Environmental action and climate change policies got a mixed showing in Labor’s first full-year budget. Treasurer Jim Chalmers unveiled his “balanced” approach on Tuesday night, noting that “clean energy” would be a foundational focus for his government.
“Australia’s biggest opportunity for growth and prosperity is the global shift to clean energy,” Chalmers said, announcing the government’s financial strategy for the next four years.
“By acting now, our resources, our researchers and our regions can help power the world”.
With Australia lurching from fires to floods, and an incoming El Niño expected to send temperatures soaring above average, the country is under increasing pressure to get serious on climate action and mitigation.
Chalmers has positioned Australia as being able to capitalise on renewable energy in the budget as the basis for Labor’s bolstering of the future of the environment both on land and under the ocean.
However, experts are sceptical about Labor’s plans, saying that they don’t contain the kind of radical action the climate crisis requires.
The Climate Council have described Labor’s budget as a “slow jog when the climate crisis requires a sprint.”
“Climate change makes every Australian vulnerable, so the scale of investment on climate action needs to match the task ahead of us”.
Here’s what the 2023 Federal Budget offers on the environment and climate change.
Budget 2023’s Climate Change Plans
Petroleum Resource Rent Tax Changes
The newly-announced changes to the existing petroleum resource rent tax (PRRT) is an attempt to net Australians more tax revenue from major fossil fuel producers.
The current 40% tax has been proven ineffective thanks to the number of concessions granted to oil and gas companies for exploration and development permits.
Those offsets will be limited to 90% under the new changes, which the government has said will raise an additional $2.4 billion.
However, Teal independent MPs and the Greens are both “disappointed” with the changes. They’re saying they don’t come anywhere near giving Australians a fair share of the mega profits being made by selling domestic resources on foreign markets.
“Last year our LNG exports increased by more than $40 billion – this change is going to collect little more than 1% of that each year,” Allegra Spender said.
National Net Zero Authority
The government announced on Friday that it will be creating a new agency, the National Net Zero Authority, to help individuals and companies in heavy-polluting industries like coal, gas, and certain kinds of manufacturing to transition to new, cleaner jobs.
The new authority will be kickstarted with a $400 million package and has been described as a huge opportunity by the Climate Council.
They have said that the authority needs to take an active role in coordinating the closure of Australia’s coal-fired power stations and helping communities transition away from those jobs.
National Parks Funding
The budget has allocated $262 million for upgrades to Commonwealth national parks. This includes updating facilities and improving infrastructure at parks, including Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta. Booderee National Park, the Australian National Botanic Gardens, and 60 marine parks across the country will also receive funding.
The Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has said that the country’s national parks have been underfunded for a decade.
“Programs to protect threatened species and eradicate invasive species have been woefully underfunded. This puts at risk the safety of staff and visitors, and compromises the ability to protect some of our most precious places, and the plants and animals that call them home,” she said, announcing the boost.
“These natural treasures should be a source of national pride, but instead they are falling apart.”
Australia Institute of Marine Sciences
The Australian Institute of Marine Science, headquartered in Townsville, will also be getting a $163.4 million refurb and new equipment.
Plibersek has said that the investment will create 100 new jobs and provide essential working spaces for scientists.
This is alongside a $14.8 million bundle to protect marine habitats and remove waste from waterways.
As previously announced, $146.1 million will be spent by the Federal Government on accelerating the uptake of electric vehicles.
This will include $5.2 million in funding for EV charging infrastructure, $7.8 million for a new Transport and Infrastructure Net Zero Roadmap and Action Plan, and $7.4 million to develop a Fuel Efficiency Standard.
The latter is designed to improve the supply of hybrid and electric vehicles by making it more expensive to sell combustion engine vehicles. Australia is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t have a fuel efficiency standard.
At the centre of the government’s $4 billion “renewable energy superpower” plan is a $2 billion investment in the starting of a Hydrogen Headstart programme.
This money will go towards supporting the manufacturing and export of hydrogen gas, a lower-emissions fuel source, depending on how it’s produced.
Hydrogen Headstart will “bridge the commercial gap for early-stage projects, and position Australia to be a world-leading hydrogen producer and exporter,” according to the budget.
A big announcement in the budget came in the form of 170,000 low-cost loans to improve the energy efficiency of households.
$1 billion will be made available through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which will partner with banks to provide loans. These can then be spent on upgrading your home with “battery-ready solar PV, modern appliances, and other improvements to keep them warmer in winter and cooler in summer.”
A further $300 million will be spent on the electrification and improvement of energy efficiency for social housing.
Environment Protection Australia
Australia will be getting a major overhaul of its environmental laws with $121 million in the budget to fund the launch of an Environmental Protection Agency. It’s mindblowing that Australian didn’t already have something like this.
“The EPA will be a tough cop on the beat. It will transform our system of environmental approvals. It will be transparent and independent. It will make environmental assessments, decide project approvals and the conditions attached to them, and it will make sure that those conditions are being followed on the ground,” a spokesperson for the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment & Water said in a statement.
Labor has been talking about this since the election last year, so the move should come as no surprise.
The EPA will introduce new conservation strategies, boost protections for the environment, and aim to end extinctions in Australia.