Without the environment, there is no economy. So where was the environment in the Australian national budget of May 2013?
In all the debate around the budget, the only indirect reference to the environment was related to the Carbon Tax, which incidentally is reported to be achieving its purpose in lowering carbon outputs while having less impact on domestic budgets than predicted.
So how much is being invested in caring for the environment which supports the economy and Australian communities? Currently, the key funding sources are the Caring for our Country Program and the Biodiversity Fund.
In the current round of bids for the Biodiversity Program, 147 expression of interest worth $668.7m were submitted but only 26 proposals worth $ 121.8m have been invited to submit full proposals for consideration for funding. These projects are in the larger category, requiring more than $2 million over 4 years. And it all depends on completing the selection process and signing contracts before the caretaker period prior to the next election. Contracts need to be signed by the first week of August.
Another category of proposals in the Biodiversity Program for projects under $2 million over 4 years is being assessed concurrently. This category required a full submission, with all details of project activities, costings and partnerships required in a very detailed application form. Similarly, success will be dependent on a signed contract before the change of government. Applicants are still anxiously awaiting the outcome in mid June.
Generally, the standard of applications to these funding sources is high, with at least 80% of proposals worthy of funding for very desirable and tangible environmental outcomes. The cost of preparing an application is significant, particularly for not-for-profit groups and community groups, requiring dedicated resources to collate all the information and supporting evidence required. However, the chance of getting into the second round for the larger projects is approximately 1 in 6. The odds for the smaller projects are likely to be even less.
There was a lot of talk around the 2013 budget about the deficit of $18B. Compared to the total budget of $350B, this is only 5.1%, barely statistically significant, and surely the estimates would be plus or minus 5% anyway. Environmental programs are barely a ripple among all the big-ticket items.
The take-home message is that not enough funding is being allocated to the environment, by as much as 6 times. Neglect of the environment now will lead to much greater expense in the future, as environmental services decline and costly repair action is required. Australia cannot afford to take for granted environmental services like clean water, clean air and healthy soils. It has been estimated that just 5% of the defence budget would be sufficient to fix the most critical environmental problems.
A union official recently said ‘there are no jobs on a dead planet’. Investment in environmental health is investment in jobs, the economy and the well-being of the community. The next budget should include a significant allocation in secure recurrent funding for sustainable management of the environment and our natural resources, to reflect the fundamental importance of sustaining the environment to support the national economy.