Labor leader Anthony Albanese has saved his biggest environmental pledges for the final days of the election campaign, promising $195 million for the Great Barrier Reef and $225 million for threatened species in a mix of new and previously announced funding.
With nine days until polling day Albanese flew through central and south-east Queensland on Thursday, announcing a $100 million battery manufacturing hub, before heading on Friday to Cairns – the centre of the Leichhardt electorate he is hoping to wrest off the Coalition.
Anthony Albanese on Thursday announced a $100 million partnership with the Queensland government for a battery manufacturing precinct in Gladstone.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
He said visiting the Great Barrier Reef was a highlight for many Australians, but they were worried their children would miss out on seeing it before climate change ruined it.
“That’s why it’s so important we act on climate change and species protection – to protect the reef and the tens of thousands of jobs that rely on it,” Albanese said.
The funding would be in addition to money already promised by the Coalition, with an undisclosed amount to be drawn from programs previously announced by Labor. In November, Labor promised $200 million to improve urban rivers and $100 million for the reef.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority released a report on Tuesday that revealed 91 per cent of the reefs that make up the giant ecosystem had suffered bleaching, which occurs during marine heatwaves.
Labor’s reef funding will go into existing initiatives such as helping farmers reduce fertiliser and sediment run-off into the ocean, controlling the crown-of-thorns starfish and breeding heat-tolerant corals – an initiative that has been questioned by experts. It has also committed to spending $100 million of the total reef funds on work with Indigenous rangers.
The opposition’s threatened species pledge centres on a new conservation strategy, to be delivered in co-operation with state and territory governments, including koala habitat protection and programs to wipe out feral species such as yellow crazy ants that are invading Cairns and Townsville.
Another $75 million has been promised for Landcare, which harnesses volunteers for environmental restoration work such as removing weeds and replanting bushland, to create an additional 1000 full-time equivalent jobs.
The announcement is expected to be welcomed by green groups but not to the extent that it will dampen calls for greater action.
Since colonisation, about 100 of Australia’s unique flora and fauna species have been wiped out. In February, koalas were added to the endangered list in NSW and Queensland.
The Coalition in January committed $1 billion over 10 years to the reef as well as $57 million in the March budget to a 10-year threatened species program, and $128 million for controversial reforms to make state governments responsible for assessing the environmental impacts of major project developments.
Labor’s environment spokeswoman, Terri Butler, has previously targeted Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s record on protecting threatened wildlife, pointing out in March there are 200 recovery plans required to be written under federal law that have not been delivered.
“Our children should not be learning about koalas and our Australian wildlife in history books,” Butler said on Thursday.
In Queensland on Thursday, Albanese said the $100 million battery partnership with the state government, which Labor estimates will create 34,700 jobs and bring in $7.4 billion in value by 2030, could help develop an electric vehicle manufacturing industry.
“We have resources like lithium, copper, nickel. All we do is we send those resources offshore. We see the value added somewhere else, and then imported back once the value has been added,” he said.
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