The Prime Minister announced the Honourable Penelope Wensley AC as the new National Soils Advocate on 28 August 2020, succeeding the late Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery AC AO (Mil) CVO MC (Retd), who occupied the role from December 2012.
A world first in terms of elevating soil health to a level of national significance, the position of Advocate was established to raise awareness of the vital role soils play and to provide strong leadership and advocacy on the importance of conserving and improving the health of Australia's soils.
The position contributes to the national objective of protecting, restoring and maintaining the health of the Australian agricultural landscape, to enhance productivity, guarantee a food secure nation and sustainable farming communities.
Soil health improvements will also support the national objective to grow Australian agriculture into a $100 billion industry by 2030, for the social and economic benefit of all Australians.
The position also has an international dimension. Many areas of the world are facing substantial soil, water, food and nutrition problems. The growing global population is increasing the demand for food and fibre, placing ever more pressure on the environment and increasing the need for sustainability. Soil has a critical role to play in addressing global challenges, including food security and adapting to a changing climate. Australia's experience in land and water management, and the effort it is committing to soils, is of considerable interest to other countries.
The National Soils Advocate will work to create an enabling environment to facilitate change, working to improve the sustainable management of our soils and agricultural landscape by:
- elevating the importance of, and gaining support for, improving soil health across sectors
- raising stakeholder awareness and know-how about the importance of conserving and improving soil health and agricultural soil and landscape conditions by increasing understanding of:
- the critical role soil health plays in sustainable agricultural production and the follow‑on economic benefits that can result
- how improved soil health will benefit the environment and help to meet global challenges, such as food security and climate change
- providing leadership and gaining the support of industry, governments, researchers, to effect practice change to improve soil health
- engaging with current and emerging soils research
- supporting productive networks to facilitate sharing of knowledge and resources
- providing input into the National Soils Strategy.
The National Soils Advocate will undertake a global advocacy function by:
- advocating for soil health on a global level, to help address global challenges, including food security and climate change
- raising awareness of Australia's experience in addressing soil challenges
- promoting Australia's expertise and capabilities in soil science and research and in land, water and soil management.
The Honourable Penelope Wensley AC
Former Governor of Queensland and distinguished Australian diplomat, the Honourable Penelope Wensley AC, has a long-held interest and substantial experience in natural resource management, environmental and sustainable development matters, and in Australia's response to national and global challenges in these areas.
Ms Wensley has worked to promote excellence in science, and the importance of scientific research and knowledge as a basis for good public policy, with a particular interest in agriculture and marine science. She is: Patron of Soil Science Australia, Patron of the Cooperative Research Centre for High Performance Soils, Chairman of the Australian Institute of Marine Science Council, Chairman of the Reef Advisory Committee, and Honorary Fellow of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand.
She was a key contributor to initiatives of the United Nations through her roles as Australian Ambassador for the Environment from 1992 to 1996, as Ambassador to the UN, Geneva 1993-96 and Ambassador to the UN, New York, 1997-2001. She played a leading role in the negotiation of several landmark international treaties to address environmental challenges, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought (INCD) and the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). She chaired the First UN Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.
As State Governor, Ms Wensley was active in promoting environmental knowledge and awareness and was a strong supporter of community groups and organisations involved with environmental management, conservation and protection, including as State Patron of Queensland Water and Land Carers. She has achieved national and international recognition for her contribution to environmental policy development and for promotion of sustainable development and environmental knowledge. She has been honoured by the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand, appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the Institute in 2015.
Ms Wensley has held many leadership roles, nationally and internationally. In addition to her knowledge of the environment and environmental policy, she brings to the position of National Soils Advocate, substantial expertise in public policy development, strategy development and implementation, communication and negotiation, and community and stakeholder engagement.
The Office of the National Soils Advocate
Secretariat and policy support is provided by the Office of the National Soils Advocate, in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
To contact the Office of the National Soils Advocate:
Australia's first National Soils Advocate
Major General Michael Jeffery AC AO (Mil) CVO MC (Retd) was appointed as Australia's first National Advocate for Soil Health by then Prime Minister, the Honourable Julia Gillard MP, on 23 October 2012. The appointment was extended by then Prime Minister, the Honourable Tony Abbott MP, and again by then Deputy Prime Minister, the Honourable Barnaby Joyce MP, to 31 December 2017.
On 18 July 2019 the Prime Minister, the Honourable Scott Morrison, reappointed General Jeffery to the position of National Soils Advocate, noting that the role is intended to be permanent.
As our first National Soils Advocate General Jeffery was notable for the passion with which he advocated for improvements in the health of our agricultural landscape. General Jeffery championed soil health through the integrated management of soil, water, vegetation and animals to the benefit of all Australians. From Parliament House to the paddock, thousands of people involved in caring for the land have met General Jeffery and been inspired by his work. He made an impact by changing attitudes regarding sustainable practices to improve soil health – farmers are now more willing to talk about regenerative agriculture and Ministers more mindful of implementing policies that support healthy landscapes. General Jeffery was highly influential and respected in the role, only stepping aside due to ill health.
On 28 August 2020, Prime Minister the Honourable Scott Morrison appointed the Honourable Penelope Wensley AC as Australia's second National Soils Advocate.
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