $483.8 million (its overall budget includes the Coalition’s Green Army, Landcare grants and protected areas). Last week Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced that grants for projects totalling $90 million would be made available over the next four years.

Landcare Australia has recently partnered with recruitment agency ManpowerGroup to be one of the service providers of the government’s Green Army project as part of its Direct Action environmental policy. Concerns have been expressed that the Landcare Network already has volunteers waiting to carry out the the types of activities the Green Army will undertake.

Landcare groups across the world began a partnership with crowdfunding site Pozible this month, where individual projects can be funded directly. The move away from funding through Landcare Australia has been interpreted as a sign that the organisation is not properly supporting all projects as needed.

“Landcare Australia Limited is just one organisation — it is not the landcare movement,” said Walker.

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Peter Fray
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