Environment and Energy: Regional Australia—A Stronger Economy Delivering Stronger Regions 2018–19

The Environment and Energy portfolio advises on and implements environment and energy policy that supports the Australian Government in achieving a healthy environment, strong economy and thriving community, now and for the future. The portfolio’s work delivers a range of environmental and economic benefits to regional Australia by protecting and improving the natural assets that communities rely on and ensuring reliable, affordable and sustainable energy.

Effective environmental management, including of our Commonwealth national parks, Australian Marine Parks and World Heritage Areas, helps to protect the country’s most iconic natural destinations, Indigenous culture, unique ecosystems, biodiversity and threatened species. This supports continued growth in nature based tourism sectors, which contribute more than $23 billion to the Australian economy each year. Much of this flows to regional economies and communities.

Under the National Landcare Program, the Australian Government is continuing its commitment to environment conservation and sustainable land management. The program is supporting communities across Australia to deliver on-ground projects that address national environmental, agricultural and Indigenous priorities and provide local and regional economic and social benefits.

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 Bureau of Meteorology provides world class essential weather information, forecasts and warnings Australia‑wide. The Bureau’s services support planning, risk management and decision making in many sectors of the economy including agriculture, aviation, construction, tourism, transport and mining. The Bureau’s warnings provide critical information for emergency services during severe weather events and natural disasters which help save lives and minimise property damage.

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

New Initiatives

Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program

The Australian Government is investing $557.8 million over seven years from 2017-18 and $10.2 million ongoing from 2024-25 to support implementation of the joint Australian and Queensland Government Reef 2050 Plan—the primary framework for management of the Great Barrier Reef out to 2050. This investment includes the $57.8 million funding boost to Reef protection measures agreed in the 2017-18 Mid-Year and Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

  • This investment will deliver actions that protect the Great Barrier Reef and continue first rate management of this global natural icon. Key initiatives delivered by the Environment and Energy portfolio with this funding include:
  • $443.3 million in 2017-18 to support a ground-breaking Reef Trust partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Combined with funding from philanthropic and other sources, the partnership will deliver water quality improvements, crown-of-thorns starfish control, science for reef restoration, community engagement and improved monitoring.
  • $36.6 million over two years from 2017-18 to the Reef Trust to build on the success working with farmers to improve land-use practices to stop soil, pesticide and nitrogen runoff from damaging the Reef. This measure will be complemented by activities delivered by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
  • $27.2 million over five years from 2017-18 and $10.2 million ongoing from 2022-23 to boost investment in the Great Barrier Reef Joint Field Management Program and put more field officers on the water, improve compliance, provide early warning of further bleaching and strengthen reef and island management.
  • $10.4 million over two years from 2017-18 for an all-out assault on coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, increasing the number of control vessels on the water to control outbreaks. This will be complemented by measures to be delivered by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

The Australian Government’s investments are helping to protect and preserve the Great Barrier Reef and to maintain environmental health, sustainable agricultural practices and tourism activities in regional Queensland.

Australian Heritage Grants Program—Establishment

The Australian Government is reforming existing heritage grants programs to ensure the Commonwealth’s investments are best placed to support the management of nationally protected heritage places. From 2018-19, funding of $5.3 million per year will be delivered through the new flagship Australian Heritage Grants Program. The program will support management, conservation and promotion activities for places in Australia recognised for their nationally significant heritage values. Many of the eligible heritage places are found in regional Australia. The program will support owners and managers of heritage places, along with community groups and other non-government entities, to protect and promote the heritage values for which places are listed.

Powering Forward—Delivering more affordable, reliable and sustainable energy

The Australian Government has committed $41.5 million over seven years from 2017‑18 to support efforts to ensure secure, reliable, and affordable energy. Australia’s energy system is transforming due to changes in technology, consumer preference and environmental factors. The Government is taking action to ensure this transition occurs smoothly. The package of measures will help Australians, including those in regional communities, get a better deal on their energy bills and access more secure, reliable and affordable power.

The package includes:

  • $18.7 million over four years from 2017-18, to implement the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market (the Finkel Review), and develop the National Energy Guarantee recommended by the Energy Security Board. The Finkel Review recognised the increasing risks extreme weather events pose to the security and reliability of Australia’s energy system. This funding will provide improved climate data and extreme weather information to help guide planning and investment decisions in the system.
  • $7.5 million over two years from 2018-19 to fund the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Energy Council’s work program.
  • $12.8 million over six years from 2018-19 and $4.9 million every three years from 2024-25 to deliver energy security assessments.
  • $2.5 million over two years from 2018-19 to improve the functioning of the gas market.

Snowy Hydro Limited Acquisition

The Australian Government has reached an agreement with the New South Wales and Victorian Governments to take full ownership of Snowy Hydro Limited, Australia’s energy generation and retailing company that owns, manages, and maintains the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme. The Government will provide $4.2 billion to New South Wales and $2.1 billion to Victoria (less dividends received), reflecting their respective shareholdings. New South Wales and Victoria have broadly committed to invest the proceeds in productive infrastructure projects.

In addition, Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project, located in southern New South Wales, is scheduled to proceed to final investment decision by the end of 2018. Snowy 2.0 is the plan to expand the original Snowy Mountains scheme with an additional 2,000 megawatts of capacity and 350,000MW hours of storage, creating up to 5,000 jobs and producing storage to power 500,000 homes for a week.

Bureau of Meteorology—improved security and resilience for ICT systems—Tranche Two

The Australian Government provided additional funding to improve the Bureau’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) systems and its network of weather stations and radars. This investment will support the Bureau’s continued provision of information and services critical to the profitability and productivity of Australian agriculture. 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.

Australian Antarctic Science

The Department of the Environment and Energy is working with the Industry and Education portfolios to reform current governance arrangements for Antarctic Science funding. Antarctic Science funding is supported by two measures announced in the 2018‑19 Budget including $8.0 million per year from 1 January 2020 to 30 June 2027 for a new Special Research Initiative in Excellence in Antarctic Science and $5.0 million per year from 2019-20 for a new 10 year Antarctic Science Collaboration Initiative grants program. These measures, together with the Government’s significant investment in the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan through the Department of the Environment and Energy, will have a positive impact on the Antarctic Science Community and the Australian Antarctic Program, benefiting the Tasmanian economy.

Current Initiatives

National Landcare Program

The Australian Government is investing around $1 billion over six years from 2017-18 in the next phase of the National Landcare Program. The Program is administered collaboratively by the Department of the Environment and Energy, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Under the Regional Land Partnerships component, $450 million is allocated to protect, conserve and provide for the productive use of Australia’s water, soil, plants, animals and the ecosystems in which they live. Service Providers will work in partnership with communities to design and deliver on-ground environment and agriculture projects at a regional scale that support national priorities for natural resource management.

The program is providing $15 million to expand Indigenous Protected Areas, in addition to $93 million to continue existing Indigenous Protected Areas. This investment delivers benefits to our environment and our local communities by safeguarding the biodiversity of the nation’s remote areas for present and future generations; protecting the cultural heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their region; and providing employment, education and training opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote areas.

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 recovery of threatened species and 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.
  • The Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub is increasing our understanding of the drivers of Australia’s climate, based in Melbourne.

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 Australian Marine Parks. The Director of National Parks employs around 200 staff in regional Australia. The majority are located at Booderee in New South Wales, Kakadu and Uluru‑Kata Tjuta national parks in the Northern Territory, 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 to be enjoyed by 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.

Australian Marine Parks

The Australian Government is providing $56.1 million over four years from 2016-17 to implement new management arrangements for Australian Marine Parks. 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 park management.

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. The Australian Government is providing 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 2018, a total of 7,999 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. This includes re-establishing populations of iconic fish species (including Murray Cod) following the millennium drought and supporting the completion of water bird breeding events at internationally important wetlands such as Barmah and Millewa Forests. 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.

Strengthening science underpinning regulation of Unconventional 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 coal seam gas and large coal mining development proposals.

The Department is addressing critical gaps in the scientific understanding of impacts on water and the environment posed by developing coal and unconventional gas resources. This includes the $30.4 million commitment in the 2017-18 Budget to continue to deliver targeted geological and bioregional assessments in three regions in South Australia, Queensland and Northern Territory that are prospective for shale and tight gas development.

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 $2.3 billion has been committed under contract, involving 438 projects to deliver around 191 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 actively manage important cultural sites.

Improving Your Local Parks and Environment

The Australian Government is providing over $22 million over four years from 2016‑17 through the Improving Your Local Parks and Environment Program to support 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.

Clean Energy Finance Corporation

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) 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 CEFC’s investments support projects in regional Australia, including many in the agriculture sector. These projects include 20 large-scale solar projects across regional Australia, making the CEFC Australia's largest solar investor.

The CEFC and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources are working together to support increase investment in the agribusiness sector. The CEFC has committed $100 million to the agricultural platform of Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets. This investment will contribute to on-farm energy efficiency and sustainability and the CSIRO will contribute expert analysis to enable clean energy learnings to be shared across the farming sector.

The Reef Funding Program is making up to $1 billion available over 10 years in investment finance for clean energy projects located in the Great Barrier Reef catchment region that support delivery of the Reef 2050 plan. Target sectors include agribusiness, tourism, property and infrastructure.

Australian Renewable Energy Agency

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has a long-standing focus on delivering energy innovation in regional Australia. The Agency supports research and development and is focusing on investments which increase the affordability and reliability of energy for Australians, including those in regional communities.

Since its establishment in 2012, ARENA has committed more than $1.3 billion to projects, many of which are in regional Australia. Some of these projects support communities, mines and businesses to use renewables to displace diesel and improve energy supply and security at the fringes of the grid, and include the Lakeland solar and storage project north-west of Cairns and the Barcaldine solar farm in central Queensland. Projects in remote locations away from electricity grids have also been supported, such as the Degrussa solar and storage project at a copper mine in Western Australia and projects supplying energy to Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

Around $400 million of this funding has supported development of large-scale solar photovoltaic projects across Australia from Collinsville in Queensland to Emu Downs in Western Australia.

ARENA is working to bring the next generation of renewables to market through pilots, trials and studies in regional Australia. Examples include a hybrid wind, solar and storage facility at Kennedy Energy Park in Queensland and, the battery of the nation suite of projects in Tasmania.

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

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 human health and the environment.

Australia’s Presence in Antarctica

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 well progressed on the implementation of key priorities in the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan. This includes the investigation of options to deliver year-round aviation access from Hobart as well as the establishment of new inland traverse capability to support the retrieval of a million year ice core.

The construction of a new world‑class icebreaker named RSV Nuyina, to support the Australian Antarctic Program has commenced. The RSV Nuvina 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 Science Program is contributing to employment and investing locally through purchases for Antarctic program operations.

Macquarie Island Research Station

The Australian Government is providing $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 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.

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