Management investment

Investment in biodiversity conservation and research is undertaken through a range of efforts, at federal, state and local government level, and through nongovernment, not-for-profit and philanthropic organisations, community groups and industry, Indigenous rangers and Traditional Owners, and land managers across Australia. Many of these investments have direct outcomes for biodiversity and many more on-ground land management efforts have important flow-on benefits. As a result, it is very difficult to understand the full extent of investment benefiting Australian biodiversity.

The Overview chapter (see the Overview chapter) provides a summary of Australian Government investment in the environment. The Biodiversity Conservation Division of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment funds the major programs of work with the most direct benefits for conservation of Australian species and ecosystems (excluding Antarctica). The Australian Government also funds programs that contribute to biodiversity outcomes (directly and indirectly) through several other divisions in the department and across a number of portfolios, including the Director of National Parks, Heritage, Reef and Ocean Division, and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office.

Since 2016–17, overall investment in programs that have the most direct outcomes for biodiversity has declined (Figure 53). A major one-off investment of $443 million was made to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation Partnership, which resulted in a spike of funding in 2017–18. Apart from this specific research and management investment in the Reef, the remaining investment was $334 million in 2017–18 and $271 million in 2018–19, declining from an average of $437 million per year between 2013 and 2017. A further investment in bushfire recovery funding between 2019 and 2021 raised the total investment in those years, but the overall investment is still down from pre-2017 levels.

The recent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) (Samuel 2020) noted that:

The current streams of Australian Government funding allocated towards environmental protection, conservation and restoration, despite being aligned with MNES (matters of national environmental significance), are not comprehensively coordinated to prioritise investment in a way that achieves the greatest possible biodiversity benefits. Funding is often spread thinly across the nation, and the link between the investment of program funds on a particular project and outcomes for MNES can be difficult to discern.

Of concern is that scientists have estimated that the cost of recovery of threatened species in Australia is much greater than the amount we spend. Wintle et al. (2019) estimated the cost to be close to $1.69 billion dollars per year, compared with an estimated $49.6 million spent by the Australian Government on targeted threatened species in 2018–19. This spending includes programs that supported activities such as captive breeding of a threatened species or targeted threat management (e.g. fox control) to secure a population of a threatened species.

Indirect spending, including activities such as general weed or predator control, may also benefit a threatened species without being expressly for that purpose. Including both targeted expenditure and other relevant expenditures, the estimated upper limit of investment by the Australian Government in threatened species conservation in 2018–19 was about $391 million. Estimated spending by state and territory governments on targeted threatened species recovery in Australia is $72.4 million per year.

The efforts of the private sector, local government, nongovernment organisations and private citizens undoubtedly make a significant contribution to threatened species recovery but are not included in the estimates in Wintle et al. (2019). There are also many caveats associated with the estimates, in part because clear reporting on expenditure is not available, and the costs of managing pressures are very difficult to estimate. However, the overall message is that there is a significant shortfall in the investment required to secure threatened species. This is borne out in the declining trajectories of many species and in the increasing extent and magnitude of threatening processes and pressures.

Other experts suggest that the shortfall in restoration funding more broadly in Australia is $10 billion annually (Ward & Lassen 2018). Samuel (2020) noted that while it is unrealistic to expect government and the taxpayer to fund this level of investment, attracting greater private investment in natural capital and restoration of the environment requires federal leadership.

Figure 53 Expenditure on biodiversity conservation and research programs by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, 2013–14 to 2022–23

CERF = Commonwealth Environmental Research Facilities program; NERP = National Environmental Research Program; NESP = National Environmental Science Program; NHT = National Heritage Trust; NLP = National Landcare Program; NRM = national resource management

  1. Includes funding the foundation, and water quality and crown-of-thorns control funding.
  2. Includes NERP (to 2014–15) and NESP (2015–23), which are not funded through the Biodiversity Conservation Division.
  3. Includes NRM Planning for Climate Change Stream 1 and 2; NRM programs for Improving Your Local Parks and Environment, environmental accounts capital, Communities Environment Program and Environment Restoration Fund; and NRM Oceans Leadership Package and NRM Raine Island Recovery Project.
  4. Includes NRM Bushfire Wildlife and Habitat Recovery programs and Bushfire Recovery for Species and Landscapes programs.

Note: Excludes most funding outside the Biodiversity Conservation Division (with the exception of CERF/NERP/NESP funding).

Source: Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, May 2021

Natural resource management and biodiversity programs

The National Landcare Program Phase 1 commenced in 2014, with Phase 2 commencing during 2017–18 and being delivered through 2023. This funding provides key measures that include many practical, on-ground elements of natural resource management, mostly focused on maintaining and improving agricultural landscapes. It includes funding to address issues such as loss of vegetation, soil degradation, invasive species, water quality and flows, and changing fire regimes, which have beneficial flow-on effects for biodiversity in the broader landscape.

Regional Land Partnerships is the largest subprogram under Phase 2 of the National Landcare Program, with projects currently running across Australia (Figure 54). The program is investing in 120 threatened species, particularly birds and mammals (Figure 55), and 42 threatened ecological communities through actions such as weed control, pest fauna control, habitat improvement and community engagement. The program also contributes towards sustainable agricultural outcomes, including improving soil, biodiversity and vegetation. There are 74 Regional Land Partnerships projects benefiting 47 priority threatened species targeted for recovery under the Threatened Species Strategy: 17 mammals, 18 bird species and 12 plant species. Many of these species, including malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata), eastern hooded plover (Thinornis cucullatus cucullatus) and greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis), have multiple projects being undertaken across regional and state boundaries. There are also 78 Regional Land Partnerships projects improving the condition of threatened ecological communities. The total investment between 2018 and 2023 was $443 million.

Specific programs under the National Landcare Program Phase 2 that benefit biodiversity include:

  • the Environment Restoration Fund (DAWE 2021b), which commenced in 2019–20 and runs for 4 years until 2023. Projects focus on 3 key areas: protecting threatened and migratory species; protecting coasts, oceans and waterways; and the clean-up and recovery of waste. Projects are being delivered through a mixture of grants, procurement and specific-purpose payments to the states. There will be a $10 million Environment Restoration Fund open grants round for projects tied to the release of the Threatened Species Strategy’s 2021–2031 first action plan. The Environment Restoration Fund complements the Communities Environment Program (DAWE 2021c), which focuses on small-scale grants supporting community groups that may not be able to compete in larger and more competitive programs. Funding for these 2 programs combined is nearly $110 million over the 4 years
  • the 20 Million Trees Program (DAWE 2021d), which will conclude in 2020–21; approximately 27 million trees were planted over the 5 years of this program
  • implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan (DAWE 2021e), which focuses on addressing land-based run-off, coastal development and direct human use of the Great Barrier Reef
  • World Heritage grants (National Landcare Program n.d.), which focus on addressing critical threats such as invasive species and changed fire regimes
  • the Smart Farms program, which includes $136 million over 5 years to support the development and uptake of best-practice management, tools and technologies for farmers, fishers, foresters and regional communities to improve the protection, resilience and productive capacity of soils, water and vegetation
  • support for efforts to control yellow crazy ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes) and for the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, which is focused on invasive species management, research development and extension activities. The centre has continued the collaborative investment that the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre had begun in invasive species management before its funding concluded in June 2017.

In 2020, the Australian Government announced a total investment of $200 million to support native species and their habitats to recover from the impacts of the 2019–20 bushfires. The work of the Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel has helped guide these investments; $164 million was delivered through the NRM Bushfire Wildlife and Habitat Recovery fund (Figure 54). Additional funding is delivered through the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Threatened Species Recovery Program, the National Landcare Program and the Environment Restoration Fund.

Following back-to-back coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, and tropical cyclone Debbie in March and April 2017, the 2018–19 Budget included $535.8 million over 5 years from 2017–18 to accelerate delivery of activities under the joint Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (DAWE 2021f). The relevant budget measure included a one-off investment of $443.3 million in 2017–18 for a partnership grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and $5.2 million to the Department of the Environment and Energy to cover its costs of developing and oversighting the grant to the foundation. Subsequently, in July 2021 an additional $9 million was invested in the Reef for Traditional Owner–led projects to protect and manage existing Reef programs, including coastline management, weed and feral animal control, Indigenous fire management, and protection of threatened species.

In April 2021, the government announced a $100 million Ocean Leadership package. Over the next 4 years, $18 million of this will target practical actions to protect iconic marine species, improve the sustainability of our fisheries through reducing bycatch, commence national ocean accounting and encourage investment in our marine ecosystems. The Ocean Leadership package will also support the restoration of seagrass and mangrove communities ($30.6 million) to deliver blue carbon dividends and the expansion of the Australian Marine Park network to 45% of our marine waters ($39.9 million).

Figure 54 Locations of Regional Land Partnerships projects
Figure 55 Taxa targeted by Regional Land Partnerships projects

Indigenous Protected Areas and ranger programs

Funding for Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) is also delivered through Phase 2 of the National Landcare Program. This includes $93 million between 2018 and 2023 for management of the IPA estate, administered in partnership with the National Indigenous Australian Agency (NIAA). In 2017, an additional $15 million was committed under the New Indigenous Protected Areas Program for establishment of new IPAs. In April 2021, the Australian Government also committed $11.6 million over 2 years to June 2023 from its Oceans Leadership Package to expand IPAs to include additional sea Country (that funding is not reflected in Figure 53). On-ground activities by Indigenous communities and ranger groups are also supported through programs such as the Environment Restoration Fund and Regional Land Partnerships, as well as through partnerships with research, education, philanthropic and commercial organisations.

The Indigenous Ranger Program is currently funded through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and administered by NIAA (also not included in Figure 53). Funding for this program has recently been extended from 2021 through 2028 at $102 million per year (indexed). This is an important development because it is the first time that Indigenous rangers funded by the Australian Government have had longer-term funding security. This program supports a range of activities that protect and manage land and sea Country and culture, including fire management, protection of threatened species and biosecurity compliance. However, while the funding supports existing ranger teams, it does not allow for growth or for new ranger teams to be established. New funding opportunities and initiatives will be required to support the demand for and growth in IPAs, particularly in southern Australia, and the increasing interest and value placed on traditional knowledge and engagement in biodiversity conservation, land management and research.

In concert with the Australian Government’s investment in ranger programs, jurisdictional support for Indigenous land and sea management practitioners has continued to grow. For example, in Western Australia, the state government invested $20 million over 5 years from 2017 into an Aboriginal Ranger Program that resulted in more than 300 full-time-equivalent people being employed across 35 projects. Subsequently, the Western Australian Government has committed $50 million over 2021–25 to expand the Aboriginal Ranger Program so that more Indigenous organisations can employ and train rangers to manage Country, and build community leadership, wellbeing and resilience. Along similar lines, in February 2021, the Queensland Government committed to doubling the number of Land and Sea Rangers to 200 positions at a cost of an additional $24 million.


The Australian Government funds biodiversity and environmental research programs through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). The Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, the Integrated Marine Observing System, Bioplatforms Australia and the Atlas of Living Australia are NCRIS facilities supporting biodiversity and environmental programs.

Investment is also made into NESP, which funds environment and climate research to provide evidence for policy and on-ground management of the environment. The first phase invested $145 million (2014–15 to 2020–21) into 6 research hubs; the second phase will invest $149 million (2020–21 to 2026–27) into 4 new research hubs (DAWE 2021a). NESP research generated through Phase 1 has provided important content used throughout this report. A cross-hub Indigenous Facilitation Network is working to drive increased Indigenous inclusion in research through NESP Phase 2.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment partners with not-for-profit organisations, nongovernment organisations, the corporate sector and philanthropists to undertake biodiversity and environmental research. Examples include the Bush Blitz program, which is an $11 million joint partnership between the Australian Government through Parks Australia and the Australian Biological Resources Study, major corporate sponsor BHP and Earthwatch Australia. With the collaboration and participation of BHP employees, teachers, students, Indigenous rangers, Traditional Owners, park rangers, biological researchers and other land management practitioners, Bush Blitz has discovered more than 1,735 new species across Australia in the past decade. The 10 Deserts Project and the Australian Seed Bank Partnership are also examples of successful research partnerships.