The EEO decision is one of a raft of cuts and changes announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey in the Mid-Year Economic Outlook and Fiscal Outlook on Tuesday.
Neutering the EEO scheme by stripping out $20 million in funding from July – abolishing it entirely would require legislative change –came out of the blue and according to Energy Efficiency Council CEO Rob Murray-Leach has angered members.
Among the other high-profile changes are: scrapping the carbon pricing scheme (a net deterioration of $7.4 billion over the forward estimates to 2016-17); closing the profit-making Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which means losing repayments on loans of $439 million over the period; and confirmation of $475 million in cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
Climate spending as a percentage of total spending will fall from 1.3% to 0.2% over the period.
The statement says among the key drivers of climate spending from 2014-15 onwards will be the Direct Action Plan, primarily the Emissions Reduction Fund. However, some commentators have pointed out the funding for the ERF has been assigned to the contingency reserve rather than the formal budget papers, raising some question marks over allocation.
CUTS TO ENVIRONMENT CHALLENGES AND RIGHTS
In unrelated cuts, Attorney-General George Brandis has scrapped federal funding to the Environmental Defender's Offices in each state, including $10 million earmarked over four years.
Federal funding comprised from 50% to nearly 100% of the funding for individual EDOs across Australia. The measure is likely to see EDOs in the smaller states close, while in bigger states their activity will pull back.
Mining companies recently urged Senator Brandis to end the funding. Stephen Galilee, head of the NSW Minerals Council, told The Australian it was "ridiculous" that taxpayer funds were being used to appeal and reject approved projects.
Environment Victoria CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said, "this is a clear attempt by the Abbott Government to silence the voice of those communities. It demonstrates the Abbott Government’s utter contempt for those willing to speak up for mother nature".
Last week Senator Brandis also asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to review Commonwealth legislation to identify provisions that unreasonably encroach upon traditional rights, freedoms and privileges. He singled out environmental regulation, workplace relations and commercial and corporate regulation.
“For too long we have seen freedoms of the individual diminish and become devalued. The Coalition Government will strive to protect and restore them," he said.
The ALRC will report back by December 1 next year.