Budget throws loose change at environment and climate

Budget 2021-22 misses the wave of change sweeping the world, sticking with false hopes that fossil fuels will drive growth, but leaving a mounting cost in lost economic activity and jobs, not to mention environmental damage, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said.

“Environment and climate spending represents less than 1% (0.8%) of the federal budget,” said ACF’s Economy and Democracy Program Manager, Matt Rose.

“To put it another way, out of every $100 in this budget, 80 cents went to climate, water and the environment.

“The Morrison government continues to shovel public money at fossil fuel projects while reducing funds for tackling climate change and the degradation of nature.

“The government is throwing loose change at Australia’s climate and extinction crisis.”

Fossil fuels

The fuel tax credit subsidy, which allows multinational mining companies like Rio Tinto, BHP and Glencore to pay zero tax on their off-road diesel use, will cost Australians $35.5 billion across the forward estimates.

In his budget speech Treasurer Josh Frydenberg talked about ‘unlocking vast gas reserves’.

The budget includes $58.6m for the gas industry (including $38.7m directly to gas infrastructure) through providing money for:

  • Gas storage facilities at Golden Beach and Iona in Victoria
  • The expansion of South West Victorian Pipeline
  • The Wallumbilla Gas Supply Hub in Queensland ($6.2 million over two years)
  • An import terminal project – most likely at Port Kembla in NSW
  • A pipeline pre-feasibility study for the North Bowen Basin in Queensland

The budget includes $539.2m for five hydrogen hubs ($275.5m) and carbon capture and storage ($263.7m) – projects that aim to prolong the life of the fossil fuel industry and $217m to upgrade roads in the Northern Territory linked to gas in and around the Beetaloo Basin.

The government will provide $15.7m in 2021-22 to support gas industry field appraisal trials in the North Bowen and Galilee basins.

The budget includes $30m over two years for Squadron Energy’s gas and hydrogen power station in Port Kembla. The proposed power station was one of 12 projects shortlisted under the government’s Underwriting New Generation Investments program in 2019. Only two other shortlisted projects received initial support, both for proposed gas generators.

“Subsidies for the gas industry fly in the face of climate science and further demonstrate to the world that despite shifting global trends Australia remains a climate laggard.”

Nature

This budget sees a marginal increase of $16m on last year’s spending for on-ground biodiversity work, but spending on these programs has declined by 39% since the Coalition came to office in 2013. Over the forward estimates (through to 2025) this budget projects a decline of 55% for on-ground biodiversity work from 2013.

The budget includes $29.3m over four years to implement the stalled reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

There is no funding 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.

The budget includes $22.3m for a pilot biodiversity stewardship program and $9.1m for the creation of environmental markets.

Water funding under Outcome 5 in the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is a large spending area, however funding is due to rapidly decline by 2024-25, repeating the pattern from the 2018-19 Budget.

“While new pilot programs are welcome, the reality is spending on core biodiversity conservation programs is in a long decline.

“To conserve Australia’s threatened species we should be investing at least $1.69 billion per year, based on the latest scientific research. This budget comes nowhere near that.

“ACF welcomes the $100m for marine park management, restoring coastal areas, expanding Indigenous Protected Areas to include the sea in nine locations, and for natural capital accounting to quantify the environmental and economic benefits of marine ecosystems.

“ACF welcomes the $10m for recovery efforts for 10 species, including the platypus.”

Climate, transition and rehabilitation

The budget includes $209.7m for an Australian Climate Service to increase the government’s capacity to predict and prepare for extreme weather events caused by a changing climate.

There is $30m for the Katherine-Darwin Interconnected System big battery project and microgrid rollout in the Northern Territory.

ACF welcomes the commitment to support long overdue rehabilitation work at the former Rum Jungle uranium mine south of Darwin.

ACF was denied access to this year’s pre-budget lock-up.

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