Australian Government Slices Funding for Environmental Groups

CANBERRA, Australia, June 15, 2005 (ENS) - The government of Australia has cut by one-quarter the amount of funding for environment groups and has eliminated funding for conservation councils in four states and the capital territory, raising an outcry from the non-profit groups.

Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, announced Tuesday that the government would give A$750,000 in grants to 128 groups this year under the Grants for Voluntary Environment and Heritage Organisations (GVEHO) program.

Campbell

Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage Senator Ian Campbell today announced changes in funding to environmental groups. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
"I am pleased to be able to assist so many groups so they can continue this important work," Campbell said. "We are lucky in Australia to have so many people dedicated to caring for the Australian landscape and living history, often volunteering their time and working with limited resources."

Of the 128 groups that will be funded, 91 are new organizations that were not funded last year.

Australia's largest conservation group, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), was disappointed by the level of government support offered this year and by the fact that the cuts were announced just 12 working days before the end of this financial year.

"The support this government enjoys for its efforts to protect the Great Barrier Reef and whales is built on the years of public education and advocacy of these conservation groups, and to slash their funding 12 working days before the end of the financial year is short sighted and very damaging to them," said ACF Executive Director Don Henry.

The minister said that for the first time a number of organizations would be offered multi-year grants for the three-year period 2005 to 2007. This commitment "will give them certainty and make it easier to plan for the future with greater financial security," he said.

The removal of financial support for conservation councils of the Australian Capital Territory, and the states of Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory, has placed jobs and important conservation programs at risk, Henry said.

Henry

Don Henry is executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation. A former commissioner with the Australian Heritage Commission, from 1989-92 he was director of WWF Australia. (Photo courtesy ACF)
"The zeroing out of many conservation councils was a very distressing departure from a 30 year bipartisan tradition of support for the work of conservation groups, and in particular the state conservation councils who service thousands of environment groups around Australia," he said.

The state conservation councils provide support to a wide range of environment organizations - from landcare groups to those working for cleaner cities.

The conservation councils are feeling betrayed by this second round of funding cuts in three months. On April 8, without any notice, the federal government cut funding to environment groups across Australia. As a result Queensland Conservation suffered a $92,000 funding cut.

"Ever since he took office last year Federal Environment Minister Senator Campbell has reassured us about the continuation of the bipartisan GVEHO grants program in relation to peak and regional environment groups," the Queensland council said. "Then, out of the blue on a Friday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon Senator Campbell announced that the criteria for grants had been rewritten so as to make it virtually impossible for peak environment groups like Queensland Conservation to gain funding for the crucial work we do on behalf of the community and environment."

In April, the GVEHO grants were capped at A$10,000 for groups. By contrast, last year conservation councils received between $75,000 and $92,000.

treeplanters

Treeplanting volunteers dig in near Perth, Western Australia (Photo courtesy Department of Agriculture, Western Australia)
In addition, the criteria groups must meet to receive the funding were changed. To be eligible, groups must now demonstrate that they engage in "on-the-ground" activities such as tree planting, weed control and creek restoration.

Instead of planting trees, Queensland Conservation lobbies for greater environmental protection, provides services and resources to 70 member groups and raises community awareness of critical environmental issues.

The group claims credit for putting an end to broadscale landclearing in Queensland, which it calls "the greatest single environmental victory of the last ten years." The decision not only stopped the slaughter of millions of birds and animals, it reduced Australia’s greenhouse emissions by 10 percent, allowing the Liberal government of Prime Minister John Howard government to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets, Queensland Conservation said.

Since the April funding cuts, Queensland Conservation has been lobbying the minister to restore its financial support, but instead of convincing him to meet the group's requests, their appeals appear to have had the opposite effect.

Senator Campbell said Tuesday that groups that were not funded this year could apply in the next round of funding.

"Over the last six years the Australian government has provided more than $7.8 million to environment and heritage organizations under the GVEHO program, he said.

Groups can also access funding under the $3 billion Natural Heritage Trust, the $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, and the $3 million Sharing Australia's Stories program, the minister said.

One environmental group will receive a strong funding boost from the Australian government. Today, Senator Campbell announced $4.5 million over three years to continue the work of the Threatened Species Network, a joint program of the Australian Government and WWF Australia. The funding will be provided from the Natural Heritage Trust.

Campbell announced the funding for the Threatened Species Network at the launch of the inaugural National Bilby Day, which will fall each year on the second Sunday in September.

The bilby, Macrotis lagotis, also known as the rabbit-eared bandicoot, was once found throughout arid and semi-arid Australia. These desert dwellers are now found only in the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory, the Greater Sandy Desert and Gibson Desert in Western Australia, and in southwestern Queensland.

bilby

The bilby is a rabbit size marsupial with large ears. (Photo courtesy CALM)
Bilbies have suffered habitat destruction by cattle and rabbits and from predation by cats, dingoes and foxes. They have died from eating poison put out to control feral rabbits. Bilbies are now considered a threatened species.

"I am pleased to be part of this launch today to raise the bilby's profile and the excellent efforts of the Save the Bilby Fund in protecting and conserving it," Senator Campbell said. "However, the bilby is just one of hundreds of threatened species - which is why the work of the 11 people who make up the Threatened Species Network is so important."

WWF-Australia said it "welcomed" the announcement that Australia’s Threatened Species Network will continue to operate for the next three years. "WWF has helped more than 270 projects receive grants around Australia and enabled thousands of people to start conserving their local threatened species," the group said today.

The Network is active across the country, participating last year in more than 70 committees and advisory bodies, including 40 recovery teams and 20 advisory or steering committees at the state and regional levels.

The Network manages an annual Community Grants Program. Over the past seven years, $3.5 million in Australian government funding has supported around 280 projects. The successful grants are announced each year on National Threatened Species Day, September 7.

The projects included a community education and sightings program for the endangered marsupial mole; conservation of native grasslands that are habitat for golden sun moths and striped legless lizards; and a collaboration between Birds Australia, local landholders and volunteer birdwatchers to restore woodland habitat for local birdlife.