Environment and water

Budget Review 2015–16 Index

Bill McCormick and Alex St John

Two programmes administered by the Department of the Environment received significant funding increases (the Reef Trust and Tasmanian Irrigation projects), while three programmes had significant reductions in funding (Green Army, National Landcare, and Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure).

Green Army

Under the Green Army program, young volunteers aged between 17 and 24 years participate for 20–26 weeks in environmental conservation projects and undertake such tasks as tackling land degradation, cleaning up riverbanks and re-vegetating sand dunes. Participants receive an allowance of between $10.14 and $16.45 per hour and are provided with necessary work clothing and equipment.[1] There will be savings of $73.2 million over four years from 2015-16 achieved through ‘efficiencies’ in the Green Army programme.[2] These savings will be used to fund other programmes including the Reef Trust.  A number of Round 2 Green Army projects aim to rehabilitate vegetation in catchments so as to improve water quality outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef.[3]

Expense ($m)          
 
2014–15
2015–16
2016–17
2017–18
2018–19
Department of Social Services
-
-
-
3.4
-
Department of Human Services
-
-
-
0.3
-
Department of the Environment
-
-6.6
-13.8
-45.6
-7.2
Total Expense
-
-6.6
-13.8
-41.6
-7.2

It is not clear how these savings can be achieved while funding the same number of Green Army projects and participants. The number of projects have been identified as 250 for 2014–15, 500 in 2015–16 , 750 in 2016–17 and 1,500 in 2018–19 but there is no information as to the original target number of projects proposed for 2017–18, which is when over 60 per cent ($45.6 million) of the savings will be achieved.[4]

Reef Trust – additional contribution

The Reef Trust, which provides funds to improve water quality, restore coastal ecosystem health and enhance species protection, will be provided with $100 million over four years from 2015–16 (see table below).[5] This is on top of the $40 million provided in the 2014–15 Budget. Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the $100 million in additional funding on 21 March 2015 at the launch of the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan.[6] To date, $30.4 million has been allocated, of which $15 million is to fund seven Phase 1 Reef Trust projects and $15.4 million to fund three Phase 2 Reef trust projects.[7] These include crown of thorns starfish control, improvements to sugarcane farm fertiliser efficiency to reduce pollutant run off into the Reef lagoon, and enhanced protection and conservation of dugong and marine turtles.[8]

Expense ($m)          
 
2014–15
2015–16
2016–17
2017–18
2018–19
Department of the Environment
-
5.5
25.0
30.0
39.5

A significant portion of the $100 million will be obtained through the savings in the 2015–16 Budget of $73.2 million (Green Army) and $12.3 million (National Heritage Trust component of National Landcare Programme). It should be noted that the activities funded by the Reef Trust are intended to complement other initiatives already funded under the Green Army and the National Landcare Programme.[9]

The Australian Marine Conservation Society said that the extra $100 million was not enough to help the reef and criticised the previous approval of dumping in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef and the fast tracking of environmental approvals of coal port expansion at Abbot Point.[10]

Water

In February 2015, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that the Commonwealth would invest $60 million in five irrigation projects identified by the Tasmanian Government at Circular Head, North Esk, Scottsdale, Southern Highlands and Swan Valley. [11] The Commonwealth will provide $2 for every $1 invested by the Tasmanian Government in those Tasmanian Irrigation Tranche II projects where final business cases are accepted. The Commonwealth contribution will be $34.4 million in 2015–16, $18.0 million in 2016–17 and $7.6 million in 2018–19. There will be a further $50 million ‘private capital contribution’ from the farmers involved in these schemes.[12] The 2015-16 Budget states that four development projects will be funded by the $60 million but it did not identify which one of the five Tranche II projects will not be funded.

The Abbott Government policy for the Murray-Darling Basin is to place a cap on water buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin at 1500 gigalitres and re-phase spending on buybacks over six years, rather than four.[13] As a result, there will be a reduction of $22.7 million in funding for water buybacks in 2017–18 and 2018–19 from the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program.[14] The savings will contribute to reducing the deficit as well as to funding other unspecified programmes.

Climate Change

There has been little movement on climate change and energy policy since the 2014–15 Budget. In the current Budget, the Government has announced $6.2 million for the Climate Change Authority (CCA) to fund its operations through to 31 December 2016. The CCA was originally slated for abolition by the Coalition, but the Government agreed to retain it to study the feasibility of an emissions trading scheme in return for the support of the Palmer United Party in passing the Government’s preferred climate policy, the Emissions Reduction Fund.[15] The Budget also provides for undisclosed compensation payments to families and businesses affected by the 2009–10 Home Insulation Program. The Government has withdrawn a further $3.4 million in 2014–15 from the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative, which the Government intends to conclude by July, 2016.[16]



[1].          M Thomas, B McCormick and A Holmes, Social Security Legislation Amendment (Green Army Programme) Bill 2014, Bills digest, 49, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.

[2].          The budget figures in this article have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2015–16.

[3].          Department of the Environment, ‘Green Army Projects’, Department of the Environment website.

[4].          Department of the Environment, ‘About the Green Army Programme’, Department of the Environment website.

[5].          Department of the Environment, ‘Reef Trust - Frequently asked questions’, Department of the Environment website.

[6].          Australian Government and Queensland Government, ‘Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan’, Department of the Environment website; T Abbott (Prime Minister), Additional $100 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef, media release, 21 March 2015.

[7].          Department of the Environment, ‘The Reef Trust’, Department of the Environment website.

[8].          Department of the Environment, ‘Reef Trust phase II investments’, Department of the Environment website.

[9].          Department of the Environment, ‘Reef Trust - Frequently asked questions’, Department of the Environment website.

[10].       Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), AMCS slams Hunt’s claims on World Heritage committee in danger listing, media release, 13 May 2015.

[11].       T Abbott (Prime Minister), Investing in Tasmanian jobs, productivity and water infrastructure, media release, 19 February 2015.

[12].       Tasmanian Irrigation, ‘Scottsdale Irrigation Scheme - Under Development’, Tasmanian Irrigation website.

[13].       Department of the Environment, ‘Water recovery strategy for the Murray-Darling Basin’, Department of the Environment website.

[14].       Department of the Environment, ‘Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure’, Department of the Environment website.

[15].       A St John and K Swoboda, Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2] [and associated Bills], Bills digest, 3,2014-15, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014; G Hunt (Minister for the Environment), C Palmer and B Fraser, Transcript of press conference – Parliament House, Canberra, media release, 29 October 2014.

[16].       Department of Industry and Science (DIS), ‘National Low Emission Coal Initiative’, DIS website.

 

All online articles accessed May 2015. 

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