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Media Release
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

13 May 2003

Wooden Spoon for Budget Beat-up to Thomson

The 2002-2003 allocation of $250 million from the Howard Government's $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust - the largest environmental program ever undertaken in Australia - would be fully expended, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, said today.

Dr Kemp confirmed the spending to correct a claim by Labor's Sustainability and Environment spokesman, Kelvin Thomson, that there would be a $150 million shortfall in Trust outlays this financial year.

The Minister said outlays from the Trust were peaking in the final quarter of the financial year as communities developed regional natural resource management plans and spending bids.

"The transition from the centrally controlled first five-year phase of the Trust to a system driven much more by regional communities has been a complex, demanding, and time consuming," Dr Kemp said.

"What will develop from this unique process are government and community partnerships that will establish the framework for Australia to engage successfully in the long term challenges associated with achieving economic, social, and environmental sustainability."

Dr Kemp said shortfalls in spending under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAPSWQ) were due to the effort by the Howard Government to integrate all levels of government and the community into a force that can undertake a long term task.

"Expenditures have been slow to date because the bilateral agreements that underpin the joint commitments of the Commonwealth and the States took considerably longer to achieve than the Commonwealth had hoped, and that in turn has delayed the development of the regional structures and the plans that will largely dictate where, when and how NAPSWQ money is spent," he said. "In fact, the Labor Government in Western Australia has not yet signed the bilateral.

"That process is finally maturing and the Howard Government is committed to working with all States to ensure all of the $1.4 billion committed to this task is spent on the purpose for which it is intended, and I have no doubt that will be achieved and be a very great benefit to Australia."

Dr Kemp said Mr Thomson's attack on NAPSWQ spending was an attack not just on the Commonwealth, but on State Labor governments that were also seeking to achieve the cooperative program's crucially important goals.

"If Mr Thomson would like to do something constructive then the best thing he could do would be to convince his Labor colleagues in Western Australia, which is the State with the worst salinity problem, to make the same commitment to fight salinity, with the Commonwealth, that every other State has," Dr Kemp said.

WA has so far refused to provide matching funding for the National Action Plan, which is threatening joint spending of $316 million in that State.

Media Contact:
Catherine Job 02 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400

Commonwealth of Australia