Unpacking the climate cash in WA’s 22/23 State Budget

We welcome the Western Australian government’s state budget announced yesterday – especially the extra $652 million for climate action and environmental initiatives as well as a $1.3 billion investment to diversify our economy. While this signals good news for WA’s low carbon future, the budget could go a lot further in underlining its commitment to reducing carbon emissions and preparing the workforce.

Below we unpack the dollars and initiatives announced:

Green jobs and skills

Future workforce
There is significant investment in education, training and the future workforce. $76.5 million has been committed to improve access to quality jobs, keep TAFE training affordable and build a skilled workforce for the future. It does make a note of the sustainable building skills that will be funded through the $14.3 million Construction Training Fund, but is generally less explicit about developing the skills needed for the future workforce.

Transitioning workers
In terms of transitioning workers, there is an allocation of $19.3 million for the Workforce Transition Program – which includes payments of around $45,000 to help forestry workers reskill, retrain and move into other industries. Likewise, an additional $4.9 million has been provided for the Collie Just Transition Plan, which includes the establishment of a new Jobs and Skills Centre in Collie and a TAFE Transition Team to support affected employees through career and training services. But there is no mention of an LNG transition package, even though the sector is the highest emitter of greenhouse gases and will need to prioritise decarbonisation and reskilling urgently.

Tourism
Economic diversification is absolutely critical if WA is to thrive and remain competitive in global markets. Therefore, it is great to see a $70 million boost to the tourism sector that aims to attract more visitors, support local businesses and operators, create jobs and secure more investment opportunities. Certainly, as eco-tourism grows in popularity, the $62 million to power Rottnest Island with 75 per cent renewables could be just as attractive to visitors as the local quokkas.

Critical minerals
What’s even more crucial is the jobs needed to deliver WA’s future. The budget indicates a strong focus on the emerging critical minerals industry, which will need to be stepped up to mine and refine critical minerals for renewables. The existing Investment Attraction Fund is topped up with $80 million to support industry-led diversification, creating local jobs in new and emerging industries. $12 million is allocated to the subsurface imaging program WA-Array, which aims to help companies identify new resources. A further $6 million goes to the Minerals Research Institute of WA (MRIWA) to develop research on critical minerals and clean energy technologies.

Overall, it’s good news for jobs and the economy – but as our research shows, a massive shift is needed to prepare workers now for WA’s green future. The current funding is mostly topping up existing schemes or retrofitting packages to fix long-term employment issues. We want to see a dedicated green jobs task force and significant funding that sees the implementation of green skills across the curriculum in schools, at university, TAFE and in the workplace. 

Fossil fuels

The investment of a $5 million grant to the Centre for Decommissioning Australia to support the development of an LNG decommissioning industry in Western Australia is only the first step into climate action – but is still a weak measure.

Despite government claims to support the development of a sustainable industry, net zero targets and economic diversification, the state has continued to invest millions in fossil fuel projects – including $52 million for the construction of a supply base to support oil and gas operations in the Browse Basin. Such spending will only increase carbon emissions and make the industry more lucrative.

Make everything renewable

Electric vehicles
The state is only getting ‘up to speed’ on electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure; WA’s EV infrastructure and investment are behind the rest of the states. Previous announcements this week and in the budget include $36.5 million to provide 10,000 rebates of $3,500 to Western Australians buying a new electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. However, the subsidy does not make EVs affordable for all and the vehicles will continue to be prohibitively expensive to most ordinary West Australians.

The additional funding of $2.9 million to ensure WA’s charging network extends to South Australia is a necessary step in the right direction. Being able to drive and charge an electric car will increase the demand for EVs and encourage more individuals to purchase and use electric cars.

Renewable energy
However, it is surprising that the budget’s EV planning doesn’t include investment to power more of the grid with renewables. Without renewables, Western Australians will be using fossil fuels to power their electric vehicles. In other words, WA will be subsidising a new market under ‘climate change initiatives’ that won’t have any positive impact on the environment and will still demand fossil fuels as a regular car does.

Besides mitigating climate change, developing renewable energy generation in the grid will reduce the future cost of living. On an 85% renewable electricity grid, WA households will enjoy lower electricity costs. Unfortunately, the current Whole of System Plan (WoSP) does not support the true decarbonisation of the grid – its lowest emission scenario has only 65 per cent renewable energy, which means we will keep generating gas and coal electricity for years to come.

In summary

True, it’s one of the biggests budgets but while the millions of dollars look good on paper, the scale of investment needed to urgently reduce our carbon emissions and support industry in a sustainable, economically viable transition is missing.

Of course, the $500 million to be invested in the State government’s climate change policy is great news – but the detail is lacking. And while we welcome existing funds being topped up (including the Plan for Parks, the Ranger Program and the Transition Funds), it’s hardly the innovative, large-scale funding that’s needed to meet our climate goals.

What’s most striking about the budget is not its inclusions but its exclusions. Despite all the recent hype for hydrogen, there is no mention of it as a viable source of renewable energy. There is a lack of substance when it comes to the delivery of new skills needed for the evolving economy. The budget just doesn’t go far enough to incentivise climate solutions and innovations at scale. If we were giving the State government a report card on the latest budget, we’d give it a C. It meets expectations.

Instead, we urge a more coordinated approach to climate action across the entire government portfolio – supporting communities to implement local solutions, protecting the natural resources we have left, transitioning heavy emitting industries as soon as possible, and investing heavily in future skills requirements for WA.

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