WA’s peak conservation and environment group has responded to the WA State Government’s 2022 budget announcement, expressing concern over the continued use of public money to support fossil fuel projects, across the state.
The Conservation Council of WA has called into the question a high profile decision to award $52 million ‘for the construction of a supply base, and a chemical processing and storage facility to support oil and gas operations in the Browse Basin’.
‘A $52M gift for more fossil fuels’
Woodside Petroleum has been seeking to exploit the Browse Basin for several decades – a move which has often been described as impractical and prohibitively expensive by industry insiders.
The $52 million announcement follows a record-breaking year for Woodside, which is expected to turn a post-tax profit of $US3.5 billion in the 2022, more than double its previous total.
CCWA Executive Director, Maggie Wood, said: “Ordinary West Aussies want to see action on the cost of living. They want to see an end to ambulance ramping. They want to see real action on climate change.
“What they don’t want to see is $52 million of public money gifted to a private oil and gas company to pursue another polluting fossil fuel development.
“Browse has been Woodside’s vanity project for decades, but it has often been considered too expensive and impractical to make the gas field financially viable. Now, however, Woodside has been thrown a lifeline in the form of a government handout, which will only serve to prolong WA’s reliance on fossil fuels and drive us ever closer towards irreversible climate damage.”
Another $5 million has been handed to the LNG industry through the formation of an ‘LNG Decommissioning Industry’ in Western Australia through a grant to the Centre for Decommissioning Australia.
“All decommissioning costs should be paid for by the fossil fuel proponent, directly – not through grants of public money to help an industry that is already bringing in record profits.”, said Maggie Wood.
“The cost of decommissioning gas platforms and associated facilities should not fall on the WA taxpayer.”
‘Funds to support native logging just transition warmly welcomed’
CCWA has congratulated the State Government on securing further funds to help deliver a just transition for workers in the native forest logging industry.
A historic ban on native forest logging was announced by the State Government last year, allowing for greater protections of WA’s ancient native forests and the many species which depend on them for habitat. The announcement included provision to allow a fair deal for workers currently employed in this industry.
"We are pleased to see the announcement of further funding to secure a just transition for those currently employed in native forest logging.”, said Maggie Wood.
"Stopping the deforestation of our precious native trees was an important step from the State Government, but that should not come at the expense of those currently working in the industry being left behind.
"The McGowan government has promised to help those workers manage to transition towards more sustainable jobs and industries, which is something we warmly welcome."
‘New climate modelling unit a distraction from real climate action’
The State Government has promised $547,000 for a Climate Coordination Unit to provide support for modelling climate change and climate policy impacts – a step which has been cautiously welcomed by CCWA.
Maggie Wood said: "The State Government has promised $547,000 to conduct climate change modelling to inform its decision making on climate.
"But I’m not sure what this new unit expects to find that has not already been widely publicised by the likes of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?
“We already have a wealth of knowledge and data which tells us that we are at a crucial moment in avoiding irreversible damage to our planet. There can be no delay in driving down emissions and moving away from fossil fuels."
‘$40 household power credit a short-term solution to a long term problem’
One of the most high profile announcements from the state budget was a $400 electricity credit for all households to counter cost of living pressures on families.
“The measures to help with rising energy costs is very important for struggling families, but this is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem.”, said Maggie Wood.
“WA’s energy supply is still far too reliant on fossil fuel generation – like coal and gas. The United Nations, the world’s top climate scientists and even the industry insiders say that we must move away from fossil fuels to prevent irreversible damage to our climate – and soon.
“WA’s fossil fuel driven electricity supply is fast reaching the end of its life and there has not yet been any meaningful move to replace it with the only solution which fits in with a rapidly decarbonising world – clean, green, renewable energy.
“If the State Government wants to secure affordable energy prices for the future, it must dramatically increase its spending on solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. If not, we may well see a situation where, as fossil fuel power plants close, there are no viable alternative to replace them.”
Electric vehicles only a half-measure without boost to renewables
Another eye-catching budget announcement came in the form of a $36.5 million spend to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs), including 10,000 $3,500 rebates to West Aussies looking to purchase a new electric or hydrogen powered car.
However, without significant investment in renewable energy for the WA grid, those new electric vehicles will still be powered by fossil fuel power stations, relying on highly polluting coal and gas.
“Electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells are the future and it is right that the State Government has chosen to invest in this area.”, said Maggie Wood.
“However, unless we end our reliance on fossil fuels to provide the electricity and hydrogen which powers those vehicles, this will only ever be a half measure.”
Greater care needed on Bunbury Outer Ring Road
The state budged announced an additional $400 million in funding for the $1.25 billion Bunbury Outer Ring Road, stages two and three.
Existing work on the Bunbury Outer Ring Road has been mired in controversy over threats to the critically endangered western ringtail possum.
The yet to be approved southern section of the project would displace at least 72 individuals, with 2018 estimates suggesting there are fewer than 3,500 left in WA. Endangered black cockatoo habitat and ecological communities of banksia woodlands and tuart trees will also be felled in 71.5 hectares of clearing for the ring road.
“The Bunbury Outer Ring Road has proved incredibly controversial among the local community, given its impacts on critically endangered wildlife.
“In utilising this funding, we would urge the WA Government to seriously consider an alternative route for the southern section to prevent serious environmental harm which could have irreversible impacts on the area for generations to come.”
‘Action needed on protecting rock art’
The budget also announced a $1.6 million payment to support the work of the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy.
The strategy included a monitoring programme – set up with the aim of monitoring the impact of heavy industry emissions on the UNESCO world heritage shortlisted Murujuga rock art – is overseen by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) and the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC).
CCWA has welcomed further support for the strategy, but has urged the State Government to take steps to actually reduce damaging emissions on the Burrup Peninsula, as well as continue to develop effective monitoring solutions.
"The announcement of 1.6 million to support monitoring of damage to the ancient rock art on Murujuga is money that shouldn't need to be spent if the government were more committed to driving down industrial emissions fuel emissions.”, said Maggie Wood.
Questions hang over $500M for Climate Action Fund
CCWA has cautiously welcomed an additional $500 million 'boost' to the Climate Action Fund. The fund, which was unveiled by the State Government last year, invests in 'sustainable WA jobs and innovation' with the aim of 'protecting and enhancing WA's unique heritage values and assets' and 'supporting the transition to net zero by 2050'.
While acknowledging the headline figure appeared to be good news for addressing climate concerns in WA, CCWA's Maggie Wood said she would reserve judgement until further details had been released.
"We welcome a significant investment in climate action but would like more clarity on what that actually means, in real terms.
"Given that this State Government has given its wholesale backing to expansion of fossil fuel gas and to initiatives like Woodside's H2Perth site in Kwinana - a proposal widely been described as 'greenwashing' by industry analysts - we need to have a greater understanding of where and when the money will be spent."
MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing more than 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.
CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies on 08 9420 7291 or by email, [email protected]