TCT submission on the State Budget 2011-12

The TCT’s submission to the forthcoming 2011–12 state budget was primarily the same as the previous year’s submission because almost nothing we had asked for had been funded or it had lost relevance.

Implementation of the Crown Land Assessment and Classification Program (CLAC) proposed reserves is the one specific budget recommendation we can identify which was funded in the 2010–12 state budget. This was the result of David Bartlett’s and Nick McKim’s election commitments and the efforts after the election by the former Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, David O’Byrne and the Tasmanian Greens to fight for the funding in the finalisation of the state budget. The Tasmanian Liberal party supported this commitment during the state election, and continues to push the government to actually deliver the reserves.

A small improvement in the budget for the Parks and Wildlife Service was also obtained but much more is required in terms of funding, improvement in on-ground management and reform of the service’s legislation and structures.

The two new proposals in the TCT’s submission were:

- $2 million per year for the re-establishment of the Living Environment Program

- funding requirements in relation to implementation of the Forests Statement of Principles Agreement and the TCT’s recommendations.

Funding for the Forests Statement of Principles

While the state government’s response to the Forests Statement of Principles Agreement (FSoP) and the TCT’s recommendations may take many months to be finalised, we urged the Department of Treasury and Finance to ensure adequate provision is made in the 2011-12 State Budget to deliver the state government’s likely responses.

State government funds are vital to progress specific elements of the agreement and the TCT’s recommendations but also for providing administrative and scientific support to the ongoing negotiations between the state government and conservation and industry stakeholders. Failure to make adequate provision in the state budgetis a predictable tactic which the state government may use as an excuse to implement the SFoP.

The priority recommendations made by the TCT that are relevant to the FSoP are those that relate to private land biodiversity and Gunns Bell Bay pulp mill. The specific recommendations were included in our November 2010 letter to the former Premier David Bartlett, which was published in full in the last edition of the Tasmanian Conservationist.

Given the very tight state of the Tasmanian Government’s finances and the Premier’s stated goal of significantly cutting expenditure, it is hard to see how the state government alone could fully fund the implementation of the FSoP. To provide the hundreds of millions of dollars that the TCT has recommended are required for a private forest conservation program seems out of reach for the next budget, but the state could and should provide ‘seed funding’ at least, with the aim of seeking Australian Government funds down the track. The state government should also continue to provide funding to assist private landowners to prepare applications for Forest Stewardship Council certification of their forestry operations and to facilitate the completion of the currently suspended Forest Practices Code review.

It is important to repeat the TCT’s recommendation to the former Premier in relation to the provision of funding for the Gunns proposed Bell Bay pulp mill. The TCT’s recommendation was:

Should funding be provided to Gunns as a part of the FSoP Agreement in recognition of its abandonment of native forest logging and processing operations and associated rights to wood, it must be on the conditions that: i) it abandons its efforts to establish a BEKP pulp mill in the Tamar Valley; ii) your Government revokes the Pulp Mill Assessment Act.

We also specifically asked the former Premier to confirm in writing that the state government will in no way attempt to obtain funding for Gunns from the Australian Government unless it abandons it plans for a BEKP pulpmill in the Tamar Valley, but the current Premier’s response failed to give any such commitment and did not address the issue of Australian Government funding.

Re-establishment of the Living Environment Program

It may surprise readers to hear that we are not so pessimistic about the chances of our proposal for $2 million per year for the re-establishment of the Living Environment Program (LEP).  While we hope that this program can be funded by an increased allocation from the state budget, it could be possible to fund such a program through existing departmental funding. If the state budget does not fund the program we will then commence discussions with the two relevant ministers, Bryan Green and Brian Wightman, regarding reallocation of resources from within DPIPWE.

The other reason we are hopeful is that programs such as the LEP allow non-government groups to deliver environmental projects and provide environmental services more cost-efficiently and which are actually demanded by the community.

At our meeting on 3 August 2010, the former Minister O’Byrne indicated his enthusiasm for the previous program and his interest in re-establishing a similar funding program. The state government’s finances were in a far stronger position at that time but it was gratifying to have such strong support from the minister. When we discussed the LEP with the new Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, Brian Wightman, he was obviously more cautious given the budget situation. But he was very keen to meet with the TCT again, along with other conservation groups, to discuss their financial problems and to investigate options for funding a program such as the LEP.

The Living Environment Program and its value to conservation groups

The LEP was instigated by the previous minister, Judy Jackson, and ran for three years until 2008. The previous program allocated a total of $4.6 million over three financial years, entirely from the state budget. It had a number of funding streams.

The Launceston Environment Centre (LEC) and Sustainable Living Tasmania (SLT) share the TCT’s view that the LEP’s greatest value was the funding stream that focused on providing funding to assist with core administrative and management functions. Obtaining funding for these core functions is now very difficult and becoming even harder. It is not an exaggeration to say that the loss of the LEP funding threatens the long-term viability of all our organisations.

It has been the long-term trend for funding bodies to severely reduce the amount available for administration and management and the LEP provided a much needed financial buffer for the three years that it ran. It enabled the LEC to employ a coordinator for a number of years, and this greatly raised the profile and activity level of the organisation. Since the LEP funding ceased the coordinator has been laid off and, in the absence of other similar funding, the LEC has greatly curtailed its activities and opening hours.

The SLT currently has project-based funding to maintain its staffing and activity level, however this funding is unlikely to continue and SLT also faces having to severely wind-back its activities.

While the TCT’s situation is not as critical as that of the LEC or SLT, since the loss of LEP funding we have been slowly reducing our level of involvement in state government committees and processes. This reduction in activity will continue as we need to focus more of our staff time on fundraising.

It has been the TCT’s experience that the loss of core funding for administration has the compounding effect of diminishing our ability to support and manage project-based grants, such as through Caring for Our Country.  We seek very few such grants compared with just a few years ago. This has greatly reduced our capacity to deliver important on-ground projects and we currently maintain a small number of these projects based largely on the goodwill and efforts of extraordinary volunteers and poorly paid project coordinators.

Peter McGlonea