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ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Environment and Heritage Portfolio
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ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Environment and Heritage Portfolio
Senator Ian Macdonald
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ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
(SENATE-Thursday, 27 May 2004)
- Start of Business
- Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Portfolio
Environment and Heritage Portfolio
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Tchen)
Senator Ian Macdonald
- Australian Antarctic Division
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
- National Oceans Office
- Supervising Scientist Division
- Sydney Harbour Federation Trust
- Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator
- Australian Greenhouse Office
- Parks Australia
- Senator TCHEN
Content WindowENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 27/05/2004 - Environment and Heritage Portfolio - Parks Australia
Senator WONG —What was the original estimated 2003-04 funding for the National Reserve System program?
Mr Cochrane —Our budgeted figures for this current financial year are just over $4 million for program funds.
Senator WONG —Just refer me to the—
Mr Cochrane —You will not find it in the blue book because the program is funded through Bushcare.
Senator WONG —You say the funding for the National Reserve System program was $4 million for 2003-04. Has that now been revised downwards?
Mr Cochrane —No. It was not clear probably when we first appeared and this question was first asked what the full sum of money was that was available this financial year. It is actually quite difficult to be very precise with this program, other than at particular moments of time, because the minister makes a series of approvals that we recommend to him and over time, because we are supporting others entering into the property market, some of those purchases do not succeed and therefore the money is not actually expensed. So it comes back then to be reallocated.
Senator WONG —So what is the actual expenditure for this financial year?
—So far this financial year we have expended $987,000. But all of that $4 million has been approved for purchases, and the third parties who have had their approval given by the minister are in the market for the properties they have put forward.
Senator WONG —What is the allocation for the National Reserve System program for 2004-05?
Mr Cochrane —I cannot tell you that because the NHT board has to make that decision in its decisions on NHT expenditure for the next two years.
Senator WONG —So is the entirety of the $4 million NHT funding?
Mr Cochrane —Yes, as it has been in its entirety for the six years of the program.
Senator WONG —Is it the case that the program has been revised down or decreased to $2.33 million for the first nine months of 2003-04?
Mr Cochrane —As I said, it is actually quite difficult to allocate funds because they are regularly freed up through some projects not proceeding because the proponents are not successful in the marketplace. So it is a rolling fund, in a sense. But the total allocated to it was $76 million over five years.
Senator WONG —From?
Mr Cochrane —Out of the NHT.
Senator WONG —Commencing which year—2001-02?
Mr Cochrane —I think 2000-01, the first year of the NHT.
Senator WONG —So it was $76 million over five years?
Mr Cochrane —I beg your pardon, the first year of the NHT was much earlier, 1996-97. I think the first expenditure relating to the National Reserve System program started in about 1998-99. So it is really over the last five years that the expenditure has progressively ramped up.
Senator WONG —So there is nothing in the portfolio budget statements because it is administered through—
Mr Cochrane —It is part of Bushcare. It is actually an element of the Bushcare program.
Senator WONG —AFFA?
Mr Cochrane —No, DEH.
Senator WONG —So, within the Bushcare program, in the 2002-03 budget what was allocated for National Reserve System management for 2003-04?
Mr Cochrane —I can tell you what we spent and—
Senator WONG —No, I did not ask that, Mr Cochrane. I will get to that. In the 2002-03 budget what was allocated for the 2003-04 year?
Mr Cochrane —I do not have the figures in front of me of what was actually allocated because they are notional, as I said, because funds—
—I appreciate they are notional. Mr Glyde, do you have those figures?
Mr Glyde —I am just looking now. I think they would be still in the Bushcare line, so I do not actually have those figures in front of me either in terms of how much was allocated within that Bushcare component of $84.5 million.
Senator WONG —Does anybody here know that?
Mr Cochrane —We can certainly provide it for you.
Senator WONG —All right. What was allocated in 2002-03 for the 2003-04 year and what in 2003-04 was confirmed for the allocation for that budget year?
Mr Cochrane —Can I take those on notice?
Senator WONG —If you do not have them. So for the current financial year your budget allocation you say is $4 million for the National Reserve System program; is that right?
Mr Cochrane —That is correct.
Senator WONG —You are saying there has been no revision downwards of that in this budget?
Mr Cochrane —No, and in fact it has probably gone up from what we anticipated to spend in—
Senator WONG —In 2004-05, presumably the figures for 2003-04 are revised for the Bushcare component for this National Reserve System program. Do you have the figure there?
Mr Cochrane —I do not, because that is a matter for the NHT board to decide.
Senator WONG —I appreciate that, but we are now looking in this budget at what has been determined as the allocation for the current financial year. What is the revised figure?
Mr Cochrane —I have not been told yet.
Senator WONG —You have not been told?
Dr O'Connell —I might be able to help. That is a matter for the—
Senator WONG —NHT board.
Dr O'Connell —You anticipated that very well. Yes, it is. It is for the board to announce those outcomes before—
Senator WONG —Has the NHT board already made decisions in relation to the 2003-04 year expenses under this program?
Mr Cochrane —For 2003-04 they would have, yes.
Senator WONG —Which is $4 million?
Mr Cochrane —Four million dollars.
Senator WONG —Out of which you have spent only $987,000?
—Yes. The balance of those funds are all committed. The minister has approved the projects. It can take up to 12 months for a sale to be finalised once the approval has been given.
Senator WONG —Of the $76 million over five years, how much has been spent in how many years?
Mr Cochrane —Virtually all of it now. Again, if I could take that on notice I could give you a figure as of that date.
Senator WONG —Is there anything in the current budget statement which refers to the minister's thinking on the National Reserve System program?
Mr Cochrane —The only reference is to a future directions statement which was issued earlier this year for public comment. The public comment period for that has closed, and the department is currently working on its responses to that jointly with the states for a position to be put to the next meeting of the Natural Resources Ministerial Council in October.
Senator WONG —We already have the budget figures for Bushcare for the budget we are discussing, 2004-05, plus three out years. Are you able to tell me what—
Mr Cochrane —The NHT board has to allocate within the Bushcare program—that global figure—what is going to certain components, and the National Reserve System program is one of those components.
Senator WONG —You do not know how much is?
Mr Cochrane —I do not.
Dr O'Connell —That issue will be a matter for the ministers to announce.
Senator WONG —What about 2004-05?
Mr Cochrane —That is for 2004-05.
Dr O'Connell —That is for 2004-05, yes.
Mr Cochrane —We are just waiting on that decision.
Senator WONG —When is that likely to occur?
Mr Cochrane —I cannot imagine it is very far away because the financial year is nearly on us.
Senator WONG —That is right.
Mr Cochrane —It is not a decision I have a role in.
Senator Ian Macdonald —In the fullness of time, Senator, would be the answer.
Senator WONG —Yes. The national objectives and targets for biodiversity conservation 2001 to 2005 indicated that by 2005 a representative sample of each bioregion would be protected within the system. How are we tracking? We have, what, 13 months—less than that.
—In rough terms, we would probably be two-thirds of the way there. But a lot of this action is either joint with the states or where the states themselves play a role. So it is not entirely within the Commonwealth's control.
Senator WONG —So if we are two-thirds of the way there and we have less than a year to go, although I suppose they might say by the end of the 2005 financial year and then you have a year and a bit, and you have spent $76 million or thereabouts—
Mr Cochrane —Pretty close.
Senator WONG —How much would you anticipate you will need to spend to get the remaining third to meet the commitment?
Mr Cochrane —That is an extraordinarily difficult question to answer because it depends on what properties might become available in that time, because properties are only purchased; they are not acquired. So it does depend on market conditions and the availability of suitable properties in high-priority bioregions. So we are a little at the hostage of both market forces and the availability of suitable properties, and of course proponents who are willing to put forward their share of the purchase cost.
Senator WONG —What sort of time frame is there for the allocation of the remainder of the funding, the $3.1 million of the $4 million that you say is already allocated?
Mr Cochrane —Hopefully we will be able to bring all of that to account this financial year, but I think, practically speaking, we are unlikely to just because, as I said before, of the time it takes to conclude sales on properties. Sometimes there are willing sellers and sometimes there are not so willing sellers. The proponents are either state agencies, generally speaking, or key non-government organisations. The Bush Heritage Fund, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Trust for Nature in Victoria and Birds Australia are all major NGOs which have purchased properties with the support of the National Reserve System program. A number of those organisations actually go through a public appeal process for support for particular property purchases as well. So some of these purchases actually take a considerable period to conclude.
Senator WONG —Have you mapped what would be required in terms of biodiversity regions to achieve the commitment?
Mr Cochrane —The mapping of biodiversity regions around Australia is actually quite a sophisticated tool now. Certainly the maps identifying where the priority areas are are available on web sites and in the future directions statement itself. If I can briefly summarise, they are western Queensland, the Northern Territory and the north of Western Australia.
Senator WONG —Have you done any broad costing of achieving the required representation?
—I would have to say no because it is so difficult and quite a substantial part of those lands are actually Aboriginal lands. One part of the National Reserve System program is the Indigenous Protected Areas Program, which involves working with Indigenous people putting forward their lands to be managed as reserves consistent with the objectives of the program. Again, those are negotiated arrangements for which we pay some sort of facilitating and catalytic funding. So, no, we have not costed it because of the complexity of the job.
Senator WONG —From the layperson's perspective, with $76 million for two-thirds, you would think you would need half again to achieve the required representation.
Mr Cochrane —At first blush, a large part of the remainder of the high-priority bioregions is actually Indigenous lands, so the nature of the task is a little different.
Senator WONG —You do not have to pay them?
Mr Cochrane —We do but not in a purchase arrangement. With the Indigenous Protected Areas Program we pay for the development of management plans, assessment of values and ongoing works on the ground but not purchases. So, as far as cost effectiveness goes, it is actually a much better option for public funds.
Dr O'Connell —Senator, I might draw your attention to the blue book at page 34, where you can see chart 3.1, which demonstrates the degree to which the Indigenous protected areas are now a significant part of the National Reserve System program.
Senator WONG —While I am getting some information I might go to the Great Australian Bight Marine Park. Is that you, Mr Oxley?
Mr Oxley —Yes, or Mr Cochrane.
Senator WONG —Some five years since the Commonwealth waters were proclaimed, are you currently reviewing, as per the statute, the park management plan?
Mr Oxley —Yes.
Senator WONG —How many objectives or planned outcomes envisaged in the management plan of the GABMP have been achieved in the life of the first management plan?
Mr Cochrane —That is a good question and one I do not think we could answer here and now.
Mr Oxley —We will take that on notice.
Senator WONG —Have you done any research to enable assessment of the effectiveness of the Benthic protection area in protecting biodiversity?
Mr Cochrane —A major survey has been conducted of biodiversity in the area of the park.
Senator WONG —Yes, but my notes refer to the Benthic protection area.
Mr Cochrane —There are two zones: the Benthic protection zone and the marine mammal protection zone.
Senator WONG —So you have done a survey?
Mr Cochrane —Yes.
Senator WONG —When was that done?
Mr Cochrane —I think that was done last year.
Senator WONG —Was that made public?
—I have seen just recently some information about the outcome of that, and it was in the form of a short paper that was proposed to be published. I do not know whether there is any more extensive information, but the take-out from it is that a demonstrable biodiversity conservation benefit is evident in the Benthic protection zone compared to adjacent areas.
Senator WONG —Can you provide a copy of or the findings of that survey?
Mr Oxley —I should think we would be able to, but I will check that for you.
Senator WONG —Is that being relied on in the management plan review?
Mr Cochrane —Absolutely. With all the marine protected areas we have an active program of monitoring, to the extent we can with the available resources, to monitor key features of the protected areas. That information, absolutely, feeds into the development of the next plan of management.
Senator WONG —Have you done any research to document the effectiveness of the park in protecting the southern right whale in its yearly migration or in protecting its critical habitat areas all year round?
Mr Cochrane —I cannot answer that definitively, but I am pretty sure, given that that is a major objective of the park and particularly the—
Senator WONG —You cannot help me, Mr Oxley, as to whether or not you have done any research on that?
Mr Oxley —No, I cannot at this stage, no. But I can take that on notice.
Senator WONG —If you have not, wouldn't you think you should?
Mr Oxley —I do not know whether or not we have. I do not have that information with me, but I am happy to check and come back to you.
Senator WONG —If you could and if it is available, could you provide it to the committee?
Mr Oxley —Certainly.
Senator WONG —What actions have been taken in the GABMP to protect the Australian sea lion and its habitat?
Mr Cochrane —One of the major management prescriptions there is careful management of fishing in that area. That certainly is an objective. As I understand it, numbers of sea lions are increasing. But, again, I would prefer to give you some authoritative view on that.
Senator WONG —You cannot tell me a lot tonight, can you, Mr Cochrane?
Dr O'Connell —With regard to sea lions, predominant protection regime for the sea lions there, as I understand it, is in the state part of the park with the protection of the haul-out areas and the foraging areas.
Senator WONG —I notice you said numbers were improving, Mr Cochrane, but I understand recovery is in fact slower than had been hoped. Is that not right?
—I would prefer to give you an accurate answer rather than—
Senator WONG —So you do not know?
Mr Cochrane —No.
Senator WONG —You do not know what actions you have taken?
Mr Cochrane —To monitor?
Senator WONG —No, to protect the sea lion and its habitat.
Mr Cochrane —In the formulation of the first plan of management the sea lions were a value, and contributing to their protection was an objective of the plan.
Senator WONG —So what have you done?
Senator Ian Macdonald —He has said three times now he would rather take it on notice and give you an accurate answer. Sorry about that. If you want to indicate in advance that you want these things, I guess they can come prepared. But it is a bit hard to read your mind in advance, Senator.
Senator WONG —It is a pretty major marine park, and I am asking pretty reasonable questions about whether or not it is being effective.
Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr Cochrane does not personally do all of these things.
Senator WONG —I appreciate that, Minister.
Senator Ian Macdonald —We cannot be more helpful than to say we will get you the information and give it to you.
Senator WONG —Could you provide me with information about whether any actions have been taken to protect the sea lion and its habitat and, if so, what was the cost.
Mr Cochrane —What I can tell you, just reading out of our annual report, is that we did contribute to population studies of the southern right whale and Australian sea lion. A study was done of the potential sensitivities of mammals to mining in the Marine Mammal Protection Zone. Baseline studies of the benthic fauna were also undertaken. Those were activities undertaken in the year 2002-03. So when we come back to you we can give you an update of the outcomes of those.
Senator Ian Macdonald —That is helpful, but Senator Wong would have read that herself in her research into this.
Senator WONG —About as much as you probably read NAFTA before you trumpeted the free trade agreement, Minister.
Senator Ian Macdonald —It is all out there. This process repeats all the information that is publicly available. But we will get it for you. That is how helpful we are.
Senator WONG —I am asking about the cost of it. You are not able to tell me, are you?
Senator Ian Macdonald —We are going to get that for you too, aren't we?
—You are not able to tell me whether you have actually taken any action at all. What is the cost of reviewing the management plan?
Mr Cochrane —We do that in-house with existing staff. It is a part of staff functions. So we could cost it out for you, but it is in process at the moment. At the moment the staff are preparing a draft plan as a result of the work that has been done so far, some external input. That will be released for public comment in a few months. So it is difficult to cost the sum total of that at this stage.
Senator WONG —Are you intending that the review address the effectiveness of the park for conservation of species other than the southern right whale and the Australian sea lion?
Mr Cochrane —When you say review the effectiveness, as a matter of course in preparing a new plan of management we look at what issues have arisen and how effective our management has been so that the next plans of management are more effective documents.
Senator WONG —The South Australian government recently banned mining in the state waters of the park. The review I think you referred to found that the Marine Mammal Protection Zone of the park should not be opened up to petroleum. Given these two factors, is the government considering opening up the Marine Mammal Protection Zone to petroleum?
Mr Cochrane —I would not want to presuppose what the new draft would have in it, but the purpose of the Marine Mammal Protection Zone, which is part of the Great Australian Bight Marine Park, is to act as a buffer to the state component. The main breeding ground for southern right whales is actually in the state component of the waters at the head of the bight. One objective of the Commonwealth park is to act as a buffer to that. So there are strict rules as to what can or cannot occur, such as fishing, in the Marine Mammal Protection Zone when southern right whales are there. But in the current plan of management no exploration, extraction or any other operation associated with mining is allowed in the Marine Mammal Protection Zone by the Commonwealth in its part.
Senator WONG —I understand that. Is it suggested that that may be changed?
Mr Cochrane —I am not aware of any suggestion to change that.
Senator WONG —Did the review that I referred to find that the zone should not be opened up to petroleum?
Mr Cochrane —At the moment I am not aware of the findings of the review.
Dr O'Connell —I just missed that question, but I might be able to help if you—
Mr Cochrane —Did the review suggest a change to the management arrangements.
Dr O'Connell —In terms of the potential to open up to petroleum. On my understanding is, no, it did not. I would have to confirm that, but I am pretty confident that it did not.
Senator WONG —Sorry, I was distracted by the email. Go on.
Dr O'Connell —My answer was that, although I would have to confirm it, my understanding is that the review did not recommend that petroleum exploration should be allowed.
—So, the flipside, it recommended continuation of the current—
Dr O'Connell —That is my understanding. As I said, I will just have to confirm that, without having the report here.
Senator WONG —Can we go back to your funding allocations, Mr Cochrane. The figures I have been provided with are that in 2001-02 funding for the NRSP was $23.6 million. Is that correct?
Mr Cochrane —I think that may have been a notional allocation. The actual expenditure was somewhat less than that.
Senator WONG —And in 2002-03 it was about $13.5 million?
Mr Cochrane —Again, I am sure you are correct, but I can give you the actual expenditure figures because—
Senator WONG —So you have actual expenditure but not the budget allocation?
Mr Cochrane —I can tell you what the actual program expenditures were.
Senator WONG —So just clarifying: you do not have the budget allocation but you have actual expenditure?
Mr Cochrane —Yes.
Senator WONG —So 2001-02 I am suggesting was $23.6 million. You think that might be about right—
Mr Cochrane —$18.615 million, actual program expenditure.
Senator WONG —And in 2002-03 I am suggesting $13.5 million.
Mr Cochrane —$10.129 million.
Senator WONG —And for this year, $4 million.
Mr Cochrane —Is what we are anticipating spending, but that is not an actual yet.
Senator WONG —What was the actual allocation?
Mr Cochrane —The actual was the $987,000.
Senator WONG —No, I understand you said that was the actual expenditure. The 20030-04 actual allocation was $4 million, was it not?
Mr Cochrane —Yes, that is right.
Senator WONG —So there has been a significant trend downwards in the funding over three years?
Mr Cochrane —There has, but the allocation to the program was the $76 million that I mentioned before. So that is spread over those five to six years.
Senator WONG —Are you able to on notice confirm the figures that I have just gone through?
Mr Cochrane —Yes.
—The document I am looking at also suggests that for the first nine months of 2003-04 there has been a revision down to $2.33 million.
Mr Cochrane —That does not gel with the figures I have.
Senator WONG —This is a WWF document regarding an analysis of national parks and other protected areas. You are not aware of it?
Mr Cochrane —No.
Senator WONG —It is a reasonably reputable organisation. I accept it is an environment group. But you are not aware from where they might have got that 2.33 million figure?
Mr Cochrane —Whilst it may not be wise to speculate, that may have been the starting point but by the time we got to this year, as I indicated before, the rollover of funds from year to year due to approved purchases not actually proceeding is likely to have resulted in this final figure that I now have allocated to this year of just over $4 million.
Senator WONG —Given we have until next year to achieve the objective we were discussing earlier and your funding for this year, on your figures, is less than a fifth of what your allocation was two years ago, isn't that a cause for concern in terms of meeting the objective?
Mr Cochrane —I am looking forward to the decisions of the NHT board in terms of allocations for the next year.
Senator WONG —What does that mean?
Mr Cochrane —That is when we will know what resources we have to try to meet those targets.
Senator WONG —Sorry?
Mr Cochrane —That is when we will know how much resources we have to try to meet those targets. I cannot answer that question at this point in time.
Senator WONG —But, looking forward to the NHT board decision, you are obviously going to want more funding?
Mr Cochrane —Yes.
Senator WONG —I do not think I have anything further. Thank you.
CHAIR —We will now consider the Approvals and Wildlife Division.
Senator WONG —Turning to Perth airport, Munday Swamp is a Ramsar wetland, is it?
Mr Forbes —My recollection is that Munday Swamp is not a Ramsar site.
Senator WONG —Is it a wetland of national importance?
Mr Forbes —I think it is classified as that, but that is not a Ramsar site.
Senator WONG —Next level down: a wetland of national importance; correct?
Mr Forbes —Correct.
—On the national estate?
Mr Forbes —It is part of the national estate, as I recollect.
Senator WONG —I understand drainage works involving quite a lot of earthwork were undertaken in the Munday Swamp area of Perth airport by the Westralia Airports Corporation; is that correct?
Mr Flanigan —Yes, that is correct.
Senator WONG —Mr Flanigan, when were you aware that these earthworks had taken place?
Mr Flanigan —We were made aware that the earthworks had taken place some time last year, in May 2003.
Senator WONG —After they had taken place?
Mr Flanigan —Yes. We were made aware by a member of the public.
Senator WONG —Presumably, therefore, there was no application under the EPBC Act in relation to the earthworks by Westralia Airports Corporation?
Mr Flanigan —That is correct.
Senator WONG —Isn't it the case that, as an action on Commonwealth land that had or was likely to have impact on the environment, approval was required from the minister or his delegate?
Mr Flanigan —If the action was likely to have a significant impact on the environment, that would be the case, yes.
Senator WONG —No application was sought?
Mr Flanigan —No application was sought. When we investigated the situation, the works had been undertaken in an existing drainage channel that had been on the site for a good number of years. The work was to clean out and clear out the drainage channel to return it to its effectiveness. It involved clearing away the accumulated sediment in the channel, and clearing away the accumulated debris and regrowth vegetation.
Senator WONG —What is DOTARS's involvement in this matter?
Mr Flanigan —DOTARS, to my knowledge, were not actually responsible for the works. The works were the responsibility of the airports corporation.
Senator WONG —I appreciate that. Did DOTARS communicate with you about concerns they had regarding the earthworks?
Mr Flanigan —Not in my recollection.
Senator WONG —Were you aware that they had any concerns?
Mr Flanigan —No.
Senator WONG —You are not aware that they wrote to the corporation indicating their concerns?
—Not in my knowledge, no.
Senator WONG —Wasn't a copy of the letter cc'd to your minister?
Mr Flanigan —I would have to check our files. I am not aware of that.
Senator WONG —You do not have any information on that?
Mr Flanigan —Not in regards to DOTARS's particular concerns, no. We had our own investigation about the activities. We were keen to satisfy ourselves whether or not there had been a breach of the act, whether or not the works themselves either represented a breach of the act or had any potential for impacting on Munday Swamp.
Senator WONG —Wouldn't the normal course of events be, rather than you checking whether there was an impact after the earthworks had been undertaken, that the corporation, given it is on Commonwealth land and given the EPBC Act requirements, make an application for an approval under the act prior to the action commencing?
Mr Early —It is obviously the desirable way of doing business, but the reason we have a policy and compliance branch is to check when things do not go quite to plan.
Senator WONG —Did they offer any explanation as to why they did not make an application?
Mr Flanigan —When we wrote to the corporation, they felt that the works were in the form of maintenance works on a pre-existing use and that the act therefore did not apply. They also felt that the works were not having a significant impact on protected matter. The way the act is structured, it is the proponent's responsibility to make that initial judgment.
Senator WONG —Didn't you write to them, Mr Flanigan?
Mr Flanigan —We did write to them.
Senator WONG —Expressing your concern?
Mr Flanigan —We did, as part of our investigation.
Senator WONG —We are not talking about maintenance of a couple of people sort of shovelling out a drain. We are talking about machinery—
Mr Flanigan —Earthmoving equipment.
Senator WONG —Earthmoving equipment. In fact, on the documentation I have been provided with, the action went significantly beyond maintenance. You do not agree with that, Mr Flanigan?
Mr Flanigan —The judgment we made following our investigation was that it was maintenance work on an existing drainage network and that it did not have a significant impact.
Senator WONG —Did someone from the department go out and check?
Mr Flanigan —A number of photographs were provided to us—
Senator WONG —By the members of the public?
—By the members of the public.
Senator WONG —After they were provided, was an investigation on site carried out by any member of the department?
Mr Flanigan —With regard to the particular drainage, I would have to go back and check our compliance record. But my recollection is that we did not send somebody specifically to look at the site.
Senator WONG —So you determined that it had not breached the EPBC Act on the basis of the company's response to you in mail or by phone; is that right?
Mr Flanigan —We had reports from them, we had discussions with them and we also had the information that was provided to us by the community group.
Senator WONG —Which was contrary to the advice provided by the company?
Mr Flanigan —The information provided to us by the community group was their concerns about the potential impact of the drainage works on the groundwater hydrology of the Munday Swamp itself. They provided us with a series of quite clear photographs of the works that had been undertaken.
Senator WONG —You formed the view on the basis of that that their concerns were unwarranted?
Mr Flanigan —Subject to my confirming whether or not somebody actually had a specific site investigation, essentially that is correct, yes.
Senator WONG —Was this matter the subject of advice to the minister?
Mr Flanigan —Not in my recollection.
Senator WONG —The letter from DOTARS to Mr Muir of the corporation which was cc'd to the minister did not result in your being required to give any advice? If so, when?
Mr Flanigan —I cannot recall any such letter, so I would have to go back and check our files on that.
Senator WONG —Would you like a copy, Mr Flanigan, to see whether you remember it? Do you have with you a copy of your correspondence to Mr Muir?
Mr Flanigan —No, I do not.
Senator WONG —You will see DOTARS indicate at least in this letter that these works:
... resulted in substantial environmental impacts due to the lack of opportunity for the office to place appropriate environmental controls on the works at the approvals phase is a serious matter.
Mr Flanigan —I have no recollection of ever having seen this letter or of it having been brought to our attention.
Senator WONG —But you confirm you wrote to Mr Muir raising your concerns about the lack of an approval application?
Mr Flanigan —We certainly wrote to the airports corporation about the reported incident to us, yes.
—In that letter did you not alert the corporation to the approval requirements under the EPBC Act?
Mr Flanigan —As I said, I do not have a copy of the exact letter here with me, but we normally do. Certainly my recollection of the photographs that were originally provided to us by the community were that, as you pointed out, the works have the appearance of being quite substantial, and in that context our initial concern was that there may well have been a breach of the act. That was the purpose for our writing to the Westralia Airports Corporation: to get further information.
Mr Borthwick —I have not seen the DOTARS letter but, from what you have said, it sounds as though they are pointing out to the corporation that they should have sought appropriate approval in terms of the EPBC Act, as you were suggesting. As Mr Early suggested, they should have done it rather than us look at it ex post facto. Without having read it at this juncture, I think they are just pointing out to the Westralia Airports Corporation that they should have performed better; and I think we would have agreed with that.
Senator WONG —But there is another point, Mr Borthwick: you have not taken any further enforcement activity in relation to this corporation regarding this matter, have you? You do so on the basis, as I understand Mr Flanigan's evidence, that you did not think there was any likely significant impact on the environment, so therefore they did not need an approval. Is that the position of the department?
Mr Flanigan —On two counts, Senator: firstly, we did not think there was a likely significant impact on the environment, but, secondly, it was an activity that was in place before the legislation came into effect and therefore had some pre-existing use.
Senator WONG —Did you get legal advice on that? I do not think putting in earthmoving machinery is an existing activity. It is clearly a further action. Surely it is not the department's position that the act was not triggered?
Mr Flanigan —I did not say it was solely the reason for our judgment.
Senator WONG —So what was the reason for your judgment that no significant environment impacts were likely?
Mr Flanigan —The principal reason was that the works were confined to the area within which there had previously been drainage, that the works were maintenance works, that the earthworks in the area of the drain had no effect on areas of natural environment and habitat, and that the principal risk was that the drainage works could have an impact on the groundwater hydrology of Munday Swamp and the airports corporation provided us with a report from a consultant hydrologist that the works would not have that effect. That is quite a reasonable conclusion, given that the drain was in place and has been in place for a number of years.
Senator WONG —Did you indicate after your investigation, such as it was, to the corporation the view that the department had, that approval ought to have been sought, or not?
Mr Flanigan —Are you asking, Senator, whether we advised them after our investigation that they should have sought an approval?
Mr Flanigan —I would have to check our files, but the usual approach we take when we have had an investigation and we have looked into a situation and found that there has not been a significant impact is to advise the person we are looking into of that and provide them with, if you like, a warning that if they were to take any future actions that might have a significant impact they should refer them. But it would be unusual for us to require somebody to refer something after we had looked into it and come to a decision that there had not been a breach of the act.
Senator WONG —DOTARS's letter asserts that the works have resulted in substantial environmental impacts and it refers to the potential of degradation of adjacent vegetation, weed invasion and erosion of the site being high as a result of the works carried out. Did you turn your mind to that information?
Mr Flanigan —We certainly turned our mind to the impacts of the activity. As I said, I personally have no recollection of having seen that advice from DOTARS to the airports corporation. I did not turn my mind to the specifics of their letter because I have no recollection of having seen it.
Senator Ian Macdonald —It does not accord with your view, does it?
Mr Flanigan —It does not accord with our view after our investigation.
Senator WONG —So your view was that there was no—
Senator Ian Macdonald —He has told you what his view was.
Mr Borthwick —There is a different requirement—
Senator WONG —So your view, Mr Borthwick—
Mr Borthwick —No, let me finish what I am saying.
Senator WONG —I have not asked my question. Is the department's view that there was no likely impact and therefore an approval was not required, or is it the department's view that an approval ought to have been sought?
Mr Early —It is neither of those things, to be honest.
Senator WONG —What is it, then?
Mr Early —The question is a threshold question. It is whether there was a significant impact on the environment. We are not saying there was no impact on the environment. We believe it was unfortunate. They should have talked to us. We have told them that but—
Senator WONG —Have you? I did not understand from Mr Flanigan that that is the case.
Mr Early —We have had discussions with them and the view was, on the basis of a number of things, including the consultant's report on the hydrology, it did not have a significant impact on the environment.
Senator WONG —A consultant engaged by the corporation who conducted the earthworks?
—But in association with the Western Australian Water and Rivers Commission. We can check and give you more details of precisely what we did in this case, but the threshold issue is whether there was a significant impact on the environment.
Senator WONG —You determined that on the basis of information provided to you by the corporation without doing any inspection yourselves?
Mr Early —We would have to check that. It is not clear to me whether we sought advice from the Western Australian officials either, which we may well have done.
Senator WONG —Is the airport environment officer a Commonwealth officer?
Mr Early —No. It is not a Commonwealth corporation.
Senator WONG —Are they an agent of the Commonwealth?
Mr Forbes —The airport environment officer, as I understand it, is an employee of the Airports Corporation. It is an essential component to their overall management of the airport for multiple purposes, including some of the areas set aside for conservation purposes in the airport.
Senator WONG —Is it part of their brief to notify the department or other regulatory authorities of possible breaches of environmental regulation?
Mr Early —One would hope that it is part of their brief to consider whether or not they need to make a referral under the EPBC Act. They do not have a formal role in terms of notifying breaches to us, although—
Senator WONG —That is not required under the plans?
Mr Early —Essentially the activities of the Westralia Airports Corporation are under the Airports Act 1996 rather than—
Senator WONG —I appreciate that, but there are certain regulatory requirements, are there not, as a result of that?
Mr Early —I do not think there is any requirement on anybody, private companies and other members of the community, to report breaches of the EPBC Act.
Mr Forbes —We would hope that an environment officer would have appropriate stewardship objectives in their terms of reference of employment, which would include conservation objectives for the airport under their management plans.
Senator WONG —Mr Flanigan, did you have any discussions with the environment officer?
Mr Flanigan —I did not personally undertake the compliance investigation for the site.
Senator WONG —Did your investigating officer?
Mr Flanigan —I would have to check my notes.
Mr Early —I understand that we were in touch with the airport environment officer.
Senator WONG —What was the airport environment officer's—
—I am sorry, that is the extent of my brief.
Senator WONG —You think you have got a better brief than Mr Flanigan. Who else then, Mr Early, as part of your compliance investigation did the department have discussions with?
Mr Early —I am not sure. That is why I said we would have to get back to you with more details. As I said, it may well be that we talk to members of the Western Australian government.
Senator WONG —Perhaps you can provide that on notice. Perhaps, Mr Borthwick, you can advise this on notice, given I do not think you are able to now: was the department provided with a copy of the DOTARS letter which I have tabled? If so, when and was any action taken as a result of it? Was any advice provided to the minister and, if so, when?
Mr Borthwick —We are happy to take that on notice, Senator.
Senator WONG —I presume the department provides advice to the minister in the terms of the answer to the question on notice 2901 in the House?
Mr Early —What was that about?
Senator WONG —It is on this issue.
Mr Early —Yes.
Senator WONG —Do you have this?
Mr Early —Yes, I do.
Senator WONG —The first part of the question is:
Is he aware of the Minister for Transport and Regional Services' decision to approve land clearing and drainage of high conservation value banksia vegetation and seasonal wetlands at Perth Airport.
The third part asks `Did he consult with the Minister for Transport' et cetera. The answer to the question refers to precinct 2C, or part of precinct 2C, and a major development plan under the Airports Act 1996 for a warehousing and distribution park on Perth Airport in November 2003. It is the case, is it not, that that actually refers to a different area and a different application—a different issue—from the one we are discussing now?
Mr Early —That is right.
Senator WONG —It was a major development action. Is it section 160 of the EPBC Act?
Mr Early —Yes, that is right.
Senator WONG —This is where you can put in a major development plan application?
Mr Early —Yes.
Senator WONG —Then you get a free ride after that? Is there any reason, given the question specifically refers to wetlands, the department failed to refer to this issue in the answer and referred in fact to a different area of the airport in the answer?
—I am not sure the issue we have just been talking about is even raised in this question, which was actually about the redevelopment of the Perth Airport and the airport master plan.
Senator WONG —Where does it say that? It refers to draining and clearing activity in seasonal wetlands.
Mr Early —If you look at the answer—
Senator WONG —Yes, I know your answer; that is my point. There is a disconnect, Mr Early, if I may say, between the answer and the question. The question is about the wetland clearance. The answer refers to the major development plan.
Mr Early —The question was about the Minister for Transport and Regional Services' decision, which was in fact about the major development plan. The Minister for Transport and Regional Services, as I understand it, has nothing to do with the issue that we had been previously talking about, and so when the question was asked about the Minister for Transport and Regional Services' decision I suppose the assumption was that we were talking about his decision to approve a major development plan under the Airports Act, which involved some land clearing and drainage, because that is part of the major development plan.
Senator WONG —It also refers to unauthorised activity—paragraph 9.
Mr Early —As we have said, this question was quite recent, so it would have taken into account the fact that we had undertaken the investigation and decided—
Senator WONG —There is a reference to unauthorised activity. The answer by the minister is, `I am not aware of any unauthorized activity.'
Mr Early —In our view, there was no unauthorised activity. There was perhaps some unfortunate activity, but it was not unauthorised under the EPBC Act.
Senator WONG —So they did not need to apply for approval?
Mr Early —If there is no significant impact on the environment, then they do not have to seek the approval. I am not saying that it is an ideal way to do business. We would have liked to have had some consultation, but our view is that at the end of the day there was no significant impact on the environment.
Senator WONG —There was no retrospective approval issued?
Mr Flanigan —There was no need for retrospective approval.
Senator WONG —Because you determined on the basis of the corporation's advice that there was no likely significant impact?
Mr Flanigan —And other information.
Senator WONG —What other information?
Mr Flanigan —The material provided by other people and the material provided by the community group.
—Who are the other people? You do not know who they are; is that right? You are going to get back to me on that?
Mr Flanigan —We are going to get back to you with the details, yes.
Senator WONG —Do you recall if you spoke to anyone else, Mr Flanigan?
Mr Flanigan —I did not personally undertake the investigation, so I would need to go back and check the facts.
Senator WONG —So why are you telling me you spoke to other people if you do not even know if he did it?
Senator Ian Macdonald —The officer has told you before that he did not personally do it. He told you before that he will get you all of the details. The officers have indicated, how many times I do not know, that they do not have the details, that they will get them for you, and yet you keep asking him questions.
Senator WONG —I am very happy for him not to provide me with details. What I do not like is his giving an answer referring to matters which he has already said he does not know about and asserting them as if they are truth.
Senator Ian Macdonald —You are asking them for assumptions. They have already told you they do not know and that they will get you the information.
Senator WONG —I am not the one making assumptions.
Senator Ian Macdonald —But you continue to make the accusations and cast innuendo. These people are very professional officers, and the department has a great reputation for the way they operate and the competence and honour with which they operate. They have said they will get you the detail, but you keep pressing them for answers for things they have already told you they do not have the answers to. They try to be helpful and then you try and make something of it by saying they are giving answers about things they do not know anything about. Let us move on. They do not know the answers. They will get you the details. We should move to another question.
Senator WONG —You do not run this hearing, Minister.
Senator Ian Macdonald —I am simply trying to stop wasting everybody's time. They have told you answers three times. I am not quite sure why you cannot understand the answers; I am quite sure everyone else can. My instructions to them will be to answer no more questions on this. They try to be helpful and then you try to make some point out of it, impugning their professional integrity.
Senator WONG —I am happy for Mr Flanigan and Mr Early to go and get further details of the investigations.
Senator Ian Macdonald —Good.
Senator WONG —What I do not accept is answers which are inconsistent when—
Senator Ian Macdonald —If you do not accept that, that is fine, and you can make a speech in the parliament about it.
—I think Mr Flanigan is entitled to know this. If you cannot indicate to me that you in fact spoke to anyone else, then do not answer me that you have.
Senator Ian Macdonald —Thank you for instructing and giving them a lecture on how to answer things. If you have a point to make about it, make a speech in the parliament. Do whatever else you like. Issue a press release. But let us move on. They will give you the details and they will give them to you after research and after proper investigation, which they said about half an hour ago was what they were going to do.
Mr Borthwick —Senator, further to your question, I think your previous remarks were implying that in coming to a decision on this they relied solely on advice from the corporation.
Senator WONG —And the photographs of the community group; I understood that.
Mr Borthwick —And I think what they were trying to say to you is that they did not rely solely on the advice of the corporation.
Senator Ian Macdonald —We should move on. This is not an occasion for a debate but an occasion for asking questions. They have indicated that they will give you a full and complete answer after they have had the advantage of having a look at their notes. On that basis I am going to instruct them not to answer any more questions on this particular point.
Senator WONG —On the issue of the DOTARS letter, Mr Early, as I understand your answer earlier, that was not forwarded to the department?
Senator Ian Macdonald —He has already answered that.
Senator WONG —We can sit here all night.
Senator Ian Macdonald —That is fine by me, Senator, but your bullying tactics will not work with these officers or anyone else, so why don't you just move on. We will give you all of the details you want.
Senator WONG —I am not trying to bully them. I am trying to just clarify if—
Senator Ian Macdonald —It is the third time you have asked the question.
Senator WONG —Mr Early says that he has a brief there. The June letter, which I have tabled, was not the subject of advice from the department; is that correct?
Mr Early —None of the three of us has seen this letter before.
Senator Ian Macdonald —And which he said about an hour ago.
Mr Early —In the chronology of the notes that I have got there is absolutely no reference to it.
Senator WONG —Is there reference to any discussion with DOTARS?
Mr Early —There is reference to discussion with DOTARS later on, but I am not quite sure of the timing. There is certainly no reference to any formal advice from DOTARS along these lines. But it may well be somewhere in the department and we can check and get back to you.
Senator WONG —Could you explain to me what DOTARS' involvement would be in this?
—I do not know.
Senator Ian Macdonald —You would have to go to DOTARS for that.
Mr Early —I am relying—
Senator Ian Macdonald —Leave it. You go to DOTARS for that, not this estimates committee.
Senator WONG —In relation to the airport issues and DOTARS' involvement, is it usual for DOTARS to be involved in applications under the EPBC Act?
Mr Early —The issue is that DOTARS is responsible for the Airports Act. As you mentioned before, when there is a major development plan under the Airports Act, that is the subject of a section 160 referral under the EPBC Act. We then give advice on the major development plan. There is a major development plan that is in the process of development for the Perth Airport.
Senator WONG —So that is where DOTARS' involvement is, in relation to the section 160 applications?
Mr Early —Yes, I think there may well have been some discussion with DOTARS, but I cannot confirm that. That is why I said that I need to check with the people who actually carried out the investigation.
Senator WONG —The section 160 application did not relate at all to the area in question in this incident?
Senator Ian Macdonald —We will take that on notice.
Senator WONG —On what basis?
Senator Ian Macdonald —We will take it on notice and give you an accurate answer, Senator. To save your asking anything else on this issue, we will take it on notice.
Senator WONG —Why?
Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr Chairman, if there are no more questions, can we call the committee off and all go home.
Senator WONG —There are plenty more questions.
Senator Ian Macdonald —It seems there are no other questions.
Senator WONG —I am happy to keep going.
Senator Ian Macdonald —All right. Please ask a question. If it is related to this, I can save your breath, because we will simply take it on notice. Mr Chairman, if there are no other questions, can we call the committee off?
Senator WONG —Are you going to play games all night, Minister?
Senator Ian Macdonald —We are here to answer questions. I have not had a question.
Senator WONG —Yes, I am trying to ask questions. You just issued an extraordinary instruction to the department to take everything on notice, even if they could answer it now.
Senator Ian Macdonald
—We have been through this so often. The officers about half an hour ago now indicated to you that they were not personally involved and they would need the opportunity to check records. But you persisted and so the only way to move this on is to take them all on notice. You will get fully accurate and professional answers, as we would expect from this department, after they have had the opportunity of speaking to people involved, the relevant people, and looking up the relevant records.
Senator WONG —I presume the relevant officer is not here?
Senator Ian Macdonald —We will take that on notice.
Senator WONG —You cannot take that on notice.
Senator Ian Macdonald —We are.
Senator WONG —You cannot take that on notice. That is just ridiculous. That is just a fit of pique.
Senator Ian Macdonald —Just move on.
CHAIR —I think it would be a good idea if we moved on to another subject. If you have got other programs to go through, let us do it.
Senator WONG —Could you give me an update, Mr Early, on the issue we discussed earlier—Stuart shale oil?
Mr Early —There is not a lot to report. Essentially what happened was that Southern Pacific Petroleum, which has been the proponent for the project, went into liquidation last year and the project was sold to a new company, Queensland Energy Resources Ltd. We have had a couple of discussions with them recently this month informing them about the project, which, as you know, is still at the draft environmental impact statement stage, and there are a number of outstanding issues which the company has to provide in order for it to progress. Sorry, I beg your pardon. That is not right. It is at the final EIS stage. We have asked for additional information, which has not yet been forthcoming. We have had discussions with the company, and in fact joint discussions with the Queensland government, about the issues that need to be provided. There has not really been a lot of progress.
Senator WONG —Nothing much further since the last estimates?
Mr Early —No. The issues are the same as they were at the last estimates?
Senator WONG —On the nuclear dump, there has been quite a bit of activity by ARPANSA, and your request under the EIS for additional—is it ground water hydrology?
Mr Early —Yes, that is right.
Senator WONG —Has that work actually been performed?
Mr Early —I do not think so. The work, as I understand it, that ARPANSA has asked for is very similar to the work that we asked for. So I assume that DEST will do that and present it to both of us, presumably to ARPANSA first.
Senator WONG —The request you made of DEST was for more on that issue—and anything else?
—There was a number of—
Senator WONG —That was in 2003?
Mr Early —May 2003.
Senator WONG —And you have not been provided with anything as yet?
Mr Early —No, but we would not have expected to necessarily, because we knew always that ARPANSA would be having to issue the licence, and a lot of this work that we asked for would be also asked for by ARPANSA.
Senator WONG —There is a conditional approval pending the performance of that and some other works?
Mr Early —Yes, there is a requirement for DEST to come back to the minister with an environment management and monitoring plan, which the minister will need to approve. But the issue in relation to the ground water is one of the issues that needs to be included within that environment management and monitoring plan.
Senator WONG —Have you or has anyone in your division considered some of the work that ARPANSA has done which has criticised substantial components of DEST's application for the purposes of relooking at your EIS conditions?
Mr Early —We have not. As I understand it, ARPANSA criticised the application as being difficult to navigate—
Senator WONG —Amongst other things—the fact that there was a single application in respect of three licence functions.
Mr Early —Yes.
Senator WONG —And there were the transport issues. Quite a number of both technical and other criticisms have been made by ARPANSA of the application.
Mr Early —Yes, but in the sense that that is an application for a licence for ARPANSA. I must say that we have not even looked at that application, because we do not have a role.
Senator WONG —You do not have a statutory role but at some point you have to sign off on it. Is that something that you intend to inform yourselves about if and when DEST does seek to perform all of the conditions of approval?
Mr Early —Certainly it will have to come back to our minister, because the repository actually cannot commence until our minister gives that final approval to the environment management and monitoring plan. We are assuming that a lot of the issues that we have will be dealt with through the ARPANSA process.
Senator WONG —Is it possible that the ARPANSA process may actually give rise to additional issues that the department may have concerns about?
Mr Early —I doubt it. Obviously we will be looking at the final outcome. It is just that we do not really have the time or resources to be shadowing the ARPANSA process.
—No, I understand that. But at some point it is going to come back to you. Are you intending to look at the criticisms and response by DEST and ARPANSA?
Mr Early —We will be looking at the final ARPANSA approval or otherwise. As I said, most of the issues that ARPANSA has raised are ones that we have already raised ourselves.
Senator WONG —Did you say it was difficult to navigate, too?
Mr Early —I have not even bothered to look at it.
Senator WONG —No, not you personally. Was that one of the criticisms the department made?
Mr Early —No, the criticism by ARPANSA was of the application to ARPANSA, as I understand it, not of the EIS itself.
Senator WONG —I have nothing more on approvals and wildlife.
CHAIR —We move to Corporate Strategies Division.
Senator WONG —I turn to the projected job levels or numbers of jobs in the environment department. What is the projection over the next couple of years in this budget?
Mr Anderson —We have set that out in the PBS. The estimate for the current year, 2003-04, for the core department is 833 ASL. For 2004-05 that is projected at 883. So we are looking at an increase of 50 ASL in the budget for the core department. That does include some technical transfers between agencies within the overall portfolio. With the demise of the Australian Heritage Commission those staff now technically transfer to the department. So it is a net adjustment. If you take that out of the equation it is just a modest increase of about 20 ASL in the current budget.
Senator WONG —Can you just take me to the table in the PBS?
Mr Anderson —It is on page 49. I should just correct those figures. I rounded them down rather than rounding them up. In fact, they should be 834 and 884.
Senator WONG —How does that relate to Budget Paper No. 1, page 1026, which has a 63 net loss between 2003-04?
Mr Anderson —That was last year's budget.
Senator WONG —Yes, I understand that.
Mr Early —Last year we had a reduction of 63; this year we have an addition of 50.
Senator WONG —In 2003-04, where did the 63 come from in the current financial year?
Mr Anderson —That was a scaling down across a range of programs.
Senator WONG —Which programs?
—I would have to go back and check, but most programs were affected. It essentially reflected lapsing programs that were not renewed or programs that were renewed but not at the former level. So it was just an adjustment across a number of programs and some general tightening of staffing figures generally across the department.
Senator WONG —Any from the Natural Resource Management Division?
Mr Anderson —I would have to go back and check. The ASL figures are essentially a secondary control; the primary important control is the actual salary allocation to each division. That then allows them to essentially buy staff. So whilst we have figures in the budget for ASL, through the year that will adjust up and down depending on the capacity of divisions to fund the staff.
Senator WONG —Just comparing the two PBS statements—Budget Paper No. 1—did the 63 actually ever occur? I notice on page 1027 of this budget's Budget Paper No. 1 the figure of 1,226 appears to be the figure, without the reduction of 63 in 2002-03. Did you understand the question?
Mr Anderson —I am just trying to—
Senator WONG —Average staffing levels for 2002-03 in the 2003-04 budget paper was 1,226 and then supposedly for 2003-04 there was a net reduction of 63. But in this year's budget paper the 2003-04 figure is 1,226—that is, without the reduction. Did the reduction actually not occur?
Mr Anderson —It occurred at the budget time, but through the year there were some additional adjustments. For example, we took on facilitators to support the regional delivery of the Natural Heritage Trust Program, so there were increases in ASL through the year. We also got some additional ASLs for national projects delivered through the NHT, so through the year there were subsequent adjustments. At the end of the year, we did not have to make that reduction of 63 because of the increases I mentioned.
Senator WONG —I do not know whether you can answer this. The loss of 40 in the Heritage Commission will presumably go to the council now—is that right?
Mr Anderson —The Heritage Commission—effectively that was a transfer into the department.
Senator WONG —What about the national parks—down 12?
Mr Anderson —I would have to check, but my understanding is that that reflects, again, a technical transfer of staff coming from parks into the department with the transfer of some marine functions.
Senator WONG —That is Mr Oxley's area. Thank you very much, Mr Anderson.
CHAIR —We will now discuss the Heritage Division.
—Mr Leaver, I think last time we were here we were discussing Norfolk Island. I think the day after the estimates the council was announced. I turn to the six nominations we were referring to on the last occasion on Norfolk Island, which had not yet been fully assessed by the commission. Has the council now commenced assessment of those sites?
Mr Leaver —The six Norfolk Island sites?
Senator WONG —Yes.
Mr Leaver —Yes, there has now been a formal nomination under the new heritage regime to the Commonwealth Heritage List for those sites.
Senator WONG —The ACF nomination from how many years ago is it now?
Mr Leaver —Anyhow, what is the question?
Senator WONG —When did the ACF nomination to the commission of these six sites first occur?
Mr Leaver —I would have to check now.
Senator WONG —We are talking about quite a number of years, aren't we?
Mr Leaver —Yes.
Senator WONG —Are you now suggesting that they have to renominate to the council and the council will not commence assessment unless the ACF renominate them?
Mr Leaver —They have renominated them and the council has commenced assessment.
Senator WONG —It has commenced assessment? I thought you said there had been no nomination?
Mr Leaver —No, six sites have been nominated for the Commonwealth Heritage List and the council has started its nomination process.
Senator WONG —When did that commence?
Mr Leaver —April—
Senator WONG —Council has started its assessment process; is that what you mean?
Mr Leaver —Yes. From memory, the call for public comment was on 2 April.
Dr Reville —The six nominations to the Commonwealth Heritage List were referred to the council, I think, on about 26 February. Subsequently the chair of the council has written to the chief minister on Norfolk Island to engage the Norfolk Island government in the process as well. The Norfolk Island government has agreed to that and will be visiting the island next week.
Senator WONG —I think on the last occasion you were saying that the exact boundaries were still an issue that your staff were looking at. Have the boundaries been determined?
Dr Reville —Yes, the boundaries are fairly clear now with the nominations. The step now is to get a common process with the Norfolk Island government.
—I think on the last occasion I raised with you the possibility of the sale of the land inclusive of the nominated land and you said to me, `We are not aware of an imminent sale.' Do you have any further information about the likely DOTARS timetable for the sale?
Dr Reville —We discussed the matter with DOTARS. The land transfers, I understand, are scheduled to occur during the second half of this year. But we would hope that we would have an assessment process under way preferably jointly with the Norfolk Island government. As you know, the Norfolk Island government has its own heritage legislation in place at present. It probably would be a very good thing if we could get an assessment done which satisfied both the Commonwealth Heritage List criteria and also the Norfolk Island heritage legislation.
Senator WONG —I think these ACF nominations go back to 1996. With the new nomination to the council, presumably all of the work that has been done is picked up by the council?
Dr Reville —Yes, all of the information that was available for those places will be used.
Senator WONG —There are a number of prerequisites, I think we discussed on the last occasion, or preconditions prior to any sale being effected that the Commonwealth has identified; is that correct?
Dr Reville —Yes, we did discuss that.
Senator WONG —Is that still the case?
Dr Reville —These were major agreements at a fairly high level, such as the Norfolk Island Planning Act being revised, such as the Heritage Act being passed or implemented on Norfolk Island. I think those broad issues have been satisfied.
Senator WONG —So all of the preconditions of sale have been satisfied, as you understand them?
Dr Reville —No, I think the issues in relation to heritage—those two major issues—have been addressed. The matter of the land transfer itself would be a matter for DOTARS; we are not actually responsible for that, as you know. We are involved in the heritage issues.
Senator WONG —I understand that. You referred last time to the answer to question No. 33, and you said this in Hansard, Tuesday, 17 February:
The answer to question No. 33 points out that there were a number of conditions that the government had put in place before any transfer of the places could occur.
It goes through and explains what those conditions are that have to be met. Those are the preconditions I am asking about. Have those been satisfied?
Dr Reville —I understand they have.
Senator WONG —So there is nothing currently preventing the sale by DOTARS of land including the nominated areas?
Dr Reville —As far as I know, those conditions have been met. I do not know whether there are other matters for DOTARS to consider which would not be related to heritage issues.
Senator WONG —Is there any problem from the heritage perspective with the land being sold prior to the council finalising its assessment?
—I do not know whether one would call it a problem, Senator. There are a number of things that DOTARS would have to satisfy in the transfer as well.
Senator WONG —Satisfy whom?
Dr Reville —For example, DOTARS also has a responsibility to identify heritage values. All Commonwealth agencies under the new legislation have to do a thing called a heritage strategy, which includes identifying heritage values of the land they currently hold. They would have to do that for places on Norfolk Island as well which are currently Commonwealth land. The normal process on the mainland, for example, if a Commonwealth heritage place does pass out of Commonwealth ownership is that one tries to get it suitably protected. One of the means of doing that is to get it on the state heritage register. One of the advantages on Norfolk Island of getting the Norfolk Island government engaged is that it would be preferable to ensure that any heritage assessment could satisfy both Commonwealth heritage criteria and Norfolk Island criteria, because if transfer did occur and we had not finished the assessment or something like that, then hopefully we would have the Norfolk Island legislation available as well. It is sort of a double security system in terms of looking after the values.
Senator WONG —The council cannot prevent the sale by DOTARS prior to the assessment being finalised?
Dr Reville —No, the council is only involved in heritage assessment issues; it does not get involved in what other issues there may be about the land transfer. But DOTARS would have to consider all those issues. They have a responsibility as a Commonwealth agency under the act to consider that sort of thing.
Senator WONG —Can I ask how you are aware that the preconditions that you referred to previously have been satisfied?
Dr Reville —As you can see, they are fairly substantial ones which are fairly readily, I think, checked. For example, the revision of the Norfolk Island plan has occurred. It has gone through, as I understand it, the Norfolk Island Assembly, and certainly the Norfolk Island Heritage Act has been passed through the Assembly and implemented. I am not actually sure whether the plans for the management of public reserves affects these particular assessments. That is something we can confirm in the assessment itself. I understand that they have been done as well. But again, the issues about satisfying those requirements are for DOTARS. The responsibility of the Heritage Council is to satisfy the requirements in the heritage amendments to EPBC.
Senator WONG —Did I understand your earlier answer then? If the preconditions have been satisfied—I presume there is advice from DOTARS to you to that effect?
Dr Reville —Yes. This is over a fairly long period.
Senator WONG —So DOTARS' view is that those preconditions have been satisfied?
Dr Reville —With those particular ones I understand that is the case.
—Do I understand that you are saying that if the assessment is not finalised prior to the sale, the only protection is under the Norfolk Island heritage regime, or did I misunderstand your answer?
Dr Reville —I would not be prepared to say that, because DOTARS also has responsibilities. It is very much up to them as well to fulfil their responsibilities as a Commonwealth agency which currently is responsible for the land. They have heritage responsibilities under the act as well. What I am trying to avoid is saying something beyond my current responsibilities. I would not like to, if you like, speak for them, because they have their own responsibilities to fulfil.
Senator WONG —Does anyone assess or do you have a role in assessing or providing advice regarding the actions of Commonwealth agencies in compliance with those obligations?
Dr Reville —I would have to check the particular clause of the heritage amendments, but they have I think a requirement to seek advice from the Heritage Council on things like the heritage values of the properties. There is a range of other responsibilities of Commonwealth heritage agencies in the potential disposal of land, but I might turn to one of my colleagues on that, if I may.
Mr Leaver —I have just received advice of which I was not aware; it is fairly recent. My understanding is that DOTARS is referring the potential sale of the land under the EPBC Act.
Senator WONG —I was just going to ask about that. So they have actually referred it? When did they do that?
Mr Leaver —I would have to refer to our friend Mr Early.
Senator WONG —Mr Early, I did not realise you had a role in this already.
Mr Leaver —They have indicated that they will be referring it, but they have not as yet?
Senator WONG —What is the process then? How does the EPBC Act interact with the heritage stuff?
Mr Leaver —The heritage provisions are amendments to the EPBC Act.
Senator WONG —The Minister for the Environment and Heritage will then have to give approval for the sale; is that right? Maybe you had better come back, Mr Early.
Mr Leaver —The reference is to whether the amendments will have a significant impact on the environment, whether the sale—
Senator WONG —Whether the sale; is that right?
Mr Early —Yes, Senator. Under section 28 of the act, as a Commonwealth agency, if the action by DOTARS is likely to have a significant impact on the environment then they should refer. If the minister decides that it is going to have a significant impact then they will need assessment and approval under the act.
Senator WONG —Okay. And they do not concede that they need approval; is that correct? But they have referred it?
—My understanding is that they believe it will not have a significant impact on the environment, but they are taking a cautious approach and referring—
Senator WONG —Unlike the airports corporation?
Mr Early —Exactly.
Senator WONG —To confirm whether or not a significant impact is likely. A `significant impact' could also be on heritage values; is that right?
Mr Early —Yes, the environment includes heritage values.
Senator WONG —So you will have to make a decision or the minister or his delegate will have to make a decision as to whether there would be a significant likely impact?
Mr Early —Yes, whether that was likely.
Senator WONG —Do we know the time frame for this application?
Mr Early —I gather it is reasonably soon. I have just had some discussions with DOTARS officials and they told me that they would be referring it reasonably soon.
Senator WONG —Have the nominators been advised of this?
Mr Leaver —I just found out myself.
Senator WONG —I guess you have not advised them, Mr Leaver. Mr Early?
Mr Early —No, when the referral is received it will go up on the web site immediately.
Senator WONG —What about the council? Presumably it has not been advised, either.
Mr Leaver —Not at this stage, no.
Senator WONG —What effect does that have on their assessment process?
Mr Leaver —Nothing. They have got the job to assess and they will assess.
Senator WONG —Regardless of whether there is a sale or not?
Mr Leaver —While the nomination is current then the assessment would proceed.
CHAIR —We now turn to the Land, Water and Coasts Division.
Senator WONG —Mr Glyde, I think you said to me any NHT issues should go to the next division Natural Resource Management. Is that right?
Mr Glyde —Yes, the administration.
Senator WONG —On the last occasion we were discussing load targets, I think. I notice in your answer to a question on notice that the department—and presumably the minister—now recalls that there was a previous commitment to implement load targets; is that right? It is question No. 67. I asked, `Was there not an election commitment to promote achievement of pollutant load targets through the NAP and NHT?' Am I asking the wrong people? Is that NRM? I recall the Hansard that I have looked at just before you were answering questions—
—Yes, the answer is as provided, that in cooperation with the Queensland government we would promote achievement of end of river pollution targets for catchments adjacent to the GBR.
Senator WONG —So, Dr O'Connell, what of your statement at the previous estimates that the load targets were proposals only and have been overtaken by the reef water quality protection plan?
Dr O'Connell —I think we had a discussion on 17 February. Are you talking about pollution load targets?
Senator WONG —Yes. I think you stated that those targets were proposals, only you had been overtaken by the reef plan.
Dr O'Connell —If you recall, we had a discussion last time about the matters for target under the NAP and NHT plans, and those included water quality targets. I think this goes back to our discussion about pollution load targets or water quality targets. Is that what you are referring to?
Senator WONG —Yes.
Dr O'Connell —The NAP, NHT and NRM regional plans do require that the regions look at the matters for target. I think we discussed then, and I again have here, the attachment to the South Australian agreement as an example of the agreements we have, with the matters for target included. I do not think that there is any distinction that I understand. The regions will still have to provide water quality targets in their plans.
Senator WONG —Water quality targets or pollution load targets—I think there is a significant distinction. I just raise the concern that I previously asked about these but it did not seem that anyone at the table, including the minister, recalled that this was an election commitment. I presume that you are all aware of it now?
Dr O'Connell —The expression of the election commitment that we have that you are referring to—and it is referred to in question 67—is given effect to through the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. We discussed that, the nature of the role of the NRM regional plans in that and their requirement to have water quality targets.
Senator WONG —Was the department not aware of that election commitment until it was raised at the last estimates?
Dr O'Connell —I think the department was aware of the election commitment.
Senator WONG —You had to take the question on notice because you could not recall.
Dr O'Connell —What I am getting at is that the government went through the process with Queensland of developing the water quality protection plan as its response to the need to protect the reef.
Senator WONG —Mr Slatyer, what is your division's involvement, if any, in Great Barrier Reef water quality? Do you have any involvement in that?
—Yes. We administer the Great Barrier Reef Coastal Wetlands Protection Program. We also administer the Coastal Catchments Initiative, which has some activities in the reef lagoon.
Senator WONG —Why has the government not endorsed the load targets and action plan that GBRMPA issued in 2001?
Mr Slatyer —I think, as has already been canvassed this time and last time, the government's policy on targets is set out in the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.
Senator WONG —Which does not provide for water quality load targets.
Dr O'Connell —The targets that you are referring to were proposed in 2001 by the authority. The authority was closely involved in the development of the plan. That was one of the inputs into the planning proposal. The governments jointly made the decision to approach the water quality issue for the reef through the natural resource management planning process and maintain the structure of that process in terms of the overall approach. As I say, the result is to look to the plan's developing water quality targets as part of that planning process.
Senator WONG —Water quality targets, but not pollution load targets.
Dr O'Connell —Not necessarily pollution load targets.
Senator WONG —In working with the regional bodies to develop plans, are there any criteria or benchmarks for the water quality objectives?
Dr O'Connell —I refer again to our conversations in February, when I think we discussed the role of the National Water Quality Management Strategy and the nature of setting targets under that. But Mr Hooy may be able to fill that out.
Mr Hooy —At the moment, the government is in the process of developing various modules for regional groups, and there is a reef module under preparation. I have not seen the latest iteration but it is my expectation that it will assist regional groups in setting water quality targets.
Senator WONG —What do the modules consist of, Mr Hooy?
Mr Hooy —Essentially they are guidelines to assist regional groups to meet the accreditation criteria for the regional plans.
Senator WONG —Is there anything in the accreditation criteria that requires end-of-river pollution load targets?
Mr Hooy —Not as far as I am aware.
Senator WONG —Do we know why the government's pre-election commitment, which you have referred to, to end-of-river pollution load targets is not included as one of the benchmarks for the regional plans?
Mr Hooy —It is part of the regional planning process.
Senator WONG —I understand that.
—It depends to a certain extent on how groups see a particular water quality issue and how they feel they are best equipped to deal with that issue. So, as was said this morning, in some cases load targets might be appropriate, in others there might be other targets, for example, activity targets, which make it more appropriate to get the same end result.
Senator WONG —But there is a commitment by the government to end-of-river pollution load targets?
Mr Slatyer —The commitment as currently stated is in the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. The regional plans cannot be approved unless they are accredited. The accreditation criteria require compliance with national policies and standards. One of those policies is this document, and another is the national water quality standards. It is through those mechanisms that the regional process is expected to produce an appropriate outcome for water quality.
Senator WONG —But as I understood Mr Hooy's evidence, and I could be wrong, the criteria for accreditation does not include any pollution load targets or the inclusion of pollution load targets in the plan?
Mr Hooy —The accreditation criteria require consistency with government policy, so if government policy is load targets there will be load targets set.
Senator WONG —Does the current accreditation criteria include pollution load targets?
Mr Hooy —The accreditation criteria have a requirement that the regional plans have to be consistent with overarching government policy.
Senator WONG —How are the regional bodies supposed to understand what government policy is. On the one hand we have an election commitment; on the other hand, as I understand Dr O'Connell's evidence, we have load targets that were proposals that have been overtaken by the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. Am I wrong?
Dr O'Connell —We had this discussion in February, but I think it may be worth clarifying the distinction between pollution load targets and water quality targets. As stated in the answer to question 68 that was put on notice, water quality targets would typically look to set targets for levels of salinity, nitrogen, phosphorus, sediments and suspended particulate matter—as, for example, in the Fitzroy Basin draft NRM plan. That would be what you typically would expect to see, particularly in the catchments off the reef. That could be water quality targets, not necessarily pollutant load targets, but we would typically expect to see those.
Senator WONG —The reef plan does not provide for water quality load targets, does it?
Dr O'Connell —Pollutant load targets—no.
Senator WONG —Nor does it provide any guidance on the extent to which pollutant loads should be reduced—correct?
Dr O'Connell —No, it seeks to reach the objectives that are set in the plan through the NRM processes, placing particular emphasis on those plans needing to meet the requirements to protect water quality entering the reef.
—Can you explain the difference between the 2001 action plan—which called for, in some instances, up to 50 per cent interim load reduction over a 10-year period—and the reef plan, which seeks only to halt and reverse water quality decline in 10 years? It is a substantial difference in protection.
Dr O'Connell —I am not particularly familiar with the earlier document. Are you talking about the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority proposal?
Senator WONG —The 2001 action plan, yes.
Dr O'Connell —I am not particularly familiar with it. I do not have that with me.
Senator WONG —So it is obviously not a document you are working off at all in relation to reef water quality?
Dr O'Connell —No. I can give its status a little bit more clearly. It was an input at that early stage. As a document informing government policy, it has now essentially been overtaken, both by the agreed Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and then also by the broader context of the NRM plans that have been accredited. It was essentially—
Senator WONG —Yes, I understand. Explain to me then, given the election commitment that was referred to in an answer to the question on notice 67, how you are actually seeking to achieve end-of-river pollution load targets when they are not required under the reef plan, nor are they required in the accreditation criteria for any of the regional plans.
Mr Slatyer —Water quality targets are required under the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, as we have said. The accreditation criteria require plans to conform to these sorts of policies, and they will be accredited if they do conform.
Senator WONG —Have you previously provided me with a copy of the accreditation criteria? I cannot recall seeing that in the questions on notice.
Mr Slatyer —If not, we can do so.
Senator WONG —Mr Hooy, is the module you refer to an amendment to the accreditation criteria?
Mr Hooy —It is a tool for community work.
Senator WONG —Can you provide that, too?
Mr Hooy —As I said earlier, it is currently under development. I think we are up to iteration 3. I am not quite sure what the development timetable is. I am informed the final draft is expected within weeks, so we can do that when it is completed.
Senator WONG —Do I understand the position to be that, essentially, the government has walked away from any specified load reduction targets?
Mr Slatyer —There is no requirement in the current policy for specified load reduction targets.
—We discussed the draft Fitzroy plan last time and I suggested there were concerns that had been raised regarding the water quality planning aspect of that draft plan. What action has the government taken since then to ensure competent water quality planning is undertaken prior to the plan being accredited?
Mr Hooy —The plan is still a draft, as I understand it. The Australian government has provided comments on that plan. My understanding is that we expect the final plan to be completed any day. But we have provided comments on that plan.
Senator WONG —Is it the case that the draft plan did not place any objective of no net decline in water quality entering the reef—in other words, a base line position as opposed to improving water quality?
Mr Slatyer —As we advised in our answer to question 68, the draft at that time did not include that information.
Senator WONG —Have you sought that such targets be included in the plan?
Mr Slatyer —We do not have that material with us, so we would need to take on notice the specifics of our advice on that.
Mr Hooy —I am advised that we have drawn this issue to the Fitzroy regional body's attention and that they are taking our comments into account.
Senator WONG —Your comments being, `You've got to do a little bit better than saying “no net decline in water quality”'?
Mr Hooy —We expect the plan to be consistent with the reef plan. We expect it to take into account the objectives of the reef plan.
Senator WONG —And in particular an improvement in water quality?
Mr Hooy —One would hope that would be an outcome of the plan. One would expect so.
Senator WONG —We have moved a long way, haven't we, from the GBRMPA targets, of a substantial reduction in pollutant load, to the draft Fitzroy plan which, from our last discussion, suggests an objective is no net decline in water quality standards?
Mr Hooy —I will make the comment that the reef plan is focussing on diffuse sources of pollution. Unlike sewage treatment plants and other concentrated forms of pollution, where one can regulate and in fact impose outcomes, when you are dealing with diffuse sources of pollution essentially caused by broad scale community activity then you have to bring the community on board. The process that has been set out in the reef plan is very much aimed at doing that.
Senator WONG —Isn't the reef plan's objective to halt and reverse water quality decline during the 10-year life of the plan?
Mr Hooy —That is correct.
Senator WONG —Surely what would be required in plans such as the Fitzroy plan is an improvement in water quality?
Mr Hooy —Yes.
Senator WONG —Is it going to achieve that? It does not specify that.
—Our objective, clearly, would be that these plans result in improvements and halts and reversals in the decline—because there is some built-in decline in water quality as a result of the land use practices. So that is what we would expect to see. The point that Mr Hooy was making regarding pollutant load targets—we discussed this in February—is relevant. Pollutant load targets are best placed in areas where you have a point source and easily regulated forms, as opposed to the sediment.
Senator WONG —Given the hour, I do not really want to have a long discussion about pollutant load targets. I was trying to move away from that. But as I understand it the GBRMPA plan is looking at end-of-river load targets. It is recognising the diffuse sources of pollution which occur upstream. What I want to clarify is this: didn't the draft Fitzroy plan have in relation to water quality an objective in relation to water quality of no net decline over the period of the plan? Is that right?
Mr Hooy —I am not aware that it did that.
Senator WONG —It did not even do that?
Mr Hooy —I do not recall, I am sorry.
Senator WONG —Did it set any objectives in relation to water quality?
Mr Hooy —It made a commitment, as we said in our previous answer, to set catchment targets for levels of salinity, nitrogen, phosphorous and sediments and suspended particulate matter within five years.
Senator WONG —So the plan was going to set targets in five years?
Mr Hooy —That is what the draft was proposing, yes.
Senator WONG —Does that meet with your accreditation criteria?
Mr Hooy —We have not accredited it.
Dr O'Connell —I think we are agreeing that—
Senator WONG —That was a problem?
Dr O'Connell —I have a feeling that we are agreeing that the draft of the plan that was made public was not sufficient for the purposes and we have gone back to the Fitzroy Basin Association on that.
Senator WONG —Isn't there a concern that as it has already been published for public comment it might be difficult to redo the water quality planning element prior to accreditation?
Dr O'Connell —I do not think that is necessarily right. I do not see why a draft plan cannot be modified; it tends to be the purpose of a draft plan to seek comment and to modify.
Senator WONG —Isn't it the case that load targets could actually drive action? There is no disengagement with the community inherent in setting a load target, is there? There is nothing intrinsically disengaging.
—It is not clear to me that a load target is such a powerful tool, as you seem to suggest, in a diffuse environment.
Senator WONG —It is not so much me; I am relying pretty much on the authority.
Dr O'Connell —I think the authority use that to clearly raise the issue of the need to address the water quality at end of valley, and I think that is what we have done.
Senator WONG —Can I just take issue with your suggestion about questioning the utility of load targets in the context of diffuse source pollution spheres. Evidence we took earlier today was that James Cook University and the Baker report suggested that they were a very useful tool in improving water quality and reducing the pollutant load on the reef.
Dr O'Connell —Well—
Senator WONG —I am happy to move on; we are just not going to agree on this, Dr O'Connell.
Dr O'Connell —I think that is right.
Senator WONG —That is fine. I asked you some questions last time regarding the commitment to spend $350 million directly on measures to improve water quality. I refer to question on notice No. 60.
Ms Schweizer —That is correct.
Senator WONG —So, of the $350 million, $38 million was approved to date, of which you say $18.994 million had a water quality component other than planning and monitoring.
Ms Schweizer —That is correct.
Senator WONG —Do I assume that it is actually on measures which directly improve water quality, the $18.994, or do they do other things with that money?
Ms Schweizer —They do not do planning and monitoring, so we would take them as directly improving water quality. But, as we stated before, we believe that planning and monitoring activities are essential for directly improving water quality.
Senator WONG —I am just trying to disaggregate them. I am just wondering whether there is anything else that that $18.994 million is spent on.
Ms Schweizer —No, I would take it to be direct activities.
Senator WONG —In February 2004 the Senate was supplied with a list of titles of projects that were identified as contributing to the $315 million commitment: the Four Corners bore watering scheme and conserving water through capping the bore. Were they identified as water quality improvement projects?
Ms Schweizer —I would have to check. I do not have with me a full list of the projects that have been identified as contributing to the commitment.
Senator WONG —Would such a project fit with the acquittal guidelines for bore capping?
—Without having the documentation I could not confirm it. I would suggest that bore capping, on the whole, would be helpful to water quality, but we would have to chase that up.
Ms Schweizer —Generally the bore-capping program is not funded from the trust.
Senator WONG —That is why I am raising it.
Ms Schweizer —It would depend where the individual activity was funded from. If it was not funded from the trust it could not be acquitted against the trust commitment.
Senator WONG —I ask you to refer to the Senate question on notice which, I think, was answered on 10 February and clarify whether the projects there were funded from the trust or from other sources.
Ms Schweizer —I can do that.
Senator WONG —On the last occasion, you indicated that you were about to review the acquittal guidelines for the $350 million commitment. Has that review been finalised?
Ms Schweizer —It is being undertaken in two parts. One part is reviewing all the projects that have been identified as contributing to the commitment, to check for consistency across them. The second part is reviewing the acquittal guidelines themselves. The review of the acquittal guidelines was being undertaken by the NHT advisory committee, who concluded their meeting in Perth yesterday, so I have not had a report back. The other process is taking a slightly longer time. While it has commenced, we expect it to take a couple of months because quite a large number of projects are included in that list.
Senator WONG —Is there consultation on the acquittal guidelines with state and regional bodies?
Ms Schweizer —No. There is consultation with the NHT advisory committee.
Senator WONG —Will the acquittal guidelines have linkages to the National Water Quality Management Strategy?
Ms Schweizer —They are directly linked to the National Water Quality Management Strategy.
Senator WONG —There is a reference in my notes—and I have to confess that I do not know much about this—that suggests there is double counting of some funding under this acquittal. For example, the overarching Coastal Catchments Initiative is listed under this as well as under the relevant state water quality improvement plans and projects. If so, what is the quantum of double counting today as a proportion of the total acquittal?
Ms Schweizer —Part of the review is in part to go through all the projects that have been acquitted to look for things like that, because acquittals are done across the portfolios—agriculture and environment—and periodically the guidelines say we do need to review them for consistency and issues such as the one you have raised. That review is under way.
Senator WONG —So there are more than the one I have raised?
Ms Schweizer —I will have no idea until the review is concluded.
—Is the review going to be made public?
Ms Schweizer —That would be a matter for the board.
Senator WONG —These are de facto investment guidelines for over a third of NHT2—$350 million.
Ms Schweizer —I believe it is in the order of 20 per cent.
Senator WONG —Minister, is the government intending to make the acquittal guidelines public?
Ms Schweizer —They are public.
Senator WONG —The revised guidelines on how you spend the NHT money on water quality?
Ms Schweizer —If there are changes to the guidelines, they will need to be public because they are used by the joint steering committees to help acquit these. In that sense, they are not secret. But they will only be promulgated again if that changes.
Senator WONG —I thought you said that was a decision for government.
Ms Schweizer —There is a set of acquittal guidelines in place already, and they are being reviewed. But there is also a review of projects that have been identified as contributing to that target.
Senator WONG —That is the issue you are saying is a decision for government to make public?
Ms Schweizer —That is right.
Senator WONG —Thank you. I misunderstood your answer. I move now to natural resource management. What financial commitments, as opposed to budget allocations, have been made under the NHT in the 2004-05 budget and for the two out years—2005-06 and 2006-07?
Ms Schweizer —What financial commitments?
Senator WONG —Yes, as opposed to budget allocations.
Ms Schweizer —I would have to take that on notice in order to give you a complete listing.
Senator WONG —That is fine. Can you also indicate, similar to my question on notice 60, how much of the NHT in each of those financial years is committed for water quality improvement projects—excluding planning and monitoring.
Ms Schweizer —Yes.
Senator WONG —How much of the NHT in each of those financial years is currently not committed? I presume you will want to take that on notice too.
Ms Schweizer —Yes.
—Can I confirm that, regarding questions 84 and 89, the figures for the budget commitment in 1999-2000 under NHT of $320.9 million and actual spending of $299.4 million are correct.
Ms Schweizer —For 1999-2000 the original budget allocation was $320.9 million and expenditure was $299.4 million.
Senator WONG —I will go through them and you can tell me if I am right. In 2000-01 it was $361.3 million and $284.3 million.
Ms Schweizer —Correct.
Senator WONG —In 2001-02 it was $274.7 million actual spending—that was the year Mr Beal got it completely right.
Ms Schweizer —Yes, expenditure did match the estimate.
Senator WONG —In 2002-03 it was $250 million and $250 million.
Ms Schweizer —Correct.
Senator WONG —And in 2003-04 it was $250 million and $248.5 million.
Ms Schweizer —No. We cannot give you actual expenditure for the year because there is still a month and three days to go.
Senator WONG —Can you give it date?
Ms Schweizer —Yes. Actual expenditure to date is $195.71 million, or 78 per cent of the trust.
Senator WONG —Does that include money committed?
Ms Schweizer —That is actual expenditure—that is money we have spent.
Senator WONG —Do you know how much is actually the subject of commitments?
Ms Schweizer —The entire budget.
Senator WONG —Are your actual commitments in excess of $250 million?
Ms Schweizer —The board has a practice of overcommitting by up to 10 per cent because many of the projects in which we invest are subject to influence by climatic and seasonal conditions because payment is based on milestones. So it is their standard practice to overcommit.
Senator WONG —Yes, I think you have explained that to me before, but if we are at $195.71 million now, are you able to tell me how much you have actually got committed at this stage.
Ms Schweizer —My recent estimates suggest that I have in the order of about $660,000 that may not come to fruition—it is still committed. Otherwise, it is fully committed up to the $250 million. So, essentially, the full $250 million is committed.
Senator WONG —Plus $660,000 on top of that which is committed but you do not think you will spend. Have I misunderstood your answer?
—Yes. I was probably not very clear. The best answer is that the full $250 million is committed. As to commitments over the $250 million, I would have to take that on notice because a number of those commitments fall away over time. That is why the board overcommits. Some projects do not materialise, such as the earlier example of the NRS—the reserve system. There would be notional commitments there but they do not materialise.
Senator WONG —So your expenses to date are $195.71 million.
Ms Schweizer —That is correct.
Senator WONG —Actual commitments, as opposed to allocated funding, is in excess of $250 million, and you can provide to me on notice, I presume reasonably soon, how much over the $250 million the actual commitments are currently.
Ms Schweizer —That is right, I can do that.
Senator WONG —Thank you. Is the $197 million money that you have actually paid out?
Ms Schweizer —Yes, that is money we have spent.
Senator WONG —Regarding the National Action Plan for Water Quality and Salinity, the original commitment of $700 million was revised in the 2004-05 year at the announcement of the commencement of the four-year funding period to be $170 million. Is that the $152.7 million?
Ms Schweizer —I regret that the funding for the national action plan is appropriated to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and as such I cannot give you any answers.
Senator WONG —You cannot answer questions on this? In that case I thank the witnesses.
CHAIR —We welcome witnesses from the policy coordination and environment protection division of the department.
Senator WONG —Mr Glyde, can we come back to the advertising issue?
Mr Glyde —Yes, I have had a chance to look at that issue. My recollection is that you were asking in relation to the press article in the Courier Mail.
Senator WONG —I was actually asking you in relation to answers provided by PM&C.
Mr Glyde —That is right, and that article referred to the transcript and the evidence that PM&C—
Senator WONG —I have not seen the Courier Mail article, just so you know.
Mr Glyde —It has a good table in it, that's all. There were three items that relate to this portfolio that were covered in the evidence that Greg Williams from PM&C provided. The first related to the media buy for the Natural Heritage Trust, but it is actually the advertising for the Envirofund campaign, which put small grant applications under the NHT. The advertising to encourage people to apply for those grants is $520,000 over the last 18 months.
Senator WONG —That is past expenditure?
Mr Glyde —That is my understanding: it is advertising that has occurred over the last 18 months.
—Is any advertising under that campaign to occur henceforth?
Mr Glyde —I am aware that there will be subsequent rounds of Envirofund and I would imagine that there would be similar campaigns to alert people to the fact that applications are due.
Senator WONG —When is the subsequent round?
Mr Glyde —I will take advice on that.
Senator WONG —Do we need Ms Schweizer for this? I did tell you I was going to ask about this, Mr Glyde!
Senator Ian Macdonald —The next round closes on 6 or 8 July.
Mr Glyde —I am advised that there are two rounds a year, and applications close on 6 July, with another round in the second part of the financial year.
Senator WONG —So the 5.2 is just the media buy?
Mr Glyde —That is $520,000, yes.
Senator WONG —When are we going to see those ads?
Mr Glyde —I am sorry?
Senator WONG —The $520,000 refers to a media buy that has already occurred?
Mr Glyde —I understand that figure is derived from the media buy for the last 18 months of advertising for Envirofund.
Senator WONG —What is the cost of the buy for the next round?
Mr Glyde —I would have to take that on notice. I do not know.
Senator WONG —What was the cost of the creative aspect and the cost of the research?
Mr Glyde —I do not have that information in front of me.
Senator WONG —Can you provide that and the name of the agencies you used?
Mr Glyde —Yes.
Senator WONG —What are the public relations elements of the campaign—are they displays, roadshows, mailouts or just ads?
Mr Glyde —My understanding is that there is no campaign involved in the Envirofund advertising. It is simply buying the space to alert people that it is time to apply for grants. The other two items that were referred to in PM&C estimates evidence do relate to campaigns.
Senator WONG —Do you want to tell me about them?
Mr Glyde —Sure. Mr Williams said that there was a campaign under consideration called environment and resource management, with an estimated value of $5.5 million. This is a project that is under consideration by the Ministerial Council on Government Communications, so it is still in the design phase, but Mr Williams estimated that that was the media buy for that campaign.
—Is it your department that has done it?
Mr Glyde —Yes.
Senator WONG —How much did the research on this cost?
Mr Glyde —What I can give you is the expenditure to date on the strategy and the design of it—I gave you that earlier this morning but I can give it to you again—and the expenditure to date on the market research work. As I said, we are in the process of designing the campaign.
Senator WONG —What is the expenditure to date?
Mr Glyde —The expenditure to date in terms of the strategy—
Senator WONG —Is that the $35,332?
Mr Glyde —Yes. That was for Gavin Anderson. It was $33,432. You asked me this morning whether that was the subject of a tender process, and it was—it was a full tender process run by this department.
Senator WONG —What was the value of the contract?
Mr Glyde —As I said before, it was an hourly rate contract.
Senator WONG —Surely there must have been some estimate. I cannot imagine Finance would—
Mr Glyde —My understanding is that the maximum in the contract for 2003-04 is $82,500.
Senator WONG —What about for the next financial year?
Mr Glyde —I do not have figures for the next financial year. It really depends on what happens to the campaign and the design and whether it is actually approved.
Senator WONG —What is the nature of the campaign?
Mr Glyde —The nature of the campaign is to communicate what is available under the Natural Heritage Trust and the NAP, the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.
Senator WONG —For what purpose?
Mr Glyde —Just to ensure that all Australians are aware of the work that is being done to protect and conserve Australia's environment.
Senator WONG —So it is a PR campaign.
Mr Glyde —It is communicating how Australians can participate in and assist with the protection of the Australian environment.
Senator WONG —Are any other agencies apart from Gavin Anderson involved in that?
Mr Glyde —As I said before, we have had some market research work that has been done. We have spent $153,000 to date in 2003-04. That company was selected through the MCGC process, through a tender process, and the company that has the contract is Open Mind.
Senator WONG —They did market research—is that right?
Senator WONG —Was there anything else in relation to that campaign?
Mr Glyde —No, that is what we have spent to date.
Senator WONG —And the actual media buy has already been expended—is that right?
Mr Glyde —No, it is an estimate.
Senator WONG —Is that proposed for TV, radio and newspapers?
Mr Glyde —I believe so, yes.
Senator WONG —Are there any other roadshows, billboards or other means?
Mr Glyde —I cannot give you that information tonight. As I said, it is still in the development phase. I think we are still in the process of designing exactly the best way to rollout the campaign. It is still going through the approval process the government has.
Senator WONG —Is there any other expenditure associated with that campaign?
Mr Glyde —Not that I am aware of at this stage. Though, if the thing is approved, there will continue to be expenditure.
Senator WONG —Over and above the media buy?
Mr Glyde —Yes. The media buy is part of it. Then you have got to design the ads and so on.
Senator WONG —So this excludes any production costs?
Mr Glyde —That is right. My understanding is that the figure of $5.5 million that Mr Williams provided to estimates earlier this week was in relation to the media buy.
Senator WONG —Alone? That is a lot of media—TV as well.
Senator TCHEN —It is called open government. We let people know what we are doing.
Senator WONG —Yes, you do, don't you. But you will not be advertising what the Tampa cost you. I go to No. 3.
Mr Glyde —No. 3 is—
Senator WONG —Can I just clarify: is that everything?
Mr Glyde —As far as I am aware, yes.
Senator WONG —I go to No. 3.
—No. 3 is a campaign in relation to our Product Stewardship for Oil Program. The oil program, essentially, provides incentives to increase oil recycling. Over the last couple of years, we have been putting in place used oil collection facilities across the country. We have got around 400 that are currently operational, and another 300 are under construction and due to be completed before the end of the year. On Sunday, 16 May, a national advertising campaign was started to motivate consumers to dispose of their oil in the newly created facilities. The advice I have is that the total media buy for the campaign, which is the figure that Mr Williams provided to estimates, was roughly $1.8 million. The campaign is going to run for six weeks. It is going to be on radio, in newspapers and magazines, and on the Internet.
Senator WONG —Were there costs for creative aspects and market research?
Mr Glyde —There were. I will check that I have the right figures. I might have to take that on notice. I am not sure that the figures I have here are the actual up-to-date figures.
Senator WONG —You could give them to me accurate as at whatever date and then revise them if you would like.
Mr Glyde —I would prefer to describe the activities, just to give you the full idea of what is involved.
Senator WONG —Do you have the expenditure of public moneys to date on this third campaign?
Mr Glyde —I do not have that figure. As I said, the thing commenced on 16 May, so the moneys have not completely been expended. Obviously, there were concept development fees, market testing and research of concepts, development and production of advertisements, posters, booklets, fact sheets et cetera. There was production of ads and translation for non-English-speaking background media. Then there was the media buy and benchmarking and tracking research. I have figures here, but I am not sure if they are expenditure to date or the total budget. So I would prefer to take that on notice.
Senator WONG —Are you able to give me what the total budget is?
Mr Glyde —As I said, from how these figures are presented, I am not sure which is which, so I would prefer to take that on notice, is that is okay. I can confirm that Mr Williams was right and that the media buy is $1.8 million. I can give you what the remaining elements cost on notice.
Senator WONG —How long will you take to do that?
Mr Glyde —I could probably do that within 24 hours. I just need to speak to someone tomorrow morning to confirm that the figures are right.
Senator WONG —I would appreciate that. Ms Schweizer has walked back into the room. Was there anything on the Envirofund's advertising campaign that we were going to clarify?
Mr Glyde —I think you asked whether or not we knew what the cost would be of subsequent rounds.
Senator WONG —As I understand it, the minister said that the subsequent round is on 6 July.
Mr Glyde —That is the next round—
Senator Ian Macdonald —Ms Schweizer tells me that I am wrong: it is 9 July.
Senator WONG —Oh well, that was pretty good. Was the $520,000 for previous advertising to date?
Mr Glyde —For the last 18 months.
—Has there been a media buy for the next round?
Mr Glyde —Ms Schweizer does not have the information that I hoped she might. But she advises me that it does come out of my budget. I will need to consult back with my staff to find out.
Senator WONG —That is quite an admission.
Mr Glyde —Yes—oh well, I am only the chief finance officer!
Senator WONG —Can you provide that? I would like to know what is likely to be spent in the remainder of this financial year and the next financial year in relation to Envirofund advertising. I want to know the media buy, the cost of creative aspect research, the name of any creative research agencies and so forth, and whether there are other funding expenditures, such as displays, roadshows, mail-outs and so forth.
Mr Glyde —Yes.
Senator WONG —Cycle Connect—is this your division?
Mr Glyde —This is my division. There are other people here who might know a bit more about the program than me, though. Mr Burnett might be able to help us here.
Senator WONG —How much money has been allocated in the first round of funding—or has any been allocated yet?
Mr Burnett —There is $1 million available in the coming year.
Senator WONG —Has any been allocated as yet?
Mr Burnett —No money has been allocated in terms of grants.
Senator WONG —How many applications have been received?
Mr Burnett —I do not have numbers with me, but we have received a number of applications and we are currently processing them.
Senator WONG —It was a very short time frame for applications, wasn't it—25 days?
Mr Burnett —We think it was a reasonable time, and we got a good range of applications.
Senator WONG —When do you anticipate the first funding will be released under that program?
Mr Burnett —It would not be too far away. I imagine that it would be early in the new financial year.
Senator WONG —Are you able to tell me, perhaps on notice, how many applications have been received and how many were successful—or have they not been determined yet?
Mr Burnett —They have not been determined yet. Do you want the number of applications?
Senator WONG —Yes, thank you. I am not sure whether dioxin management is covered by your division.
Mr Hyman —Yes.
—It is! You have all sorts of unusual things. In the 2002-03 CEE, there were a number of programs which are now not listed in the budget statement—international chemical management, chemicals assessment and research, and dioxin management. Could you advise whether they are now included under the budget item Chemicals Management? Are you able to provide me with the expenditure in relation to those three line items? I am asking for you to take that on notice, unless you really want to answer it now.
Mr Hyman —We can take that on notice. The first part of your question was answered as question No. 81 on notice in the May estimates a year ago. That part of the question has already been answered and that answer still stands.
Senator WONG —I do not have that here, but you can give me the current expenditure.
Mr Hyman —We can give you the current expenditure this year to this point.
Senator WONG —Can you give me the revised figure for 2003-04, or not yet? You did not give us the 2002-03 expenditure in May—you can't have.
Mr Hyman —No, we were not asked for that. We can tell you how much was spent against those line items last year and to date this year.
Senator WONG —Going back to the advertising, at a very rough calculation is it maybe $7 million or $8 million?
Mr Glyde —It is probably closer to $7 million.
Senator WONG —How does that compare with the previous financial year—a non-election year? What did you spend on advertising in 2002-03?
Mr Glyde —We have certainly had some expenditure in past years in relation to the Natural Heritage Trust. There have been a number of campaigns in relation to that.
Senator WONG —But they are the application campaigns, aren't they?
Mr Glyde —No. There was obviously one for the Envirofund applications, but previously there have been campaigns relating to the Natural Heritage Trust. The first phase of those was in August 1998. The second phase was from August to October 1999. The amount spent on media advertising for the first phase was $1.74 million, and for the second phase it was $2.635 million.
Senator WONG —Is that the media buy or the total cost?
Mr Glyde —That is the media advertising.
Senator WONG —Sorry—is that the cost of buying the media space or is that the total cost, or is that not clear?
—I do not have that information in front of me. I will have to confirm that. There was also a third and a fourth phase of the trust's public information campaign. They were conducted in 2001. The third phase cost $3.49 million, and the fourth phase cost $991,733. I have some figures relating to the Envirofund expenditure. In April 2002, there was a communications campaign to support the Envirofund, and the campaign advertising for that cost $467,000. There was an additional phase of advertising for the Envirofund drought recovery round in late December 2002, early January 2003 and March 2003. In total, that advertising cost $273,832. There was also advertising in major metropolitan newspapers and rural and Indigenous press in relation to the May 2003 round for Envirofund. The total cost of that was $200,018. Envirofund advertising for the second round in 2003 totalled $170,809. So there has been quite a bit of activity in past years in relation to the public information campaign for the Natural Heritage Trust. There has not been any previous expenditure in relation to the oil campaign, because that is a new program that has been running for only the last couple of—
Senator WONG —Or 5.5 or whatever it was.
Mr Glyde —No. There have certainly been public information campaigns for the Natural Heritage Trust as well as advertising for the previous Envirofund rounds. The 5.5 covers the NAP and the NHT and, as I said, that is a prospective campaign. It has not yet been determined whether it is going to go ahead.
Senator WONG —I think we can probably guarantee it will.
Mr Glyde —I would not like to second-guess the Ministerial Council on Government Communications.
Senator WONG —I am sure you should not do that. Thank you very much for your assistance.
CHAIR —I thank the officers and the minister for being here today. I thank Hansard and Broadcasting for their assistance with these estimates, and I thank the secretarial staff for their perseverance. With that, I close these estimates.
Committee adjourned at 11.59 p.m.