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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
20 August 1996
The Commonwealth Government has confirmed its commitment to Australia's efforts to protect and repair our natural environment.
We have provided almost $191 million in 1996-97 to fund a range of programs through the Environment Portfolio. This is $21 million more than Labor's Budget forward estimate for 1996-97 of $170 million but less than would have been available had the Senate allowed the establishment of the Natural Heritage Trust.
The Natural Heritage Trust will provide the necessary resources over an extended time frame to focus on the big challenges of our time - ecologically sustainable development, land and water degradation, coast and ocean management, and biodiversity conservation.
With the establishment of the Trust put at risk by opposition in the Senate by Labor, the Democrats and the Greens, the Government has decided to maintain key programs that otherwise would have lapsed.
These programs had not been allocated funding by the former Labor Government in its budget forward estimates. Labor's forward estimates actually showed a sharp decline in environmental outlays revealing its inability to find an appropriate funding source for the vital work needed to be done.
Resources will also be provided to carry out planning and preparation for the Natural Heritage Trust. It would, however, be irresponsible for the Government to commence new programs while the opposition parties in the Senate continue to refuse to provide assured long term funding.
This Government wants to do more for the environment but cannot do so while the opposition parties in the Senate continue to block a responsible funding base.
Following passage of the Telstra sale bill, the Government will immediately consider the supplementation of current allocations for the balance of 1996-97 to commence implementation of the Natural Heritage Trust programs.
The Budget package also foreshadows a restructuring of the Portfolio to focus on its three main responsibilities - Conservation and Sustainable Use, Heritage Identification and Protection, and Environment Protection.
The Environment Protection Agency will continue to play a vital role in environmental protection with a new focus on areas of major national and international importance.
The Government has also made a commitment to produce a new whole-of-government Budget paper to provide full transparency to the community on Commonwealth environmental activities across all portfolios. This will be produced for the first time in the 1997-98 Budget.
Other areas covered in this year's Budget along with a more detailed outline of the Government's environmental priorities are included in the "Investing in our Natural Heritage" statement. These include:
The Government has reaffirmed its commitment to the implementation of the National Forest Policy Statement. Despite its rhetoric, Labor failed to provide funds in its forward estimates to carry out the Comprehensive Regional Assessments that will underpin Regional Forest Agreements.
The Coalition has committed an additional $48 million over the next 3 years to complete the program laid out by the National Forest Policy Strategy.
This Budget provides $6.2 million in 1996-97 and a commitment of $14 million over 4 years for national Greenhouse research and related activities. Labor made no provision in its forward estimates for ongoing activity.
The Greenhouse Challenge also will be supported with $9.7 million over four years from three portfolios - Environment, Primary Industry and Energy, and Industry Science and Tourism.
Resources will be provided for vital planning work in preparation for the delivery of the $80 million National Reserve System through the Natural Heritage Trust.
Additional funding will be provided for the Save the Bush Program and the Corridors of Green Program which, along with the existing One Billion Trees Program, will form the foundation of the Trust's National Vegetation Initiative.
The Budget also provides additional funding for the Endangered Species Program which, among other things, will allow for monitoring of the impact of the rabbit calicivirus disease and the development of Threat Abatement Plans for foxes, goats, rabbits and feral cats.
The Government also will continue to fund a rescue package to secure the habitat of the recently rediscovered and endangered Mahogany Glider in Queensland. Funding will also allow further work on the management of Mimosa pigra in the Northern Territory.
The National Wetlands Program will be supplemented in 1996-97 and funding will also be provided to enable Waterwatch Australia program to continue its work in nearly 90 river catchments across the continent.
MARINE AND COASTS
For the first time the Government will adopt a truly integrated and comprehensive approach to the protection of our marine and coastal environment. The Government has reaffirmed its commitment to the development of a national oceans policy.
In 1996-97 the Government will double the level of Coastcare funding for on-ground projects provided last year by the Labor Government. We also will continue to fund the employment of Coastcare facilitators in each State and the Marine and Coastal Community Network.
The Natural Heritage Trust will also allow us to expand our activities into previously neglected policy areas such as ocean outfalls, stormwater pollution and marine research.
The Natural Heritage Trust will provide an injection of $12 million over the next four years for World Heritage management and upkeep.
This Budget also commits $2 million towards the resolution of World Heritage issues in the Willandra Lakes Region of NSW. The Government is maintaining its commitment to the Daintree Rescue Program with $1.584 million to be provided in 1996-97.
CAPE YORK PENINSULA
The Commonwealth continues to support the process of the Cape York Heads of Agreement (CYHA) and will continue to participate in the Cape York Land Use Strategy.
We have reaffirmed our commitment to provide $40 million from the Natural Heritage Trust for the advancement of the CYHA and the conservation of the region's natural and cultural values.
BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY
The Government has allocated an additional $4.6 million per annum for three years for the operation of the Bureau. A further $2 million will be made available through sales of surplus staff housing and through increased revenue generation. (See accompanying release for details.)
This Budget provides funding for work which will includes studies on the dynamics of the world's largest oceans system and Antarctica's sea ice and atmosphere. In addition, the Government will continue to fund scientists working on questions relevant to Antarctic fisheries and other management issues. (See accompanying release for details.)
For further comment contact Matt Brown on (06) 277 7640.