OpinionFlourishing Oceans30 Mar 2022

Budget fails to address the biggest problem of all

The biggest issue for the ocean and the planet is climate change — and there is little in the budget to drive effective change.

Members of Minderoo Foundation’s Flourishing Oceans team (L–R): Michaela Dommisse, Peter Farrell, Tony Worby and Michael Tropiano. Photo Credit: Blue Media Exmouth.

While there are elements of this budget to like, such as the push into improved plastic waste management and investments into the Great Barrier Reef, it has fallen well short on the biggest problem of all — climate change.

The most disappointing aspect is the lack of funding for renewable energy and the halving of the fuel excise. The biggest issue for the ocean and the planet is climate change and there is little in the budget to drive effective change.

While we acknowledge the previously announced spending of $1bn over nine years supporting marine science to protect the Great Barrier Reef, this annual commitment represents a fraction of the reef’s estimated $6.4 billion in value added per year to the Australian economy.1 With the reef currently suffering through its fourth major bleaching event since 20162, a significant boost in funding for long-term action to boost reef health is needed.

Climate change remains the biggest threat not only to the health of the Great Barrier Reef but all reefs globally. Any investments directly into reef science must therefore be accompanied by a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach net zero much sooner than 2050. There is no intervention that can outrun a failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Throughout the world’s oceans, marine heatwaves have already bleached extensive areas of coral and had a devastating impact on seagrasses, mangroves and kelp forests — all key elements of healthy marine ecosystems that support fish life, and thriving fisheries upon which hundreds of millions of people globally rely on for food security and livelihoods. Unfortunately, as with other extreme events on land, marine heatwaves are expected to become more frequent and more severe.

Australia is uniquely positioned to drive the transition to renewable energy, with an abundance of solar, wind and wave climates to lead the world in renewable energy and replace fossil fuels. We would like to see a much stronger signal from the government to incentivise this economic transition.

Investment in renewable energy in this budget is poor. Over five years, just over $250m has been spent on low emission technology (including hydrogen) and $148m for alternative power like microgrids with a 35 per cent decrease in the clean energy and other regulator funding. Compare that, for example, to the $9.9b earmarked for cyber-spying.

Plastic pollution is also one of the biggest, most urgent threats facing our planet and our health, and the production of plastic is inexorably linked to climate change through fossil fuel emissions when it is produced. We must, therefore, rapidly circularise the plastics economy, turn off the tap on virgin material, and invest in alternatives.

Minderoo Foundation welcomes the announcement of $60.4m to boost plastics recycling. However, this won’t be enough to create a circular economy for plastics unless it is matched by commitments from industry to reduce the amount of new plastic they create or use.

The waste export ban is a strong commitment to dealing with more of our plastic waste here at home, instead of shipping it overseas, but if we want to avoid our plastic waste piling up, then we must dramatically scale up collection and sorting efforts, as well as develop recycling technology. Then we need to export it to the world.

We applauded the federal government’s budget commitments to strengthen research capabilities in Antarctica and expand the Indigenous rangers program of land and sea management.

We also welcome support for fishing communities and improved sustainability in the south east trawl fishery, but note the proposed shortfall in funding to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority must be offset by these additional investments to ensure the sustainability of all federally managed fisheries.

This budget lacks leadership from the federal government on the estimated 65 per cent of seafood we consume in Australia which is imported. Australia currently has no system in place to ensure imported products meet the same legal standards as local seafood, and we call for a similar strengthening of Australia’s seafood import regulations and catch documentation systems as was announced in the budget to support the forestry industry.