Budget Review 2016–17 Index

Bill McCormick

Most of the Budget measures for the environment do not involve additional funding. In fact, the Environment Portfolio expenses will contract by 17.1 per cent in real terms over the four years from 2016–17.[1] New initiatives are paid for by ‘re-profiling funds’, using funding ‘already included in the forward estimates’ but where ‘the expenditure profile varies’,  or they will be ‘met from existing resources of the National Landcare Program’.[2]  In addition, some funds come from other agencies.

Commonwealth Marine Reserves—implementation

The Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network, with 44 new marine reserves covering 2.34 million km2, was proclaimed In November 2012 for the North-west, North, Temperate East and South-west Marine Regions, as well as the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve.[3] The management plans for these reserves were tabled in 2013 and were due to come into operation on 1 July 2014.[4]

However, in December 2013, the Governor-General ‘reproclaimed’ these reserves, thus invalidating the management plans, and enabling the incoming Government to implement its election policy and establish a Marine Reserves Review to ‘consider what management arrangements will best protect marine ecosystems and accommodate the many industries and recreational fishers that use our oceans’.[5] The Government response to this review will be released in the second half of 2016.[6] Management plans will then have to be developed and the marine reserves managed accordingly.

Funding of $56.1 million over four years, already included in the forward estimates, will be for fisheries adjustment assistance, marine user engagement and the ongoing management of these reserves. The Director of National Parks will receive $27.8 million of this to develop the management plans during 2016–17, among other things.[7] Out of the $56.1 million, therefore, there will remain a maximum of  $28.3 million available for fisheries adjustment assistance, only about a quarter of the original package of $100 million for assistance promised by the previous government in 2012.[8] This could be an indication that commercial fishing is to be permitted in more zones of the marine reserves than was the case under the original management plans.[9] From 2020–21, ongoing funding of $5.3 million/year will be provided for reserve management, offset by an equivalent reduction to the Natural Heritage Trust component of the National Landcare Program.

Reef 2050 Plan and Reef Trust—additional contribution

The $140 million Reef Trust was established to assist delivery of the Reef 2050 Plan and was to provide $56 million over the four year period 2015–19 ‘towards improved management practices for sugarcane farmers, reduced erosion in grazing lands and improved water quality in grains, dairy and horticulture’.[10]

The Reef 2050 Plan is implemented through an Implementation Strategy that is updated every six months. The most recent one has 97 immediate priority actions, 26 medium priority actions and 28 future priority actions. Of these, 62 actions are fully funded, including actions to improve water quality, further improve port management and develop regional waterway health partnerships.[11] The implementation of the Plan is funded not only from the Reef Trust but also from other Commonwealth programs such as the National Landcare Program. An additional $70 million will go to the Reef Trust over the three years from 2019–20 ($40 million/year in 2019–20 and $15 million/year in the next two years). There will be $101 million funding for the Reef 2050 Plan, $8.9 million/year allocated for 2016–17 through 2019–20 and funding for 2020–21 and 2021–22 rising almost four fold to $32.7 million/year.[12] This funding will come from the National Landcare Program.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), noting this year’s worst ever coral bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef, criticised the Government for a lack of substantial funding.[13] The Australian Marine Conservation Society also mentioned the bleaching and considered the reef funding insufficient.[14]

National Carp Control Plan

Carp (Cyprinus carpio) have become established as a major pest species throughout the Murray-Darling Basin, and in other states. These fish prefer slow-moving rivers and lakes and tolerate poor water quality and low oxygen levels.[15] They have a detrimental impact on native aquatic plants and animals and general river health, in part due to their destructive feeding habits.[16]

Numerous control methods have been tried to reduce carp numbers to levels that minimise damage to the environment, including a number of different fishing techniques, lowering water levels and trapping. To date none have been used successfully on a wide scale. There has been research into the use of carp herpesvirus (CyHV-3) as a biological control agent for carp in Australia. This water-borne, contagious virus causes 70-100 per cent mortality in carp.[17] The virus first appeared in the 1990s and has spread to most areas of the world except Australia, New Zealand and South America.[18] There is no evidence that the virus can multiply in other fish species, and research has shown that thirteen native fish species along with rainbow trout and a variety of animals that might live in, or drink, virus-infected water are not affected, or infected, by the virus.[19] Before the virus can be released as a biological control agent it must go through a formal evaluation process which will require more detailed scientific assessment and the development of a release and monitoring strategy.

On 1 May 2016, the government announced it was investing $15 million to develop a National Carp Control Plan to undertake further research, approvals, and consultation to develop a comprehensive plan for a potential release of carp herpesvirus by the end of 2018.[20] This $15 million in new funding is being delivered by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources ($10.2 million), the Department of the Environment ($0.5 million) and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science ($4.2 million).

The National Irrigators’ Council welcomed the initiative but said that it will be critical to restock the river systems with native fish species after the carp kill.[21] The ACF supported the proposed release of the virus and also called for support for native fish recovery measures that are currently underfunded, along with rehabilitation of riverbanks and the release of environmental flows.[22]

[1].          Australian Government, Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1: 2016–17, pp. 1–9.

[2].          The budget figures have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2016–17.

[3].          T Burke (Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities), Gillard government proclaims final network of Commonwealth marine reserves, 16 November 2012

[4].          T Burke (Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities), ‘Marine Park Management Plans finalised‘, media release, 12 March 2013.

[5].          G Hunt (Minister for the Environment) and R Colbeck (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture), ‘Supporting recreational fishing while protecting our marine parks’ , media release, 14 December 2013.

[6].          Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2016–17, op. cit., p. 90.

[7].          Ibid., p. 90; Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2016–17: budget related paper no. 1.7: Environment Portfolio, pp. 201, 205.

[8].          T Burke, op. cit., 2012.

[9].          N. Hasham, ‘Fishing, mining plans raise fears for reserves’, Canberra Times, 25 September 2015, p.4.

[10].       Department of the Environment, ‘Reef Trust investment strategy phase II’, Department of the Environment website.

[11].       Australian Government, Reef 2050 PlanImplementation Strategy, Edition 2, December 2015, p. 7.

[12].       Portfolio budget statements 2016–17: budget related paper no. 1.7: Environment Portfolio, op. cit., p. 25.

[13].       Australian Conservation Foundation, Turnbull’s first Budget continues the environmental neglect of his predecessor, media release, 4 May 2016.

[14].       Australian Marine Conservation Society, Federal government funding activities that will damage the Great Barrier Reef, media release, 4 May 2016.

[15].       Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, PestSmart Factsheet: Carp, November 2011.

[16].       A Norris, M Hutchinson, K Chilcott and D.Stewart, Effectiveness of carp removal techniques: options for local governments and community groups, Report prepared for the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, 2014.

[17].       Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Carp herpesvirus as biological control agent for carp, Carp Factsheet, March 2016, p. 1.

[18].       Ibid.

[19].       Ibid.

[20].       Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR), ‘National Carp Control Plan’, DAWR website; B Joyce (Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources), Cleaning up Australia’s waterways, media release, 1 May 2016.

[21].       National Irrigators’ Council, Carp control a necessary step, media release, 1 May 2016.

[22].       Australian Conservation Foundation, Carpe diem! Govt moves to control notorious fish, media release, 1 May 2016.


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