Budget Review 2021–22 Index

Sophie Power and Pete David

The Treasurer announced that the 2021–22 Budget provides ‘over $480 million in new funding for the environment’. As outlined below, this environment-related funding includes measures relating to oceans, environmental law reform, recycling and waste, and climate adaptation (including a new Australian Climate Service). The Budget also contains additional measures for biodiversity on agricultural land and natural disaster resilience.


Australia is a member of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) that set out a sustainable ocean agenda in Transformations for a Sustainable Ocean Economy: A Vision for Protection, Production and Prosperity. In December 2020, Australia committed to sustainably manage 100% of the ocean within its national waters by 2025, which builds on the September 2015 agreement by Australia to the Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life below water. In a national launch event speech, the Prime Minister stated:

… we will develop a sustainable ocean plan for Australia that will guide us and our actions out to 2025. Our plan will outline how we will achieve the sustainable ocean economy with waste and marine park management, sustainable fisheries, safe and efficient maritime transport, marine biosecurity and offshore energy production.

As announced in April 2021, the Budget provides a total of $100.1 million over five years for an ‘Oceans Leadership Package’ (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2021–22, p. 59). This funding is further broken down in the Prime Minister’s press release. This measure includes $18.1 million over four years for a Sustainable Ocean Action Plan which will help achieve commitments set out in the Ocean Panel’s agenda in areas including marine park management, invasive species eradication, sustainable fisheries and ocean accounting.

As detailed in the April announcement, the Oceans Leadership Package also provides $39.9 million for marine park management. This includes $19.4 million for the Marine Parks Grants program to build on the previous two funding rounds which totalled $11 million. The first funding round supported 12 projects which aimed to ‘improve the long-term sustainability of fishing in ways that support the objectives of Australian Marine Parks’. Round Two funded 20 projects which aimed to ‘improve knowledge of Australian Marine Park values and contribute to the vision, objectives and 10-year outcomes across the management programs identified in the Australian Marine Parks management plans’. A further $15 million will be allocated towards ocean discovery and restoration projects.

The Minister for the Environment unveiled commitments to establish two new Marine Parks around Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling Islands). The Package commits $5.4 million ‘to support the health and sustainability of the pristine waters around Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories’. These announcements were met with positive reactions from stakeholders including the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the Save Our Marine Life Alliance.

Also included in the Oceans Package is $30.6 million over four years to support the export of Australia’s expertise in ocean accounting and undertake blue carbon restoration in regional Australia and in regional partner countries. Blue carbon ecosystems are marine-based ecosystems that sequester and store large amounts of carbon in both the plants and sediment. This primarily consists of mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes. Ocean accounting is used to make informed decisions for ocean management, drawing on data concerning biodiversity, carbon, coral reefs, tourism and resource management to describe the complex environmental and economic systems present in the oceans. Close to $19 million of the funding will be committed to four local projects restoring coastal ecosystems, with a further $10 million allocated to three restoration and protection projects assisting developing countries. The remaining funds will be directed to help ‘solidify Australia as a leader in ocean and natural capital account assistance’.

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs), which account for almost half of Australia’s National Reserve System, were also provided $11.6 million over two years to expand and create new IPAs that provide greater coverage of Sea Country, protect marine biodiversity and create additional employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  According to the Department’s website, this funding will be used to incorporate Sea Country in IPAs in nine locations, with further details to be provided as they become available. Further detail on this measure is provided in the Indigenous Affairs Budget Review article.

Environmental law reform

Budget Paper No. 2 allocates $29.3 million over four years to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) (pp. 57–58). Much of this allocation is to maintain the timeliness of Commonwealth environmental assessments and approvals ($17.1 million over two years). This builds on the $12.4 million provided in the 2020–21 Budget and $25 million in the December 2019 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2019–20 (MYEFO) to deal with a backlog of environmental approval applications.

This additional funding has resulted in significant improvements in the timeliness of decision-making under the EPBC Act. In the December 2019 quarter, 19% of key decisions were made on time. By March 2020, this figure rose to 87% and as at 30 September 2020, 97% of key decisions were made on time. The backlog of overdue decisions was reduced from 78 to 18 overdue decisions between December 2019 and September 2020. The additional funding in the Budget is designed to maintain this level of timeliness during the government’s proposed transition to ‘single touch approvals’. However, as noted in Budget Review 2020–21, some commentators have suggested the increased delays were a result of reduced staffing and resources in the environment portfolio, and that additional funding is ‘merely a reversal of previous funding cuts’.

Response to EPBC Act review

The Budget contains some funding to support reforms as part of the ‘initial response’ to the ten year independent statutory review of the EPBC Act by Professor Graeme Samuel, which was released in January 2021. The final report of that review made 38 recommendations, which it described as ‘substantial and necessary reforms to reverse the current state of environmental decline’. To date, the Government has not published a formal comprehensive response to the Samuel review, but has introduced legislation into Parliament to partially implement some of the review’s recommendations. Among other matters, this legislation proposes to establish an ‘Environment Assurance Commissioner’ to monitor and audit Commonwealth, state and territory environmental approval processes. As such, the measure includes $9 million over four years from 2021–22 to establish this Commissioner.

The Samuel review also found that the EPBC Act is not fulfilling its objectives as they relate to the role of Indigenous Australians in protecting and conserving biodiversity and cultural heritage and promoting the respectful use of their knowledge. The review made several recommendations aimed at improving Indigenous heritage protection and Indigenous involvement in EPBC Act decision-making processes. The measure includes $0.5 million over two years from 2021–22 to engage with stakeholders to improve Indigenous heritage protection and involvement (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 58; Regional Ministerial Budget Statement, p. 26).

Finally, this EPBC Act measure includes $2.7 million over three years from 2021–22 to pilot a Commonwealth-accredited regional plan to support and ‘accelerate development’ in a ‘priority regional area’. According to the Regional Ministerial Budget Statement, this measure will:

… provide businesses in the identified priority development region with greater certainty of their environmental approval requirements and will reduce their need to source and provide specific environmental information. (p. 26)

The Samuel review did recommend a greater focus on regional planning, consistent with the National Environmental Standards proposed by the review and developed in accordance with quality planning principles (recommendations 25 and 26). There is no indication as to where this ‘priority regional area’ will be or whether it has been identified: the Minister for the Environment has said this ‘pilot’ regional plan will be developed ‘in partnership with a willing state or territory’.

As outlined in Budget Review 2020–21, the Government is also proposing to accredit states to carry out environmental approvals for Commonwealth matters. Legislation was introduced into Parliament in August 2020 to support this ‘single-touch environmental approvals’ proposal, but has not yet passed the Senate. Stakeholders such as the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) have pointed out:

There is no funding [in this Budget] to help the states and territories assume national responsibilities for environmental approvals, as proposed by the Morrison government. Nor is there any funding to develop strong national environmental standards or to develop and implement a comprehensive response to Graeme Samuel’s independent review of the EPBC Act.

Recycling and waste

Around $77.9 million has been allocated to recycling and waste to continue the Government’s focus on the ‘transformation of Australia’s recycling and waste industry’. This follows the 2020–21 Budget which allocated $249.6 million over four years for waste management and recycling. This new measure comprises:

  • $67 million over four years to support food and organic garden waste initiatives, including $59.8 million to deliver grants, in partnership with states and territories, through a new ‘Food Waste for Healthy Soils Fund’. This Fund aims to enhance existing waste and processing infrastructure and to divert organic material from landfill for agricultural use. There is also $7.2 million to deliver a community and education program on the benefits of processing organic waste (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 53)
  • $5 million in new funding to support small and medium sized business to adopt the Australasian Recycling Label (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 57). This aims to remove confusion and provide information on how to correctly dispose of, or recycle, an item and its packaging and
  • $5.9 million to conduct a further grant round under the National Product Stewardship Investment Fund (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 57). This fund was established in late 2019 with $20 million and aims to increase the number of industry-led product stewardship schemes in Australia and increase the recycling rates of existing schemes. To date, $14.5 million has been granted to 20 projects.


Budget Paper No. 2 contains measures to encourage stewardship and biodiversity on agricultural land (pp. 52–53). This includes $22.3 million over four years for a pilot biodiversity stewardship program to ‘enhance existing high value native vegetation on farms’, and $9.9 million over three years for measures to support biodiversity certification and trading (p. 53). Environment funding also includes $29.1 million over four years for activities to support land managers and farmers to manage feral animals, pests and weeds (p. 52).

These measures were welcomed by some stakeholders, such as the National Farmers Federation. However, environmental stakeholders, such as the ACF, have expressed concern that federal budget spending in the environment portfolio, including biodiversity programs, has declined considerably since the Coalition Government came to office in 2013.

Climate adaptation and disaster resilience

The Budget also contains a range of measures to help Australia ‘better anticipate, manage and adapt to the impacts of natural disasters and changing climates’ (Budget Paper No. 2, pp. 65–66, see also p. 56). This includes, for example:

  • $61.1 million over four years for a new National Recovery and Resilience Agency (NRRA) which has been established in response to the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements. The NRRA will bring together the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency and National Bushfire Recovery Agency, as well as functions from some Departments. It will provide support to local communities following major disasters, as well as provide advice to Government on policies and programs to mitigate the impact of future major disaster events
  • $615.5 million over six years for a new ‘Preparing Australia Program’ to provide grants for projects to  support public and private disaster risk reduction and resilience, as well as $280.0 million over three years for grants for projects in bushfire affected areas as part of the National Bushfire Recovery Fund
  • $90 million over four years to Emergency Management Australia to improve its ability to manage national natural disasters
  • $212.2 million to continue support for farmers and communities to manage drought (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 56) and
  • $209.7 million over four years (and $37.3 million annually ongoing) for a new Australian Climate Service to increase the government’s capacity to predict and prepare for more extreme weather events caused by climate change.

The Australian Climate Service will draw and build on the expertise of the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia, CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Statistics. These agencies have welcomed its establishment, as has the Australian Academy of Science.

These measures follow the Government’s commitment in January 2021 to develop a new National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy and to join the international Call for Action on Raising Ambition for Climate Adaptation and Resilience.

However, some commentators have been critical that the Budget is focussed on climate adaptation rather than measures to prevent and/or mitigate climate change. Similarly, the Academy of Technology and Engineering observed that the Budget was a ‘missed opportunity to address climate change’:

Most of the investment to address climate change is targeted at adaptation strategies, which are clearly necessary. But we would have liked to have seen at least an equal amount invested in accelerating and leading Australia’s transition to a low emissions economy.