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