I’ve spoken before of opportunity arising from adversity. I learned this week from Landcare, NRM Regions Australia, Australian Land Conservation Alliance and Pew Charitable Trusts that more than 100 conservation, land management and farming organisations have come together to support a proposal for thousands of workers to be employed to deliver practical conservation and land management activities across the country.

We as a nation are learning that we need to nurture this land on its terms and not ours to take responsibility for the ravages of the land since the second peoples arrival. So how can we go about repairing it? One way worth considering is working with a nature employment program, which would build on the long-term efforts of volunteers and charitable organisations in the conservation and land management sector and not reinvent the wheel. It would support people already invested in communities. It would offer opportunities for safe, meaningful and socially beneficial work during the period of economic recovery while leaving enduring benefits for locals, tourism, farm businesses and, of course, the environment. This initiative is part of an enduring commitment to Australia’s land, water, wildlife and strong grassroots network. It is a deep commitment to supporting those in need.

Federal and state investment in this initiative would result in both immediate and long-term return. According to Ernst & Young’s assessment of the program proposal, a $500,000 investment would result in 6,690 jobs, a $1.2 billion dollar long-term economic investment and would reward practical local action to protect and restore the natural environment by restoring rivers, wetlands and coastal habitats. Reducing soil erosion, controlling weeds and planting trees are obvious outcomes. Strengthening the social capital of our communities is often more difficult to see but critical in the long-term health of our people.

In these uncertain times, we are in need of a social glue that helps stick us together. Such a grassroots approach can do that. It builds a sense of belonging in the community, can lift the spirit and give hope after the battering many regional communities have endured through the ravages of droughts, floods and bushfires. In rebuilding our nation, let us not forget the land on which it stands and be ready to learn old ways which have stood the test of time.

It’s time to listen with generous hearts, not fearful minds and not selfish egos in a lust for power or wealth. It’s time to dig deep and find what we are really made of. Care of each other, our communities and the land on which we live is our priority. Once we get this right, the rest will unfold as it should. We can continue to find opportunity in adversity. It seems to be what we do best in this nation. This is a call to the government to bless the regions.