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Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry annual report 2011-12 and Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities annual report 2011-12
House of Reps
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- Committee Name
Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry
CHAIR (Hon. DGH Adams)
Lyons, Geoff, MP
Tehan, Dan, MP
Mitchell, Rob, MP
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Content WindowStanding Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry - 13/02/2013 - Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry annual report 2011-12 and Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities annual report 2011-12
CREASER Mr Peter, Director, Landcare Section, Sustainable Resource Management, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
HOWLETT, Ms Claire, Assistant Secretary, Biodiversity Policy Branch, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
LAUDER, Ms Michelle, Assistant Secretary, Landcare, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
SULLIVAN, Mr Sean, First Assistant Secretary, Biodiversity Conservation Division, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
THOMPSON, Mr Ian, First Assistant Secretary, Sustainable Resource Management, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Committee met at 17:10.
CHAIR ( Hon. DGH Adams ): I declare open this public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry for its inquiry into the annual reports of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Department of Sustainability Environment, Water, Population and Communities. The community is specifically considering aspects of the annual reports relating to Caring for our Country and the Landcare programs. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a formal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of the parliament. Ms Howlett, you are not a Tasmanian are you?
Ms Howlett : I am not a Tasmanian.
CHAIR: There are a lot of Howletts in Tasmania. You might like to make a statement.
Mr Thompson : No.
CHAIR: Okay. We are looking at some annual reports that this committee has oversight of. Because it is an election year, we did a major report on fishing and the committee has decided to look at annual reports which are relevant to us. That is what we are doing—so you understand our motivation and where we are coming from. There was a review done of programs and everybody suggested that everything was running along pretty well. We had a discussion about how the two programs work together, Caring for our Country and the Landcare components, and I am wondering if you can throw some light on that.
Mr Thompson : The current program is completed in June this year—a five-year program under Caring for our Country. Caring for our Country comprised a number of program elements and appropriations. It included Landcare from DAFF, it included environmental stewardship, it included elements of the Natural Heritage Trust. They were combined into one program that had a number of themes. We delivered the program jointly with our colleagues from SEWPaC and we had a whole lot of joint funding decisions between ministers. As you have seen in the reviews we completed over last year and the year before, the program delivery was seen to be proceeding satisfactorily. We have created institutions and reinforced institutions like the Landcare movement and regional NRM bodies and regional delivery through the reef, et cetera. A decision was taken by the government on the two funding streams that trying to administer them jointly when it was such a broad field and also trying to link up with other programs like water and climate change, and in DAFF with our biosecurity programs and weeds and pests and those sorts of things—that instead of having a joint delivery arrangement we would go to a joint governance, coordinated delivery arrangement. So from next year Caring for our Country will operate under two streams. It will be a sustainable agriculture stream, which DAFF will run, with decisions made by Minister Ludwig, and an environment stream, where Minister Burke will make decisions. We still coordinate closely and with an event like this we still appear jointly and coordinate on things. A big component of the program is delivery through regional NRM bodies. They deliver integrated programs. We are maintaining a very joint face to those regions so that they have simplified contracting and reporting arrangements.
CHAIR: It will be an interesting project to follow up. Say if you are going to focus on a hotspot area which needs some attention, who will make decisions about that? Who says which properties need to be targeted for biodiversity issues or river care or something? Who makes those decisions?
Mr Sullivan : In terms of administering, we have provided advice in terms of how we target investment. The government has released an overview of the government’s investment moving forward. One of those is we will continue a national investment profile. My colleague talked about that in terms of the commitment to regional delivery and regional organisations. We will also continue—and I think across both streams—smaller grants that will have national coverage. In terms of the biodiversity priorities, in the same context as looking for closer linkages between the agriculture stream and other complementary programs, we are also looking at it from the environment perspective of the complementarity between the environment stream in Caring for our Country and biodiversity funding and other funding streams. In terms of the priorities, the government released yesterday priorities for targeted investment around the country. That was the first set of priorities. It may not be, and the expectation is it will not be, the only set of priorities. But in terms of the initial tranche of funding the advice on where that funding will be targeted came from a variety of sources, from our own science, our own social analysis and economic analysis, as well as expert advice through the review process. We have coming out of the land sector package as part of the Clean Energy Futures package a Land Sector Carbon and Biodiversity Board, and they also reviewed that in terms of the complementarity of where we are funding. It was also influenced from the biodiversity side of the business by the corridors work, which was a government election commitment. The corridors plan was released last year. The intent with that plan is to look at how corridors become investment priorities rather than necessarily something that is statutory or legislated. So it is a mix of information and drivers, and policy drivers as well as science, saying, ‘Here are some of the priority areas around the continent.’
CHAIR: When you get down to one state, one region and one community area, who makes the decisions there?
Mr Sullivan : In part that depends on which funding stream you are talking about. If they are small grants from an area, they are competitive against the national mix. At regional level there is some capacity for regional organisations in the previous tranche of funding to make decisions based on their regional planning processes that are ground up in terms of the priorities for that region. It is a mix of funding that goes to regional organisations as well as independent advice going to the minister in terms of project approvals. So it is a mix of both.
Ms Lauder : It will depend, too, on if the project is trying to deliver outcomes for the environment and biodiversity outcomes. If that is the case, Minister Burke will make the ultimate decision. If it is for sustainable agriculture and productive outcomes, Minister Ludwig will make the decision. We have a range of assessment panels and community panels and assessors that are involved in providing advice but the ministers make the ultimate decisions.
CHAIR: Those groups are appointed by?
Ms Lauder : The minister.
CHAIR: How many groups are there?
Ms Lauder : It is different for the different programs. For the sustainable agriculture stream we have released community Landcare grants. So we will have statewide panels for the assessment and a national moderating panel who will advise the minister. We have not finalised the design for the other components.
Mr Sullivan : I will give you a quick snapshot of a process that is currently in train, which is a targeted investment in Northern Australia. There were 180 applications received in that round through an expression of interest process. They were reviewed by both an external person that was on the list of external assessors and an internal assessor. Those are then put to a moderation panel that contains me, a chair who is independent plus three other independent people who have knowledge of both community social and Indigenous and environmental perspectives. That is then moderated. So there is very much a degree of hands-off from the ministers in terms of that assessment process. And then advice goes to the minister from the department based on that process.
CHAIR: But there is not much regional input. The northern stuff on the savanna fire regimes, which is a traditional burning—is that how I should understand it?
Mr Sullivan : Yes, part of it is picking up Indigenous knowledge in terms of lower impact early-season burning.
CHAIR: Early-season burning—that is autumn burning and such, is it?
Mr Sullivan : It depends on the seasonal—but yes, much earlier in the dry season than later in the dry season. Later in the dry season you will get a much hotter fire with wildfires that run out of control. If you have done early-season patch burning then you miss the impacts of the late-season hot wildfires as well as getting increased biodiversity coming from it.
CHAIR: Are we going to spread this to other parts of Australia? There is some academic work being done on the traditional Aboriginal people of Australia that they did that all over Australia. It is a bit controversial in some ways but it has been around a long time. That is one of the arguments about it. When the first people arrived, the Dutch and others, they recorded in their journals that it was like an English country garden or something—woodlands, I think, was the term. You could see underneath because everything was burnt out. It is interesting how we got to that perspective in decision making to support the traditional processes.
Mr Sullivan : I am aware of science that is being undertaken. It is much harder to do traditional early-season burning in highly modified landscapes. A lot of Northern Australia is still largely unmodified in its landscape and so there is great capacity to get the return on that. I know that it is just not a north of the Tropic of Capricorn issue; there are some implications being put forward in terms of lessons learnt from that coming to more southern Australia.
CHAIR: How many people are involved? I could not find that. This was published last year, was it?
Mr Sullivan : That was in December.
Ms Lauder : Late last year.
CHAIR: It did have some figures but I could not find any figures about how many people are involved in Landcare and how many people are involved in the Caring for our Country programs. Is that—
Mr Sullivan : Easily obtained.
CHAIR: Perhaps they are on your website.
Mr Sullivan : In part it is a mathematical exercise now because part of the reforms that Mr Thompson talked about, which was us moving from day-to-day management—where I used to basically have an office next to Ian until late last year, we now have basically consolidated our program delivery around not just Caring for our Country; we have all the streams of Caring for our Country and Working on Country and stewardship as well as our Biodiversity Fund people together in one job lot. I think at the moment we have—Ms Howlett might correct me here if I get this wrong—around 30 people located in the regions as well as over 200 people located in Canberra.
Ms Lauder : Can I just clarify, Chair—were you asking about our staffing numbers or were you asking about the number of communities engaged?
CHAIR: People involved and communities that are now being engaged—
Mr Sullivan : Sorry, I thought you were talking about—
CHAIR: No—broader in that sense.
Ms Lauder : There are 6,000 land groups across the country and we estimate over 120,000 people actively volunteering in Landcare. That is in addition to people managing the land and farms. A recent survey has shown that 79 per cent of farmers believe they are actively involved in the Landcare movement.
CHAIR: There are some figures in that book that I saw.
Mr Thompson : Landcare is a very broad church because it goes from farmers doing sustainable practices through to people doing this work on biodiversity, and we have not got all the numbers. As Ms Lauder mentioned, that is the broad number of people participating. But just in terms of farmers, by 2011-12 Caring for our Country alone had supported over 46,000 farmers to adopt more sustainable practices. So there are a lot of people involved.
CHAIR: There are. In the old Landcare when the government changed in 2007, I was always concerned about—a lot of good things were done in Landcare and everything else but we did not get a lot of that recorded as well as we could have done. I do not want to see that happen again. I do not want people to have to reinvent wheels when they could get information from a community perspective or an agriculture perspective—that we have good historical aspects. I do not know whether I am seeing that.
Mr LYONS: You said you have assisted 46,000 farmers. How much, maybe as a percentage, is put into public land projects and private on-farm ones? Is there a number—if I could just get a perspective of what are we actually doing?
Ms Lauder : We do not have that.
Mr Thompson : We could come back on notice with a sort of estimate of that.
Mr LYONS: Yes, that is fine.
Mr Thompson : But basically all the money that we spend under the sustainable agriculture component of Caring for our Country goes on private land or land that tends to be adjacent to private land that farmers have an interest in managing—river banks and those sorts of things. If we look at the environmental-type projects they get more complicated, because they do public land but they also spread onto private land where there is vegetation to be protected. I would say the majority of the funds are spent on private land.
Mr LYONS: And the total fund?
Ms Lauder : It is just over $2 billion over the five years.
Mr TEHAN: I do not know whether it has been noted—the member for Hume wanted to have his apologies noted.
CHAIR: Thank you. I know he is in the House.
Mr TEHAN: I was looking at the budget papers last year trying to work out what has actually happened with the funding with regard to Landcare. So there is a commitment for $2 billion over five years. When it comes to the department of agriculture, has your budget for Caring for our Country actually risen or declined over the last three years?
Mr Thompson : Broadly speaking the money for Landcare has stayed about the same for the last five years and for the previous five.
Ms Lauder : About 200 over five years.
Mr Thompson : It has been roughly the same. And the forward estimates show about the same.
Mr TEHAN: About $200,000?
Ms Lauder : Two hundred million over the next five years. And that is, as Mr Thompson says, reasonably stable from the last 10 years and looking forward to the next five.
Mr TEHAN: Is that CPI adjusted or has it just stayed flat at $200 million?
Ms Lauder : There is no indexation.
Mr TEHAN: Okay. I had a lot of issues raised with me early on with regard to the sort of on-the-ground coordinators and the defunding of their positions. Is this accurate, that these on-the-ground coordinators had their positions cut?
Mr Thompson : There is a long story there. At one period of time, over 13 years ago, the major purpose of the Landcare program—and we should say that the Landcare program then was smaller than it is now—was to raise awareness and engage communities in land care. The majority of the program was spent on facilitators to help groups form, come together and move. Around 2000, 2001 and 2002 in response to public pressure that they wanted to see action on the ground as opposed to just coordinating groups, the program moved across to providing more money for action on the ground. That coincided with the Natural Heritage Trust. The numbers that have gone up and down with those people on the ground have changed a bit. But we have maintained a network of Australian Government funded Landcare facilitators in every region in Australia for the last five years—56 of those plus seven people working out in the regions out of Canberra. So those numbers are the same. But there have also been reductions in state numbers of people employed on the ground at the same time. In all states their budgets have changed and they have had to move priorities from people helping people to action on the ground or focusing people from Landcare to weed and pest management or something else. So there are certainly less facilitators and coordinators than there were in 2000 but the big change—and some of the people in the community remember that change—was made because there was a lot of community pressure to say, ‘Let’s put money into doing things as opposed to just planning things.’
Ms Lauder : Interestingly enough too in the review of the Caring for our Country program that we did recently a number of people were saying, 'We need more facilitators.' And when you went back to talk to them and said, 'If the budget is stable, would you prefer more money on facilitators and less for on-ground work and for grants for community groups?', nobody agreed to that. So they agreed there is a balance needed for facilitators and funding for groups to be able to do things.
Mr TEHAN: With coastal care—where does it fit? Is it with the department of environment or the department of agriculture?
Ms Lauder : Environment.
Mr TEHAN: What sort of growth, Mr Sullivan, has there been in coastal care?
Mr Sullivan : I might get Ms Howlett up for that. Before you go there, I would put the caveat that the majority of $200,000 million for Reef Rescue is really about improving water quality, which has a focus on—
Mr TEHAN: The Reef Rescue program?
Mr Sullivan : Right. I think the traditional coastal investment comes through a number of different streams, and moving forward it will involve both the smaller grants for on-ground activities where there is already well-established Dunecare, Coastcare or coastal protection. There is really a similar sort of pathway in terms of the explosion of numbers that we saw from the mid-nineties with Landcare groups—the same thing where people want to be engaged, want to do real things. Sometimes a small amount of money to put up signs around dune restoration works and a bit of fencing goes a long way. In terms of where we have been in broader coastal investment—
CHAIR: It is about catchment and what runs off and that sort of thing too, I think, isn't it?
Ms Howlett : That is certainly—a lot of the focus of the Reef Rescue program is in catchment. In terms of Coastcare, in terms of detail and in terms of groups engaged in numbers of projects, we would have to take that on notice. But certainly our expenditure to date I think has been around $75 million over the life of the program on the coastal priority areas. So there has been significant investment over the life of the program. We have met our targets for the community Coastcare projects. And a significant amount of the investment that goes through the community action grants goes to coastal groups doing the sorts of activities Mr Sullivan spoke about: Dunecare and rehabilitation and keeping weeds out of dunes and that sort of activity.
Mr TEHAN: So the coastal priority areas was a five-year program—is that right? And what was the initial funding for that?
Ms Howlett : We had a notional budget of $100 million over the five years. In the early years of the program that part of the program was undersubscribed. But in response to feedback from stakeholders over the life of the program we changed the constraints on that priority area and have had more uptake in the last couple of years of the program.
CHAIR: Mr Tehan, is there anything in your patch that you want to—
Mr TEHAN: The southern part of my electorate is all coast—
CHAIR: Part of Victoria is Mr Tehan's electorate.
Mr TEHAN: and we do have some Coastcare groups. That is why I am very interested in this one. Notionally, out of that $100 million, what has been expended?
Ms Howlett : I would have to take the specific amount on notice but I think it is of the order of about $75 million.
Mr TEHAN: Okay. And you have gradually been modifying the terms under which you can get access to it because the take-up was slow?
Mr Sullivan : It was not as simple as that. This pre-dates me in this job, but part of it is also responding to priorities. The coastal zone has been a difficult nut to crack in terms of Commonwealth investment, going back to the 1993 Resource Assessment Commission inquiry into the state of Australia's coastal zone. Increasingly, if you look through State of the Environment reports since their inception there is a real issue about it. There is no lack of desire at the community level in terms of helping to protect the coastal zone. However, the planning responsibilities lie with state and local governments primarily, and planning is probably the biggest threat in terms of maintaining coastal biodiversity and coastal integrity. In terms of our suite of investments, for that reason we are also looking at how we also improve water quality in coastal areas. So it is not just about the traditional Dunecare capacity around vegetation in the coastal zone but we are thinking about our investment also being—in the north coast we have had investments targeted for specific purposes around acid sulfate soils in a particular hot zone. So it is really trying to get the best bang for your buck in terms of investment in coasts, where really our only lever at the moment, apart from some legislative levers under the Environment Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act in terms of some planning where matters of national environmental significance trigger them—but in terms of our major lever it is looking at that mix of program investments that go from the smaller Coastcare investments all the way through in terms of the spectrum to the massive investment that has been made in the reef, in the coastal zone, with respect to improving water quality.
Mr TEHAN: If you wanted to get access to some of that money, is there a round of grants which are due to be opened soon? Or how—I have a piece of coast where the community is very keen to get some funding to do some sort of restoration and really some protection against coastal erosion. Is there an ability at the moment for them to get access to this program?
Ms Lauder : One of the projects we have funded through the current Caring for our Country program is based in Victoria. The Coast Action Coastcare program in Victoria—we provide a lot of funding through Caring for our Country. That funds Coastcare facilitators along the Victorian coast and some small grants for community groups. We can, on notice, give you contact details for the people to contact—
Mr TEHAN: That would be good.
Ms Lauder : to access that assistance and support, in addition to calls for the new program that both departments are running. But the funding will not flow until July next year for that.
Mr TEHAN: Till July next year?
Ms Lauder : Sorry—this year.
Mr Sullivan : July 2013: next financial year.
Mr TEHAN: Do you think you could also provide me with information as to how they could access the funding when it opens in July?
Mr MITCHELL: Caring for our Country has a website.
Mr TEHAN: No, I want the coastal priority areas.
Mr MITCHELL: Yes, you go on there and it is there.
Mr TEHAN: Right.
Ms Howlett : Under the prospectus that the chair has, furthering coastal is a priority area and grant guidelines were released earlier this week for the Biodiversity Fund and for Caring for our Country for those target areas.
Mr Sullivan : The prospectus itself does not have guidelines; it basically shows how this is fitted together in terms of the investment framework the year moving forward. Those guidelines are being released in a staggered way. Some were released just before Christmas; some have been released a couple of days ago. In addition, things like community environment grants, which are smaller grants, we expect guidelines for those will be released in the next couple of months. Again, the feedback from stakeholders when we went round the country with the prospectus was, 'Okay, this gives us a sense of how this fits together. Whatever you do, don't release all the guidelines at the same time.' These are competitive and work has to go into them.
Mr Thompson : You mentioned a group wanting to do restoration on the coast, and that would be something that would be of more interest to the environment stream. But, under the agricultural stream, small-scale grants are currently open, and where groups of farmers may be doing work to improve water quality by controlling effluent—dairy and coastal estuaries, or oyster farming and rivers and water quality and those sorts of things—some small groups have got together with a small grant to do something in that sort of area. So, depending on what they are doing, it would be worth them looking at the current agricultural grants if they are a group that is working more on an agricultural issue.
Mr TEHAN: Okay. Thank you.
Mr MITCHELL: With the Caring for our Country grants, is there also work being done in support of native animal habitat and protection of that along the coastal areas?
Mr Sullivan : I cannot recall.
Ms Howlett : In short, yes. Under the existing program there is a biodiversity priority area, and there has been significant investment through that. That covers a range of activities, including habitat protection as well as specific species recovery activities. Into the future program, matters of national environmental significance are one of the key themes for investment across those priority areas. So it is a bit more of a complex maze to work through, but we are getting out on the ground and assisting stakeholders to understand the new way of doing things. Those matters of national significance remain priorities for investment, but the prospectus sets out some specific areas where we are looking to invest in those matters of national significance.
Mr MITCHELL: What about weed prevention? That is usually a very big and controversial issue, working with state and federal departments.
Mr Thompson : Through all elements of Caring for our Country to date, whether it be at the regional level, Landcare and community type grants, or competitive funding, significant money has been spent on weed and pest management.
Mr MITCHELL: Is that being adequately matched by the states, or supported by the states?
CHAIR: Good question—and engaging landowners? In Tasmania we have a lot of gorse and stuff and I am getting lobbied all the time by groups to—
Mr Thompson : It varies. Under most state legislation, landholders or local government are responsible for the control of weeds on their property. The Commonwealth role has predominantly been around coordination and paying for facilitators to organise plans of action. But we will provide funds—including through agricultural environmental grants—to protect particular assets of importance or control lines. We have had state cooperation. It is very difficult to unpick state budgets but every indication would be that state budgets for weed and pest management have been under very large pressure. In Queensland they have certainly declined. I do not know about Tasmania but in Queensland money for weed and pest management went down. New South Wales is also under a lot of pressure.
CHAIR: I wanted to go to that because it is about Commonwealth money being able to leverage state money and state activity. Have there been reductions in some state budgets?
Mr Thompson : I have not got the data on the exact numbers for how state budgets have declined; all I can say is that we do know that the Queensland budget has gone down, because they have made it quite public where the cuts have been made.
CHAIR: That is Queensland. This is in the Landcare and Caring for our Country programs?
Mr Thompson : In our programs the amount of money spent on weeds, I would estimate, has gone up.
CHAIR: I do not want to go to weeds—just overall for Landcare in our Commonwealth programs dealing with states. Have the states changed anything in recent times?
Mr Thompson : States always change things from time to time. The most recent significant change has been the indication from New South Wales of merging their livestock health protection authorities and their catchment management organisations and their agricultural extension services into one organisation that would be expected to be partly levy funded, probably rate funded from the rural community for pest and animal work, and government funded for its natural resource management or environmental work. It is a controversial issue in New South Wales about where the boundaries would be, who would control the expenditure, what sorts of people would be appointed and what their priorities should be. From a Commonwealth point of view we have invested a lot of money in New South Wales and we continue to have a lot of money there. It is very difficult now, without knowing what the borders look like, what the control is, what the governance is, what the appointments process might be and what the state commitment of its money to the non-core state business is, for the Commonwealth to be able to commit at this point in time to long-term funding. So we are watching it very closely.
CHAIR: That will be a negotiated outcome, I suppose?
Mr Thompson : How New South Wales designs its boundaries to do its business is for New South Wales, but it is a negotiated outcome for what money we provide to New South Wales.
CHAIR: But the object and the policy objective is to leverage state commitment as well and community commitment, isn’t it?
Mr Thompson : In all of our programs we would like to leverage money, but we certainly want to see the states maintain their money, particularly in areas that are predominantly a state responsibility—on-ground management of weeds and pests and on-ground management of biodiversity other than the nationally listed stuff. The states have a big responsibility there too and maintenance of that expenditure we think is important.
CHAIR: Land management, yes.
Mr LYONS: For things like weeds and gorse I see from time to time projects where they have cleared it out. How do you monitor that in five years time? Do you monitor or follow up?
Mr Thompson : It is not perfect at the present time, but there are loose monitoring arrangements for the major weed pests. Information will come back through state authorities. In the case of gorse and blackberries we have national coordination mechanisms where control actions have taken place and the committees will feed that back. It is an expensive way to do it to bring it formally back through official channels. One of the things we want to look at as part of the new program and as part of an overall onshore biosecurity management arrangement is how do we know where the important pests are, how do we monitor what is going on and how do we monitor the effect. The internet, the web, Smartphones and the like provide great opportunities for community groups, the public, scientists and everybody to actually collate that information into a format so that we get hard knowledge of where things are and anecdotal information that can be checked. We can pick up new incursions and all of the effects and put it up there for the world to see. In weeds and pests there is an ideal opportunity for crowd-based sourcing of information. They know what weeds—
CHAIR: Spatial technology should be helping us.
Ms Lauder : That is right.
CHAIR: I have had some experience with that. I knew a catchment or Landcare coordinator or somebody from natural resource management in Tasmania who worked for the council. Somebody went into the council and set up and then planted these trees. I said, 'We'll get a flood.' Then the flood came and all of the work was gone. Now, any of us who had lived or grown up on that catchment knew what was going to happen, because we had seen it all of our lives. You need to be specific about how you do it. You still might know the land but you needed to get the right trees and not take the old willows out before you got the others going. Some young person with all of the best intentions and good knowledge, but not having local knowledge or understanding, needed to build the capacity of that community to be a part of what was being done. That sort of thing is pretty significant, I think, in really bringing people forward with us and achieving that, whether it is Coastcare or farmers or whatever. This great stuff about farmers being involved in the change of natural resource management and knowing what we are trying to do or what everyone is trying to achieve must be one of the highlights of the program.
Mr Thompson : Our objective is to have all of the information come back to the Commonwealth and then get that fed out. It works much better to have the community sharing their information amongst themselves. We had a good example of a project which has received money for the region. It has had Landcare involvement and probably some Coastcare involvement. It has also had some competitive funding in an environmental management system for all of the dairy farmers in the Bega Valley. It improved their production, it saved water and it improved effluent. The oyster farmers like it because the water quality has gotten better, so they are closely involved. The water quality is better for recreationalists. They are concerned about that whole catchment, so they are trying to save potoroos while they are at it, because they can target that as an issue. They are sharing information amongst themselves. It was not until someone actually goes down there and has a look that you can see how it all fits together. But they all knew that and they are putting that information together. What we would like to do is capture all of those stories and that information and have them available for everybody so that people can share it without having to come to us or a university to ask; it is just information that is exchanged at the community level.
CHAIR: I can understand the difficulties of getting that. It is just the community working away at it. How do you get it recorded and—
Mr Thompson : They are doing things like YouTube videos, blogs on the web and Facebook pages.
CHAIR: Social media is working.
Mr Sullivan : It is also the credibility, though. On the point you raised about local knowledge, I have been involved in projects myself where there was a restriction—you had to put trees in that were sourced from within the last five kilometres and there was all of this scientific knowledge that somebody thought was a good idea and science is really important. At the same time, through the Commonwealth Environmental Research Program we have invested in NRM science. One of the outcomes of one of those research hubs has said that the qualitative stories should be read in conjunction with the quantitative data and that should be the story. We are talking about Indigenous knowledge all the way through to farmers' knowledge and to local people's knowledge—those who have a really good understanding. There is a great anecdote about a gully just near Pialligo. The ACT government had been trying to fix this gully erosion. It was terrible—the land practice changed and we have caused this gully erosion. An environmental history researcher went back and found that one of the early shepherds, just when the land had been opened up, kept a diary. He was a very good artist with pencil. Sure enough, they found pictures of exactly this gully—it had been in place in 1822. We had seen it as something we had to invest heavily in to restore it to its pre-1770 state when it was just part of the natural landscape. How we pick up those stories now that it is not around charcoal and a diary—it is about moving forward with how we capture those stories. The new social media gives us a huge opportunity to make sure that we are not in the last century with that.
CHAIR: That is how they rebuilt Warsaw after the bombing in the Second World War—from photographs and very old paintings. They told me when I was there.
Mr Sullivan : Yes.
Mr LYONS: I was at the Flinders Island show and the president of the show society showed me a weed on the oval there. He says that, if the dairy cows eat this, they will pull the teeth out. It is vicious. I tried to pull it out and there was no way you could pull this weed out. He tells me that it came in on some boat and they spread the stuff. How do you record a new weed? I know that it is primarily a state government responsibility, but—
Mr Thompson : At the present time the occurrence of a new weed in a new area would be noted by some observant person—a farmer in particular. New weeds are actually easier to find on farmland than in national parks—you have to rely on some bushwalker to see it and then remember. But a farmer or a local community group will see it and note that it is odd, report it to their local government authority or their local agriculture department in most cases and their biosecurity people. Then someone will confirm that it exists and they will think about whether they can do something about it or not. A community group might do something or a larger group might do something about it. It could be better organised than that. It was only recently that people have realised that you can predict where new weed incursions that are related to cows might occur, because we track the movement of cattle in Australia via NILS. So you can be a month in front of the seed germinating. If you have cattle that came from an area that had a new weed in it and if they went to an area where that weed was not, you can pick it up. That was actually used in New South Wales to limit the spread of pond apple out of the coastal regions. They went to areas where the cattle were and started to look rather than waiting for someone to see it. So there are real opportunities for using modern technology to do a lot better.
CHAIR: And the tag.
Mr Thompson : The tag, yes. The Victorian government are doing something similar in national parks. They are telling bushwalkers that, if you see a weed—because where bushwalkers walk is where the weeds probably are—they all have a GPS or a smartphone, so they should photograph it, map it and send it in to the National Parks Service and we will work out what we can do with it. So we are building those systems.
CHAIR: And in management of farming, you would be having this so you can identify the cow or the beast.
Mr LYONS: For this particular weed, I contacted the state department and basically they did not seem all that interested in it, so I wrote back to the constituent. But it seemed to me that a really small amount of money could have actually stopped that. There was a sort of trotting track at the showground and it had gone onto another farm not far away as well.
Mr Thompson : Landcare engaged a whole lot of community people and we were saying we have got hundreds of thousands of people involved. They do projects we do. They do things that we do not even know about, because it is worth doing anyway. It is the same with weed and pest animal management. A state government has limited resources to send someone out to Flinders Island from Launceston or Hobart. It costs a lot of money; is it worth it for that. But, if the local community thinks it important enough, somebody has a spray rig or some spray gear. If they are motivated about it and know that they can get some credit for having reported this and controlled it then they might just go and do it. It really would not cost a lot for a local person to hit one spot.
CHAIR: It would solve the problem—that is right.
Mr Thompson : So it is a matter of motivating the community to say, 'Weeds are our problem—let's solve the local problems locally.'
Mr MITCHELL: This is a question you can probably take on notice. I noticed that the Victorian government last year made a big song and dance that they had made landcare numberplates.
Ms Lauder : Yes.
Mr MITCHELL: Was any federal money involved in that?
Ms Lauder : No.
Mr MITCHELL: Definitely?
Mr LYONS: Good try.
Mr MITCHELL: No, I am actually quite pleased.
Mr Thompson : Numberplates are a state government responsibility.
Mr MITCHELL: Yes.
CHAIR: They are made in the prison probably. In the Tasmanian page on this, I came across something extremely strange. On page 59 it has a little green block that talks about a target area that encompasses Macquarie Island, located halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica. Tasmania owns Macquarie Island—it is a part of our constitutional area. Being an old minister for national parks in Tasmania, it was in my bailiwick once. I did not quite get there—I lost my seat before that. We had a thing called the Franklin River that was quite involved. I just find it extremely strange that someone would write it that way. I had never seen it written before that it is halfway between Antarctica and New Zealand. It is always halfway between Tasmania and Antarctica. It is administered by Tasmania. It is part of the history of Tasmania in the sense that Mawson set up the wireless there—the first one from Antarctica back to there and then back to Hobart. I just wonder why someone would do that.
Mr Sullivan : It escaped my sensitivity.
CHAIR: Please take it on notice.
Mr Sullivan : I assume it was—
Mr LYONS: There are two of us Tasmanians.
CHAIR: It was a New Zealander that wrote it.
Mr Sullivan : No, I think it was intended to give people an idea of where it was. If you ask most people I think in Australia outside of Tasmania where Macquarie Island is they probably would not have a clue. So the idea was to give an idea of where approximately it is. It was not questioning the sovereignty issue with respect to it being a matter for Tasmania. But I think also, having worked on Macquarie Island back 10 years ago, it is an issue of making sure that it is clear where Macquarie Island fits.
CHAIR: Macquarie Island is going well, I understand—the rabbit eradication programs and those sorts of things. I am really pleased to hear that. Just on the issue of wetlands and Ramsar sites, there are a lot of those identified. Are they identified with a Ramsar plaque or something? Is there a sign that says, 'This is a Ramsar site,' and gives some identification that it is an important site as such?
Mr Sullivan : I think that varies from site to site. Some of them do recognise that. I think probably the Ramsar convention has less widespread public understanding than World Heritage. I think the average punter understands what a World Heritage site is.
CHAIR: So you would probably put a World Heritage sign up to get the attention and to say, 'This is an important place'?
Mr Sullivan : I think in some communities that has happened and is coupled with interpretive stories about why it is there and sometimes with walks and guidebooks. But that really varies from site to site.
Ms Lauder : Some of them are quite large too. If you think of Westernport Bay in Victoria, there are signs up saying it is a Ramsar wetland in some places, but it is such a large area that you could go to parts of it and not realise you were in a Ramsar wetland.
CHAIR: Sure. I find that people are taking a lot more notice of the migratory birds and those sorts of issues now and are more conscious of them. I guess that if you are in one of those sites, if you had a sign telling you that and giving you an interpretation, you might have more knowledge about it and why it is important—that birds land there that are migrating somewhere. Who decides on the purchase of high conservation land? Do they go to the minister on recommendation or something?
Mr Sullivan : Is this for the National Reserve System—for purchase?
Mr Sullivan : Again, correct me if I am wrong here, but that is done through normal calls for proposals. They are evaluated in terms of value of the money and ecological value. There is a process that underpins that and then the department will provide advice to the minister, who makes determinations in terms of available budget.
CHAIR: Are there criteria?
Mr Sullivan : There would be criteria that would be reflected in the guidelines that are released to support investment in the acquisition.
Ms Lauder : They are quite strict criteria. There is an arrangement where the Commonwealth puts in two-thirds of the funding to purchase the land, but the land manager has to put in part of the funding and agree to maintain the land on an ongoing basis.
CHAIR: That is what I was going to ask—who manages that. That is a negotiated position, is it—who manages it?
Ms Lauder : Part of the deal in signing up to an NRS agreement is that the proponent will kick in one-third of the purchase price and commit to managing the land in perpetuity. That varies and there are various proponents for NRS properties. Many of them are state parks agencies, but increasingly over the last 10 years there has been private sector investment in the NRS. So you have organisations like the Nature Conservancy and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy who are managing those properties. Many of them have partnerships with Indigenous rangers; they have all sorts of different arrangements.
CHAIR: How do they get monitored to see if they working okay? Does anyone monitor that after it has been done and the money has been expended? Who says that it is still—
Mr Sullivan : Part of that is the gazettal. Normally, if you are talking about the states and territories, there would be conditions in terms of the purchase around gazettal and then management.
CHAIR: That is why I spoke about state agencies, because they have a public auditor and whatever. But if it goes to another group—a community group or whether—and if they after five years get sick of it or they do not have the resources or whatever, who manages it? What opportunity do we have of checking and auditing it so that it is being managed up to a high standard?
Mr Sullivan : It is a really good question in terms of the ongoing monitoring of our national reserve estate. Also I think part of that is what are the standards for management and the expectation. Part of that management and conservation in perpetuity is built into the contract negotiations and agreement making earlier. There is some monitoring of the standard of management, but that is probably something that has been raised now. It is very much a live issue in public debate—how do we make sure that we just do not declare things as part of the conservation estate; how do we make sure that we are managing that to a standard, from making sure that they are not becoming refuges for invasives—
CHAIR: Weeds and species—
Mr Sullivan : all the way through to maintaining biodiversity values and also looking to maintain improved biodiversity values on those properties.
CHAIR: And making sure that we understand that there is a cost to it in some regard and somebody has to pay that.
Mr Sullivan : A cost and also, I would argue, a net return in terms of public benefit.
CHAIR: Sure. I am not arguing with that. But there is also a cost of maintaining and we need to have that in the decision-making processes, I think. The definition of things like high conservation value land always intrigued me a bit—finding the definition used for the criteria is never that easy.
Mr Sullivan : No, it is a judgement call. Part of that is about trying to get representation of the different bioregions around Australia as part of the protected area estate as well. So it is a judgment around what you are getting, what its potential could be and also the degree to which we already have elements of that bioregion in a protected area estate.
CHAIR: You took on notice a couple of things, I think. I think Mr Tehan was keen on the linkages. If someone could follow that up with him, that would be good. But also I think you took on notice some timelines or something. Did you understand that?
Mr Thompson : It was some contact details of local people in Victoria.
Ms Lauder : Yes, we can provide you with the details.
CHAIR: I think that was not for us but for our report.
Mr Thompson : Then there was the money for Coastcare.
CHAIR: The Coastcare money—that is right.
Ms Howlett : And the number of groups.
CHAIR: Yes, the number of groups—that could come to the committee. We would not like to get that in two or three weeks—we have a time line that we are working to, so it will be good to get that in a week or so.
Mr Sullivan : Okay.
CHAIR: Thank you.
Committee adjourned at 18 : 06