Seeking “co-conspirators” for nature

10 July 2023

Tagged in
Nine out of ten AEGN members live on Australia’s eastern seaboard, yet some of the country’s most significant ecosystems and environmental challenges are located about 4000 kilometres due west.
Thankfully, our Western Australian membership is growing and eager to share its local knowledge with the network, among them, AEGN member Lotterywest.

“If there are AEGN members who want to know more about the issues in Western Australia, certainly we can help with some way-finding — even better with some co-investing,” says Lotterywest and Healthway CEO Ralph Addis.

It’s a timely offer, for the west is firmly on the membership’s radar, with members seeking action on a range of issues, from restoring biodiversity hotspots and enabling First Nations communities to care for land and sea Country, to developing a transition plan for WA’s gas industry. Western Australia is top of mind for many, and Lotterywest is well positioned to offer local expertise.

More than a lottery

Like its home state, Lotterywest is unique. The organisation is the only state owned and operated lottery in Australia. “If fact, it’s the only lottery in the world as far as we know that has both the lottery operation and gives back to community within the one entity,” says Ralph.

“We exist to do those two things: run a great and responsible lottery that takes the issue of gambling harm very seriously, and give back to our community from the proceeds and profits.”

Last financial year, Lotterywest returned $220.9 million to the WA community through its statutory allocations to sports, health, arts and culture, and reinvested a further $130.5 million through direct community grants. “It’s a good model,” says Ralph, and perhaps the envy of the eastern states, which privatised their lotteries many years ago.

Seeking a bigger, better impact

Ralph Addis has been at the helm of Lotterywest since February 2022, joining the organisation after some 20 years working as part of grassroots community-led initiatives through to heading up large departments in the public sector responsible for regional development, Aboriginal development and agricultural and fisheries.

“When the opportunity came up to help steward the organisation to its next stage of being a much-valued public institution for the state, I jumped in! ” says Ralph.

There’s lots of opportunity to do more, and to do more with others in terms of giving back to the community to make a bigger and better impact.

Ralph Addis, Lotterywest and Healthway CEO

Protecting ecosystems, a priority area

Lotterywest’s grant-making focuses on five priority areas, including ecosystem protection, and its investment in this priority area is substantial: 22 grants totalling around $6.2 million were awarded in 2021/22 alone.

“Ecosystem protection is one of those mission-led areas where we’re really cranking up in the last year or two, and we’re looking for co-conspirators in that regard — people who have shared interests and complementary capabilities that can work with us and others on some of those bigger-picture and longer-term agendas,” says Ralph.

“We’ve got one of the world’s great biodiversity hotspots in the south-western corner where I grew up in a farming town in the wheatbelt. It’s an amazing agricultural zone but it has come at significant environmental cost in terms of land-clearing and encroaching salinity. Then right up in the north of the state in the Kimberley, where I spent 20-odd years, one of the world’s last great wilderness areas is starting to feel the pinch from encroaching development. So, from top to bottom we’ve got some significant challenges.”

Supporting community-led environmental action

In recent years, Lotterywest has worked with Perth NRM, a highly regarded for-purpose organisation in the natural resources management sector that has been leading the charge in natural capital accounting — ultimately to help Western Australian farmers improve their stewardship of the land. Lotterywest has also been supporting Greening Australia on a substantial urban greening initiative across several Perth suburbs.

“We’re talking a lot with a range of players, including the natural resource management network, about what more can be done to restore the land across the state, and there are some really good prospects to invest in a longer term and more committed way, including mobilising the agricultural sector to be part of a future farming system that’s sustainable and profitable,” says Ralph.  

The environment is under increasing pressure across the state, and we need to take it increasingly seriously.

Ralph Addis, Lotterywest and Healthway CEO

A biodiversity — and development — hotspot

Both the agricultural and mining and resources sectors underpin the Western Australian economy. According to the state government, WA exported $15.5 billion of agricultural, fisheries and forestry products in 2022, while its resources sector achieved record sales of $230 billion the year before. It’s serious money, with serious consequences for nature.

Indeed, the AEGN’s Climate Change Funding Framework identifies the fossil fuel frontlines of WA and the Northern Territory as under-resourced gaps for climate philanthropy in 2023. Communities here are facing the brunt of gas expansion, the worsening impacts of climate change, and the challenge of transitioning from a reliance on fossil fuels to drive their economic growth.

The remote Pilbara region of northern Western Australia is a case in point. The region is well known for its rich, ancient Aboriginal history extending over at least 40,000 years, and incredibly diverse ecosystems. It’s also one of Australia’s development hotspots, with globally significant petroleum, natural gas and iron ore deposits.

With the resources sector keen to exploit these commodities, the environment is coming under immense pressure. Indigenous heritage sites, too, are in urgent need of stronger protection; Rio Tinto’s destruction of Aboriginal rock shelters at Juukan Gorge — home to 46,000 years of heritage for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples — underscores just what’s at stake here.

Empowering Traditional Owners

“Supporting Aboriginal development and community organisations is one of the bigger priorities and bigger areas of activity, and it’s growing in both importance and the way we go about it — strengthening and maturing our approach,” says Ralph.

“We invest more than $17 million a year into broadly Aboriginal development and community organisations, which is pretty substantial in that space.”

This investment includes a Lotterywest grant of $1.4 million to the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation to build the technical capability and skills of the Pilbara Cultural and Land Management Project partnership, which is empowering Traditional Owner groups to take the lead in keeping their country, culture and people strong. The project comprises 10 Traditional Owner groups, covering 48 per cent of the Pilbara land area.

“The project is essentially about building their capabilities to take charge of their environmental and land cultural stewardship, rather than being on the weaker end of the bargain in relation to the resource companies, which always have significant capabilities,” says Ralph, although it’s perhaps worth noting Rio Tinto is also funding this project.

Being part of something bigger

Increasingly, Lotterywest is looking to team up with other investors and co-invest in a range of initiatives, including within the environmental space. “At the AEGN, the model is built around connecting funders with investment opportunities, so that’s perfect for us,” says Ralph.

“We’re a long way away from our east-coast cousins and colleagues, and sometimes it’s hard for east-coast players to really know what’s going on in Western Australia or come in and do good work. Similarly, sometimes we don’t get in on the networks on the east coast and benefit from the thinking and ideas that have been brewed up over there.” 

The AEGN presents a ready-made opportunity to be part of something bigger and help bring some ideas and philanthropic interest into Western Australia, so all round, it’s a pretty good mutual win-win.

Ralph Addis, Lotterywest and Healthway CEO

Meet More Members

A funder's progress: from empath to strategist

Norman Family

Jo Norman (pictured far right) lives on NSW's south coast in a little place called Gerringong, two hours south of Sydney. “It’s a beautiful ocean-based life,” she says, “with green rolling hills right down to the ocean.”

Building resilience

Macdoch Foundation

The Macdoch Foundation is working to create a low-emissions, nature-positive future for Australia’s agriculture sector. Macdoch Foundation CEO — and AEGN Board member — Michelle Gortan explains how.