The position of National Soils Advocate was established in 2012 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 Hon Penny Wensley’s term as Advocate ended Monday 28 August 2023 and the position is not continuing in its current form.
The position contributed 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.
The National Soils Advocate worked to create an enabling environment to facilitate change, 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 soils research
- supporting productive networks to facilitate sharing of knowledge and resources
- providing input into the National Soils Strategy and the National Soil Action Plan.
The National Soils Advocate also undertook 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.
Through the work of both Advocates, national and international awareness of soil was elevated and set a strong foundation for Australia regarding our recognition, cooperation and prioritisation of soil as a key national asset.
During Ms Wensley’s three year tenure as Advocate, she played a crucial role in bringing parties together to commit to a shared direction for soil through the National Soil Strategy and the National Soil Action Plan. Her focus on evidence-based policy supported additional government investment in soils. Ms Wensley’s international advocacy and diplomacy resulted in a growing interest from other countries in Australia’s approach to improving soil health and their commitment to improving soil.
The late 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.
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 met General Jeffery and were 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.
Former Governor of Queensland and distinguished Australian diplomat, Ms Wensley, 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 held many leadership roles, nationally and internationally. In addition to her knowledge of the environment and environmental policy, she brought to the position of National Soils Advocate, substantial expertise in public policy and strategy development and implementation; communication and negotiation; and community and stakeholder engagement.
As Advocate, Ms Wensley worked to promote excellence in science, and emphasised the importance of scientific research and evidence based knowledge as a basis for good public policy. Patron of Soil Science Australia since 2011, as Advocate she maintained this role and also became patron of the Cooperative Research Centre for High Performance Soils and the Australian Organics Recycling Association.
The Australian Government is developing a new approach to soils advocacy which will integrate soils within the broader context of sustainable land management, sustainable agriculture and responding to climate change.
Read more at Advancing Australia's national soils agenda.