24 June 2014 — South Australia’s budget this week took a welcome stand on sustainability, countering negative sentiment coming from the federal government and Victoria. Among the good news was funding to roll out environmental upgrade finance – the SA equivalent of environmental upgrade agreements – a commitment to the state’s Residential Energy Efficiency Scheme, funding for domestic solar projects and $9 million over three years to establish Green Industries SA to work to foster the green economy.
But not everyone was happy, with the Conservation Council of South Australia saying cuts to the basic environmental programs had gone too far.
According to the budget announcement, Green Industries SA will have a total budget of $4 million a year comprised of additional funding of $3 million and the redirection of $1 million of existing funding that had been set aside to support future waste policy reform.
The program will administer grants to local government and industries to explore new technologies, and help business find export markets for waste management knowledge and skills, in addition to reducing local business costs through more efficient use of raw materials, water and energy.
Sustainability gains in the SA Budget included:
- $5.5 million in capital grant funding to install more than 1000 solar hot water systems in Housing SA homes over the next financial year
- $475,000 each year for the next four years for the establishment and operation of a Building Upgrade Finance Scheme, which will allow property owners to access loans for building upgrades. The scheme will allow for loans to finance the retrofit of the buildings to be tied to the property rather than the owner. The loans will then be repaid through local government charges
- $1.404 million over four years for the Nyrstar Port Pirie Smelter Targeted Lead Abatement Program. This program receives funding from Nyrstar for the Port Pirie Environmental Health Centre, which aims to reduce lead levels in children’s blood in the Port Pirie area
- $160 million to extend the O-Bahn guided busway including a tunnel below Hackney Road near Plane Tree Drive under North Terrace emerging near East Terrace. The upgrade will reduce congestion in the city
- $7.5 million over three years from 2015–16 for additional commuter car parking spaces and passenger facilities at park’n’ride sites
- $3.7 million across the forward estimates to maintain delivery of regional public transport services
- $1 million across three years to establish a world-class mountain biking destination in the Mount Lofty Ranges, with specific projects including developing a cycling hub in Anstey Hill Recreation Park, cycling trails in Cobbler Creek Recreation Park, enhancing cycling trails in Cleland Conservation Park and developing interactive and mobile web-based maps and information for cyclists
- Continuation of funding for construction of the New Royal Adelaide Hospital and the ongoing Lyell McEwin Hospital redevelopment, however all other hospital redevelopment projects that had not commenced have been suspended due to the federal health funding cuts
- $85 million over five years (including $21.0 million in 2018–19) to construct a second high school in the city on the existing Royal Adelaide Hospital site, with the capacity for 1000 students, which will become operational in January 2019
The Conservation Council, however, said funding allocated to the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, which dropped from $185 million this year to $117 million in 2014-15, would be a cut of nearly 40 per cent in operating capacity in a single year.
“This is not an efficiency gain – it’s a slash and burn,” Conservation Council chief executive Craig Wilkins said.
“Our ability to respond to the next drought or pest outbreak is being crippled, and much of our state’s best natural assets will effectively have little or no management.
“That’s an extraordinary gamble with our tourism and clean food reputation at stake.”
However Mr Wilkins welcomed the government’s commitment to fully fund the state election commitments made in March, including a new International Bird Sanctuary, marine park monitoring and Green Industries SA.
Funding for mining
The budget also allocated a combined total of $44 million for the mining and energy sector. Specific measures include up to $2 million for minerals exploration in the Woomera Prohibited Area; and $960,000 of funding over next two years for initial design and scoping work to ensure the development of the state’s drill-core library facilities to promote exploration for minerals, petroleum, gas and geothermal energy. A further $32 million has been committed to establishing a core library and Onshore Petroleum Centre of Excellence at a resources precinct at Tonsley Park.
The SA Government has also increased the royalty fee for some miners from 33 cents per tonne to 55 cents per tonne, forecasting the increased royalties will earn the government $3.2 million a year. Royalties for unconventional gas (fracking) projects, however, have been deferred for the next five years to encourage further projects.
SA Budget reaction
Ecovantage support manager for South Australia John Tilden said the South Australian government had delivered on its commitment to continue the Residential Energy Efficiency Scheme, and to extend the scheme to small and medium enterprises in the commercial sector.
However, there was an issue with the immediate timeframe due to the lack of new contracts for REES services on behalf of energy retailers between now and the end of 2014.
Mr Tilden said the government was currently considering which model it will use for the new tradeable certificates for the next phase of REES, which will run from January 2015 until 2020.
“[SA Minister for Energy] Tom Koutsantonis has delivered on everything he promised. He does care about energy efficiency in households and businesses.
“It’s looking very positive if we can survive up until the start of January 2015. The problem is we now face a lull of six months during which time there is no REES work for our assessors, and the commercial scheme is not due to commence until January 2015,” Mr Tilden said.
“We are losing trained people who have their certificate IV in sustainability and HSA, so there is an issue with whether we will have the professional, experienced people to do the assessments when the new certificates and contracts are issued. Can people hang on for the six months or more before it starts up again?”
Tilden said the staffing levels across SA energy efficiency consultancies have “dropped dramatically” recently, due to the pause in REES assessments, and a lack of drivers such as mandatory NABERS disclosure in the commercial sector.