Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s first budget, handed down on Tuesday, left the property industry purring but hasn’t boded well with environmental and social sustainability advocates.
The big-ticket environmental item is the $2 billion promised for Coalition’s flagship environmental policy, the climate solutions fund, which gives polluters money for emissions-reducing projects. The opposition has already noted that this fund is now being spent over 15 years rather than 10, with only $189 million to be spent over the first four years.
There are a few promising initiatives scattered throughout, including $50 million for electricity micro-grids in regional and remote communities and $100 million over the forward estimates to establish an Environment Restoration Fund for restoration and protection projects.
The Snowy Hydro 2.0 project has also got the green light with a $1.38 billion equity injection over six years from 2019-20.
On transport, the $2 billion for fast rail from Geelong to Melbourne has made headlines despite the fact that most of the $4 billion in total “urban congestion fund” is going to roads. Other big rail projects include $3.5 billion for the first part of the Western Sydney Rail North South Rail Link.
Around $500 million of the urban congestion fund will go to putting carparks around railway stations.
The Property Council welcomed the big increase in infrastructure spending but warned that “falling house prices are clearly Treasury’s economic wildcard.”
“The budget delivers a $100 billion investment over the decade to meet the needs of our growing cities and regions, including projects to break urban congestion and improve regional connections,” Property Council of Australia CEO Ken Morrison said.
The budget was also kind to builders according to Master Builders CEO Denita Wawn.
“Master Builders welcomes the government’s announcements on new investment in skills, infrastructure and small business because they are targeted at what’s needed to strengthen the economy,” she said.
The Green Building Council of Australia also welcomed the funding for infrastructure, including the fast rail, but said that not enough is being done to curb emissions through the budget.
“We note the government’s investment of $79.2 million over six years for new energy efficiency measures,” GBCA head of public affairs and membership, Jonathan Cartledge, said
“While improving the energy efficiency of our appliances is important, the opportunity to realise significant savings through support for a low emissions built environment will help ease the transition to a low carbon future across the economy.
“Australian industry leads the world in delivering net zero carbon buildings. We urge government to match industry leadership with more ambitious policy that rewards broader action,” he said.
Just 0.2 cents in the dollar for the environment
Outside the property sector, Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive officer, Kelly O’Shanassy, said the proportion of the overall budget invested in the environment is just 0.2 cents on the dollar and continues the cuts to funds for protecting and restoring the environment have been going on since 2013-14.
“In this budget the government plans to spend $4.36 subsidising pollution for every dollar it spends on climate action,” Ms O’Shanassy said.
End the diesel subsidy that benefits multinationals
She also called for an end to the fuel tax subsidy which she said “lets multinational mining companies like BHP, Glencore and Rio Tinto pay no tax at all on off-road diesel use.”
This sentiment was echoed by Oxfam chief executive Helen Szoke, who said the budget “demonstrates that the Morrison government lacks the leadership and the heart to meet the challenges of global inequality and climate change.”
No votes in housing the homeless – obviously
There was “record underspending” on social housing according to national alliance of community, housing and homelessness organisations Everybody’s Home.
“Last year, the Coalition had a chance to make a real move towards ending our housing crisis after shocking Census data revealed that homelessness in Australia had increased by 14 per cent nationally and by 22 per cent for people between 19 and 24,” Kate Colvin, Everybody’s Home campaign spokesperson said.
“Unsurprisingly, they made no such move.”
Mission Australia chief James Toomey agreed that the government has “blatantly neglected the needs of thousands of people who are homeless and those who are experiencing rental stress.”