Environment and Energy: Regional Australia—Driving Our Economy 2017–18

The Environment and Energy portfolio supports the Australian Government in achieving a healthy environment, strong economy and thriving communities now and for the future. New and existing initiatives support strong and diverse regional economies through protecting and improving the natural asset base they rely on. Reliable and affordable energy provides the foundation for our economy and society to function.

In the 2017–18 Budget, the Australian Government has reconfirmed its commitment to the National Landcare Program—the primary mechanism for Australian Government investment in environment conservation and protection and sustainable land management. The program is delivering long-term improvements to Australia’s biodiversity and natural resource condition by supporting communities to address national environmental, agricultural and Indigenous priorities that provide economic and social benefits locally and regionally. The program is administered collaboratively by the Department of the Environment and Energy and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Effective environmental management, including of our six Commonwealth national parks, fifty-nine Commonwealth marine reserves and nineteen World Heritage Areas including the Great Barrier Reef, helps to protect the country’s most iconic natural destinations, Indigenous culture, unique ecosystems, biodiversity and threatened species. This work is critical to continued growth in nature based tourism sectors, which contribute more than $23 billion to the Australian economy each year. This has significant positive impacts on regional economies and communities as the majority of nature based tourist destinations are located in regional areas.

Ensuring secure and affordable energy for regional Australia supports jobs, families and economic growth. The Environment and Energy portfolio is working with States and Territories to assess energy security and support the efficient operation of Australia’s energy markets.

The Emissions Reduction Fund supports Australian businesses, farmers and landholders to take practical and direct action to reduce emissions. Around 80 per cent of all contracted emission reductions under the fund are from the land sector. Participants, including farmers, landholders and Indigenous communities, receive a stable diversified income stream, and incentives to implement new and better practices. The Environment and Energy portfolio contributes to the ongoing effort to understand the impacts of climate change so that response efforts are based on the best available science. The 2017 Review of Climate Change Policies will examine the impact of policies on jobs, investment, trade competitiveness, households and regional Australia.

The Environment and Energy portfolio has a strong presence in regional Australia through the work of the Department of the Environment and Energy, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Director of National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

New Initiatives

National Landcare Program

The Government has confirmed the allocation of funding from the Natural Heritage Trust for the next phase of the National Landcare Program, investing $1.1 billion over seven years from 2016–17 to 2022-23. It includes $100.0 million of additional funding for the National Landcare Program announced in December 2016, to support on-ground community projects that protect, restore and sustain our soils, water and the diversity of Australia’s unique plants and animals and threatened species, including additional funding to expand Indigenous Protected Areas.

The next phase of the program will continue to improve natural resource management to protect Australia’s iconic places, plants and animals, secure agricultural productivity gains and farm-gate returns and strengthen regional economies. The funding will ensure the valuable work of Landcare groups and Indigenous communities delivering on–ground biodiversity and sustainable agriculture outcomes continues.

Energy for the Future—Gas Supply and Affordability  

In 2017–18, the Environment and Energy portfolio will work with the Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio to roll out the Australian Government’s new $86.3 million Gas Supply and Affordability measure. This measure is part of the Australian Government’s Energy for the Future Package which takes significant steps to ensuring all Australians including those in regional communities, can access secure, reliable and affordable power as we transition to a low emissions future. The measure will deliver important reforms across Australia’s gas market to secure reliable and affordable energy for Australian consumers.

Current Initiatives

Protection of Threatened Species

The Australian Government is working directly with local communities to protect the species that matter to them. Since the appointment of the Threatened Species Commissioner in June 2014, the Australian Government has mobilised $210 million through programs to support threatened species recovery. The Commissioner’s work is guided by the Threatened Species Strategy which has strong and measurable targets to tackle feral cats and recover Australia’s threatened mammals, birds and plants. The Australian Government is investing $5 million under the National Landcare Program from 2016–17 to 2018–19 in the Threatened Species Recovery Fund to support community led threatened species projects aligned with the Strategy.

Feral cats endanger over 120 threatened species in Australia and have caused the extinction of ground-dwelling birds and small to medium-sized mammals. Feral cats are a threat to some farming livestock. Action to control feral cats is guided by the Threat Abatement Plan for predation by feral cats and the Threatened Species Strategy. Priorities under the Threat Abatement Plan include: making toxic baits available for use across all of Australia, eradicating feral cats from islands, and establishing more fenced reserves free from feral cats to reduce pressure on threatened species.

The Australian Government has mobilised over $30 million to feral-cat related projects since the appointment of the Threatened Species Commissioner in June 2014, including trials of new control methods such as grooming traps and baits. This complements the Department of Environment and Energy’s development of the broad-scale toxic bait—called Curiosity®—which, once commercially available, could be aerially deployed over national parks and other key conservation sites. Curiosity® includes a new humane toxin in a small plastic pellet that is designed for feral cats, but not native wildlife, to consume. 

Invest in Our Great Barrier Reef

As well as being one of the world’s greatest natural assets, the Great Barrier Reef supports tourism, fishing, recreation, traditional uses, and research, which generate some 69,000 jobs and are worth $5.6 billion a year to the Australian economy. The Australian Government’s investments are helping to protect and preserve the Great Barrier Reef and to maintain environmental health and tourism activities in regional Queensland.

The Australian Government is continuing to deliver its joint commitment with the Queensland Government towards a $2 billion investment in the reef over ten years.

Funding is being allocated towards 2016 election commitments including:

  • $6 million over three years from 2016–17 to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for a new Southern Reef Ranger vessel to enable better protection of the marine park against illegal fishing;
  • $1.3 million over two years from 2016–17 to develop a Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef web platform;
  • $400,000 over four years from 2016–17 for emerging science and partnership priorities; and
  • $150,000 over three years from 2016–17 to expand the Run for the Reef initiative beyond Port Douglas.

In the 2016–17 Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Australian Government committed $49.1 million over five years from 2016–17 and $15 million each year from 2021-22 to stabilise funding for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. This funding will enable the Authority to continue to deliver outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef, including supporting the operating costs for the new Southern Reef Ranger and delivery of the Australian Government’s Reef 2050 Plan. Further, this funding will enable the Authority to undertake improvements to the Reef HQ Aquarium located in Townsville.

The Reef Funding Program, managed by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, has been established to tackle two of the biggest threats facing the Great Barrier Reef—climate change and the need to improve water quality. Through the Reef Funding Program, up to $1 billion in investment finance (debt and equity) is available over ten years for clean energy projects that support delivery of the Reef 2050 plan, either directly (such as by improving water quality), indirectly (by reducing emissions primarily in reef catchment areas) or both. The Reef Funding Program was announced by the Government in June 2016 and commenced on 11 January 2017. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has identified target sectors with the strongest potential to invest in clean energy projects through the Reef Funding Program, including agribusiness, tourism, renewables, property and infrastructure.

Support Your Local Parks and Environment

The Australian Government has committed $30.0 million over four years from 2016–17 to the Support Your Local Parks and Environment election commitment. Under this commitment the Environment and Energy portfolio is supporting regional communities through funding of:

  • $22.8 million over four years from 2016–17 for the Improving Your Local Parks and Environment Program which supports communities across Australia to revitalise, maintain and improve local parks, nature reserves, rivers, coastal areas and community facilities, ensuring better and more accessible green spaces;
  • $6.2 million over three years from 2016–17 to the Solar Communities program which will support local responses to climate change and deliver lower electricity costs for community organisations. The program will provide funding for community groups in selected regions across Australia. Community groups will be able to install rooftop solar PV, solar hot water and solar-connected battery systems. Of this, $1.2 million is being provided over two years from 2016–17 to support four food rescue charities to invest in solar photovoltaics, solar connected battery systems, energy efficient refrigeration systems and/or vehicles fitted with energy efficient refrigeration systems; and
  • $1.0 million over four years from 2016–17 to the Surf Life Saving Cleaner Outboard Engines Scheme which will provide grants to surf lifesaving clubs to upgrade outboard engines.

Director of National Parks

The Director of National Parks manages Australia’s six Commonwealth national parks, the Australian National Botanic Gardens, and Australia’s network of Commonwealth marine reserves. The Director of National Parks employs around 200 staff in regional Australia. The majority are located at Booderee, Kakadu and Uluru–Kata Tjuta national parks and in Hobart. There are also small offices in the remote locations of Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

In Kakadu, Uluru–Kata Tjuta and Booderee national parks, the Aboriginal owners lease their land to be managed jointly with the Director of National Parks, to be protected as national parks for the enjoyment of all Australians. In addition to Aboriginal staff, trainees and apprentices, the parks provide service delivery agreements with local Aboriginal organisations and businesses. Trainee programs are designed to provide employment pathways for local people through on the job training in various aspects of park management, and the completion of nationally accredited certificates in conservation and land management.

Commonwealth Marine Reserves—Implementation

The Australian Government is providing $56.1 million over four years from 2016–17 to implement new management arrangements for Commonwealth marine reserves. The funding will support the commercial fishing sector to adjust to changes and provide more opportunities for engagement with recreational fishers, community groups and dive operators. It will promote local growth in tourism and protect our unique aquatic assets. This investment will have a positive impact on regional Australia through targeted investments that support local marine businesses and increase regional engagement in marine reserve management.

Protecting National Historic Sites

The Protecting National Historic Sites program supports activities that protect, manage and conserve places on Australia’s National Heritage List recognised for their historic values. The Australian Government will provide funding of $17.7 million over four years from 2017–18 for this program. Many of the 66 eligible National Heritage places are found in regional Australia, each listed for local historic heritage values that have been considered of outstanding heritage value to the nation. Grant funding supports owners and managers in their efforts to better manage these places. The funding helps owners and managers promote the properties’ values to local and regional communities and to visitors more broadly.

Macquarie Island Research Station

The Australian Government will provide $49.8 million over 11 years from 2016–17 to build new scientific facilities on Macquarie Island and replace the existing research station. Macquarie Island is located in the Southern Ocean around 1,500 kilometres southeast of Tasmania. The island’s location makes it important for Australia’s contribution to a range of international scientific monitoring and Southern Ocean research programs. The Australian Government’s continued operation of a year-round research station will ensure that high priority scientific, monitoring and management programs conducted on Macquarie Island continue. This includes continuing meteorological observations at Macquarie Island, which contribute to international climate science programs.

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean sector was estimated to contribute $187 million to the Tasmanian economy in 2011–12. The construction and ongoing operation of a new research station on Macquarie Island, including the provision of Hobart–based logistics support, will bring economic benefits to Tasmania. It will contribute to the development of Hobart and its surrounding area, as the premier logistics gateway and scientific research hub for East Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

Emissions Reduction Fund

The Emissions Reduction Fund creates positive incentives for Australians to adopt smarter practices and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In less than three years, the Emissions Reduction Fund has achieved outstanding results. Funding of $2.2 billion has been committed under contracts of up to ten years, involving 435 projects to deliver around 189 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Regional Australia is benefiting from the fund, with a large proportion of projects outside capital cities. This includes projects that will allow native forests to regrow, store carbon in the soil and reduce methane emissions from the intensive livestock industry. In addition to reducing emissions and diversifying income streams, these projects have other social, economic and environmental benefits. For example, farmers are using revenue generated through the sale of carbon credits to invest in new and innovative farm practices. Savannah fire management projects in northern Australia deliver significant emission reductions and reduce late season wild bushfires. Of equal importance is that these projects improve the protection of cultural and environment values, allowing Indigenous people to remain living on country and to actively manage important cultural sites.

Clean and Renewable Energy Innovation—Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is working to mobilise capital investment in renewable energy, low emissions technology and energy efficiency in Australia through commercial loans, equity investments and limited loan guarantees. More than half of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s investments support projects in regional Australia, including many in the agriculture sector. In February 2017, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to facilitate the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources providing assistance and support to the work of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to increase investment in the agribusiness sector.

Through a joint arrangement between the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the Australian Government is delivering $200.0 million to invest through the Clean Energy Innovation Fund to provide debt and equity financing support for emerging clean energy projects and businesses. The funding is provided by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for investment opportunities by businesses, including in regional Australia, to develop innovative clean energy projects and businesses. The Clean Energy Innovation Fund is building on the strong support the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is already providing in rural and regional Australia.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s Sustainable Cities Investment Program will make up to $1 billion of investment finance at a rate of $100 million a year over ten years, from 2016–17 for clean energy, renewable energy, and energy efficiency technology in cities, including major regional centres. This program will leverage private sector capital to accelerate the deployment of cutting-edge projects, such as next-generation transport management systems, green buildings, and new build plus retrofit of social and affordable housing.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has a long-standing focus on delivering energy innovation in regional Australia. The 2016–17 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook reflected the restoration of $800.0 million from 2017–18 to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, giving the agency a greater capacity to support research and development. The agency is focusing on investments which increase the affordability and reliability of energy for Australians, including those in regional communities.

Between 2014 and 2016, the Regional Australia's Renewables initiative committed $150.0 million across 14 projects to support communities and industry in regional Australia to use renewables. Four projects are designed to improve energy supply and security at the fringes of the electricity grid, including the Lakeland Solar and Storage project north-west of Cairns and the Barcaldine Solar Farm in central Queensland. The remaining projects displace diesel consumption in remote locations and include Degrussa Solar Project located on a copper mine in Western Australia and several small systems supplying energy to Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

Through its large-scale solar photovoltaics competitive round the Australian Renewable Energy Agency is delivering $88.9 million to 12 projects in regional Australia, from Collinsville in Queensland to Emu Downs in Western Australia.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is working to bring the next generation of renewables to market through pilots, trials and research in regional Australia. Examples include Carnegie Wave Energy in Western Australia, Vast Solar in New South Wales and Southern Oil’s Biorefinery in Gladstone.

National Wind Farm Commissioner and the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines

The National Wind Farm Commissioner and the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines were appointed in 2015. The National Wind Farm Commissioner receives and refers complaints about wind farms from concerned community residents. The Commissioner is improving transparency of information and promotes best practice for industry and government to adopt in relation to proposed and operating wind farms.

The Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines—an independent, multidisciplinary, expert group—is improving science and monitoring of the potential impacts of sound from wind turbines (including low frequency and infrasound) on health and the environment.

Antarctica—Maintaining Australia’s Presence

Australian Government funding for Antarctic science and environmental management continues to boost the Tasmanian economy, as Australia’s operational work for Antarctica out of Hobart contributes to employment and local investment. The Australian Government is progressing implementation of key priorities in the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan. This includes the investigation of runway options to deliver year-round aviation access.

Through the Antarctica—acquisition of new icebreaker measure, the design of and preparation for construction of a new world–class icebreaker to support the Australian Antarctic Program has commenced. The icebreaker will be home–ported in Hobart.

Funding for the Australian Antarctic Program has flow on benefits for the Tasmanian economy. Sustainable funding for the Australian Antarctic Program ensures that the critical functions that support Australia’s presence and scientific research activities in Antarctica are maintained, and that Australia retains its influence in the Antarctic region. The Antarctic sector largely centres around the activities of the Australian Antarctic Division in Kingston and represents a significant element of Tasmania’s knowledge–based economy (including through employing and retaining staff in highly skilled jobs in scientific and research fields, and local specialised service industries). The Australian Antarctic Program is contributing to employment and investing locally through purchases for its operations.

National Environmental Science Program

The National Environmental Science Program assists decision–makers to understand, manage and conserve Australia’s environment by funding world–class biodiversity and climate science. The program supports on-ground scientific research across regional Australia delivered through six research hubs:

  • the Marine Biodiversity Hub is researching Australian oceans and marine environments, including temperate coastal water quality and marine species, based in Hobart;
  • the Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub is supporting the sustainable development of our northern landscapes, based in Darwin;
  • the Threatened Species Recovery Hub is supporting the management of threats and improving recovery of threatened species, based in Brisbane;
  • the Tropical Water Quality Hub is researching coastal water quality and coastal management focused on the Great Barrier Reef and other tropical waters, based in Cairns;
  • the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub is supporting environmental quality in urban areas, based in Melbourne; and
  • the Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub is increasing our understanding of the drivers of Australia’s climate, based in Melbourne.

Bureau of Meteorology

In the 2016–17 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Australian Government provided ongoing funding from 2017–18, including $91.8 million over three years to 2019–20 to extend the Bureau of Meteorology’s Water Information Program. The Bureau of Meteorology will continue to provide information and services that are critical to the profitability and productivity of Australian agriculture.

Regional engagement is integral to the delivery of Bureau services. The Bureau has seven regional offices that provide forecasts, warnings and long-term outlooks on weather, climate and water to a broad range of stakeholders and customers including the general public, regional industries such as primary producers, state and local government and emergency services agencies.

The Bureau's information on streamflow, storages, soil water, water use and markets, and water forecasts is essential for farmers, irrigators and rural water agencies, and supports Australia’s international competitiveness and community well-being.

Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development

The Department of the Environment and Energy continues to support the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development, which provides advice to Australian governments on the water–related impacts of these proposals. The Department of the Environment and Energy is addressing critical gaps in the scientific understanding of the water–related impacts of developing coal and coal seam gas resources. This includes continuing to deliver targeted bioregional (regional scale) assessments of the impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining development on water resources in regions across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Commonwealth Water Functions—Commonwealth Environmental Water Office

The Commonwealth Environmental Water holdings are managed so that increased flows of water are provided to protect and restore water dependent ecosystems throughout the Murray–Darling Basin. In the 2016–17 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Australian Government provided ongoing funding from 2017–18, including $136.3 million over three years to 2019–20 to support the management of the Commonwealth’s environmental water holdings. As at 31 January 2017, a total of 6,289 gigalitres of Commonwealth environmental water had been delivered to rivers, wetlands and floodplains of the Basin, contributing to the sustainability and amenity of these unique regional landscapes. Early results of the long term intervention monitoring program indicate that Commonwealth environmental watering has already made contributions to key environmental objectives in the Murray–Darling Basin Plan. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder has recruited six local engagement officers working within the Basin, to assist members of the community participate in environmental water planning and decision making.

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