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Environment

What Is the 2016 Budget Doing for the Environment?

According to relevant NGOs, the answer is hovering somewhere between not much, and absolutely nothing.
May 4, 2016, 12:00am

Illustration by Ashley Goodall

For voters concerned about the environment, Malcolm Turnbull's stance on climate change was one of his initial selling points. Here was a man who took the impending destruction of the earth seriously.

Six years ago, when he was last given the reigns of the Liberal Party, Turnbull declared, "I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am." In an unusual departure from standard political practice, he actually held firm to that position, pushing for an emissions trading scheme even though it meant losing his job to Tony Abbott. Heck, the guy even prefers to catch trams as opposed to helicopters, a sure hallmark of a deep commitment to sustainability.

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So what do the numbers in the 2016 budget say about Turnbull's current levels of enthusiasm for combating climate change? According to relevant NGOs, the answer is hovering somewhere between not much, and absolutely nothing.

We asked the Australian Conservation Foundation's (ACF) CEO, Kelly O'Shanassy, if the budget represented a commitment to tackling climate change. Her answer was simply, "No."

Her slightly longer answer was, "There's been no commitment to supporting an energy transition away from coal. The Government has not provided any vision in this budget and no major commitment to renewables."

In particular, the ACF directed VICE to the Fuel Tax Credit, "which will cost Australians almost $26.5 billion over the next four years. This means motorists will continue to pay almost 40 cents in tax on every litre of fuel they buy, while some of the world's largest mining companies, such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, and Glencore pay no tax at all on the fuel they use."

For those counting at home, $26.5 billion is about twice the amount that was removed from education in Joe Hockey's incredibly unpopular 2014 budget. Whichever way you look at it, there's an awful lot of money being given to mining companies so they can buy cheap fuel.

The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) also expressed their disappointment with the subsidies provided to mining companies, while pointing out that the "Budget provides no new funding for renewable energy, keeping Tony Abbott's billion dollar cut to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency."

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Friends of the Earth Australia were similarly glum, and directed our attention to funding for saving the Great Barrier Reef. "While the Government has announced $171 million for the Great Barrier Reef, the majority of this spending isn't scheduled to occur until 2019," their spokesperson explained.

Of course, $171 million sounds promising, but with 95 percent of the reef showing some signs of bleaching the delay is cause for alarm. If 95 percent of your hair got accidentally bleached, you wouldn't wait three years to fix it.

When talking about how the Budget reflects Turnbull's stance on climate change, all the groups we talked to pointed to the same figure: By 2019-20 Australian climate funding will have dropped by 17 percent.

So what happened? Why have the ideals of our new Prime Minister failed to translate into action? As political journalist Michelle Grattan highlighted last year, it's got a lot to do with Turnbull's leadership coup. The day after he won the vote, Turnbull met with the Coalition's more conservative constituent, the Nationals, to negotiate the terms of his take over. By all accounts, one of the Nats' main demands, and one the PM appears to have wholehearted agreed to, was to simply maintain—and absolutely not boost—funding for climate change.

So despite it being a new year, with a new Prime Minister, it's business as usual with Australia and climate change. Continuity with Change.