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Environmental stewardship is back, but with less money and only as a pilot.

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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage, the Arts and Indigenous Affairs

There is a growing consensus that Australia’s natural environment and food production will be the sector most immediately and seriously affected by climate change.

Hence, the shock to communities when the Coalition’s $50 million Environmental Stewardship programme was axed in Labor’s first budget. This was particularly startling, according to the Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage, the Arts and Indigenous Affairs, Dr Sharman Stone, since Minister Peter Garrett boasted of the value of the programme in Paris at an OECD forum just weeks before the axe fell.

But on Saturday, on a farm in a quiet little corner of Bungendore, the locals were surprised to hear it reported that the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Dr Mike Kelly, had announced the launch of a bold “new” programme, a $37.5 million Environmental Stewardship Pilot.

According to Sharman Stone, the Labor Government are masters at rebadging highly successful Coalition programs. Hence the Natural Heritage Trust has become Caring for our Country, but in this case, there was not even the pretence of a new name for the old programme, which targets the same vegetation species and ecosystems that were funded in the Howard Government’s Environmental Services Programs.

What is new is the contraction of funding available, from $50 million to just $37.5 million, even though the Rudd Labor Government continues to enjoy a $22 billion surplus built up and handed to it by the Coalition.

The new pilot was launched without the Minister for the Environment or the Minister for Agriculture anywhere in sight.

These Ministers are no doubt embarrassed that their bright new programme was in fact a back-flip about a crucial programme that never should have been axed, but has now been reinstated with a 25 per cent cut in funding.

At least Labor cannot be accused of inconsistency in its treatment of environmental funding. Landcare has been slashed by 20 per cent, Catchment Management Authorities by 40 per cent and the great Greencorps traineeship program has been converted to a Work for the Dole programme for the long term unemployed. Envirogrants have completely disappeared, Dr Stone said.