In its October 2022 budget the Albanese government started to turn around a decade of savage cuts to the environment budget – it declined by 40% between 2013 and 2021 – but there is still a long way to go before nature protection and restoration is adequately funded.
Australia has a terrible record on species extinctions. The Albanese government has set a laudable goal to stop extinctions. But the zero extinctions goal will be hollow rhetoric unless it is backed by the necessary funds to make it happen.
It is often said budgets are about choices. Experts estimate a well-directed $2 billion a year over 30 years could restore almost all (99.8%) of Australia’s degraded terrestrial ecosystems.
When you consider that half (49.3%) of Australia’s GDP has a moderately to very high direct dependency on nature, that $2 billion a year would be a prudent economic investment. In the context of the federal government’s decision to purchase nuclear submarines at an estimated cost of $368 billion between now and the mid-2050s, it’s a bargain.
The Albanese government has committed to substantial reform of Australia’s failing environment laws. ACF will be looking for this budget to back the development and implementation of nature law reforms with adequate funding.
The budget should include funding for the legislative reform process, the development of new national environmental standards, regional planning pilots and the establishment of a national Environmental Protection Agency.
Australia played a leading role in advocating for a strong Global Biodiversity Framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity at the Conference of the Parties in Montreal in December 2022. ACF will be looking for the budget to include funds to lead the development of a new National Biodiversity Strategy with the states and territories.
While the government has introduced a Nature Repair Market Bill, which it hopes will increase private investment in land stewardship, there are big question marks over whether this will work and whether there will be demand for the scheme’s biodiversity certificates. Linking ‘nature repair’ so closely to the generation of offsets risks facilitating the destruction of more existing wildlife habitat.
Fossil fuel subsidies
OECD data shows Australia spends more than $10 billion a year on fossil fuel subsidies. This spending is a drag on the Albanese government’s emission reduction targets, prolongs the use of fossil fuels, holds up the transition to clean energy and accelerates climate change.
ACF is looking for the government to commit to a review into existing tax settings to ensure they align with Australia’s climate goals.
We would not want to see any new subsidies or handouts for unproven technologies, like carbon capture and storage, that would displace positive investment in clean energy and delay the transition away from coal, gas and oil.
Given fossil fuel companies have reaped windfall profits since the invasion of Ukraine – and given the significant climate impacts associated with burning their products – the Petroleum Resources Rent Tax should be reformed so it provides much greater returns to Australians.
In the last 12 months many Australians have had their lives turned upside down by floods, storms and bushfires. Another El Niño is becoming more likely in 2023. ACF will be looking for this budget to increase funding for climate adaptation (here and in the Pacific) and for emergency and disaster relief, to look after communities on the climate frontlines.
Clean energy: at home and as an export
Australia has a lot of ground to make up if we are to get our energy network ready for the clean energy revolution. Treasurer Jim Chalmers has flagged that this budget will feature Australia’s ‘most substantial investment in cleaner and cheaper energy.’
ACF will be looking to the budget to finance important clean energy infrastructure through continued funding for the National Reconstruction Fund and the Powering the Regions Fund through the forward estimates. We will look for funding for a National Energy Transition Authority, a Sovereign Green Bonds program to attract more clean capital to Australia and a program to put solar panels on social housing and help renters and low-income households make their homes use energy more efficiently.
Analysis by Accenture shows Australia could create 395,000 new jobs and generate $89 billion in new trade by 2040 through investment in clean energy exports. But we need a funded national renewable export strategy to compete with the US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s Green Deal, which are luring a lot of private investment to those economies.
ACF will be looking for this budget to fund an independent review of the Australian uranium industry’s domestic and international impacts and to advance the current and costed works at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights nuclear facility to ensure enhanced interim storage capacity for Intermediate Level Waste. We urge the government to end all support and facilitation of the sub-optimal Kimba radioactive waste plan.