Environment

NSW church restoration grants pip environment and Aboriginal heritage

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Church restoration projects have emerged as the largest single recipients of community grants from the NSW government's Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH), eclipsing funds for environment and Aboriginal heritage.

Over the past four years, the government directed almost $1.7 million for church repairs, including $50,000 "for restoration of the Horbury Hunt Hall at Newcastle Grammar, according to analysis of OEH's annual reports.

By comparison, community grants for the environment collected just over $1.33 million and almost $1 million for Aboriginal heritage.

Koalas were among the wildlife to receive OEH grants - but the share of grant funds going to the environment has declined in recent years.

Koalas were among the wildlife to receive OEH grants – but the share of grant funds going to the environment has declined in recent years. Credit:University of Sydney

The tallies, though, mask a shift in the proportion of grants. In 2014-15, for instance, church grants and other heritage grants were roughly on a par with the combined community support for environment and Aboriginal work, the annual report shows.

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By 2017-18, that ratio has become about six to one in favour of church and other heritage work.

Shifting priorities in community grants have seen the environment and Aboriginal heritage playing second-fiddle to church and other heritage spending.

Shifting priorities in community grants have seen the environment and Aboriginal heritage playing second-fiddle to church and other heritage spending. Credit:OEH annual reports

As a contrast, during 2009-2011 – the final three years of the previous Labor state government – church restoration work attracted only about 5 per cent of the community heritage grants.

In absolute terms, the sum spent on community environmental grants – to groups such as Koalas in Care – dropped by two-thirds to from $409,967 in 2016-17 to only $145,523 in 2017-18.

Environment grants accounted for 27.7 per cent of the total in 2014-15 but only 4.7 per cent by 2017-18. (The share excludes grants for the Home Energy Action Program which started in 2015 but were transferred away from OEH in 2017.)

Likewise, Aboriginal Heritage grants shrank as a percentage in each of the past four years from 21.2 per cent of the total in 2014-15 to 8.7 per cent by the last financial year.

It remains unclear whether the restructuring of the department since the reelection of the Berejiklian government last month – including the abolition of OEH itself – will affect future distribution of such grants.

Most of OEH's functions have been absorbed by the new Planning and Industry cluster headed by Planning Minister Rob Stokes. Dr Stokes, a former environment minister, will oversee several several ministers including Matt Kean, who takes on the new Energy and Environment portfolio.

Mr Kean was approached for comment by The Sun-Herald.

An OEH spokeswoman said the annual reports represent "a narrative summary of performance, outlining key highlights rather than detailing an exhaustive list of every grant awarded during the year".

"In isolation [analysis from the annual reports] would present a misleading, statistically inaccurate picture" because not all of all the "broad range of grant programs" provided by the OEH and the Environmental Trust (ET) are included.

For instance, OEH's total outlay to councils, schools, research institutions and other groups totalled $438 million over the past four years for various environment and heritage projects.

But Kate Smolski, chiefRead More – Source