Green facade

Published: Tuesday 15 June 2004

-- The Australian government is painting a rosy picture about how it has allocated a record us $1.6 billion towards environmental funding in the country's budget for 2004-2005. Authorities say the amount is about us $279 million more than the estimated expenditure in 2003-2004. But activists describe these claims as window-dressing, alleging that very little new money has actually been sanctioned. They also charge the government with giving preference to some sectors in granting funds.

The Australian minister for the environment and heritage, David Kemp, said the country's environment and agriculture portfolios would spend us $769 million on green activities in the coming year. But the Australian Conservation Foundation (acf), a non-profit group, said that the two portfolios would get only us $ 16 million and us $ 15 million, respectively, in fresh allocation. Similarly, of the us $ 48 million earmarked for fighting climate change, merely us $ 10 million would be new. The acf has also calculated that though us $ 21 million is to be spent over three years to protect Australia's Great Barrier Reef, just us $6 million has been added.

Environmentalists are also crying foul over the denial of funding to 19 cooperative research centres (crcs) on the ground that they could not commercialise their studies. The clampdown on two of the country's research centres dealing with the Great Barrier Reef and tropical rainforests has drawn flak. But science minister Peter McGauran reportedly said: "We believe that under this programme (crc), there has to be a greater industry focus."

Andrew Blakers, director, Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, Australian National University, Canberra, accused the government of favouring fossil fuel emissions research over exploration of renewable energy resources. Meanwhile, Ken Baldwin of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies said that the country's total expenditure on research and development, as a proportion of gdp, had dropped.

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