Commonwealth funding of environmental programs
This chapter looks at the abolition of the Biodiversity Fund by the
current government and the funding now available from the Commonwealth
Department of the Environment (the department) for environmental programs,
including current funding opportunities provided by the Green Army and 20
Million Trees programs.
The Biodiversity Fund was a Commonwealth government initiative under the
previous government. The Fund aimed 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 to protect carbon and
biodiversity values on their land.
The Biodiversity Fund was part of a larger $1.7 billion Land Sector
Package which was established under the Clean Energy Future plan. The Fund was
provided with $946 million in 2011 for its first six years.
In the 2013–14 Budget, it was announced that for the financial years 2013–2016,
$32.3 million of the Fund would be redirected to resource the implementation of
the Tasmanian Forests Agreement and other government priorities. An additional
$225.4 million was also 'rephased' from this four year period, meaning that
this money would be spent in 2017–18 and 2018–19. The reason provided by the government
for this decision was the lower projected carbon price estimates.
In July 2013, the then Treasurer, the Hon Chris Bowen MP, announced that $213 million
of unallocated money for the Biodiversity Fund would be returned to the budget
in response to a floating carbon price.
Following the change of government in 2013, funding for the Biodiversity
Fund was reduced over four years to achieve savings of $1.4 million. This
saving was in addition to the savings achieved by the government from
abolishing the Biodiversity Fund as part of repealing the carbon tax. The
Biodiversity Fund was abolished from 15 October 2013.
Under the Biodiversity Fund, two rounds of general funding were
conducted (in 2011–12 and 2013–14). A further two targeted rounds focused on northern
Australia and Tasmania. Projects included those in coastal areas, border
ranges, urban waterways and central Australia.
Projects which received funding greater than, or equal to, $500,000 were
required to conduct ecological monitoring and report the data collected to the
department. These recipients were required to collect data using one of six
Projects funded under the
The first round of funding provided $271 million to 'revegetate,
rehabilitate and restore over 18 million hectares of the Australian landscape
over the next six years', with $31 million allocated for the first year of the
A total of 317 projects were funded under round one. The projects funded
were generally for a period of three or more years. Information published in
2012 by the then Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population
and Communities (SEWPaC) stated that:
Projects selected for Round One will increase the size of
habitat areas for a whole range of at-risk native species and improve
connectivity between them. The flow-on benefits of this include:
increasing the biodiversity and therefore resilience of the
building up the environment's ability to cope with the pressures
of climate change, and
creating a means for more carbon pollution to be naturally
captured and stored.
The Biodiversity Fund represented a significant investment of
Commonwealth funds in Australia's environment, and allowed ecologically complex
solutions to be pursued across a variety of landscapes across Australia. After
the successful projects were announced in 2012, it was stated that:
Over 100,000 hectares of land nation-wide will be
revegetated, while close to 5 million hectares will be restored. Around 13
million hectares will be protected from invasive species.
The Biodiversity Fund projects also encouraged community support for
environmental activities with SEWPaC stating:
The Biodiversity Fund has received overwhelming community
support, with an additional $207 million committed by the biodiversity projects
in cash or in kind contributions. A number of project managers have vowed to
continue building and working on the projects beyond the funding period.
The following case studies highlight the types of projects that were
conducted under the Biodiversity Fund and demonstrate the nuanced approach to
the conservation of biodiversity that was possible under the Biodiversity Fund.
Case study: Australian Rainforest
The Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) is a
non-government, not-for-profit organisation which seeks to 'protect, repair and
restore the extraordinary rainforests of Australia' through research, advocacy
and public education.
The ARCS received funding of $270,000 over three years. The funding was
for a long-term project which aimed to:
...restore and enhance critical habitat and functional
connectivity, lost over the last century, around the wet heartland of the
Gondwana Rainforests Heritage Area...
The project sought to increase carbon storage by regenerating the canopy
cover and 'key ecosystem functions', thus making the area more resilient to
climate change and restoring degraded lands. The project aimed to be
cost-effective, drawing on current scientific theory and technology to evaluate
strategies for regeneration.
Dr Aila Keto, President, ARCS, told the committee that the program
carried out by the ARCS and funded under the Biodiversity Fund to remove weeds
from forest areas was more ecologically complex than planting trees. Dr Keto
noted that ARCS's third year of funding was cut, which had a significant impact
on its work:
That put enormous pressure on us to compress our work from
what was essentially a three-year period into two. It does highlight that
substantial funding is required for those really tough problems and not just
Case study: Australian Wildlife
The Australian Wildlife Conservancy is the largest private owner of land
for conservation in Australia, with ownership and management of more than three
million hectares across 23 properties around Australia.
The Conservancy received funding of $309,800 for six years under the
Biodiversity Fund in order to carry out the restoration of wet sclerophyll
forests and woodlands in north-east Australia, at Mount Zero-Taravale.
Sclerophyll forests provide habitats for native rainforest and woodland
fauna. Wet sclerophyll forest is a distinct ecosystem type that occurs at a
border between dry savannah and rainforest. It requires management in order to
persist and retain its characteristic plants and animals. In the past,
management was carried out through Aboriginal fire regimes, or regular planned
These forests require frequent burning in order to maintain their
biodiversity and keep their grassy understory. Understory refers to the
smallest height class of vegetation that can be found in a forest, and includes
very small plants that can grow in the shade of taller trees. By burning the
grassy understory regularly, weeds that have begun to dominate the understory
of the forest can be removed, allowing the vegetation to be restored.
The funding provided under the Biosecurity Fund allowed the Australian
Wildlife Conservancy to thin out the dense understory, which had been taken
over by rainforest plants, before reintroducing fire regimes. By undertaking
this work, the wet sclerophyll forest is able to be restored to its former
habitat. The project has been conducted with attention paid to monitoring of
the impact of the work, and has drawn on 'a suite of indicators of ecological
health by undertaking each year more than 2,000 live trap nights, 24 vegetation
surveys and at least 1,500 camera trap nights'.
Case study: Goulburn Broken
Catchment Management Authority
The Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (Goulburn Broken CMA)
is the peak natural resource management body for the catchment of the Goulburn
and Broken Rivers of northern Victoria and the Murray Darling Basin of southern
New South Wales.
Funding of around $2.67 million was allocated for six years to aid in
the revegetation of Sand Ridge Woodlands. The project aimed to protect the
cultural and natural value of sand hills, which have a significant cultural
value for the Indigenous Yorta Yorta people in the area.
The project would work with the Yorta Yorta people in cultural heritage
management and to revegetate 'rare, unique, endangered and degraded Sand
Further, it was stated that:
Revegetation will expand the extent and connectivity of these
ecosystems, provide linkages to fragmented remnants on farmland, and play a
role in securing natural stores of carbon. These sites are also of high
Indigenous cultural significance, and are often associated with occupation and
The Goulburn Broken CMA stated that the first three years of the project
has yielded beneficial results including:
1,346 hectares of revegetation
237 hectares of remnant protection
1,583 hectare area managed for pest plant and animals
450 kilograms of native seed collected and direct drilled
16.56 km kilometres of fencing
4,466 plants planted.
The Goulburn Broken CMA noted that the funding provided an opportunity
to pursue complex ecological work aimed at conservation of biodiversity and
sites of cultural significance to Indigenous Australians:
The unique approach of a project that spans catchment
boundaries and the state border has provided opportunity for YYNAC [Yorta Yorta
Nation Aboriginal Corporation] to develop partnerships, in areas where there
had previously been little engagement, and has allowed for the improved
management of many sand ridge woodland sites and associated cultural values that
were not previously recorded or protected.
Assessment of the Biosecurity Fund
The Department of the Environment indicated to the committee that the
'total impact of the Biodiversity Fund has not been fully worked through, and
it will be not be evaluated until near the completion of that program'. The
department went on to state:
The follow-on from that is that it is very difficult to
say—in the absence of the quantitative measurement of how many trees and how
many threatened species were addressed, in terms of plantings and native
vegetation restoration—what the impact of that has been, when you do not know
what the full impact of the investments will be...probably a lot of the total
value of those investments that are being made now and have been made for the
last three years and will continue for the next two years will not be fully
realised for a decade.
Current environmental funding opportunities
The Department of the Environment currently runs a number of funding and
grants programs, including the National Landcare Programme, Reef 2050, Solar
Towns and the National Environmental Science Programme.
The current National Landcare Programme was announced in the 2013–14
Budget and replaced Caring for Our Country. Funding of $1 billion would be
provided over four years for the National Landcare Programme.
This represented a significant cut in funding compared to previous programs.
The committee's recent report on the National Landcare Programme
provides an in depth assessment of the impact of funding cuts on natural
resource management programs and the consequent threat to environmental
In particular, the committee commented on the loss of grant programs for
community and Landcare groups and the diversion of funding to the Green Army
and 20 Million Trees programs.
During the current inquiry, the Department of the Environment provided
the committee with information on funding for on-the-ground small local
projects. The department noted that these were consistent with regional
priorities under the National Landcare Programme framework. It was indicated
that the target of $90 million of funding for small and local groups, out
of a total $450 million in total funding over the forward estimates, has been
exceeded and that approximately $120 million would be provided to these groups.
The committee's report on the National Landcare Programme also commented
on the newly created Green Army Programme, which provides training and
experience in environmental and heritage conservation for young people in a
and the 20 Million Trees project.
The department explained that the Green Army Programme is 'a hands-on,
practical environmental action programme that taps into local knowledge and
supports grassroots action to meet local environmental challenges'.
The program, which has been allocated $525 million over four years,
provides funding for a range of activities, such as:
revegetating river catchments, coastal foreshores, rainforests
restoring culturally significant sites while working closely with
weed control; and
monitoring threatened species.
The department commented that the Green Army is being used by local
groups as a way to deliver local environment outcomes.
The 20 Million Trees Programme will provide $50 million over the next
four years to support projects that deliver environmental benefits at the local
level through community participation in re-establishing native vegetation.
Response to changes in funding arrangements
The committee received general concerns from witnesses and submitters
about the implications that changes to access to Commonwealth funding and
decreases in the level of funding for environmental projects would have for the
future of Australia's environment. For example, the Australian Conservation
Foundation (ACF) stated that:
Reducing our investment in the long term management and
stewardship of our essential national assets is unwise and ultimately a false
The ACF went on to add:
The stewardship of national environmental assets, and the
management of these assets, is a key test of any federal government or
The Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, Fraser Coast Branch,
...cuts to or abolition of environmental programs sabotage the
investment in our environment by the tax-payer and the community over the last
25 years. Like health and education, the environment requires on-going
investment. These cuts also undermine our democracy.
Submitters and witnesses warned of the danger that funding gaps and
short-term environmental planning would have on the future of Australia's
environment. The Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, Fraser Coast
A sustainable future for Australia depends on long-term
vision, transcending the three-year federal election cycle. It also depends on achievement
of 'triple bottom line' objectives: social and environmental, not just
economic. Importantly, a vibrant economic future for Australia depends on
diverse industries. Quite simply, the Abbott Government has shown a complete
disregard for all sectors of the economy other than the mining sector. Without
a healthy environment and a broad-based economy targeting future needs in a
post-industrial world, our communities and personal well-being, and our economy
overall, will inevitably suffer.
The Adelaide Hills Climate Action Group wrote that 'the damage caused by
this Government on environmental assets and protections will not be able to be
The Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland submitted that, with
regard to funding cuts environmental programs, 'the big loser is the environment and its biodiversity'.
Similarly, the Society's Fraser Coast Branch expressed the view that:
...short-sighted actions and decisions taken by the current
federal Government which we are convinced will have an overwhelmingly negative
impact on both our natural heritage and Australia's future prosperity.
The concerns for the environment as a result of the decrease in funding
under the National Landcare Programme were canvassed by the committee in its recent
report. However, submitters to this inquiry also commented specifically about
the abolition of the Biodiversity Fund and the impact on community groups. The
following paragraphs consider this evidence.
Abolition of the Biodiversity Fund
Submitters commented on the importance of biosecurity and asserted that
the abolition of the Biodiversity Fund was a backward step. One submitter, for
example, stated that:
There appears to be no consideration or concern for
conserving the biological factors, the existence of which underpin our human
existence, neither is there any apparent concern for degrading features that
pollute the environment. The government policies defunding environmental
protections for the various representative bodies are shockingly devoid of any
pretence of environmental protections – which by extrapolation means society's
health and welfare.
The Australian Wildlife Protection Council stated that the 'axing of the
Biodiversity Fund is a shock as it is replaced with nothing'.
The ACF also commented on the abolition of the Biosecurity Fund, with Mr Don
Henry, CEO, stating:
...cuts to the Biodiversity Fund weaken Australia's efforts to
protect our natural environment from the impacts of climate change and is a
Our natural environment, including the Great Barrier Reef,
our forests and tropical savannahs, are being impacted by climate change now –
it's important we invest more in protecting, managing and restoring these
landscapes so they can naturally store carbon more effectively.
ACF urges the Government to strengthen efforts to protect our
natural environment from the impacts of climate change.
Dr Keto, ARCS, argued that the loss of long-term funding would have
detrimental effects on the environment:
The problem is that there is a loss of durable, long-term
core funding for long-term environmental problems. More seriously, social
capital can be lost. We had a coherent set of programs within a framework that
was allied to monitoring outcomes that involve the atlas of living Australia.
The original budget, whereas it was not long term, provided a good start for
trying to recover the environmental problems that we have today.
In evidence, the department acknowledged that 'biodiversity remains in
decline', but added that there was evidence that 'activities and responses that
have been made since the mid-nineties and particularly since 2001 or 2002 are
beginning to show evidence of having an impact'. Further, although 'there has
been recovery in a number of areas where there has been investment, the overall
trend of biodiversity is still one of decline'.
The department noted that, while the Biodiversity Fund has been
abolished, 'the Government is...honouring the contracted projects entered into by
the previous Government under the Biodiversity Fund'.
Impact of cuts on small community
The committee received evidence of the importance of engagement of
community groups in environmental projects. Engagement of community groups not
only leads to improved environmental outcomes, but it also provides significant
benefits through capacity building within communities and improving community
The recent reduction in the funding available for these groups to
access was viewed with concern. For example, Ms Kate Watson commented that the
funding cuts for environmental groups sends the message that 'the government
does not actually value the environment and perhaps regards it as something
that will survive despite all the cuts and without any support.
Ms Nicky Hungerford from the Queensland Conservation Council indicated
to the committee that the cuts to funding would have a significant detrimental
impact on the capacity for organisations to provide assistance, for example, to
farmers. Ms Hungerford went on to comment that this will have an impact on
sustainable agriculture and noted that the Queensland Conservation Council has,
in the past, provided advice to farmers to enable sustainable land management.
In addition, Ms Hungerford noted that lack of funding for staff means
that small organisations would not be able to provide current information or
advice when changes are made to legislation.
In a group submission, a network of state-level conservation councils
and organisations commented on the role of community environment organisations.
Non-profit, non-government environment organisations play an important part in democratic society and make significant contributions to the protection and conservation of Australia's environment. For example, environmental NGOs can:
Provide input into agenda-setting
and policy development processes, including local,
on-ground perspectives and case studies
Support long term policy development, unlike Governments who operate within
short term election
Collate and disseminate information to supporters and the broader
Keep Government accountable, including by monitoring the Government’s performance and calling them to account.
Undertake on-ground activities to restore and conserve natural landscapes.
Advocate for the public interest
and environmental justice.
Submitters also voiced concern about the impact of new programs on
community conservation groups. The Australian Council of Trade Unions, in
relation to the Green Army, stated that:
We also wish to register our disappointment with the 2014
Federal Budget announcement that stripped more than $480 million from the
National Landcare Program, which provides community grants to conservation
volunteers. The funds previously allocated to Landcare have now been diverted
into the Coalition's 'Green Army' Program. The Green Army pays young jobseekers
less than the minimum wage to work on the very environmental projects that
Landcare volunteers used to undertake. This may mean that local conservation
groups are forced to shut down to make way for underpaid and poorly trained
Green Army workers. We call upon the Senate to provide additional funding to
those conservation projects that were defunded or had their funding stripped as
a result of the 2014 Federal Budget.
Response to new programs
The committee commented on the 20 Million Trees and the Green Army programs
in its recent report on the National Landcare Program. However, the committee
received further evidence on these two programs during this inquiry.
In relation to the 20 Million Trees program, Dr Keto, ARCS, noted that
according to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as set out by the Convention on
Biological Diversity, planting trees should be seen as a last resort.
In addition, Dr Keto commented that the 20 million trees was not adequate
to address broad scale environment concerns:
...you do not plant unless you have evidence that you
absolutely need to because effectively the 20 million trees only amounts to the
equivalent of about 25,000 hectares. That is infinitesimally small compared to
the scale of the problem we have to address. To address that scale of a problem
we have to find economically viable ways of scaling up small-scale work and we
can only do it if we utilise the services of nature—let nature do most of the
planting wherever it is possible. That is just not there in the 20 Million
Trees Program or the current program so I think there is a lot of rethinking
that needs to be done.
The ARCS concluded that locally-targeted funding programs run by the
Department of the Environment are not sufficient replacements for the
The replacement by the 20 Million Trees, Green Army, National
Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Hub is unlikely to help avert
an escalating number of species extinctions.
Submitters also did not consider that the Green Army initiative would
make up for the loss of overall funding for environmental programs and was
unlikely to deliver long-term environmental improvements.
The department commented on both the 20 Million Trees and the Green Army
programs. On the 20 Million Trees Programme, the department noted that a
significant source of funding was being provided:
In terms of where else people can go for funding, there are
significant funding rounds being undertaken with respect to 20 Million Trees as
well, which is incredibly important, not only for delivering the target of
20 million trees and in terms of the connectivity that it is going to
deliver in regional Australia, but also, importantly, for looking at plantings
in both urban and peri-urban areas. So, again, there is funding in that that is
available to those groups, but, obviously, the Biodiversity Fund funding is now
fully allocated and being delivered.
In relation to the Green Army, the department commented it is
increasingly being used by local groups as a way to deliver local environment
The committee considers that there is now a gap in environmental
protection with the abolition of the Biodiversity Fund. The committee received
evidence that biodiversity conservation requires complex environmental
programs. The Biodiversity Fund provided much-needed funding for nuanced
environmental programs which require more complex approaches than currently offered
by locally targeted programs.
The Biodiversity Fund was also a significant investment by the
Commonwealth in environmental programs which aimed at conserving biodiversity
around Australia. Given that the outcomes of programs funded under the Biodiversity
Fund have yet to be evaluated, the committee considers that its abolition was
The committee acknowledges that funding will be provided to complete
projects. However, the committee considers that the benefits arising from
targeted funding programs are extremely important to the long-term biodiversity
of the Australian environment and therefore the funding, which had previously
been available under the Biodiversity Fund, should be reinstated.
The committee recommends that the Department of the Environment
undertake an evaluation of the impact of the Biodiversity Fund.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government reinstate
funding for projects for biodiversity conservation to the level which had been
available under the Biodiversity Fund.
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