Presented on 13 June, the 2017-18 Queensland State Budget has committed almost $275M over a five-year period to the environment. Priorities for funding include the addressing of climate change, protecting the Great Barrier Reef, enforcing stronger environmental standards, tackling waste, and the enhanced management of our natural and cultural heritage. In addition, funding to support the clean energy boom includes upgrading the Burdekin Falls Dam and its proposed hydro-electric power station.
As the impacts of climate change descend upon us, there is no doubt Queensland will continue to be affected by rainfall sea level rise, extreme weather events and shifts in temperature. It is pleasing to note that the Palaszczuk Government appreciates this and has seen fit to allocate $15M over three years to managing the risks of climate change across our state.
Reputable reports abound on the precarious state of our Great Barrier Reef, with climate change a contributing factor. Wildlife Queensland acknowledges that both State and Commonwealth Governments appreciate this and made $100M over five years available in 2015-16 to address other issues identified by the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce. Wildlife Queensland welcomes the increased funding of $35M per year for five years ($175M in total) to improve water quality and assist in protecting the Great Barrier Reef. A healthy Reef requires cleaner water and appropriately funded effective best practice management programs are a step in the right direction.
There is little point in having sound and effective legislation in place if it is not enforced. A classic case is the mass release of helium-filled balloons, a clear breach of the litter laws that frequently lead to the demise of our wildlife. Strong legislation and regulations are also in place for the mining industry (not to suggest that further improvement should not occur); however, if they cannot be enforced, there is little point in advocating their enhancement.
It is for this reason that Wildlife Queensland commends the government on its initiative of $23.3M over four years to increase enforcement activities. More pleasing still is the commitment of $5M ongoing at the end of this period. Unfortunately, history clearly demonstrates that governments of other political persuasions do not always share the view that legislation and regulations must be complied with, causing our environment and its wildlife to suffer.
The funding provided for the improvement of rehabilitation of mined land across Queensland is very timely, although Wildlife Queensland is of a view that $2.7M will prove to be grossly inadequate, all things considered. The Palaszczuk Government has directed the Queensland Treasury to undertake a review of the financial assurance framework for the mining industry and, as a result, a draft discussion paper entitled Better Mine Rehabilitation for Queensland has been prepared and released. One would hope the current problem of inappropriate rehabilitation of mined land will be addressed, at least for future mine sites.
Wildlife Queensland welcomes the increase in the number of indigenous rangers to be employed from 75 to 100; $8.1M over four years has been provided to meet this initiative. The Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger program is instrumental in managing land, waterways and protected species across the state. Land and sea rangers work in regional communities throughout Queensland, tailoring their activities to meet local needs as negotiated by community members, local landholders, government and Traditional Owners. To achieve environmental outcomes and raise awareness of the importance of looking after country, land and sea rangers work closely with local authorities, pastoralists, schools and community groups, and are a great source of pride throughout Queensland’s Indigenous communities. They are an important part of a strong and stable Indigenous workforce, with many rangers also Traditional Owners of the land on which they work.
Commitments were also made by the government to tackle waste, with evidence now that our long-fought plastics campaign has achieved success. According to Dr Steven Miles, Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection,
“Come 1 July 2018, single-use plastic bags will be banned in Queensland and a container refund scheme for beverage containers will be in place.”
To facilitate this long-awaited outcome, $2.5M has been allocated in the Budget. Given the bipartisan support from the LNP, Wildlife Queensland is of the view this will occur.
In addition to the announcements related directly to the environment portfolio, funding was announced for clean energy, from which our wildlife naturally benefits. With Queensland finally experiencing a clean energy boom, $150M has been allocated to support the establishment of a North Queensland Clean Energy Hub. In addition $236M has been committed to upgrade the Burdekin Falls Dam and fund the proposed hydro-electric power station. Until a thorough understanding of these projects has been obtained it is not possible to provide unqualified support for these initiatives, although they are better than coal.
While our biodiversity will certainly benefit from all these budget initiatives, Wildlife Queensland is disappointed that the Palaszczuk Government continues to encourage the establishment of the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine, a development and associated activities that have the potential to threaten our environment, its wildlife and the Great Barrier Reef – the very assets that the government has committed funding to protect.