Our CE Craig Wilkins unpacks the 2021 State Budget and what it means for our environment.
While new spending on much-needed waste recycling facilities is welcome, overall, there is very little in this budget for the environment.
Last year’s bigger spend on bushfire recovery and nature-based tourism facilities in our Parks has not been repeated. Instead, the only new money in the next year for nature protection and biodiversity is just $1 million to be spent across the whole state on new tree planting.
Climate change is scarcely mentioned, the electric vehicle road user charge is apparently back on the agenda and the eye-watering spending on upgrading the North-South corridor is sucking money away from cleaner transport options like public transport, cycling or walking.
And budget savings are still washing through the Environment Department with a further round of ‘operating savings’ budget cuts that were first announced in the 2018 budget.
$22.9m over 4 years for new plastic, glass and paper waste processing facilities
There was clearly a need to invest in new domestic recycling facilities, and we strongly welcome this big boost to the waste and recycling sector.
Our state is a national leader in recycling, and this much-needed investment will help respond to the challenges the waste industry faces now China has closed its doors to us exporting our waste to them for processing.
Greener Neighbourhoods Program - $5.5m over 4 years ($1m extra in 21/22) for grants to local councils to increase urban tree canopy. Program extended to regional cities.
The Government states this program will help deliver ‘tens of thousands’ of new trees. Yet our recent ‘Call to Action’ report indicates we are losing 75,000 trees a year. So this program will not even catch up with the number of trees we are losing, let alone extend our tree canopy.
A few years ago, SA had a ‘Million Trees’ program. Now we have barely a ‘tens of thousands of trees’ program.
While any additional spending on planting new trees is welcome, and it makes sense to extend the Greener Neighbourhoods program to regional centres, an extra $1million for this upcoming year falls far short of the urgent tree canopy extension investment needed.
Climate & Energy
$2.1m over 2 years for ‘growth and low carbon resourcing requirements’, and some retrofitting of diesel trains to reduce fumes and fuel consumption ($10m over 2 years mostly offset by savings)
In a year where the rest of the world has woken up to the climate emergency, the word ‘climate’ is not even mentioned in the Treasurer’s speech.
Public transport, cycling and walking
Railway Station Refresh Program ($28m in 21/22), Tea Tree Plaza Park ‘n Ride ($15m in 21/22) and further funding for the Gawler train line electrification program.
While there is welcome investment in upgrading dowdy railway stations and increasing the size of the Tea Tee Plaza Park’nRide, and further works on the Gawler train line electrification, transport spending is again dominated by the eye-wateringly expensive upgrade to the North South Corridor.
While that spending on just one road remains in our budget there appears to be simply no room for any other cleaner transport investment.
There is again a woeful lack of investment in cycling and walking infrastructure.
Electric Vehicle Road User Charge
Not in budget, but mentioned in budget speech as something the Govt will continue to pursue
The electric vehicle road user charge again appears to be back on the table after the huge backlash following its inclusion in last years’ budget.
The Treasurer has indicated the Government will attempt to get this passed by Parliament this year. This is a poor policy measure which will be strongly resisted.
Conservation on Private Land
Not in budget (environment groups were seeking an extension on the current 2 year program)
It is surprising there is no funding to extend this hugely successful program to support private landowners that Minister Speirs had previously championed. Using a partnership approach, this popular program which focuses on Heritage Grant agreements delivers jobs in regional centres and provides practical support for farmers and other landowners keen to preserve native vegetation and biodiversity of their properties.
Environment Department core funding
There is funding in 2021/22 for the continuation of a range of targeted infrastructure, nature based tourism and bushfire recovery projects (announced in previous years):
- Botanic Gardens $8m
- Kangaroo Island recovery and repair $33m (approx.)
- Glenthorne National Park ($4.5m)
- Parks 2025 / National Parks $27m
- Sand carting $12m
- Riverland wetlands $31m
as well as funds to increase the area of prescription burning
The overall workforce summary is a reduction of 60 FTE across the Department and a significant legacy operating savings target remains from the 2018/19 budget forward estimates.
Further work continues on Environment Department programs announced in previous years, such as recovery programs on KI, the Parks 2025 nature-based tourism works, sand carting, Glenthorne National Park and the Botanic Gardens.
However, the Environment Department again appears to be facing significant core budget savings cuts, including loss of staff, which hits hard their ability to respond to threatened species on the brink and provide core Departmental activity.
Heritage - Ayers House
$6.6 million for the restoration of Ayers House
The welcome upgrade of Ayers House comes at the expense of the National Trust (SA) who are being kicked out of the building after 50 years of service.
Author: Craig Wilkins, Chief Executive