Spending on the environment

The Australian government budget outcome for 2008 reported an expenditure of A$280 billion (US$180 billion at time of writing) or 25% of GDP.

Divided equally, 280 billion would give each resident of Australia A$13,340 and that was, more or less, what happened to the money.

Welfare, health and education combined to account for A$161 billion or 58% of the expenditure. People accept taxes as a necessity of life partly because these things, along with infrastructure, defense and other primary needs are best paid for collectively.

It makes sense to also pay for fundamental services such as clean air, fresh water, food and shelter. The food we eat and the roof over our heads we pay for after the taxman has taken his cut. What about paying for the rest?

The government spend on the environment is difficult to estimate. There is no line item in the budget, so we must estimate for the following:

  • A3.8 billion on agriculture, fisheries and forestry
  • A$3.2 billion on recreation and culture
  • A$16.6 on the public service

Let’s be generous and say this adds up to A$10 billion or 3.6% of the federal environment spend. That’s A$10 billion for a land area of 7,692,024 square km.

This rounded amount, A$10 billion, is a curious figure. It suggests that we can get clean air, clean water, conservation, and aesthetic outcomes for 21 million inhabitants, plus extensive natural resource exports, for $13 per hectare.

“Ah,” the skeptic would interject, “what about the monies spent by the state and local government, not to mention the huge amount of input from farmers, resource managers and community groups?”

Fair enough. Let’s double the amount to capture the contribution from all pockets in the government purse – $26 per hectare is now more than the defense budget… by $4 per hectare.

It makes you think that from the government perspective at least, the environment is free.


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