On 25 October, Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers delivered his government’s first budget. It’s received a mixed response from environmental groups and commentators.
Many have welcomed the budget as a step in the right direction, but consider there’s a long way to go before nature and climate are adequately funded. Nevertheless, as the Climate Council points out, this is the first federal budget in a decade that takes climate change seriously — both as an opportunity for some sectors and as a threat for the Australian community.
The first budget of the new government is an update of the 2022/23 budget originally handed down by the previous government in March. As such, it had several objectives: principally to submit the Australian Government’s policy priorities and plans to the official financial accounts, and to ensure its plans for fiscal policy are consistent with the Reserve Bank’s monetary policy settings.
Notably, climate change was formally acknowledged in this budget as a major, measurable determinant of both the nation’s economic future and the health and wellbeing of its citizens.
- A new section in the budget devoted to the “fiscal impacts” of global heating puts the government’s key climate-related spending at $24.92 billion between now and mid-2030. It also makes clear the economic risks of climate change, such as a potential 7 per cent drop in GDP over the remainder of this century if we fail to act.
- Climate spending includes $20 billion over 10 years for the government’s “rewiring the nation” program to provide low-cost finance for new electricity transmission links and a $1.9 billion “powering the regions” fund to support jobs and emissions cuts in regional areas.
- $1 billion has been allocated to disaster mitigation and more than $275 million to boost the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.
- $47.1 million has been allocated over four years for the Climate Change Authority (which has been given an expanded advisory role), $306.5 million for community batteries and solar banks and an extra $275 million for electric and zero emissions vehicle charging.
- $45.8 million has been allocated over the next six years to “restore Australia’s reputation and increase international engagement” on both climate change and energy transformation.
- The government is undertaking “a realignment of investment in carbon capture technologies” to prioritise technology development in hard-to-abate industrial sectors, including cement manufacturing.
- $7.3 million will be trimmed over the next two years from the Clean Energy Regulator and other departmental programs and redirected to a carbon farming outreach program among farmers, land managers and First Nations people.
- $6.2 million has been allocated to introduce standardised, internationally aligned climate disclosure requirements for large businesses.
- The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet gets $44.9 million to implement the government’s policies, including developing a “national framework for economic transformation” to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
In the environment portfolio, the government promised $1.8 billion in what Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek called a “down-payment on strong action to protect, restore and manage” nature. The biggest chunk was a previously announced $1.2 billion for programs to support the Great Barrier Reef, promised over a decade. Also, to note:
- $224 million has been allocated over four years to save native species and $670 million over six years to protect iconic landscapes, conserve World Heritage-listed properties and wetlands and expand funding for Indigenous Protected Areas (see below) — a vital investment to support the government’s “no new extinctions” goal.
- $7.8 million has been allocated to respond to the Samuel Review, including work towards the establishment of a national environment protection agency.
- The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is set to receive a boost of $51.9 million over five years to update its understanding of climate change and its impacts on the basin, $22.9 million “to update the science of water management” and an unpublished amount of initial funding towards “meeting the environmental water targets in the plan”.
- $9.8 million has been allocated over four years to the Environmental Defenders Office and Environmental Justice Australia to provide legal services to a wide range of people and organisations, enabling law reform and community education on environmental rights and responsibilities.
- $66.5 million over five years to expand Indigenous Protected Areas and $14.7 million to support First Nations-led action to identify and protect heritage places, including pursuing new World Heritage listing for Murujuga Cultural Landscape and Flinders Ranges;
- $105.2 million to support First Nations people to respond to climate change in their communities, including a First Nations Clean Energy Strategy and Community Microgrids Program and a new Torres Strait Climate Change Centre of Excellence; and
- $75.1 million to prepare for the delivery of a referendum to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament, $5.8 million to fund the first step in establishing an independent Makarrata Commission.
- Australian Conservation Foundation, October 2022 Budget: improvements but long way to go, ACF, 25 October 2022.
- Climate Council, Commonwealth Budget 2022-23 Climate Council rapid analysis, Climate Council, 25 October 2022, and The Federal Budget: three highlights and lowlights for climate, Climate Council, 27 October 2022.
- Environmental Defenders Office, Federal funding will help restore community access to environmental justice, EDO, 26 October 2022.
- The Conversation, ‘Labor’s “sensible” budget leaves Australians short-changed on climate action. Here’s where it went wrong’, 26 October 2022.
- The Guardian, ‘Labor overhauls Australia’s climate spending in budget and sounds warning on future costs’, 25 October 2022.
- The Saturday Paper, ‘A decade on, Labor delivers a climate budget’, 29 October 2022.