Our (very) sunburnt country

Australia has long been the land ‘of droughts and flooding rains’ that Dorothea Mackellar described, but the horror of the last 18 months—dominated by fires, droughts and flooding—is by no means normal. So, you would expect there would be something in this budget preparing rural and frontline communities for the existing and inevitable future impacts of climate change.

Well, lower your expectations, because the governments ‘drought preparation’ in the budget appears to be $98 million over three years to build more dams (just add rain).

A further $59.6 million was announced to trial low-emissions feed supplements for livestock and support storing carbon in soil. While investing in technology is crucial, it is no silver bullet to growing and maintaining an agriculture sector worth $100 billion which the government is aiming for by 2030. The future of Australian farming will be shaped by mounting pressures on water availability and a changing climate and on any measure the government’s approach falls well short.

No mention of climate change

While disaster response has garnered $1.2 billion over five years to ‘Build Australia’s Resilience’ it seems to overlook the key risk: climate change. The newly established National Recovery and Resilience Agency (NRRA) will lead these resilience efforts by bringing together former drought, flood, and bushfire response agencies. Despite the NRRA being a recommendation from the Black Summer Bushfire Royal Commission, its strategic direction does not mention climate change.   Perhaps this is not surprising when the agency’s newly appointed Coordinator-General, Shane Stone, avoids mentioning climate change – seeing it as a ‘gotcha’ question.

The NRRA will have 95 staff this year and 186 next year. This may not seem like a lot, until you realise the Climate Change Authority has only 9 employees and is facing a further cut in the next few years. Hopefully it can use its sizeable staff footprint to help us adapt to climate impacts, not just respond to ‘natural’ disasters.

The Prime Minister similarly is reticent to mention climate. In his announcement of a $10 billion reinsurance pool to subsidise high premium costs for cyclone and flood prone areas of north Queensland last week, he had no explanation for why these ‘natural’ disasters were increasing. Thankfully 75% of Australians realise that climate change is likely to cause or is already causing more extreme weather events.

Who foots the bill?

At the moment, Australia’s growing climate costs are paid entirely by everyday Australians through property loss, disruption, higher taxes and insurance premiums. Meanwhile, just a few multinational coal, oil and gas companies are responsible for the vast bulk of the emissions fuelling climate disasters. These companies profit from climate change, but make a very little contribution to the communities that bear its costs.

Most Australians (65%) support the introduction of a levy on Australia’s fossil fuel exports to help pay for climate change-related natural disasters. Only one in 10 say people facing climate impacts should foot the bill. A National Climate Compensation Fund, funded by a levy on fossil fuel exports, is a fairer and smarter way to help cover the crippling costs of climate change.

> Back to Budget Wrap 2021

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