Environment

Budget Review 2018–19 Index

Bill McCormick

Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program

The Reef was the stand-out environmental item in this Budget, although parts of the package were announced beforehand. The Government has committed $535.8 million over five years from 2017–18 to accelerate the delivery of the Reef 2050 Plan.[1] In January 2018 the Government announced $57.9 million (contained in additional Budget Estimates of February 2018) to provide:

  • $6.0 million to the Australian Institute of Marine Science and CSIRO to scope and design a research and development (R&D) program for coral reef restoration.
  • $10.4 million to accelerate the control of crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) by increasing the number of vessels targeting COTS from three to eight.
  • $36.6 million to further reduce polluted water entering the Reef.
  • $4.9 million to increase the number of field officers to improve compliance and provide an early warning of coral bleaching.[2]

In April 2018 the Government announced a $443.3 million Reef Trust partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (with money administered through the Department of Environment) to tackle COTS, reduce pollution flowing into the Reef and mitigate the impacts of climate change.[3] The funding will be:

  • $201.0 million to support farming practices that improve water quality flowing into the Reef.
  • $100.0 million to support R&D on reef restoration, reef resilience and adaptation.
  • $58.0 million to expand the control of COTS.
  • $45.0 million to increase community engagement, such as Indigenous traditional knowledge for sea country management, coastal clean-up days and awareness-raising.
  • $40.0 million to enhance reef health monitoring and reporting to facilitate better management.[4]

While the initial $57.9 million is to be spent over the next 18 months there is little information about the period over which the rest of the funds will be spent.[5] The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park said that it will receive an additional $42.7 million for its joint field management program over the next six years.[6]

Interested parties have welcomed the additional funding for the Reef but some don’t feel the funds are enough to protect it, and they criticised the Government for not providing additional money for actions to mitigate climate change itself rather than just to mitigate the impacts.[7] The federal Department of the Environment and Energy stated that ‘climate Change is the most significant threat to the Great Barrier Reef’.[8] The chair of the Reef 2050 Advisory Committee, Penny Wensley, said that both global warming and cyclones had contributed to the Reef's ill health and that funding was still not enough, although it was more than the committee had hoped for.[9]

Enhancing Australia’s Biosecurity System

The 2017 Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity Review stated that the erosion of biosecurity budgets is hampering the efforts of biosecurity agencies, and that funding needs to be more sufficient, more sustainable and better directed.[10] It recommended imposing levies on incoming shipping and air containers, with the revenue being directed to those areas of the national biosecurity system that are currently most underfunded.

In the Budget, the Government committed $86.8 million to the Department of Agriculture and Water resources to increase funding to biosecurity programs over four years from 2018–19, and $14.8 million to address the cost of biosecurity clearances associated with increased sea and air passenger number growth from 2017–18.[11] Among other things, the Government will fund the development of national action plans for priority pests and diseases, increase the capacity to deal with pest and disease incursions and permit greater assurance and verification of biosecurity import conditions.

As recommended in the Biosecurity Review, the Government has decided to impose a new biosecurity import levy from 1 July 2019 that is expected to raise $360 million over the following three years. Legislation for this levy has not yet been introduced into Parliament. This will apply to incoming shipping containers at a rate of $10 per twenty-foot container and $1/tonne on non-containerised cargo. It will be used to fund onshore surveillance, diagnostics, data analytics, research and adoption of new technology.[12] The levy represents one per cent of the current cost of importing a container.[13] It would appear the Government has decided not to implement the recommended levy on aircraft containers.

Per- and Poly-Fluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS)

The use of the highly persistent chemicals, per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), in fire-fighting foams has resulted in the contamination of surface and groundwater in and adjacent to some military bases and civilian airports. The Hunter River wetlands, a Ramsar wetland downstream of RAAF Base Williamtown, may be one of the contaminated areas. Remediation of these areas may be necessary to stop PFAS in contaminated soil, ground water and surface water from migrating into adjoining environments.

The Government will provide $34.1 million over five years from 2017–18 for research into the remediation of PFAS contamination through the establishment of the $13 million PFAS Remediation Research Program and for the Department of the Environment and Energy.[14]

There is debate about the health effects of PFAS due to the limited evidence presently available. The US Environmental Protection Agency states that ‘there is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans’.[15] In Australia, the recent Expert Panel for PFAS Report stated that ‘there is mostly limited or no evidence for any link with human disease’ but ‘important health effects for individuals exposed to PFAS cannot be ruled out based on the current evidence’.[16] In 2017, the Department of Health released daily guidance values for PFAS in drinking water.[17] To help with the issue, the Government will provide $55.2 million over five years from 2018–19 to establish a drinking water program, including supply of bottled water, to communities surrounding Army Aviation Centre Oakey, RAAF Base Williamtown, RAAF Base Tindal, and RAAF Base Pearce where environmental site assessments have identified property owners who use bores as their primary source of drinking water.



[1].         The budget figures have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19, 2018.

[2].         M Turnbull (Prime Minister), M Cash (Minister for Jobs and Innovation) and J Frydenberg (Minister for the Environment and Energy), Investing in the future of our Great Barrier Reef, media release, 22 January 2018;  Australian Government, Portfolio additional estimates statements 2017–18: Environment and Energy Portfolio, pp. 14, 82.

[3].         M Turnbull (Prime Minister), J Bishop (Minister for Foreign Affairs), J Frydenberg (Minister for the Environment and Energy) and M Price (Assistant Minister for the Environment), Record investment in the Great Barrier Reef to drive jobs, media release, 29 April 2018; Australian Government, Portfolio Supplementary Additional Estimates Statements 2017–18 Appropriation Bill (No.5) 2017–18 and Appropriation Bill (No.6) 2017–18 Energy and Environment Portfolio Explanations of Supplementary Additional Estimates 2017–18, p. 1.

[4].         Ibid.

[5].         M Turnbull, M Cash and J Frydenberg , op cit.

[6].         Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, $500 million funding “game changer” for the Great Barrier Reef, media release, 29 April 2018.

[7].         E Bagshaw, ‘$500m reef rescue pledge’, The Sunday Age, 29 April 2018; R Yosufzai, ‘Is $500m enough to save the Great Barrier Reef’, SBS News, 30 April 2018; Footprint Latest News , Tourism operators demand strong action on climate change, Footprint, 4 May 2018 [paywall].

[8].         Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2018–19: budget related paper no. 1.6: Environment and Energy Portfolio, p. 56.

[9].         L Rebgetz and L Gartry, ‘Great Barrier Reef to get $500m to tackle pollution and breed more resilient coral’, ABC News, 29 April 2018.

[10].      W Craik, D Palmer and R Sheldrake, Priorities for Australia’s biosecurity system: An independent review of the capacity of the national biosecurity system and its underpinning Intergovernmental Agreement, Canberra 2017, pp. 1–2.

[11].      Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2018–19: budget related paper no. 1.1: Agriculture and Water Resources Portfolio, p. 20.

[12].      Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR), ‘Biosecurity import levy’, DAWR website.

[13].      Ibid.

[14].      Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19, p. 81.

[15].      United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ‘Basic information on PFAS’, EPA website.

[16].      Department of Health, Expert Health Panel for PFAS: Summary, April 2018.

[17].      Department of Health (DoH), ‘Health-based guidance values for PFAS for use investigations in Australia’, DoH website.

 

All online articles accessed May 2018 

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