Budget Review 2022–23 Index 

Dr Emily Gibson

The Treasurer stated in his Budget Speech that the ‘Government was safeguarding Australia’s unique environment for future generations’. As outlined below, the budget includes measures relating to biodiversity and threatened species, tree planting, and advancing reform of Australia’s environmental law (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2022–23, pp. 53–55). Further measures relating to Antarctica, the Great Barrier Reef, and waste and recycling are discussed in separate Budget review briefs.

Environment and threatened species

Budget paper no. 2 contains 3 measures to support community-driven action to protect and restore the environment. This includes $100.0 million over 3 years to continue the Environment Restoration Fund (Budget paper no. 2, p. 53). The Environment Restoration Fund was established with an initial investment of $100 million over 4 years in the 2019–20 Budget (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2019–20, p. 76). The Fund operates via grants, through Regional Land Partnership service providers, and Commonwealth to state funding arrangements in 3 priority areas: protecting threatened and migratory species and their habitats; protecting Australia’s coasts and waterways; and the clean-up, recovery and recycling of waste.

Funding for the following two measures has already been provided for by the Government.

On 29 January 2022, the Government announced $50 million of funding over 4 years to ‘boost the long-term protection and recovery efforts for Australia’s koalas’ (a figure repeated in the Regional ministerial budget statement 2022–23, pp. 21–22). Budget paper no. 2 (p. 53) states that the funding is provided as $53.0 million over 5 years; there is a funding allocation of $43.0 million, with a departmental payment of $7.5 million (Portfolio additional estimates statements 2021–22: Agriculture, Water and the Environment Portfolio (PAES AWEP); p. 24). The funding is allocated to four activities:

  • extending the National Koala Monitoring Program
  • support for koala care training
  • funding research and implementation activities relating to koala health challenges
  • on-ground actions relating to koala habitat, mitigating threats, and improving koala health and care facilities.

To implement the latter activity, the Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley announced the Koala Conservation and Protection Community Grants program on 4 April 2022. These grants will be provided through two $5 million grant rounds, with individual grants of between $50,000 and $200,000 available to improve koala habitat, health and knowledge of populations. Applications will open on 4 May 2022. While welcoming the measure, the Australian Conservation Foundation observes that ‘more needs to be done to protect koala habitat’.

On 6 March 2022, the Minister for the Environment announced the Planting Trees for The Queen’s Jubilee program. Budget paper no. 2 (p. 54) states that $20.3 million will be provided over three years; there is a funding allocation of $15.1 million for grants and $5.2 million in departmental funding (PAES AWEP, p. 25). A maximum of $100,000 is available in each federal electorate for up to 10 projects ranging from $2,500 to $20,000; however, applications can only be made by eligible entities on the invitation of the local Member of Parliament. Applications will close on 2 May 2022.

Advancing environmental law reform

The 2022-23 Budget provides $139.6 million ‘to progress reforms and maintain timely assessments and approvals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and modernise Indigenous cultural heritage protections under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (ATSIHP Act)’ (Budget paper no. 2, pp. 54–55). This section considers the measures relating to reform of the EPBC Act.

The measures are part of and progress the first 2 stages of the Government’s proposed 4-stage timeline for reforms to the EPBC Act in response to the second independent statutory review of the EPBC Act (the ‘Samuel Review’). The reforms are outlined in the Government’s A pathway to reforming national environment law. The Final Report of the Samuel Review made 38 recommendations—centred on legally-enforceable National Environmental Standards—which it described as ‘substantial and necessary reforms to reverse the current state of environmental decline’ (p. ix).

Regional plans

The Budget measure provides $62.3 million over 4 years to deliver up to 10 regional plans in priority development regions (Budget paper no. 2, p. 54). According to a joint ministerial media release on 15 March announcing the funding, the plans will ‘protect areas of environmental significance, streamline assessments and manage cumulative impacts’. This follows on from the $2.7 million (over 3 years) provided in the 2021–22 Budget to pilot one regional plan in a priority development region (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2021–22, p. 57). Preparatory documents released through a freedom of information disclosure (no. 25561, p. 28 of the package, labelled as p. 59) indicate that as of 30 November 2021, the Commonwealth needed to partner with a willing state due to jurisdictional issues and because the allocated funding was insufficient to compile the required data and develop the plan.

At Senate Estimates on 31 March 2022, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) indicated that initial work had been undertaken to determine criteria for regional plans and that the proposed initial pilot would be rolled into this announcement, such that there would now be 2 to 3 ‘pilot plans’. The Department indicated that it had been exploring a range of potential locations, ‘including areas such as South-East Queensland, Cape York, the Beetaloo basin, the Pilbara and ... a range of areas in Tasmania’ (p. 65).

In the funding announcement, Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt said:

The 10 new regional plans will streamline development approvals, including those for crucial resources projects, by removing the need for a project-by-project approval under national environment law.

Stakeholders have raised concerns that a move to regional plans—independent of the comprehensive reforms recommended by the Samuel Review—will weaken environmental protections. For example, the Australian Conservation Foundation said:

While regional planning has merits, we are concerned the government’s approach appears to focus on making things easier for resource extraction industries, rather than protecting nature.

Streamlining assessment processes

The budget measure provides $37.9 million in the 2022–23 fiscal year to support the streamlining of assessment processes, including:

The Coalition Government has been pursuing ‘single touch’ approvals under its ‘one-stop-shop’ policy since 2013 and this measure follows on from $17.1 million provided in the 2021–22 Budget to ‘maintain timely Commonwealth environmental assessments and approvals during the transition to single touch approvals’ (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2021–22, p. 57). While industry groups are supportive of this policy, environment and science stakeholders have argued that a move to single touch approvals should only occur in concert with the full suite of reforms recommended by the Samuel Review (see the Parliamentary Library’s Bills Digest for the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standards and Assurance) Bill 2021 for more information).

The Government has provided additional funding to address the backlog of environmental approval decisions, beginning with the December 2019 Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2019–20 (p. 216). The timeliness of key decisions has improved from 19% in the December 2019 quarter to 96% in the December 2021 quarter. As noted in previous Budget reviews, some commentators have suggested that the additional funding is ‘merely a reversal of previous funding cuts’ which had reduced staffing and resources.

Informed decision-making

The budget measure provides $28.4 million to support ‘informed decision-making’ processes (Budget paper no. 2, pp. 54-55; with additional details provided in the Ministerial announcement), including:

  • $12 million over 3 years to modernise the environmental offsets policy
  • $9.5 million over 4 years to improve compliance
  • $4.9 million in the 2022–23 fiscal year to strengthen our knowledge base of protected plants and animals
  • $2 million in the 2022–23 fiscal year to scope a new advisory committee to provide expert industry and technology advice to the government.

These measures appear to partially respond to several of the recommendations of the Samuel Review. The Review’s Final Report recommended immediate changes to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s Environmental Offsets Policy (recommendation 27) and, together with a recent Australian National Audit Office Performance Audit, identified significant deficiencies with current compliance and enforcement efforts (p. 147). The Samuel Review also identified deficiencies in the management of environmental data (recommendations 31 and 32) and recommended an immediate reform of statutory committees under the EPBC Act (recommendations 12 and 33). The Review recommended the formation of 4 specialist committees (Indigenous Engagement and Participation, Biodiversity and Conservation Science, Australian Heritage Council, and Water Resources) to be overseen by an overarching Ecologically Sustainable Development Committee (ESDC). The ESDC would be responsible for oversight and management of monitoring, evaluating and reporting on the outcomes of the EPBC Act.

However, some commentators have observed that the Budget does not provide anything on the scale needed to arrest the ‘trajectory of environmental decline’ documented in the Samuel Review.


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