2023/24 ACT Budget Wrap
Earlier this year, the Conservation Council made a Budget submission to the ACT Government that focussed on 6 key priorities:
- Champion environment and climate organisations
- Invest in electrification for a safe climate
- Invest in safe, convenient and accessible active travel
- Invest in the phase-out of wood-burning heaters from ACT suburbs
- Invest in biodiversity
- Invest in invasive species management
The Conservation Council welcomes the good intentions to invest in biodiversity through increased government staff and to reduce emissions through active travel paths and electrification. However, budgets are about priorities, and nature and climate are not being prioritised. For example, only 3% of overall spending has been allocated to the environment and climate, despite the supposed focus on wellbeing.
In the face of a climate and environmental crisis, we know that the more we can do to ameliorate that, the better off we all will be with far reaching impacts for physical and mental wellbeing. Indeed, strong climate and nature policy should be a key part of all policy due to the flow on outcomes for public health and a resilient community.
Climate change is the most significant threat to the survival of all life on earth, and requires immediate and significant global action to adequately address the crisis. Years ago, the ACT demonstrated leadership by setting a target of net-zero emissions by 2045 including phasing out fossil gas. But we must bring forward that target date and invest heavily now in making the deep emissions reductions across all sectors urged by the IPCC.
Investment in reducing emissions and supporting lower income households is welcomed including the Commonwealth and ACT Government funding for the installation of shared rooftop solar on multi-unit apartments, the $80 million boost for the Sustainable Household Scheme and commitment to encouraging electrification through the continuation of no interest loans and allowance for more households to participate. Eligibility for roof-top solar will be restricted and applications will be open in Q3 2023.
The $70 million to electrify government owned and operated buildings is to be congratulated. Now the ACT government needs to fund a pathway for all ACT Government Assets including social housing, schools, health facilities and office blocks to replace gas appliances with all electric alternatives by 2030.
Canberra based environment and climate organisations play an important role in Government strategies to reduce emissions on the pathway to net zero emissions by 2045. Given the constant reminders that changes to community behaviour will sit at the heart of ongoing emissions reductions, it is disappointing that funding for community groups to deliver outreach and projects didn’t see an increase in investment.
Transport emissions contribute 63% to the ACT’s direct greenhouse emissions, primarily through the use of petrol and diesel vehicles. Our transport choices have a significant impact on our environment, the liveability of our city, and our productivity, health and wellbeing.
The Council supports ongoing delivery of light rail to Woden, electrification of the bus fleet and recruitment of additional bus drivers.
It is pleasing that loans for electric vehicles, both new and used, will continue as they contribute to reducing emissions in the Territory.
The $26 million in new funding for active travel is welcomed, however further investment is needed. The delivery of a series of new upgrades and maintenance work to the ACT’s walking and cycling network is welcome including an increase in maintenance, however there remains a lack of ambition. This includes only two new active travel links being built from this budget: The Garden City Cycle Route and a link in Kingston. At this pace, the implementation of the active travel network will be decades away. This is in contrast to the high funding for roads, at the loss of public transport and pathways for walking and cycling.
An additional $13 million allocated over four years as part of the 2023-24 ACT Budget to protect, conserve and restore Canberra’s natural environment is welcomed. However, more ambitious investment is needed in the face of an extinction crisis and our declining natural world.
In July 2022, a landmark State of Environment Report was released outlining that overall Australia’s natural environment is “poor and deteriorating”. The cause of this extreme loss: climate stresses, habitat loss and degradation. Nature in the ACT suffers the same fate as the rest of the country. Approximately 6.2% of Canberra’s mature trees have been removed in the past 5 years; our beloved faunal emblem, the Gang-gang Cockatoo is endangered; and our natural areas are at increasing risk from invasive plants and animals.
Investing in protecting, restoring and enhancing natural places in the ACT region has cross community benefits including for supporting tourism, livelihoods, health and wellbeing. Furthermore it is invaluable that the ACT plays a stewardship role in the protection of important local species and ecosystems. The high investment in further staff in EPSDD is welcomed due to the increased capacity this will enable. The $652,000 for priority habitat restoration activities is supported, particularly if the areas identified are habitat for threatened listed species, increase landscape connectivity and involve community engagement. It is understood works will involve reseeding, tree planting, and erosion control amongst other conservation efforts. The Conservation Council recommends there is investment in incorporating Bluetts Block into the Molonglo River Reserve. Bluetts Block is home to over 100 plant species as well as rare marsupial populations of Dunnart and Antechinus. Protecting the area as a reserve will provide physical and mental wellbeing benefits to nearby residents and allow the ACT to play a stewardship role in securing habitat for such species as the endangered Superb Parrot and Gang-gang Cockatoo.
Unfortunately, there has not been an investment in community organisations which contribute heavily to the protection, conservation or restoration of the ACT’s environment. Volunteer labour is relied on heavily for the management of natural places including invasive plant control and restoration efforts. LandcareACT, the three member Catchment Groups, the National Parks Association of the ACT, Friends of Grasslands, Park Care Groups and so forth require further funding to enable increased capacity beyond business as usual.
We are concerned by the $11 million to accelerate further land release, alongside continued planning reform to enable the private market to deliver as much new housing as possible. This is identified as a mix of greenfield and infill development. The Council maintains the position that there should be no extension of Canberra beyond the current city footprint.
Invasive species management
To ensure Canberra’s nature, people and culture can flourish, our urban landscapes need to host bio diverse and resilient green spaces. Biodiversity in the ACT region is under strain from invasive plants and animals. The investment of two further staff to the rapid response team is hugely welcomed as this increased capacity will make a significant difference in managing the impacts from invasive species on our natural areas.
As the impacts of a changing climate continue and worsen, the ACT must be prepared for Biosecurity threats. This includes reducing the risks by changing internal practices such as inadequate staffing and planting guides that include invasive species. Funding of new staff needs to be on an ongoing basis to ensure forward momentum is not jeopardised. Furthermore, overall clear secure ongoing funding for invasive species management is still required. The $400,000 investment to conduct a strategic review of the ACT’s biosecurity and invasives threat environment and capability analysis, is supported and will ideally result in adequate funding for biosecurity management.
The ACT has a responsibility to rapidly respond to biosecurity threats accelerated by climate change, through sustained intervention and management of invasive plants that have been bolstered by a prolonged period of frequent rain. Invasive species degrade our waterways, natural landscape, habitats, biodiversity and threaten the production of food in our region.
Specific initiatives of note in this Budget are identified below:
- $3.6 million dollar investment to incentivise installing rooftop solar on apartment blocks through rebates and concessional loans to body corporates – benefitting apartment tenants and neighbouring residents.
- $80 million boost for the Sustainable Household Scheme
- $70 million to electrify government owned and operated buildings.
- $10.4 million to fund Stage 1 of the Garden City Cycle Route which will run through Watson, Downer, Hackett, Dickson, Ainslie and Braddon through to the city cycle loop on Bunda and Allara Street.
- $3 million for Lake Ginninderra Stage 1 of works to improve connections to the many playgrounds, picnic areas and parks located around the lake edge.
- More than $1m for infill lighting and missing community path links
- $2.6 m in supporting infrastructure to make the road and path network around schools safer including raised pedestrian crossings
- $785,000 in communications activities to strengthen safety and encourage uptake of active travel
- Two additional Conservation officers (Office of Nature Conservation) over two years focused on vegetation ecologist and aquatics/recreational fishing
- One additional senior officer (Office of Nature Conservation) over two years to focus on national environmental reforms through the Nature Positive Plan
- An additional data position in the out year to help make environmental data more accessible to the community
- An additional senior officer in the out year to drive climate adaptation approaches for the natural environment
- $652,000 for priority habitat restoration activities
- $650,000 towards conservation activities for the Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon
- $400,000 to conduct a strategic and comprehensive review of the ACT’s conservation measures
- $250,000 to partner with the Ngunnawal people to deliver conservation and biosecurity programs.
Biosecurity and invasives:
- $500,000 over two years to continue the invertebrate pest animal control program (thermally assisted aerial control)
- Two additional positions over two years to expand the biosecurity and invasives response team
- $300,000 over two years to expand rabbit control operations
- $400,000 to conduct a strategic and comprehensive review of the ACT’s biosecurity and invasives threat environment and capability analysis
- Infrastructure to support biosecurity incident management
- $8.2m for additional healthy waterway assets, reaching and monitoring, catchment restoration, education