Budget Resources

Dr Emily Gibson and Dr Martin Smith


Prior to budget day, the Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek, announced funding for the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and Commonwealth national parks totalling $470.9 million (primarily for new and upgraded infrastructure). The Minister argued that ‘one of the chief tasks of this budget has been restoring Australia’s environmental institutions after a decade of hostility and neglect’.

In addition to this preannounced funding, the 2023–24 Budget also includes a range of other environment-related measures that progress the implementation of the government’s 2022 Nature Positive Plan and its response to the Independent review of Australian Carbon Credit Units (the Chubb Review). According to the minister, ‘the 2023–24 Budget will help us protect more of what’s precious, repair more of what’s damaged, and manage nature better for the future’.

Much of the investment reflects commitments taken to the May 2022 election by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and builds on measures included in the October 2023–23 Budget, as discussed in the Parliamentary Library’s Budget review October 2022–23 paper ‘Environment’ (pp. 5053).

Threatened species and habitats

The budget measure ‘National Heritage Trust – project funding’ provides $741.3 million from the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) Special Account to be spent over 5 years from 2023–24 on a range of environment and agriculture programs (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2023–24, p. 76). The cost will be met from existing funds in the special account. The minister describes the NHT measure as part of the government’s efforts to ‘repair more of what’s damaged’.

The measure includes:

  • $341.2 million over 5 years from 2023–24 to protect nature, threatened species and habitats, and deliver programs such as BushBlitz
  • $50 million over 5 years from 2023–24 to restore and conserve Ramsar-listed wetlands and catchments
  • $48 million over 5 years from 2023–24 to continue management of state-managed.

At the time of writing, it is unclear whether these are new programs or a redistribution of funding within programs announced in the 2022–23 October budget measure of the same name (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 202223 October, p. 68). For example, the remaining $302.1 million over 5 years from 2023­–24 to support climate-smart sustainable agriculture is identical to the program announced in the last budget.

Some stakeholders do not consider the NHT funding sufficient to arrest the noted decline in the state of Australia’s environment. In response to the budget, the Wilderness Society commented (p. 14):

It is disappointing to see, at this crucial moment, that key conservation functions, such as those needed to protect World Heritage and foster species recovery, are once again underfunded and deprioritised. We’ve heard this Government bemoan a “lost decade” under the former coalition governments, yet looking at this year’s budget, we fear nature risks losing so much more. The overall level of funding is still broadly consistent with that of previous governments.

Commonwealth national parks

The government is providing $355.1 million over 4 years from 2023–24 (and $68 million per year ongoing) to the Director of National Parks under the measure ‘Protecting Australia’s Iconic National Parks’ (Budget paper no. 2, pp. 79–80). The measure includes the $262.3 million investment in Commonwealth national parks as announced prior to the budget and an additional $92.8 million to provide essential services (including critical infrastructure and housing) for the Muṯitjulu community within Uluṟu‐Kata Tjuṯa National Park. The funding for national parks comprises:

  • $127.8 million over 4 years from 2023–24 (and $40.3 million per year ongoing) to sustain core business, and deliver environmental conservation, on-park research and threatened species protection
  • $70.4 million over 4 years from 2023–24 (and $25.6 million per year ongoing) to sustain existing assets and prevent further deterioration, and address immediate safety risks by replacing assets
  • $53.5 million over 4 years from 2023–24 to address infrastructure needs, including housing and visitor needs, at the Booderee, Kakadu and Uluṟu‐Kata Tjuṯa national parks
  • $10.6 million over 4 years from 2023–24 (and $1.5 million per year ongoing) for essential technology and communication upgrades.

. The measure will be partially offset by redirecting funding from the National Water Grid Fund.

Securing the future of Australia’s marine science

As announced prior to the budget, the government will provide $163.4 million over 4 years from 2023–24 (and $43.5 million per year ongoing) to address ongoing financial sustainability at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, as discussed in the Parliamentary Library’s Budget review 2023–24 article ‘Science and research’.

Urban rivers and catchments

In the lead‑up to the May 2022 election, the ALP committed $200 million for the Urban Rivers and Catchment program. The program provides grants to community groups and governments to ‘improve local waterways, fund activities that restore the natural habitats of aquatic species and create recreational spaces for local communities’ (Budget paper no. 2, p. 81). The 2022–23 October Budget provided the first tranche of this funding (Budget paper no. 2: 202223 October, p. 78) and the latest 2023–24 Budget measure ‘Urban Rivers and Catchments Program - additional funding’ provides the second tranche of funding.

However, the funding profile in Budget paper no. 2 indicates that the first tranche of funding is yet to be spent and that the program will largely be delivered beyond the forward estimates (p. 81). The budget papers indicate that $77.4 million will be provided to the states and territories through to 2026–27, with allocations yet to be determined (Federal financial relations: budget paper no. 3: 2023–24, p. 92).

Implementing the Nature Positive Plan

The 2023–24 Budget implements key elements of the government’s Nature Positive Plan, released in December 2022 in response to the Independent review of the EPBC Act (the Samuel Review). The Samuel Review, released in October 2020, made 38 recommendations to reform Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The proposed reforms were discussed in the Parliamentary Library’s Briefing book paper ‘Reform of Australia’s national environmental law’. The government’s initial response was discussed in the Budget review October 202223 article ‘Environment’ (pp. 5053).

The ‘Nature Positive Plan – better for the environment, better for business’ measure provides $214.1 million over 4 years from 2023–24 (and $4.5 million per year ongoing) to (Budget paper no. 2, p. 77):

  • establish Environment Protection Australia (EPA) ‘to enforce environmental laws and restore confidence in Australia’s environmental protection system’ ($121.0 million over 4 years from 2023–24)
  • establish Environment Information Australia ‘to provide an authoritative source of high-quality environmental information’ ($51.5 million over 4 years from 2023–24 and $4.5 million per year ongoing)
  • implement other reforms, including ‘legislative reforms and national environment standards’ ($34 million over 2 years from 2023–24)
  • continue developing the foundations of the Nature Repair Market, including detailed rules for different types of projects ($7.7 million in 2023–24).

The Samuel Review recommended that ‘the Commonwealth Government should increase the transparency of the operation of the EPBC Act’ (Recommendation 11), and reform data, information and systems (Recommendations 31 and 32).

Reflecting the ALPs commitments in the lead‑up to the May 2022 election, the government included the establishing the EPA and introducing national environment standards as the centre pieces of its Nature Positive Plan. The independent EPA will ‘restore trust and integrity’, while ‘the standards will also enshrine transparency, streamline processes and support faster decision making’ (Nature Positive Plan, pp. 11, 28). Some stakeholders, such as the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and the Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, argue that the funding for the EPA is insufficient to meet requirements. The government has indicated it ‘will consider future funding for the Nature Positive Plan when initial establishment work has been completed and ongoing administrative and operational requirements are better understood’ (Budget paper no. 2, p. 77).

Legislation will be required to establish the EPA and to amend the EPBC Act to embed national environmental standards. The minister had committed to introducing legislation to establish the EPA by the end of 2023, but it now seems this could occur in early 2024 (p. 4).

In March 2023, the Government introduced legislation to establish the Nature Repair Market. In submissions on the exposure draft of the Bill, stakeholders raised concerns in relation to a range of policy and technical aspects of this proposed market. Moreover, many submitters felt strongly that the Bill should not progress until the broader reforms to the EPBC Act have been finalised. Notably, the government is yet to commit any funding to underwrite the market at its commencement. The Bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 1 August 2023. For more information, see the Parliamentary Library’s Bills digest.

Responding to the Chubb Review

In March 2022, concerns were raised about the integrity of Australia’s carbon market. These concerns focused on the implementation of several land sector methods, lack of transparency, and conflicting roles of the Clean Energy Regulator (CER). Reflecting an election commitment, in July 2022 the government announced the Independent review of Australian Carbon Credit Units headed by the former Chief Scientist Ian Chubb. The Final report, released in December 2022, found that the scheme was fundamentally sound, but there were areas for improvement, and made 16 wide-ranging recommendations. In January 2023, these recommendations were given in principle support by the government.

The budget measure ‘Independent Review of Australian Carbon Credit Units – initial response’ provides $18.1 million over 2 years from 2023–24 to implement priority reforms (Budget paper no. 2, p. 72). This includes:

  • audits of human‑induced regeneration projects ($5.9 million over 2 years from 2023–24)
  • an upgrade of the Clean Energy Regulator’s systems to enable it to publish carbon estimation area data ($4.5 million over 2 years from 2023–24)
  • establishment of the Carbon Abatement Integrity Committee (CAIC) ($3.5 million over 2 years from 2023–24)
  • further consultation on the design of reforms ($4.2 million over 2 years from 2023–24).

Other reforms have already been implemented. These include moving responsibility for method development from the CER to the Department of Climate Change Energy Environment and Water (Budget paper no. 2, p. 72) and initial legislative amendments associated with the government’s Safeguard Mechanism reforms. The passage of legislation will be required to implement further reforms, including transitioning the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee into the CAIC.

Stakeholder comments

In pre-budget submissions, environment stakeholders argued for a substantial increase in funding for biodiversity conservation, consistent with expert analysis, such as that in 2019 and 2021 which estimated that spending $2 billion per year over 30 years ‘could restore 13 million [hectares] of degraded land without affecting intensive agriculture and urban areas’ and ‘result in almost all (99.8%) of Australia's degraded terrestrial ecosystems reaching 30% vegetation coverage, enabling a trajectory to recover critical ecological functions’. In the lead-up to the budget, Professor Euan Ritchie argued that ‘continuing to choose not to significantly lift environmental spending… and contortions to justify this callous neglect are a national disgrace’.

Given the limited spending on environmental measures compared to the estimates required for ecological restoration, there has been a tepid response to the announced measures. For example, the ACF said ‘the government's approach to the biodiversity crisis could best be described as timid’. In a similar vein, World Wildlife Fund Australia felt the budget fell short, saying ‘the budget has not delivered nearly enough funds for new protected areas and threatened species recovery.… But the funds to back these commitments don’t take us anywhere near what’s been promised, and what’s needed to prevent further wildlife extinctions’. The Australian Land Conservation Alliance observed that ‘despite the worsening nature crisis and its increasing social and economic impacts, Australia’s legacy of structural underfunding for on-ground nature conservation has largely continued’. Finally, members of the Biodiversity Council argued that while they ‘endorse the government’s plans to strengthen Australia’s environment protection laws... it must increase, by an order of magnitude, spending on threatened species and damaged ecosystems’.


All online articles accessed May 2023

For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.

© Commonwealth of Australia

Creative commons logo

Creative Commons

With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, and to the extent that copyright subsists in a third party, this publication, its logo and front page design are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence.

In essence, you are free to copy and communicate this work in its current form for all non-commercial purposes, as long as you attribute the work to the author and abide by the other licence terms. The work cannot be adapted or modified in any way. Content from this publication should be attributed in the following way: Author(s), Title of publication, Series Name and No, Publisher, Date.

To the extent that copyright subsists in third party quotes it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material.

Inquiries regarding the licence and any use of the publication are welcome to webmanager@aph.gov.au.

This work has been prepared to support the work of the Australian Parliament using information available at the time of production. The views expressed do not reflect an official position of the Parliamentary Library, nor do they constitute professional legal opinion.

Any concerns or complaints should be directed to the Parliamentary Librarian. Parliamentary Library staff are available to discuss the contents of publications with Senators and Members and their staff. To access this service, clients may contact the author or the Library‘s Central Enquiry Point for referral.