Let’s get real on “green levies"

In recent days (September 2012) there's been some press coverage in "The Advertiser" about the so-called overcharging of natural resources management levies. "Cost of green levies too high" was the headline. 

Let's dig into this a bit more and examine the situation in my own NRM Board's region. 

In a post at the start of this year about the Northern & Yorke NRM Business Plan, I described the following:

  • the steep decline in income (31% reduction from 2011, see part 5 of my Comments) projected by the N&Y NRM Board in the next three years
  • state government contribution to the N&Y NRM Board that is equivalent to about 0.06% of average annual primary production from the region
  • rural people should reject this paltry contribution and demand a much more realistic government con tribution
  • the need for a rural dividend to be paid to NRM Boards based on rural production (what could be fairer than this?)
  • the urgent need to address landscape-scale change that supports real sustainability in farming enterprises and, most importantly, to allay ecosystem stresses that have been overwhelmingly reported on in many environemntal strategies

Let's go back to the story in "The Advertiser" (September 10, 2012). It was reported that the all-party parliamentary committee (Natural Resources Committee) has recommended that increases in NRM levies should be aligned with CPI (Consumer Price Index) rises, after it became known that the Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges NRM Board had set levies "too far above the CPI". The article also mentioned a couple of examples of individual property levies in the cost range of $37 and $67. The newspaper's editorial also stated - "Some levies have been increased by staggering amounts - one by more than 100 per cent. At a time when government departments have been ordered to make savings, the boards also should be ordered to cut their cloth to suit economic times."

Here's the reality, and some comments.

  • The newspaper article appears to be based on the parliamentary Natural Resources Committee report dated June 12, 2012, which was all about the Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges (AMLR) NRM Board - not the siz other NRM Boards - proposal to increase the Division 1 levy by 11.4%. But it's more than just that; it was about an "equalisation" process, and rather than enter into a lengthy commentary here, go to the report in the sidebar for an explanation. And by the way, the levy is not a "green levy" as headlined in "The Advertiser". Too often the word "green" is used to describe something to do with the environment, as though it's an impost on people's lives. It's about time the media moved on from that sort of tripe, and reported on the big issues confronting natural resources in this state. The levy is much more about support for conservation of remaining elements of the landscape, ecosystems, and inland waters that were pillaged by the activities of past generations. The levy is also about supporting primary industries in their present arrangement. This is a whole different issue and one that I'm attempting to understand. Nevertheless, examine South Australia's history, search in the pages of this website, and you'll find the real story about the natural resources condition and why a "green levy" is needed.
  • The concern is that the newspaper article and editorial have suggested that all NRM Boards in the state have introduced excessively high levies. This is not the case. The story should have been about the Adelaide Mt Lofty Ranges region, which is by far the most populous of all the regions, and by far has the largest annual budget of all the NRM Boards. So let's now consider the following about the NRM levy and funding for the NRM system. 
  • Just prior to the introduction of the NRM Board system in 2002, I expressed my concerns about the flawed financial model to support the proposed establishment of boards. I wrote that the landscape-wide problems that needed to be tackled with urgency were not going to be funded appropriately. There seemed to be an emphasis on extracting maximum federal funding to prop up the public servant enrolment in NRM departments at the time. This was no way to support loong-term sustainable delivery of outcomes. My concerns were ignored. 
  • The state government has retreated substantially from its financial commitment to the boards over recent years. For example, the N&Y NRM Board has likely suffered a 31% reduction (more than $1.8m) in income from 2011 (see my post here). Where is the media reporting on this? It's all very well to report on the happenings in the Adelaide and Mt Lofty NRM region, with its $24m budget for 2012-13, but what about the decline in income from $5.94m to $4.07m in the Northern & Yorke region? The N&Y region is many times larger in area than the AMLR region, and has some of the greatest threats to primary production in the state. For the N&Y region, further erosion of the income base is death by a thousand cuts.
  • In the Northern & Yorke NRM Board region the state government contribution in 2012 was projected to be just $530,000 (see my post here), yet the primary production coming from the region's natural resources (i.e. soil and water) was $913 million. It is a paltry contribution from the state government for a large annual output that adds substantially to the state's gross output. More worrying it is a denial of the existence of deeply concerning problems that exist right now with the condition of natural resources. More on this issue is here.
  • Relating percentage increases in property levies, whether $37 or $67 as in "The Advertiser" article, is disingenuous. These sums are tiny in terms of the impact created from human activities on the general environment. Again, it is disingenuous of politicians to talk about rises in the NRM levy when it is so miniscule. Is it widely known that all properties pay the levy, regardless of whether it is a farm or a residential or business property? The levy is so low that it does not relate to environmental impacts or natural resources management problems arising from urban, water, and land-based developments. And this is the nub of the problem. Governments don't want to be accused of introducing or raising "taxes" or "levies". A new model of funding NRM Boards is needed, otherwise predicted decline in the natural resources condition will continue.

In this site I have examined many reports about the risks to natural resources and the general environment in South Australia. Reference to Report on the Condition of Agricultural Land in South Australia, and the No Species Loss Overview Strategy 2007-2017, and the Climate Change Adaptation Framework, and other reports, will confirm the dire problems confronting the state. 

I'm only part way into understanding all the issues and piecing things together, but examining these reports causes me more concerns than gives me confidence that South Australia is heading in the right direction.

NRM levies are a vital part of the equation. It is unfortunate that the issue seems to have been politicised instead of being openly discussed with the South Australian community. 

NRM levies are artificially low in the rural hinterland, so low in fact, that vital and urgent work will not get done. Programs to support sustainable systems and rural production have either been abandoned or are at threat of closure. And a greater concern is that this state is slowly creeping along a path of contraction of agricultural production. Don't believe me? Read the reports that I've mentioned, and discover what really is happening behind the scenes.

 Terms Of Service & Conditions Of Use          Privacy Policy          Site Map          Contact

Copyright © D N Menz    2009 - 2017