New South Wales Environment Budget Takes a Beating
SYDNEY, Australia, April 8, 2004 (ENS) - Sixty-seven million dollars has been slashed from the environment and natural resources budget in the Australian state of New South Wales, and three resource sectors that each presently have their own departments will be combined into one. In a mini-budget speech on Tuesday New South Wales (NSW) Treasurer Michael Egan blamed the changes on "savage financial cuts from the federal government," and "the need to fund almost $400 million a year in recently awarded pay rises for nurses and teachers."
To reduce what the treasurer called "expensive duplication," the government is setting up a new Department of Primary Industry that will amalgamate the Department of Agriculture, NSW Fisheries, the Department of Mineral Resources and State Forests.
"This structure is now common to most Australian governments and, not only will it reduce costs to the budget by $37 million next year, it will give rural NSW a much stronger voice in government," Egan said, putting a positive spin on the required cuts that he acknowledged would be painful.
The Department of Environment and Conservation, which itself was created by consolidating four other ministries last September, will have to do more to support and work closer with catchment management authorities, the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources and the new Department of Primary Industry, Egan said.
As a result of these changes, the cost to the budget for the Department of Environment and Conservation will be reduced by $30 million next year, a little less than 10 percent of a total of $365 million in expenditure cuts and savings the NSW government made in this mini-budget.
Egan, who is a key minister in the Labor government of NSW Premier Bob Carr, scolded the Liberal federal government of Premier John Howard for slashing funds to the state. "None of the expenditure cuts or tax increases that I am announcing today would be necessary if New South Wales were to receive fair treatment from the federal government," he said.
But the federal conservation minister expressed concern that the state's mini-budget means that even greater pressure will be put on the management of national parks.
Australian Forestry and Conservation Minister Senator Ian Macdonald said that the Carr government had, "for political reasons, created huge tracts of national parks out of what were previously sustainably managed production forests."
"One of my concerns with the creation of new national parks is that fire management and fuel reduction strategies in the forests, and the management of feral animals and weeds, would need to be upgraded. Previously, much of the management work was undertaken by the forestry agencies at no cost to the tax payer," Senator Macdonald said.
In July 2003, the NSW government passed legislation establishing 15 new conservation areas in an action that conservationists say brought to fruition decades of forest campaigning.
For the first time, all remaining old growth on public land in northeast NSW is protected in either national parks or special management zones which cannot be logged.
Carmel Flint, coordinator from North-East Forest Alliance, the organization that led the forest protection campaign for 14 years, detailed the extent and importance of the new safeguards.
"The new reserves include Whian Whian and Wollumbin which are two of the most important biodiversity hotspots in Australia," she said, "the iconic old-growth at Chaelundi that has been the subject of four successful court cases and a now legendary forest blockade, Pine Creek which is one of the largest koala populations in coastal NSW, and Jilliby which is an important part of the Central Coast water catchment area."
But Macdonald said, "Frighteningly, increases in the areas of national parks hasn't been accompanied by increases in budgets."
In addition to the $37 million taken from the departments dealing with agriculture, fisheries and forestry; and the $30 million slashed from the Department of the Environment and Conservation, 234 staff and $75 million in the next year will be cut from the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources.
"The Carr Government went out of its way to garner green second preferences at the last state election," Macdonald said. "I now await the cries of outrage from the radical greens as they see the departments involved in the environment and natural resource management decimated by a state government desperate to overcome its poor financial management."
Environment groups called into question the Carr government’s commitment to the environment after the budget cuts for the Department of Environment and Conservation.
"The government's green credentials are in jeopardy. The Department of Environment and Conservation has a huge task to manage our national parks, regulate pollution and waste, and protect our threatened species. They can't be expected to do this effectively with a $30 million budget cut." said NSW Nature Conservation Council Executive Officer Brooke Flanagan.
The management of Crown lands in New South Wales "will be changed root and branch," said Egan as he announced the conversion of perpetual Crwon leases to freehold title at a cost saving of $36 million next year.
"The conversion of Crown Lands perpetual leases to freehold title is a massive windfall for property developers across the state," objected Total Environment Centre Director, Jeff Angel. "The complete absence of a filter to protect important natural areas means that a raft of treasured environmental values will be sold off to the highest bidder."
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