Battle-fatigued greenies

Australia's key environment organisations and the clean energy sector have not presented a shared vision for the Budget and how it can help solve "the greatest moral challenge of our time".

They are battle-fatigued by the Government's ETS backflip, inconsistent clean energy programmes and the UN's Copenhagen debacle.

Most environmental organisations did not make a submission to Federal Budget 2010-11. By way of comparison, the Government received detailed budget submissions from the full range of industry, union and community organisations again this year, such as the Australian Council for International Development (20 pages), Universities Australia (24 pages), Australian Medical Association (15 pages), Property Council of Australia (112 pages) and of course the Minerals Council of Australia (86 pages).
Most people are unaware of how stage-managed our anachronistic Budget tradition is and how the environment and resources lobby fight it out for coverage.

Lock, step and Budget

The Treasurer will deliver the 2010-11 Budget speech beginning in the House of Representatives around 7.30pm. Approved representatives of the media, Parliamentary offices and 'stakeholders' are allowed to see the Budget from 1:30pm in a "lock-up". This is a series of rooms in Canberra (and other locations) where all the budget papers are available, along with Treasury and other officials, who can answer questions. Attendees are prevented from communicating to anyone outside the lock-up until the Treasurer begins his Budget speech.

Following the Treasurer's speech, a stand-up press conference is held in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Dozens of Opposition politicians and spokespeople for organisations line up along the corridor, waiting to give a one minute response to the gathered Australian (and some international) media. The peak environmental organisations generally have two people in the lock-up and a couple outside, preparing the response for this corridor scramble for coverage.

The fossil fuel lobby and the rest of the non-renewable resource sector have a loud voice at every Budget, partly through their attendance at the lock-up and the information advantage this gives them over, for example, the solar photovoltaic industry, which is excluded from the lock-up.

The most definitive coverage is the immediate response, filed from Parliament House on the night, which sets the tone for the rest of the week's more detailed analysis. An industry sector or social movement's political capital is 'reset' each Budget according to how measures affecting it are reported.

Climate and clean energy proposals
Here is a summary of what the peak environmental and climate groups have asked for or seem to hope for in tonight's Budget:

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is the best known Australian group. It will have two people in the Budget lock-up in Canberra. It made a 19 page submission this year. It calls for investments totalling just over $1 billion, half to cut emissions and half to help protect biodiversity threatened by climate change. The ACF balances this with almost $3 billion in savings, mostly from cuts to tax incentives that encourage fossil fuel use. So the ACF bottom line is a saving of $1.8 billion.

Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) is a new 'open-source' policy think-tank. It is not attending the lock-up. BZE believes that Australia should follow the agenda set by Al Gore and other US environmentalists, which is to switch out of fossil fuels in a decade. BZE says that tonight's budget should fund a nation-building programme to reach 30 per cent renewable electricity by 2015. This means the installation of 5GW of solar thermal generation for base-load electricity by 2015, bringing the wind power target of 15GW by 2020 forward to 2015 and develop solar photovoltaic electricity at an industrial scale. BZE also initiated an open letter to the PM and Treasurer, which has been endorsed by campaigners and 30 independent community climate groups including; The Australia Institute, Alternative Technology Association, Get Up!, Guy Pearse, Professor David Karoly, the Electrical Trades Union (Victoria) and some of the big environment NGOs.

Friends of the Earth Australia (FoEA) did not do a submission this year. FoEA is the smallest of the key national groups and generally puts fewer resources into Budget submissions and does not attend the lock-up. It is a co-founder of the Transition Decade, which is a campaign to switch from fossil fuels in 10 years. FoEA signed BZE's open letter and supports a rapid transition out of fossil fuels like BZE, but with more emphasis on community-owned renewable energy companies such as Hepburn Wind and decentralised power.

Greenpeace is the most powerful international environmental group. It has one person in the lock-up but it did not put in a submission this year. It generally spends a smaller proportion of its resources on lobbying than the other groups. It often funds jointly-endorsed reports, polls and projects with Australian groups, such as Plan B which was their 2009 alternative to the 'fatally flawed' ETS. Although Greenpeace has done excellent modelling of an 'energy revolution' that would replace coal and nuclear power with renewable generation and energy conservation, Greenpeace International has not, over the years, given a consistent message about how fast this transition should be.

The Climate Institute is the only group that is not membership-based and is close to the coal industry. It is involved with government processes but this year has not done a budget submission. It will have two people in the lock-up. It is committed to an ETS and a joint campaign with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Conservation Foundation and Australian Council of Social Service to promote an equitable carbon price, green jobs and clean coal.

The Wilderness Society is occupied with internal disputes and has not done a budget submission nor will it attend the lock-up. Its campaign emphasis is on nature conservation and agricultural emissions not energy, transport or industrial sector emissions.

WWF-Australia did not put in a submission to the budget but did put in a six page submission to the Henry review, calling for a new, additional GST designed to encourage consumption of sustainable commodities. This was not costed. WWF will have someone in the lock-up.

All these groups generally respond to the Budget if asked by the media and some will publish media releases and opinion pieces over the hours and days following the Treasurer's speech. The public are not welcomed into the Budget process and so it is up to representative organisations, lobbyists and industry groups to shape the debate. If the climate organisations and clean tech companies do not speak up for renewable energy interests then they will be drowned out by the big polluters.

It will be quite telling to see how much Budget coverage goes to climate, energy and resources issues and whether this sets the tone for the Federal election. By Dan Cass