Budget Review 2013–14 Index

Bill McCormick

There has been a significant redirection of money from the Biodiversity Fund ($32.3 million) and from Caring for our Country ($141.5 million) to fund the implementation of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement, drought reform and other Government priorities.

Tasmanian Forests Agreement

The 2011 Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement[1] committed the Australian and Tasmanian Governments to provide $277 million over 15 years to support the reservation of substantial areas of native forests and restructure the Tasmanian forest industry to cope with a significant reduction of sawlog production.[2] Following the passage of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Bill 2012, the Prime Minister and Premier signed a revised Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement[3] on 2 May 2013 which will result in the inclusion of 504,012 hectares of native forest in reserves with a minimum of 137,000 cubic metres of high quality sawlogs annually being made available from state forests. It commits $209.4 million in joint Australian and Tasmanian Government funding, with $178 million already having been provided under the 2011 Intergovernmental Agreement.[4]

The Agreement has split the Australian Greens, who oppose it, from their Tasmanian Greens colleagues, the Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Society (ACF) and Environment Tasmania, all of whom have given their support.[5]

The budget provides for an additional $94.5 million for 2012–13 through 2016–17 to implement the Agreement, including $60 million over three years for structural adjustment payments and $8 million to study the potential uses of residues (timber left over after the high quality sawlogs are produced).[6] Funding will also continue for counselling services for forestry workers, to support the Forest Stewardship Council certification process for native forest, for management of the new reserves and to encourage innovation in forest plantations.

Biodiversity Fund

The ongoing Biodiversity Fund[7] is part of the Land Sector package under the Clean Energy Plan. The Fund was provided with $946 million in 2011 for its first six years. It aims to ‘improve the resilience of Australia’s unique species to the impacts of climate change, enhance the environmental outcomes of carbon farming projects, and help landholders protect carbon and biodiversity values on their land.’[8] To date $250 million has been committed to projects.[9]  

For the financial years 2013–2016, the Government has redirected $32.3 million from the fund to resource the implementation of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement and other Government priorities. It has also ‘rephased’ an additional $225.4 million from this four year period, meaning that this money will be spent in 2017–19. The reason provided by the Government for this decision is the lower projection for future carbon prices.[10] More detail of this is provided in the brief Climate Action.

The Budget Papers state that the total expenditure by the fund over eight years will be more than $1 billion. Following the changes made in the Budget, the funding available in the Biodiversity Fund over six years to 2016–17 is approximately $600 million.[11]

Don Henry, CEO of the ACF, raised the ACF’s concerns about the deferral of spending for the Biodiversity Fund which, he said, had provided ‘a much-needed boost to biodiversity conservation in Australia’.[12]

Caring for our Country

In the period 2012–13 to 2016–17, there will be a redirection of $141 million in funding from Caring for our Country[13] (CfoC) to the Tasmanian Forest Agreement and drought reform, as well as to other Government priorities. Landcare is part of the CfoC program, and it seems that some of the funding taken from CfoC is coming from Landcare, whose budget is being reduced by about $60 million when compared to the forward estimates shown in 2012–13.[14]

Criticising the cuts to Landcare, Greening Australia CEO Jason Cummings said that community groups and landholders rely heavily on these programs to deliver public good outcomes relating to water quality and biodiversity improvements.[15] National Farmers Federation President Duncan Fraser criticised this redirection saying the government was ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.[16]

[2].       Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC), ‘Tasmanian Forests’, SEWPaC website, accessed 15 May 2013.

[3].       Council of Australian Governments (COAG), Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement: an agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of Tasmania, COAG, 2013, accessed 24 May 2013.

[4].       J Gillard (Prime Minister), New Tasmanian Forest Pact Protects Jobs and Environment, media release, 2 May 2013, accessed 15 May 2013.

[5].       M Denholm, ‘Flawed forest deal a welcome peace’, The Weekend Australian, 4 May 2013, p. 18, accessed 16 May 2013.

[6].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2013–2014, 2013, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, pp. 79–80, accessed 15 May 2013.

[7].       Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC), ‘Biodiversity Fund’, SEWPaC website, accessed 24 May 2013.

[8].       Clean Energy Future, ‘Biodiversity Fund webpage’, accessed, 16 May 2013.

[9].       Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2013–2014, op. cit., p. 254.

[10].     Ibid., p. 255.

[11].     Personal communication, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

[12].     Environment News Service, ‘Australia trims environment protection in deficit budget’, Environment news service website, 14 May 2013, accessed 17 May 2013.

[13].     Caring for our Country (CfoC), ‘Caring for our Country’, CfoC website, accessed 24 May 2013.

[14].     Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2012–13: budget related paper no.1.1: Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Portfolio, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2012, p. 32, 33.

[15].     Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), ‘Environment groups disappointed by budget cuts’, ABC News website, 16 May 2013, accessed 16 May 2013.

[16].     Agribusiness, ‘Farmers slam Landcare cuts’, The Australian, 16 May 2013, p. 21, accessed 16 May 2013.

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