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Treasurer says Budget will contain funding for the environment; Shadow Minister says government has underspent environment funding.

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Monday 7 May 2007

Treasurer says Budget will contain funding for the environment; Shadow Minister says government has underspent environment funding


MARK COLVIN: It's expected that tomorrow night's Federal Budget will be sprinkled with announcements about measures to combat climate change. 


Well orchestrated leaks suggest there'll be funding for practical measures to make your house greener, perhaps by installing solar panels or water saving devices. 


And it's likely that there'll be money announced to pay farmers to do work restoring the environment on their properties. 


But the Federal Opposition is warning of a green wash. 


Labor argues that for the last 11 Budgets the Government's allocated too little money for tackling climate change and that it's underspent what has been allocated by more than a third. 


From Canberra, Peta Donald reports. 


PETA DONALD: In the 11 Budget speeches he's given so far the Treasurer Peter Costello has never mentioned the words "climate change". Tomorrow night that could change.  


Mr Costello was asked today if this would be his greenest Budget to date? Here's the answer. 


PETER COSTELLO: This'll have measures which will improve Australia's environment, fund care for our river system and our greatest water basin, the Murray-Darling Basin, and make sure that we start reserving Australia's great natural resource, our land, our river ways, our vegetation our environment. 


PETA DONALD: He didn't say the words climate change but he might have been saving that for tomorrow night. 


Hints from the Government, and well-sourced leaks to the newspapers suggest there'll be a generous sprinkling of environment announcements in this Budget.  


It's expected there'll be money for solar power and other renewables and that there'll be an emphasis on practical measures to make your house greener.  


It could involve increasing the rebate for solar panels.  


There may be more detail about the Government's $10 billion, 10-year plan for the Murray-Darling Basin. 


The Government has already promised to fund an environmental stewardship program for farmers, entering into long term contracts to pay farmers to do environmental work on their farms.  


Ben Farghar from the National Farmers' Federation. 


BEN FARGHAR: Enough money should be there to fund the outcome. This is about delivering an outcome on behalf of the community and therefore the Government will need to pick the priorities that it wants to see funded.  


We believe then money should flow towards that outcome or that priority. So it does depend in fact on how many priorities the Government picks. 


PETA DONALD: And what sort of work are you talking about that farmers would be paid to do on their properties? 


BEN FARGHAR: Well we're really talking about those types of activities that are over and above the normal operations of sustainable farming. And of course farmers have embraced sustainable production techniques and continue to do so.  


But, if farmers are managing iconic sites, ramsale (phonetic) wetlands, matters of national environmental significance, then we think that the community in partnership with the farmer is a better way to go to provide those environmental outcomes, rather than the full cost being borne by the farmer alone. 


PETA DONALD: The Opposition's environment spokesman Peter Garrett welcomes the idea of a well-targeted, accountable stewardship program. But he's cynical about the Federal Government's sudden interest in climate change.  


Mr Garrett has been collecting figures that show the Federal Government has allocated $670 million to climate change programs since it's been in office. And he says not all of the funding that's been announced has actually been spent. 


PETER GARRETT: The question was put to officials in the Senate Estimates in October in 2006. And the answer was that from 1998 to 2006 Australian Greenhouse Office program funding was underspent by 36 per cent.  


Now, I'm looking at some of the programs here including the Greenhouse Gas programs, the Photo Voltaic Rebate Program, the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program.  


Here we have 2004, estimate $79 million; spent $14 million.  


I mean, very clearly there's been an underspend and a constant reallocation of funds from one program to another. 


I mean the Environment Minister talked about spending $2 billion on climate change programs, that's clearly not the case, when we've got levels of underspending like this. 


So the Government's track record in terms of actually spending the money that's allocated is not good. And its track record in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, if you take away the land clearing benefit they've had, is also not good. 


So this Budget is definitely a watershed for the Howard Government. We'll be looking to see concrete and solid spending on climate change. And frankly, at last, after all this time, to be mentioned by the Treasurer and for something to be done about it. 


MARK COLVIN: Labor's environment spokesman Peter Garrett ending Peta Donald's report.