Two concrete examples of the effect of stop/start environmental funding showed up this week.
One involved short-lived celebrations when the Labor Federal Government announced on 28 August funding of $25 million for the South Australian Riverland for 21 regional projects which included a component of economic development (see details here).
One of these projects involved linking environmental watering projects to ecotourism packages promoting local produce and art. This was an important breakthrough in winning recognition that projects to improve environmental health could also generate economic opportunities.
However, on the same day, Shadow Regional Development Minister Warren Truss announced in a speech to the National Press Club that the Coalition, if elected, would not honour these funding promises. So, if the Coalition wins, it is back to the drawing board for all 21 projects, to wait to see what funding opportunities are available, what the process is to apply, and to start filling out the forms again (they are sure to be different from the last application!).
The environmental watering project with links to ecotourism may not meet the criteria of the next funding round. More time will be lost, with no action on the ground, while the administrative process is set up. The Coalition is boasting that their ‘Landscape Recovery’ program will be up and running in 12 months. That is one more year lost without action, a 12 month hiatus in projects and employment for key project officers.
This concern was reinforced by a story from a Local Action Planning group, one of 9 groups in the SA Murray Valley which have done amazing work since 1998 with community volunteers to tackle the complex issues of the Murray-Darling Basin with on-ground action. This group has had funding cut for two of their programs and will lose one of their three staff at the end of September, a project officer with 9 years of experience, local knowledge and community connections.
The Local Action Planning groups are considered to be an exemplary model for delivery of NRM services into the community. This particular group applied for $2.3m of funding but so far have only received $50,000. Another LAP group applied for $8 million and received nothing. To quote the very frustrated LAP Project Manager:
‘People less convinced of the value of their work would have walked away well before now’.
The level of investment in environmental management and sustainable management of resources is unbelievably out-of-step with the fundamental value of environmental services to the economy. If funding for environmental programs is not made part of the recurrent budget, Australia risks serious long-term environmental damage which will cost billions and may be beyond repair.