Little joy for environmental biosecurity in federal budget

The federal Budget 2014-15 delivers nothing of much note for environmental biosecurity.

The suspension of the next round of funding for the Cooperative Research Centre program for 2014-15 due to the withdrawal of $80m leaves the whole CRC program in a cloud and halts plans for a bid to re-establish the Weeds CRC, closed in 2008. The Commission of Audit recommended that CRCs be abolished and funding be absorbed into the Australian Research Council (ARC) grants.

The biosecurity flying squads that were a key Coalition election promise will be provided with $20m over four years. Part of this will go to a first response containment fund. Details on these initiatives are sketchy and it is unknown if they will be used to respond to new environmental threats.

More than $3 million over four years has been allocated for a review of marine pests, an important initiative.

It is good to see that on biosecurity, the budget papers show the government intends to ignore the commission of audit’s scepticism about the benefits of cooperation. The government has confirmed that it will ‘improve partnerships across the biosecurity continuum, particularly with all governments in Australia’.

The federal government says it will merge the National Biosecurity Committee and its subsidiary committees and working groups such as the Australian Weeds Committee. These state-federal cooperative bodies are very much needed, and it is more than likely the result will be a name change and an unnecessary distraction from their important but slow work.

$100M has been allocated to industry-based research and development corporations. It is unclear if these funds come from equivalent cuts from the department of agriculture. No new funding has been allocated for research into invasive species impacting on the environment or environmental biosecurity preparedness, despite previous support from Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, for the establishment of Environment Health Australia.

Scientific research funding over the next four years is in decline, with $111m stripped from CSIRO, $75m from the ARC and $8m from the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

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