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The federal government must increase its investment in the environment

By Peter Garrett - posted Tuesday, 13 May 2003

John Howard and Simon Crean seem to be in furious agreement about the need to protect and restore Australia's environment.

The Prime Minister has declared that the environment is a mainstream, "bread and butter" issue, and has outlined three priorities for the next 12 months: tree clearing, salinity and water reforms.

The Opposition Leader hasn't just dipped his toe into this debate, he has literally waded into the mouth of the dying Murray River and made its restoration one of his top priorities.


They're absolutely right in turning their attention to the environment. A recent federal government report talks starkly of an extinction crisis sweeping Australia.

  • Nearly 3000 unique bush-land types throughout Australia are at risk, from the Kimberley in Western Australia to the Queensland rainforests;
  • Northern Australia, previously thought to be a refuge for wildlife, is now increasingly under threat with more native species at risk than ever before.
  • One third of the world's recent mammal extinctions are Australian.

This deplorable record of extinction is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Our appalling loss of native species can be attributed to tree clearing, salinity, the degraded state of Australia's rivers, poor land management and climate change. As a result, we're actually seeing plant and animal species disappear before our very eyes.

We can expect this situation to worsen as climate change hits home and it will affect all of us. CSIRO scientists this week said hundreds more Australians could die from heat exhaustion, be killed in floods and contract diseases like dengue fever in the next 50 years because of global warming.

Given this renewed focus on the environment, it would be reasonable to expect a significant increase in environment spending in this year's Budget.

Let's consider how much money experts believe is actually required to fix Australia's big ticket environment problems.


The Prime Minister's own Science, Engineering and Innovation Council costed the repair bill for fixing our natural systems at up to $6 billion annually. The current environment Budget is less than a third of that at about $1.8 billion. The $100 million allocated for salinity and water quality and $250 million for the Natural Heritage Trust, still failing to meet the government's own targets, are clearly inadequate.

There are three ways that we can find the necessary funds to address these enormous problems - increase the total amount of money in the environment budget, introduce a national land and water repair levy and increase private sector investment in land and water repair.

Tragically, we continue to head in the wrong direction, with last year's Budget indicating that a quarter of a billion dollars of environment funding, including $126 million in greenhouse programs, wasn't even spent. That money is just sitting there, while communities struggle with salinity ambushing their land, degraded water resources and the effects of climate change.

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This article was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 9 May 2003.

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About the Author

Peter Garrett is the Labor Member for Kingsford Smith in New South Wales. Peter is widely known as a passionate advocate and campaigner on a range of contemporary Australian and global issues. He was the former president Australian Conservation Foundation , an activist, and former member Australian band Midnight Oil.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Peter Garrett
Related Links
Australian Conservation Foundation
Budget 2003
The ACF's analysis of the Australian Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment
Photo of Peter Garrett
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