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Some Cuts and Some Security – the Environment Budget

Before we lament cuts to individual programs in the Australian Government’s environment portfolio – let’s put it all into perspective…

According to the Commission of Audit (CoA) (for 2012/13) the Environment Department’s portfolio is approximately 11% of the size of the Department of Defence. To put this in perspective, I scaled the cool constellation infographics the CoA used to show the relative investments in these portfolios the Australian community is making.

The Environment portfolio is the constellation to the left, within a green dotted circle, so you don’t miss it…

Infographic comparing environment and defence investments in Australia

Infographic comparing environment and defence investments in Australia

I chose the defence portfolio to compare to because: (1) everyone knows exactly what it does; (2) it is big; (3) I was in the army for some time and am spending the rest of my life trying to clear my conscience for the damage I did at Shoalwater Bay; and (4) no-one in the defence portfolio can speak publicly to comment.

We could choose other big portfolios, but from a ‘whole-of-government’ perspective, the take-out is that the community’s investment in maintaining the health of our Australian environment is quite insignificant compared to other portfolio areas.

The 2014/15 Budget

The 2014/15 budget has delivered an increase in the size of the environment portfolio, largely the result of the former climate change department being folded back in. There have been cuts to significant programs, and most notably, the National Landcare Program. However, equally importantly, when there is blood on the floor across the Government, significant new programs have been secured, including the Green Army and the Emissions Reduction Fund. The sector will also be breathing a sigh of relief about the present Government honouring Biodiversity Fund contracts.

The question for the sector now is how we do more with what we do have, how we reduce duplication and inefficiencies, and importantly how we get on with re-engaging the community-at-large about the Australian landscape, and why they should invest in it.

This year’s budget is done, we must focus on the bird in the hand, and look forward to a brighter future and healthier landscape. As a sector, movement or community we should be together-focused on how we grow the whole pie for the environment and turn the environment constellation into something more akin to a planet in the defence universe rather than a far-flung fog of matter that is hard to see.

We simply won’t be able to grow the budget for the environment without broader support in the community.

Some key questions for us to quickly grapple with are:

  • Why do our elected representatives not think this is a growing concern?
  • Have we effectively made the case for greater investment in what we care about?
  • Why do people seemingly not care as much as they once did?
  • What do we need to do to bring ‘environment’ back to the community as an issue they care deeply about, and one that can be positively influenced within their lifetime?
  • What role can each of us play as communicators, boundary-spanners, leaders and influencers in getting environment onto a more positive platform?

We don’t have much time to get on with it either, pre-budget submissions will be due at the end of the year…



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