In the last few weeks, federal MPs have been crisscrossing the country in the lead up to what may be the Morrison Government’s final budget before the next federal election.

The government’s 2021-22 budget will have a lasting impact as we recover from the environmental and health catastrophes that have shaken us in the past 18 months.

In this month’s update, we take a look at ACF’s budget submission which reflects the link between health and our natural environment.

We also bring you up-to-date on moves in parliament to back electric vehicles and clean energy, and prevent government funding for new gas.

Also be inspired by the powerful activities of ACF Community Groups throughout the country.

Power our hospitals with clean energy: ACF budget call

The Morrison Government’s funding decisions for 2021-22 will have a lasting impact on our nation's vitality. The twin impacts of the devastating bushfires and COVID-19 have refocused ACF’s efforts to highlight the link between our natural environment, human health and wellbeing, and the economy.

This year, ACF’s budget submission is focused on positive health and environmental outcomes.

What’s behind it? Australians’ health and wellbeing is being threatened by environmental degradation and a continued reliance on and expansion of toxic fossil fuels. Land clearing and climate change have been linked to the emergence of infectious diseases like COVID-19. Burning fossil fuels like coal, gas, and oil is the biggest driver of rising temperatures, which in turn inflames the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Climate and nature damage is clearly taking its toll on Australians’ health.

The 2020 bushfire smoke alone contributed to an estimated 417 deaths, 1305 emergency presentations for asthma and some 3,151 hospitalisations for cardiovascular and respiratory problems. Medical professionals say the bushfires also had serious implications for our mental wellbeing. Likewise, COVID-19 has had serious health implications.

By 2050, increased heat waves could cause hundreds of additional deaths annually as the population ages. Increased cardiac arrests and heart attacks are also predicted, along with increased health impacts like dehydration, heat stress, heatstroke, and the exacerbation of chronic heart, lung and kidney disease.

What does ACF call for? ACF’s Federal Budget 2021-22 submission calls on the Morrison Government to invest in the health and wellbeing of all Australians and our natural environment, and end investments in fossil fuels.

Specifically, we call on the government to invest $400m over four years to power Australia’s hospitals with clean energy and $1.4bn over four years to rejuvenate nature in urban areas.

The submission calls on the government to commission a comprehensive risk analysis to identify exactly what resources our healthcare system would need if Australia and other OECD countries fail to curb their reliance on fossil fuels.

What’s next? The government will hand down the 2021-22 Budget on Tuesday 11 May. We’ll update you in our May edition of this update!

Backlash against bill funding new gas projects

Independent and Greens parliamentarians are challenging the Morrison Government’s amendments to the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF), which could be used to shuffle taxpayer funds to new fossil fuel projects.

The changes passed by the House of Representatives on 25 March will allow the fund to back massive gas mining projects, like in the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory, and new gas pipelines.

What does it do? The government says its Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021 will speed up the release of funding and allow NAIF to make equity investments in private projects. But the bill will increase Resource Minister Keith Pitt’s powers to interfere in the currently independent NAIF board’s investment decisions. It would also allow the federal government to bypass the state and territory governments to fund certain projects, including interstate gas projects. The NAIF bill was flagged in the government’s Beetaloo Strategic Basin Plan, which said changes to the facility could “support Beetaloo infrastructure developments”.

What happened in parliament? Before the bill was passed in the Lower House, Independent MP Zali Steggall moved amendments to prevent the fund from investing in fossil fuel projects and remove the Department Secretary from the NAIF board. Government and Labor MPs combined to pass the bill.

What’s next? The NAIF Amendment Bill will now move to the Senate where the Greens have flagged they will move further amendments. It may then be sent to a Senate committee for inquiry. But Labor’s vote in support of the bill in the Lower House means it will likely pass the senate.

Move to halt electric vehicle taxes

A surprise move by two state governments to impose new taxes on electric vehicles (EVs) has triggered new federal legislation to stop governments putting hand brakes on EVs.

What happened in parliament? Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice tabled the COAG Reform Fund Amendment (No Electric Vehicle Taxes) Bill 2020 in December last year. The bill seeks to neutralise the effect of state and territory laws that impose discriminatory taxes or charges against EVs by withholding COAG grant funding. That funding would then be redistributed to governments that don’t create roadblocks to EV uptake.

What’s behind it? Senator Janet Rice told the Upper House the transport sector contributes around a fifth of carbon emissions in Victoria and New South Wales, and one third of South Australia’s emissions. The South Australian Liberal government and the Victorian Labor government want to apply road user charges to EVs making it more expensive for people to drive an EV. Electric vehicle owners already pay more than their fair share through the higher costs – more GST, stamp duty, luxury tax and GST on electricity purchases to charge their EV battery. The New South Wales Liberal government is also toying with introducing road user charges.

Electric vehicles only make up 0.6% of new car sales in Australia. Government projections indicate electric vehicles will make up 26% of new vehicle sales in 2030, but this is too slow. Limiting global warming to 1.5oC or less means aiming for 75% of new vehicle sales by 2030 to be electric, and a complete phase out of all fossil-fuelled transport by 2035.

Australia could help do this by setting a target for EVs and other zero emission vehicles. The UK has set a new goal of banning sales of conventional fossil fuel vehicles by 2030, and only allowing zero-emission vehicles from 2035. China is aiming for 25% of all vehicles to be EVs or low emission by 2025, and Japan is aiming for 20-30% by 2030. Already, 35 major cities have committed to only buying zero emissions buses from 2025, including London, Los Angeles, Austin, Auckland, and Moscow.

ACF argues that governments should remove all funding, subsidies and rebates for roads and fossil-fuelled transport, such as the fuel tax credit which mostly benefits large mining companies, and set targets and incentives to encourage EV uptake.

What’s next? The Senate Economics Legislation Committee held just one public hearing into the bill in Melbourne on 22 April. Its inquiry report is due on 30 April.

Plan to power regional jobs with clean energy

Independent MP Helen Haines has introduced landmark legislation that would create a new Commonwealth agency to drive renewable energy projects to power and deliver the benefits to regional Australia.

What’s behind it? Renewable energy projects are booming with most being built in the regions, but the clean energy is overwhelmingly used to power our cities. Regional communities are missing out on the local jobs, skills development, and income. Helen Haine’s Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021 aims to change that by encouraging renewable projects owned by, driven by and delivering tangible benefits to local communities.

What does the bill do? The Australian Local Power Agency (ALPA) would sit alongside Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to administer a dedicated grants scheme backing community energy projects. It would deliver on-the-ground technical support, underwrite community investments in mid-scale energy projects, and facilitate co-investment partnerships between communities and developers. The bill also includes a new requirement that any large renewable energy project in Australia offers the local community a chance to co-invest. Haines has estimated the total cost of the scheme is $483 million over ten years, or around $50 million per year.

What happened in parliament? Haines introduced her Private Members’ bill into the House of Representatives on 22 February. Independent MP Zali Steggall seconded the bill and reserved her right to speak for it but debate was adjourned.

What next? The APLA bill was referred to the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy for inquiry on 24 February, but the Committee has not yet agreed on the inquiry details. We’ll keep you up-to-date on the inquiry and any opportunities to contribute submissions.

Don Drane, Facility Manager at Warwick Solar Farm, Queensland. Photo: Antje Dun

Don Drane, Facility Manager at Warwick Solar Farm, Queensland. Photo: Antje Dun

What else is happening in the House?

Next sittings: The annual joint federal budget sitting of both Houses is on 11-13 May. After that, the Lower House will sit from 24-27 May while Senate Budget Estimates hearings are held on 24-28 May. See the 2021 parliamentary calendar here.

New reports:

  • A report on the inquiry into the Impact of feral deer, pigs and goats in Australia was handed down by the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications on 28 April.

Ongoing inquiries:


ACF Community political advocacy

Changing the story

We need to change the story if we want to win our campaign. Most of the time, the media and popular belief feed us unhelpful stories about people and nature. ACF Community groups, with their creativity and innovative ways, are engaging their communities to disrupt these myths and amplify stories of community power for positive change. Here are some examples over the past month:

ACF Community Eden-Monaro group’s market stall was featured in the Yass Valley Times. “We’re selling signs to raise awareness so they [the community] can pin them to their front yard and make a statement.” 

ACF Community Bendigo District group produced an open access blog to raise awareness of local and national environmental issues in their region. From book reviews to poems, the group is engaging their community in creative ways.

ACF Community Brisbane Northside group held their second market stall of the year at Carseldine Farmers and Artisans Market. They gave away 60 homemade sea creature wristbands and pamphlets about ACF, and collected 30 signatures on the Recover, Rebuild, Renew petition.

ACF Community Tasmania South group attended a Tasmanian election candidates meeting at the Hobart Town Hall. The Tasmanian election was called almost a year early and the government has given candidates and the community very little time to prepare, but this hasn’t stopped ACF Community Tasmania South pressing candidates to think and speak about important environmental issues. The group also ran an information table for ACF at Cleburne Historic Homestead Open Day - Climate & Environmental Groups Expo. Around 250 people visited the house to learn about its history and from the many environmental groups.

ACF Community Bayside group held a fun "Movies that Matter" event. Selling out all tickets, they screened a film about advanced sustainable ways to live and save the planet. The screening was followed by a discussion where participants exchanged great ideas about limiting consumerism.

ACF Community Macnamara group held a hugely successful tree planting day. Not only did they plant 1300 seeds in the ground, the group also engaged old and new ACF supporters in this fun and meaningful activity.

ACF Community groups in Queensland took part in a "Rally for the Reef" protest at the Queensland state parliament in Brisbane, to speak out against Clive Palmer's destructive coal mine.

ACF community groups in Queensland speaking up at the Queensland state parliament against Clive Palmer's coal mineACF community groups in Queensland speaking up against Clive Palmer's coal mine

Community group power

15 grassroots leaders and five ACF staff gathered at Candlebark farm in Healesville, VIC for ACF’s inaugural Advanced Community Organising and Campaigning training. The training is planned to run every 6-12 months to develop the leadership and skills of people leading groups, communities, and campaigns. International superstars Erik Peterson and Robyn Steely both developed the curriculum and delivered training from across the oceans via Zoom.

16 enthusiastic community group leaders attended the first MP level 1 training for 2021. The majority of participants now feel they’re ready to meet their MP, and are more confident something meaningful will come from their meeting. There was a lot of enthusiasm for building ongoing relationships with MPs, for sharing ACF’s Recover, Rebuild, Renew plan with MPs, and for the structure we've laid in place for a strategic agenda.

“Not only have I booked a meeting with my MP, John Alexander, for next Tuesday, 12:30, but I felt so empowered after the ACF training that I volunteered to pass that training on tonight at our monthly Bennelong Climate Action community meeting for people who weren’t able to join in the zoom session”. - MP training participant

Check out our upcoming trainings on our training calendar.

Advocating for environment laws that actually protect nature

Over 2500 ACF supporters in VIC, NSW, QLD & ACT sent an email to their state or territory Environment Minister asking them to back stronger environment laws.

When Pardoo Beef Corporation cleared 840 hectares of significant bilby habitat, with the approval of the Western Australian government, the ACF community spoke out. 5000 people signed the petition to protect the Greater bilby by getting big money out of politics and putting people, wildlife and and planet back in!

ACF together with Australian Services Union (ASU) co-chaired the Queensland Community Alliance Campaign Launch. The launch was attended by faith groups, multicultural organisations, environment organisations, unions, community centres, and health groups. Approximately 30 ACF community leaders also joined. Our leaders on the night were brilliant and keen to participate in the joint MP delegations. This fits perfectly into ACF’s MP engagement strategy.

ACF working together with other community organisations to protect natureACF working together with other community organisations to protect nature

110 people attended Time to connect: working together in the face of the climate crisis, an online discussion to connect with the ACF community and keep up the motivation to act. The discussion featured ACF’s Chief Executive Officer Kelly O'Shanassy and Suzanne Harter, ACF Climate Change and Clean Energy campaigner. They shared their perspectives on the current state of climate politics and the biggest opportunities for change.

The EPBC open letter tactic is a priority for ACF Community groups from now until mid-June. This tactic was covered in our March Community Webinar.

Come along to our May community webinar on Tuesday 11 May to find out more about what we're planning in the coming weeks and months.

Header photo: Rainbow bee-eater by Annette Ruzicka/MAP Group

Deborah Nesbitt

Government and Business Relations Manager