Call for $4bn stimulus that would create 50,000 jobs and care for the environment

Land groups say plan could lift economic output by $5.7bn and focus on areas hit hardest by coronavirus shutdown

A plastic bottle litters a Melbourne beach




An Ernst & Young report on the $4bn proposal is the latest of several analyses designed to convince federal and state governments to support post-Covid measures that boost the environment or help address the climate crisis.
Photograph: Barbara Fischer/Getty Images

An alliance of more than 70 conservation, farming and land management organisations is lobbying the Morrison government to dedicate $4bn of stimulus spending to employ more than 50,000 people to help repair the environment.

According to a report by professional services firm Ernst & Young commissioned by the groups, it could create 53,000 jobs over four years planting trees, removing weeds and restoring rivers, wetlands and coastal habitats. It is estimated it would reduce welfare costs by about $620m and increase economic output by about $5.7bn.

It is the latest of several analyses to have found there is a strong economic case for post-Covid stimulus measures to be designed to also help the environment.

A government spokesman said it had been talking with the non-profit organisation Pew Charitable Trusts, which has organised the push, and welcomed the release of the report. The groups behind it hope it will help persuade the government to back a conservation and land management program in the October budget.

They say it would provide safe and socially beneficial work at a time of rapidly rising unemployment and have a lasting positive impact on the environment. It would be focused in regional and rural areas that relied heavily on tourism and were hit particularly hard by the shutdown.

Pew Charitable Trusts’ deputy director, Pepe Clarke, said the analysis showed investment in conservation and land management jobs were well suited to deliver targeted economic stimulus.

“For regional areas, the ability to provide temporary employment for workers displaced from other industries can reduce the loss of workers to cities and keep young people connected to the workforce,” he said.

The New Zealand government recently pledged $1.1bn for environment projects that would create 11,000 “nature jobs” as part of its pandemic recovery.

The EY report names five local government areas in each state and the Northern Territory where the spending could be directed, mostly in regional areas. They include Snowy Monaro, which sits within with the federal electorate of Eden-Monaro, where a byelection will be contested on Saturday.

The chief executive of the National Landcare Network, Jim Adams, said the labour-intensive nature of the work and low capital costs meant a high proportion of the proposed spending would flow into employees’ pockets to be spent locally. He said it could be used to support the recovery of landscapes damaged by bushfire and drought.

Kate Andrews, of NRM Regions Australia, said it could also boost agricultural productivity by improving the condition of soil and water and reducing costs.

The Australian Land Conservation Alliance’s Nerida Bradley said it would create work for groups hit particularly hard by the crisis, including women, the young and the unskilled. “[It] can be rolled out fast to provide work when and where it is needed most,” she said.

The National Farmers’ Federation, named as one of the groups that helped develop the stimulus proposal, declined to comment. But Andrew Freeman, representing farmers as general manager of projects at AgForce Queensland, said stimulus was needed in regional areas.

“We think a conservation package could assist landholders and provide useful employment,” he said.

Multiple assessments have found Australia’s environment was in decline. The country has the world’s highest rate of mammal extinction. The most recent state of the environment report found that unless there was substantial change it was not clear the country’s natural capital could continue to support its economy and wellbeing.

A spokesman for the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, said the government had engaged extensively with Pew Charitable Trusts.

“The government is committed to a strong focus on recovery as we move through the Covid-19 crisis. We welcome the release of the report and look forward to reviewing the findings,” he said.

Labor’s environment spokeswoman, Terri Butler, accused the Coalition of cutting environment department funding by 40% since 2013 and said the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, had called for a conservation program to boost regional employment in a speech in May.

Butler said: “Proposals that stimulate jobs in our regions and help Australia’s bushfire devastated environment should be considered seriously.”

The national environment laws are being reviewed, with an interim report due this week.