Budget fails Great Barrier Reef: WWF Australia

Coral bleaching, Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, March 2016 © WWF-Australia.

LAST NIGHT’s budget has failed the Great Barrier Reef and Australia’s threatened species and instead continues to prop up polluting industries, WWF Australia says.

The Reef is suffering its worst coral bleaching ever recorded, and our species are in crisis with 418 native Australian animals and 1,265 plants currently listed as ‘threatened’.

The Reef immediately needs billions of dollars to bring it back to health. But, the budget failed to even meet the Government’s prior commitment of $300 million over 5 years for Reef pollution programs.

The budget has delayed any substantial additional investment on the Reef until 2019, and chosen to deliver a mere trickle ($8.9million/year) of new and additional funding over the next three years, which has been taken from existing environmental allocations.

In the midst of corporate tax cuts, the budget confirmed that more than $7.7 billion in annual fossil fuel subsidies would continue. One major subsidy – the fuel tax rebate – remained in the list of top 20 program expenses in 2016-17.

That’s despite the fact that dumping these subsidies is the preferred option of most Australians for raising revenue.

“Saying on the one hand you want to save the Reef, and at the same time subsidising the pollution that is killing it – is just completely contradictory,” WWF-Australia spokesperson Nick Heath said.

“The Reef is on life support, and the Government just decided to delay treatment.

“The Reef is bleaching before our eyes. The evidence is clear. The time is now, more than ever, to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies once and for all.”

In contrast to the generous spending on fossil fuels, overall forecasted spending on the environment has been reduced by 17% (out to 2020) to just $1.982b – a meagre 0.4% of the total expenses in tonight’s budget, a missed opportunity to address Australia’s species crisis.

WWF analysis of a selection of the Government’s own threatened species Recovery Plans shows that in the order of $100m is needed each year for the next 5 years to take a collection of species, such as those identified in the government’s own threatened species strategy, to safety. But the funding committed in the budget is nowhere near that.

Other measures in the budget noted by WWF include:
· Antarctica: WWF welcomed the announcement that the Government will be providing an additional $200 million over 10 years from 2016-17 to Antarctica – maintaining Australia’s presence, with further additional ongoing funding beyond 2025-26. Additional funding of $20.8 million in 2018-19 and $21.2 million in 2019-20 will be provided through this measure.
· Climate Finance: confirmation of the $200 million on average per year out to 2020 to be spent on climate finance, which has come from existing and largely unchanged aid allocations. This is significantly less than Australia’s fair share of the global commitment of $100 billion by 2020, which requires at least $1.6 billion public funds per year by 2020.
· Cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA): cuts to ARENA have been confirmed with approximately $1 billion being removed at a time when Australia should be fostering innovation and new clean tech ideas right here at home.
· Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF): no additional commitment to ERF funding beyond the $2.55 billion allocation, locking in further uncertainty around future climate change policy and funding going forward.

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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