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.

Howard

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has held the office since March 1996. (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
The 2001-2002 budget presented by the Coalition government of Prime Minister John Howard includes the largest environmental funding commitment in Australia's history.

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.

Costello

Peter Costello, MP, is treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia. (Photo courtesy Office of the Treasurer)
"Environmental degradation poses a long term threat to our quality of life, the quality of future water supplies, and the fragile environment we share as Australians," Costello acknowledged.

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.

Hill

Australian Environment Minister Senator Robert Hill (Photo courtesy IISD)
"The Howard Government will provide A$1 billion over five years to extend the Natural Heritage Trust, commencing in 2002-2003. This funding, along with the initial A$1.5 billion Trust funding and A$700 million National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, is the largest environmental funding commitment in Australia's history," Hill said today.

"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."

Bolkus

Senator Nick Bolkus is the Labor Party's Shadow Minister for Environment and Heritage (Photo courtesy Australian Labor Party)
"Environmental spending under the Howard Government has been characterised by spending cuts, deceptive accounting and broken promises, and this budget is no different," Senator Bolkus alleged.

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.

Henry

Don Henry is executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, one of the nation's largest environmental groups (Photo courtesy ACF)
Speaking for the Australian Conservation Foundation, Henry says the government's budgeted amount for the Natural Heritage Trust is only 10 percent of the amount community groups have identified as absolutely necessary. "ACF and the National Farmers Federation have identified that public investment of $3.7 billion per year over 10 years is required to repair our land and water, but this budget only reaches 10 percent of that figure," he said today.

"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.

river

Aboriginal fish traps in the Barwon River, northern New South Wales (Photo courtesy Murray Darling Basin Commission)
The government has just under A$218 million set aside to deal with climate change issues. Of that A$21.7 million will be spent over four years for international policy and reporting on climate change as well as greenhouse sinks initiatives channeled through the Australian Greenhouse Office.

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.

reef

Underwater on the Great Barrier Reef (Photo courtesy Reef Dive)
The world's longest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, will receive A$25.8 million, about a quarter of which will be spent to modernize the Townsville Aquarium, headquarters for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, to showcase the special values of the Reef. About A$1.7 million will be spent over four years to improve the management of aquaculture adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

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