Budget 2023: Fear 'timid' spending not enough to protect Australia's future

Conservation groups believe the government is heading in the right direction, but not doing enough to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises.

Left - a family wearing gas masks. Right - a family under umbrellas
This year's budget includes a number of measures to help slow the impact of the climate crisis, but conservationists say more must be done. (Source: Getty)

The Albanese government’s 2023 Budget has been praised by conservation groups for heading in the right direction. But some have warned the billions allocated to help the environment still falls short on two key issues:

  • Protecting Australian families from climate change.

  • Stopping native species from becoming extinct.

"Timid" and "disappointing" are just two of the criticisms levelled at the government's funding announcements aimed at tackling growing threats to Australia's environment.

Before the budget was released Greens leader Adam Bandt told Yahoo he was concerned not enough money would be allocated towards slowing the climate crisis to protect future generations.

Shadow environment minister Jonathon Duniam said he was hoping to see grass-roots organisations receive more funding. He also wants an “actual plan” to achieve zero extinctions of native species. “Tell us how you're going to do it. What are your programmes and what is the pathway to be able to get to that very noble goal?” he said.

What’s the government doing to help endangered species?

The government announced species that are facing extinction are set to benefit from the creation of two new agencies.

  • $121 million has been allocated to create Australia’s first independent environment watchdog — Environmental Protection Australia (EPA).

  • $51.5 million over four years to create an agency to provide data on threatened species — Environmental Information Australia (EIA).

These agencies form part of the government’s plan to fix the country’s “broken environment laws” a measure welcomed by conservationists. However some experts believe billions more is needed to help slow the country's biodiversity crisis, and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has described the government's overall spending response as "timid".

“Experts say $2 billion a year is needed to restore Australia’s degraded ecosystems and help threatened species recover, but this budget acts like the biodiversity crisis isn’t a real crisis,” the ACF's Kelly O’Shanassy said.

“It is disappointing to see, at this crucial moment, that key conservation functions… are once again underfunded and deprioritised,” the Wilderness Society’s Sam Szoke-Burke said.

“Australia’s federal budgets keep letting our threatened wildlife down. The number of threatened species has increased by 8 per cent since 2016 and we’re losing vast stretches of forests and habitat every year,” WWF-Australia’s Rachel Lowry said.

Other key environment announcements:

  • $355 million to support national parks including Uluru and Kakadu.

  • $163 million for the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

  • $146 million to help the Murray-Darling Basin.

  • $2 billion for large-scale renewable hydrogen developments.

How will my family be protected from climate change?

The government’s $1.6 billion energy savings plan tackles the climate crisis with tangible measures like low-cost loans to help households lower their energy bills. It includes:

  • $1 billion for concessional loans for household energy upgrades.

  • $300 million in energy upgrades to social housing.

  • $310 million to help small business achieve energy savings.

Are there concerns about the government’s response to the climate crisis?

Because fossil fuel emissions are the key driver behind worsening bushfire seasons, flooding and drought, concerns have been raised about ongoing handouts like the $4 billion Fuel Tax Credit scheme which benefits these industries. Greenpeace’s Glenn Walker is particularly concerned about $6.7 million allocated to support fossil fuels through the Future Gas Strategy.

“It’s staggering that at a time of climate and cost of living crisis, gas and oil companies are still in receipt of billions of dollars worth of subsidies. These subsidies could be better spent on a transition away from climate-wrecking gas,” he said.

One announcement that’s drawing a lot of interest is a plan to raise $2.4 billion by increasing the amount of tax the offshore gas companies pay. While the Petroleum Rent Resource Tax (PRRT) has been welcomed, the Australia Institute has noted the taxes on spirits, beer and tobacco will create more revenue. The Greens have indicated they will push for the PRRT to be increased in the Senate.

Overall the Climate Council appeared critical of the amount of funding allocated to tackle the climate crisis. “We can’t settle for a slow jog when the climate crisis calls for a sprint. Climate change is already reshaping our world, the government needs to fundamentally re-shape budgets to tackle it,” its CEO Amanda McKenzie said.

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