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Climate change is the elephant in the budget room

Francine Crimmins |  10 May 2017


When Scott Morrison announced the 2017-18 Budget this week there was one phrase he didn't dare to utter in his meticulously written and rehearsed speech. It's just two short words, climate change, but when used together they conjure a public debate even our minister for the environment gets tongued tied over.

Bleached Great Barrier Reef coralMorrison's omission of climate change in the federal budget has set a tone of ignorance to improving energy policy in a meaningful way. Dr Paul Burke, a fellow at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, thinks 'It shows that climate change isn't a number one priority if it's not mentioned at all in a budget speech.'

The only mention of energy security was in the wider context of pressures on the cost of living for Australians. Morrison said the Prime Minister's energy security plan will provide 'reliable and affordable energy for all Australians' and that $3 billion was already being invested in new emissions technologies.

When it comes to new funding to assist in reducing emissions — nothing to see here. Funding for the environment budget was cut 14 per cent since the Coalition formed government in 2014. Under this budget, it is predicted the cut could be up to 27 per cent by 2020.

New energy related measures in this budget include a focus on increasing gas production, taking out the most funding with $86.3 million. This sum will cover $19.6 million to increase gas market transparency and over $30 million for discovery of new potential gas stores.

On the renewable energy front, $6.2 million is going to support the Solar Communities program which supports food rescue charities and other community groups to install solar to reduce their emissions and save on energy costs. There's also $110 million being set aside for Turnbull's Snowy Hydro 2.0 and a hefty investment into a solar thermal project in Port Augusta.

In addition, the National Landcare Program will receive $5 million to support a community led project into threatened species. The Great Barrier Reef will also receive $1 billion after the worst coral bleaching season in history was reported late last year.

Despite this, it's clear an overwhelming focus in environmental funding is on exploration and harvesting of gas for Australia's future in energy. It is short sighted to place money into environmental conservation projects, such as the reef fund, without first actively attempting to treat the cause of the coral bleaching — our fossil fuel emissions.


"This lack of commitment to energy in public policy, and now national budgeting, ignores overwhelming scientific evidence that not reducing to net zero emissions by the end of the century will cause climate change levels to become extremely dangerous."


Environmental organisations on Twitter were not oblivious to the omission in the Treasurer's address. Friends of the Earth Australia tweeted: 'Like many, we're disappointed to see so little funding for the environment and no mention of climate change in the budget speech.'

The lack of attention given to climate change in this budget comes after Minister for the Environment Josh Frydenberg admitted Australia wouldn't meet its Paris commitment of zero emissions by 2020. Instead, he predicts 2050 is a more realistic target. The Energy Reduction Fund, the government's climate policy, has no new funding under this budget.

This lack of commitment to energy in public policy, and now national budgeting, ignores overwhelming scientific evidence that not reducing to net zero emissions by the end of the century will cause climate change levels to become extremely dangerous. Countries at The Paris COP21 agreed on a limit of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees by 2020. This decision was reached as a way to limit warming before it reaches a catastrophic level of 2 degrees. This promise appears to be abandoned by the Turnbull government in the most recent budget.

Australia's budget not only is a betrayal of the future of Australia's health, biodiversity and economic security, but also negligent of an international agreement which was set up to ensure a fair approach to climate for nations.


Francine CrimminsFrancine Crimmins is studying a double degree of Journalism and Creative Intelligence & Innovation at the University of Technology Sydney. She is on twitter as @frankiecrimmins. Francine is the recipient of Eureka Street's Margaret Dooley Fellowship for Young Writers.



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Submitted comments

I sugggest that readers download and watch the video 'Guardians of the Galilee' about the threatened beautiful natural environment of Queensland's Galilee Basin. 'Guardians of the Galilee' captures the raw beauty of the Queensland outback, where Adani's mine threatens essential water resources, and so much more. Presented by Queensland born actor Michael Caton, 'Guarding the Galilee' is a 30 minute documentary on the battle to stop the biggest coal mine in Australian history, Adani’s Carmichael project. The award-winning documentary team captures the raw beauty of the Queensland outback, where Adani’s mine threatens essential water resources. Just downstream from the proposed mine, a grazier fears for the impact on the river that quenches the thirst of his cattle, and flows to the Coral Sea. On the coast, a boat owner operating out of the Airlie Beach tourist hotspot worries about hundreds of extra ships steaming through the Great Barrier Reef each year. Meet these and many others engaged in the fight and find out what mining billionaire Guatam Adani has planned for Australia. The documentary is available at no cost for community screenings. Why not organise a screening in your community? Support the 'Stop Adani 'movement and help save the Reef!

Grant Allen 11 May 2017

Hidden deep within the Government's budget papers is the revelation that the Climate Change Authority had been stripped of almost two-thirds of its funding and confirmation that it will be wound up. The Climate Change Authority is charged with providing independent advice to the government on how to tackle climate change effectively. For example, it provides detailed analysis on what Australia’s emissions reductions should be and pathways for how to meet those targets. The disappearing Climate Change Authority means there will be one less group conducting vital research in Australia. We can’t accurately or effectively mitigate or adapt to climate change without the most up-to-date climate and energy analysis. This continues the Australian government’s pattern of cutting funding to climate research. First it was the Climate Commission, then it was CSIRO, and now the Climate Change Authority is on the cutting block. The Australian Government itself needs to be on the cutting block at the next election. I'll be voting for a party that is serious about climate change mitigation, for the sake of my grand-children, and for the future of the GREAT BARRIER REEF!

Grant Allen 11 May 2017

And unsustainable population growth is the elephant in the climate change room - if one can find the latter.

John Bunyan 11 May 2017

Thanks for the wise words, Francine. Grant, thank you for the information re "Guardians of the Galilee". In Laudato Si, the papal encyclical on Care for our Common Home, Pope Francis calls on us “to apply legitimate means of pressure to ensure that each government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s environment and natural resources without capitulating to spurious local and international interests.” #38 Faith groups across Australia are currently organising a petition which asks that the government to do better by the environment in their next policy review. Details about the petition can be found at the following websites http://www.caritas.org.au/act/our-common-home/climate-petition-2017 ; http://catholicearthcare.org.au/2017/03/community-climate-petition/ ; http://www.arrcc.org.au/arrcc_backs_faith_based_climate_mega_petition .

Tony Borger 12 May 2017

Tony Borger, thank you for the links to the petition. The budget showed that our government considers some issues very unimportant. One is climate change and the need for renewal energy to replace the use of coal. The other was the imminent death by starvation of millions of people in Africa. It seems Australia is in a happy little bubble, with no concern at all for the rest of the world, or for the world as a whole, as though we can just go on in our sweet way, immune from the crises facing all life on earth. It is a disgrace and I hope church leaders push for the government to give more funds for these matters.

Janet 12 May 2017

Thank you for this significant and topical essay. To borrow a phrase, I imagine that as far as topicality is concerned, much of ES's readership would think that Catholic School Funding is the elephant in the room on the Eureka Street Editorial Board.

Dr Michael Furtado 12 May 2017

An important contribution to the crucial debate about the future of Australia's environment and of human life on this planet. Matched by some very helpful comments. Surely, our thick-skinned, pig-headeds politicians will continue to 'steam ahead' whilst they are confident of never having to answer for their eco-crimes. Industrialists who heedlessly endanger their workers are themselves liable to end-up in court. It really is time to have similar legislation enforcing an onus for responsible decision-making on our political executives. It wld be great if some of our top legal people cld draft such legislation for discussion purposes.

Dr Marty Rice 12 May 2017

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