image courtesy of the Conservation Council
This excellent piece by Piers Verstegen the Director of the Conservation Council of WA appeared recently in the West Australian and can be found on Piers's excellent blog site Numbat News. There is also a Facebook site to keep up with latest activities of Piers and the Conservation Council.
State Budget rewards polluters but punishes environment and families
By Piers Verstegen
In a closed briefing to business and community groups on the State budget, Premier and Treasurer Colin Barnett said that this budget strongly reflects the policy agenda of the Liberal-National Government. Sadly, an examination of the budget reveals this agenda as one that places the environment as one of the Government’s lowest priorities.
The second budget produced by the Liberal-National Government continues the established trend of running our environmental regulators on the smell of an oily rag. Much less than 2% of the overall State budget is dedicated to the increasingly impossible tasks of reducing carbon pollution, managing waste, regulating polluting industries, controlling land clearing, managing national parks, reducing air pollution, protecting the marine environment and all the other functions of the State environment portfolio.
When you consider that environmental protection is the responsibility of States under the Australian Constitution, this is grossly inadequate. The inevitable consequence of this budget frugality will be increasing impacts on our environment, increased threats to our biodiversity and health, and carbon pollution skyrocketing out of control in WA.
For a realistic assessment of the environmental consequences of this year’s budget, one must look beyond the environment portfolio. On the other side of the ecological balance sheet, the budget increases the already very significant taxpayer subsidies for polluting and destructive industries in Western Australia.
For example, the budget earmarks over $100 million towards assisting the development of a polluting LNG processing plant on the Kimberley coast – in the middle of the southern hemisphere’s most important hump-back whale calving ground. If it goes ahead, this development would be responsible for increasing WA’s greenhouse emission by 25% on its own.
Premier Barnett has stated that the Kimberley is the Government’s number one environmental priority, and a small allocation has been made to allow for the creation of a new marine park at Camden Sound, North of Broome. This funding is welcome; however the government’s environmental credentials in the Kimberley must be weighed against the heavy taxpayer investment in opening up the north for damaging and unsustainable industries.
Expenditure in the energy portfolio, which could hold the key to a clean renewable energy future, is even more alarming. The budget reveals that more than 99% of capital expenditure by the government’s energy utility will fund polluting fossil-fuel generation; less than 1% will be spent on renewable energy.
And if this is not bad enough, the budget totally fails to account for the massive economic liability that will be passed on to future Western Australians as a consequence of Western Australia’s rapidly increasing carbon pollution.
The Rudd government have delayed the introduction of an Emissions Trading Scheme for the moment, but some price on carbon will inevitably be introduced in some form in the future. Failing to disclose this cost to householders who will be forced to bear that cost because of decisions made to subsidise polluting industries today is duplicitous.
The EPA have advised that WA carbon pollution is likely to increase by an alarming 75% in the next few years. Decisions made today will determine whether Western Australia unlocks its clean energy potential, or locks into a future where Western Australian’s will be forced to pay higher and higher carbon polluting costs.
The disparity between the government’s treatment of the environment and polluting industries is echoed just about everywhere you look in the budget papers.
For example, water charges for households will be increased, but Collies rapidly expanding coal-fired power industry will continue enjoy huge volumes of water almost totally free of charge.
Mining companies receive even more handouts as part of the State Governments $80 million mining exploration incentives package (they already receive generous tax concessions for expolration activities from the Commonwealth), but taxpayers will have to pick up the bill for environmental damage caused by mining as the government continues it’s policy to exempt miners from paying bonds to cover the cost of rehabilitation.
And while families pay more for power, the budget continues the generous energy subsidies enjoyed by mining and other industries supplied from the grid in regional areas.
Financially this budget is in surplus, but that fails to account for the massive environmental and economic liability that will be transferred to future generations as a consequence of the Barnett Government’s overwhelming focus on expanding and subsidising unsustainable and polluting industries in WA.
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