Australian Budget Extends Natural Heritage Trust by A$1 Billion
CANBERRA, Australia, May 23, 2001 (ENS) - The Australian government has set aside more than A$1.62 billion for environmental conservation and management in a budget tabled in the House of Commons last night. The budget posts a cash surplus of A$1.5 billion and will cut taxes next year by over $5 billion.
It boosts government environmental spending by A$95.6 million over last year, but environmentalists and opposition politicians say much more is needed to deal with Australia's environmental problems.
It is vital that we conserve our environment and natural resources," said Australian Treasurer Peter Costello, introducing the budget last night in the House of Commons.
The Howard Government established Australia's first Natural Heritage Trust of A$1.5 billion in 1997. Costello announced that a new A$1 billion allotment in the budget would extend the Trust by five years to 2006-2007.
Administered jointly by the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Natural Heritage Trust funds environmental projects on the community, state and national levels that improve and integrate biodiversity, land, water and vegetation management on public and private lands.
Federal Environment and Heritage Minister Senator Robert Hill says the government is delivering record levels of funding to protect and restore Australia's environment.
"The environmental priorities defined in the Budget will further improve the management and protection of our natural resources and wildlife, reduce the impacts of pollutants on the environment as well as ensure the continued protection of the Great Barrier Reef," Senator Hill said.
But Senator Nick Bolkus, the Labor Party's Shadow Minister for Environment and Heritage, said the budget represents "a big cut to environmental spending and no new ideas on the environment."
Don Henry, executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation , said, "This budget, and its package of programs, provides poor insurance against the environmental and economic storms that will buffet this ancient and fragile country in coming years."
The government plans to spend A$1 billion over five years to extend the Natural Heritage Trust, beginning in 2002-03. "The Natural Heritage Trust Stage 2 will build on the successes of the original Trust in helping communities protect and repair their local environments," Senator Hill said.
The A$1 billion funding is additional to the $700 million National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the funds generated by the interest on the $300 million remaining in the Natural Heritage Trust Reserve.
Natural Heritage Trust projects are to receive A$275 million in 2001-02. The budget has allocated A$83.8 million to Bushcare, A$69.7 million to the National Landcare program, A$35 million for the Murray-Darling River Basin 2001 program and A$24.4 million for Coasts and Clean Seas.
The opposition environment leader, Senator Bolkus, said that actually represents a cut in spending for Trust projects. "The Howard Government promised $1.5 billion spending over six years from the Natural Heritage Trust. It has broken that promise and cut $130 million from the existing commitment by rolling it over to the next phase of the program," he said.
"The budget contains money for salinity, but without national landclearing and greenhouse laws it does very little to turn around Australia’s devastating environmental degradation," Henry said.
"Despite hard work by the community," Henry said, "a quarter of a billion dollars of Natural Heritage Trust money over the last three years still sees 100 trees cleared for every one planted, and we remain the worst landclearer of any developed country on earth because of a lack of national leadership."
The Howard budget includes A$18.1 million over four years to reduce environmental pollutants Eight million of that will be spent to improve fuel quality in Australia and cut vehicle emissions, A$5.1 million will extend the National Pollutant Inventory, and A$5 million will go to tackle dioxins and dioxin-like substances in the environment.
The budget also provides A$24.2 million over four years for the development of domestic greenhouse policy.
But Henry warns that Australia will still suffer from climate change unless new laws govern emissions including ratification of the Kyoto climate change protocol. "Without national greenhouse laws and ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, greenhouse money will continue to fail to rein in Australia’s spiralling greenhouse emissions."
To improve weather forecasting, A$212.5 million will be spent over the next 12 months for Bureau of Meteorology's operations and services, particularly its services to rural and regional Australia.
To continue protection of the Antarctic environment, the government will spend $100.7 million in 2001-02 for ice, air and marine studies and environmental management projects.
But Henry says more spending is needed to avert environmental disaster. "This Budget, as all previous budgets before it, correctly allocates billions of dollars to health, education, welfare and defence, but fails to acknowledge that the rapid deterioration of Australia’s environment is one of the greatest social and economic challenges confronting our nation."
The Environment and Heritage section of the Australian budget is online at: http://www.ea.gov.au/about/budget/2001/
The Australian Budget for 2001-2002 in its entirety is at: http://www.pmc.gov.au/budget/
A detailed look at the Natural Heritage Trust can be found at: http://www.nht.gov.au/publications/overview/index.html