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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
14 May 2002
The Opposition and some conservation groups are claiming that underspending on Natural Heritage Trust programmes has meant "an effective cut in funding for the NHT", (Australian Conservation Foundation press release, 14.05.02).
This is untrue.
Not a cent has been cut from the Trust. On the contrary, the Howard Government will spend more than its original commitment.
The Howard Government promised to invest the proceeds from the sale of the first tranche of Telstra into a Trust which would be used to fund investment in our natural heritage.
The Telstra sale netted $1.1 billion for the Trust.
With some transfers of monies from the consolidated fund, the Trust commenced with an opening balance of $1.249 billion.
Phase one of the Trust will spend more than that.
Tonight's Budget paper, "Towards A Sustainable Future", shows expenditure to the end of this financial year of $1.258 billion - with more yet to be spent.
The nature of the Trust means that not only are all Trust funds spent as promised, but that interest revenue earned on Trust monies is also invested in natural heritage projects.
However, Trust programmes cannot always proceed as planned due to variations in natural phenomena like the weather. It is not wise to go ahead with a tree planting programme in the middle of a drought, for instance. In cases like these the projects are held over until conditions are more favourable.
But I repeat - Natural Heritage Trust monies are spent on the projects as promised, even when the weather dictates that they occur later than originally planned.
It is unfortunate that the rollout of the National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality has proceeded more slowly than the Commonwealth planned, but the Labor states chose to put politics ahead of the environment in an election year and refused to sign up. I welcome the fact that since Christmas most states have signed bilateral agreements with the Commonwealth and look forward to working with those states on getting NAP funds on the ground where they're needed as soon as possible.
Catherine Job (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400