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JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
Implementation of rockfall risk reduction strategies on Christmas Island
- Parl No.
- Committee Name
JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
Mr RICHARD EVANS
Mr TED GRACE
Implementation of rockfall risk reduction strategies on Christmas Island
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Table Of ContentsPrevious Fragment
JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
(JOINT-Thursday, 11 July 1996)
- Committee front matter
- Committee witnesses
Mr RICHARD EVANS
Mr TED GRACE
- Committee witnesses
Mr RICHARD EVANS
- Committee witnesses
Mr RICHARD EVANS
- Committee witnesses
- Committee witnesses
- Committee witnesses
Mr RICHARD EVANS
Mr TED GRACE
- Committee witnesses
Mr RICHARD EVANS
Mr TED GRACE
Content WindowJOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS - 11/07/1996 - Implementation of rockfall risk reduction strategies on Christmas Island
CHAIR —Welcome. The committee has received a submission from the Australian Nature Conservation Agency dated 23 January 1996. Do you wish to propose any amendments?
Mr Hart —No.
CHAIR —It is proposed the submission and the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories response dated 2 July 1996 be received, taken as read and incorporated in the transcript of evidence. There being no objection, it is so ordered.<INC.DOC>
The documents read as follows--
[DOCUMENT OMITTED FROM DATABASE, SEE HARD COPY PAGES 236-239]
CHAIR —Mr Hart or Dr Rumpff, do you wish to proceed to make a short statement before the committee proceeds to questions?
Mr Hart —Yes, thank you for the opportunity. The submission I wrote was in relation to trying to enhance other measures to defend the cove against rockfall, but I would just like to say that that area in general is a valued part of the Christmas Island environment. Although it is not in the park, we still have responsibilities for the environment outside of that and its wildlife habitat for nesting seabirds. ANCA has a holistic obligation as far as the wildlife goes under the Wildlife Protection Act.
It is also important aesthetically, the cove being one of the most important--if not the most important--tourist site on the island, having ready access to the water and having a number of important aesthetic factors that come together in that region. So we are certainly trying to emphasise the importance of that area from that perspective and also, in my submission, trying to assist with some measure of using natural vegetation to assist in defending against rockfalls. My colleague Dr Rumpff has some further statement to make in relation to specific development.
Dr Rumpff —As my colleague Roger mentioned, the Australian Nature Conservation Agency has obligations under the National Parks and Conservation Act 1975, which applies to the entire area of Christmas Island, not just to the national park. Under this act, wildlife is protected and therefore in order to follow our brief we tried to maximise the protection of native habitat.
Concrete in this case, this specific problem, there was some concern expressed before whether the construction of a rockfall defence fence may in fact reduce the natural protection that is there in the guise of natural vegetation. We have examined the site and found that in fact by utilising an existing powerline easement which is overgrown by secondary growth, but also has secondary plantations in the neighbourhood, it is possible to construct this defence structure without impacting upon the primary vegetation. This was one of our initial concerns when the first ideas of constructing such as structure was mooted. This relates to the area behind 408 and 412.
In the case of the marine building it is also possible. In fact, the area is wider and would yield itself to importing of a soil layer which also would dissipate energy of rolling boulders. That is one aspect. From our point of view it is feasible and the impact upon native vegetation would be either totally negligible or minimal.
The other aspect is the scenario of whether housing which is considered too dangerous to live in would have to be replaced. In this context, one has to look at Christmas Island in general very closely and even closer at the existing urban precincts. By looking at the map of Christmas Island or an aerial photograph, it may appear that there is ample room for further development in this narrower urban precinct of the existing settlements on Christmas Island. There is scope for infill attempts for the construction of housing in infill situations. However, there may be areas which may appear suitable because the topography lends itself to easy construction. It is not too steep; it is not too rocky. However, each and every proposal would have to be examined under our act, so to speak.
An example is the vegetation in this loop between Murray Road as it goes up the hill and Poon Saan, Silver City. I was absent when Mr Woodmore proposed this area. We have known about this proposal for about four years and, although this vegetation appears from the road verge as scrubby and secondary, the core of it is primary vegetation. It is certainly disturbed. As you walk through it, there are chook pens all over the place and rubbish. But, basically, it is primary forest. It has not been cleared for the purpose of mining, for example, or for the purpose of erecting chook pens, except possibly to a limited extent in the undergrowth.
So the message is that the infill potential on Christmas Island is lower than it appears to be. In every case it would have to be assessed as to what vegetation is there from our viewpoint.
Another scenario is the removal of blocks 408 and 412--one of them or both. That scenario would open up a highly valuable conservation option for revegetating that area, reintroducing native trees, which would in turn enable the expansion of the nesting area of the Christmas Island frigate bird, of which there are only 1,900 pairs left. It is endemic and it is classified as endangered.
At the turn of the century the bird was described as being present in
the cove. It has most likely been displaced by construction of human
settlement. There is a chance then, under this scenario, that one could
rehabilitate that area in order to facilitate the return of this endangered
CHAIR —Dr Rumpff, I just want to pick up your last comment about the revegetation of an area to provide some sort of home for the frigate bird species. I can assure you that the secretary, on my right, would be much better qualified than me to ask the questions, since he has a particular interest in migratory birds.
Mr Hollis —Birds in general!
CHAIR —I would have thought that blocks 408 and 412 would occupy at most a hectare of land. Surely it cannot be that hard to find a hectare of land to revegetate to provide a homing area for a species that is threatened?
Dr Rumpff —That appears to be so. However, this species, like many others, seems to have a very selective preference for certain areas. The Christmas Island frigate bird has only ever been known to nest in the area around the golf course--that is, about 60 per cent of the population. The so-called `cemetery colony' extends above the Chinese Islamic Christian cemetery along Gaze Road into Settlement, below the dryers, and, as I said before, in the area of Flying Fish Cove and north of Flying Fish Cove.
For some reason this bird wants to be in only certain areas. It is not
found at South Point or Smithson Bight, and it is not found above a certain
contour line of something like 80, 90 or 100 metres for reasons that we do
not know. Therefore, this one or two hectare area may be a very valuable
addition to the nesting habitat, which is naturally very restricted. The
frigate bird does seem to prefer the lower altitudes. When you look at a
cliff situation, which is what we have on Christmas Island typically, it
prefers the shore terrace.
CHAIR —You can understand, though, what one could almost say was my cynicism at this being the area that they would necessarily propose, given the number of other hectares of land available for some sort of reafforestation that they would find attractive?
Dr Rumpff —Yes, I understand that. It is not so that we, ANCA, are proposing to bulldoze for one or two--
CHAIR —No, I understand that.
Dr Rumpff —All we are trying to do is give you some additional means that may help in the decision making. I believe that, so far, we have been talking about scenarios, the different strategies from Nos. 1 to 5. What I am saying is that, should this strategy be implemented, this would be an additional benefit.
CHAIR —I have one other question for you, particularly from a conservation point of view. You mentioned that behind the marine building there could be some soil brought in to provide a buffer zone through which rocks would not easily move, because it would not be compacted, and so it would provide an area where the kinetic energy would be used up. I would have thought--and I seek advice on this--that in a climate like this, with 80 to 100 inches of rain in a year, there would be enormous compaction simply as a result of the driving rain and the torrential downpours that have been referred to by other witnesses.
Dr Rumpff —No. Christmas Island soil is exposed to this kind of rainfall everywhere, and it does not seem to get compacted in natural conditions at all. In fact, it is very absorbent and in only very few places on Christmas Island do you have water run-off in natural conditions. The area behind the marine building has been disturbed and--in contrast to the areas behind 412 and 408, which are relatively steep, except for the artificial easement--it provides scope to maybe do a combination of importation of soil and growing and nursing extra trees such as ficus, as was suggested by Roger, with or without a fence: that remains to be seen. That is not our brief.
—Firstly, do you think the golf course fence might have
frightened the frigates away from nesting there?
Dr Rumpff —I do not think so, no. Frigate birds, except for their fussy nesting habitat preferences, actually do not seem to mind. They drink water from the resort pool and they manage with other kinds of human interference very well. No, I do not think that is the case.
Mr HATTON —Secondly, in regard to the soil proposal behind the depot, could the same sort of thing be done behind the boathouse as well? Is the area there capable of having soil done in the reverse hill so that the impact could then be behind the boathouse and also behind the depot and stabilise the situation?
Dr Rumpff —I believe not. In my opinion the situation behind 408 and 412 on the one side and the marine building on the other is different from the Boat Club section. At the Boat Club the slope is fairly steep. There is no already man-made easement and any construction or importation of soil or cut or fill would, in my opinion, and I am sure that Dr Baynes would agree with this, exacerbate the problem rather than alleviate it. But, for the area behind the golf club, that is different from the other three sections.
Mr FORREST —It has been suggested that the success rate of the plantings of this variety has not been very good--with a very appalling strike rate, in fact. What have you learnt out of that exercise that could convince us that you can get a better strike rate in the future if this is a possibility?
Mr Hart —The plantings that occurred three years ago were undertaken with the requirement of expediency, so we had to produce the stock in the nursery with limited notice. Therefore the trees that we planted out were not very advanced. We have subsequently been able to plan for ongoing operation and have been able to focus on producing a lot of ficus trees. We have approximately 3,000 trees in stock and we have already trialled planting out 20 advanced trees, which some members of your committee observed yesterday. Those trees seem to be performing well. They have all survived and it indicates that when they are planted out at a more advanced stage they have a much better survival rate. I should also hasten to add that we have given them some level of maintenance. We have watered them several times through the dry season and that would be part of an ongoing operation to ensure a better survival rate.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —These trees, do they deflect or stop rocks coming down?
—Depending on the size of them and the size of the rock,
they would have the capability to stop rocks because of their habit of
spreading out with horizontal growth, casting out horizontal branches that
then send down vertical shoots which become aerial roots. They have the
ability over a longer term period to stop rocks. Of course, it depends on
the size of the rock and the size of the tree. It is all relative.
Mr HATTON —If we knocked out 408 and 412, in the long term are you suggesting that it could be reforested? Dr Baynes suggested that an area there where you did gardening and so on provided a good growing area. Could you incorporate both of those things together? If that is going to be a fall zone, you would need to take that into account in terms of your planting.
Mr Hart —You could have a rearguard action of planting ficus that hopefully would be able to be planted into very suitable conditions and grow rapidly in a raised mound of soil that would provide a backdrop to such a parkland environment, yes. Perhaps several rows would be desirable, but it would not necessarily have to occupy the whole site.
Dr Rumpff —Looking at this scenario, there are a range of options available. Certainly gardens would do very little in terms of stopping rock from rolling even further. But a revegetation with the aim of providing nesting habitats for Christmas Island frigate birds could be certainly combined with the use of that area as public open space--as parkland. It would not have to be a zone which would exclude people. In fact you could use the shade to have picnics spots incorporated. That, by the way, also goes for those areas elsewhere in the urban precincts of Christmas Island which we try to conserve because they are small pockets of remnant primary forest.
It does not mean that they are going to be excluded from the public, because they are already disturbed. People have used these areas and have accessed them as chook farms. It is absolutely impossible to use as parkland these areas such as the smallish patch of primary forest that is situated in this housing proposal in lower Poon Saan. There is, in fact, a small pocket of what we believe is undisturbed primary forest, in that it has never been cleared. Rather than making artificial landscaping, thus creating public open space, this clump of trees could be used as such and the housing density increased at the other end of this development. We have discussed it with Troppo and we believe they are quite ready to incorporate such ideas and allow for this maximisation of primary habitat.
Senator CALVERT —Do you believe that, given the submission you have made to us about changing the ways of growing these microcarpa trees, by using the new system you have devised--I presume you use a dripper system when watering and all the rest of it--if you can establish those in these areas at the back, would it also be possible to establish them at the top of these gullies where the rocks are identified as moving down? In other words, if you get establishment at the head of the gullies you would stop the rocks before they got anywhere.
Dr Rumpff —I believe not. There are areas of this cliff face that have been touched before by man, such as the areas where there used to be a chute in the early days for conveying phosphate down the hill. There are other areas of man-made disturbance which have been excellently mapped by Dr Baynes. Apart from those areas the existing vegetation is native. That means naturally with the existing competition between species there would already be a maximised vegetation cover based on the harsh environment that the trees find. For example, in that area you do not find the huge trees that you find on the central plateau; it is more those species that can put up with the conditions.
To come back more specifically to your question: the maintenance of,
say, planted ficus trees uphill would, of course, be a daunting task. You
would have to walk up there and manually water them. The installation of a
watering system, again, would be an impact. So our view is wherever there
is grown primary vegetation to leave it alone.
Mr Hart —Another factor would be the incidence of rockfall in such a site, and a lot of these active sites are bereft of vegetation for that very reason. Any plant that does begin to grow there is destroyed by ongoing rockfalls.
CHAIR —If there are no other questions, I thank Dr Rumpff and Mr Hart for appearing and for their evidence.
CHAIR —I reconvene the Christmas Island rockfall reduction strategy hearing and recall the witnesses from the Department of Environment, Sport and Territories and Works Australia. Mr Moore, do you want to open with a remark or is someone else from the department wanting to comment on some of the evidence we have heard and we will follow up with questions from the committee?
Mr Moore —I would like to take this opportunity to dispel the suggestions that have been made by various witnesses that the Commonwealth government, through the Territories Office, does not have plans. The Commonwealth government has plans in a number of areas that have been covered this morning. It has been alleged that it does not have planning in place. It has plans in relation to economic development for the island, it has plans in relation to land release, it has a process in place for town planning and it has a disaster plan. I would like in the first place to ask Ms Merrilyn Chilvers to explain the situation in relation to the disaster plan.
Ms Chilvers —I must apologise to the committee for, in effect, misleading them when I said that I was not aware whether there was a disaster plan. In fact there is one which was actually formulated in January 1995 or published in January 1995. It does not specifically mention rockfalls, but it lists the main Christmas Island emergency service organisations and spells out their primary roles. It goes on to say that emergencies not the responsibility of any other emergency service organisations are the responsibility of the AFP, who in fact often do take a lead role in coordinating events that could be classed as a disaster. It goes on to say:
The handling of an incident is a routine matter for each of the emergency service organisations. Where appropriate, they operate on internal plans produced to cope with particular situations. In the event that the incident develops into an emergency, thus involving assistance from other services, emergency plans or co-ordinating arrangements have been developed between emergency service organisations.
So we are adequately covered to deal with an emergency such as a rockfall.
Mr Moore —Economic development and land are very much tied up together. The Commonwealth government has put in place arrangements to ensure that land is more readily available on the island. Before 1992 Singapore law applied to this island. We have made a lot of progress so far but there is still, in relation to both the bureaucratic rules and the condition of the infrastructure, a fair way to go before we get to mainland standards. With land, it is no different.
The Territories Office has commissioned and just received a full ground audit report which has reviewed the ownership of land and the procedures for release of land. It has established within the Territories Office a task force which is to take on the job of implementing an improved land release strategy for the island. The minister is currently being briefed on that.
Ms Chilvers —When the minister was here the week before last this issue was raised with him by concerned groups. He tasked me and the Shire Council to work together from the island point of view to look at the steps involved in development and land release and to coordinate with the task force in the Territories Office to produce a better process.
CHAIR —The urgency of that has been fairly evident from the evidence given to the inquiry.
Ms Chilvers —Yes.
Senator FERGUSON —Is land becoming more readily available?
Mr Moore —The objective is to make land readily available. The difficulty at the moment is that land has not been surveyed. If someone comes up and says, `I want to have some land,' it is not even possible to define what it is legally at this point because most of it is Commonwealth land which has not been surveyed or put onto the register so it could be disposed of. The issues of easements have not been resolved. So there is a long and complex process that involves legal and registration type issues. It is not, unfortunately, my field of expertise, but I am aware of these issues in relation to land.
Senator FERGUSON —You say that prior to 1992 it was not possible.
—Prior to 1992 there was a Singapore regime of law on
this island. The Commonwealth owned all the land, but at that point in time
the laws that applied were not those of mainland Australia.
Senator FERGUSON —But this is four years down the track and obviously people have been looking for land within that last four-year period. Why has it taken so long?
Ms Chilvers —We have come to a blockage. Sometimes people forget that land has been released. A large number of properties have been sold through a direct housing scheme, so people do have ownership of properties. There has been a strata titling process with a lot of the units which Mr Woodmore referred to. There were auctions where land was sold. Some of these have been built on by private builders. Next to the supermarket there is a development going on by someone private.
Some of the land was bought. The Commonwealth sold it with a proviso that if it was not developed within a certain time it would revert to the Commonwealth in order to avoid land speculation. Some of those blocks have not yet been built on, and the clock is ticking with those. There has been land release. It is just that the initial parcels that were identified have largely been taken up.
Senator FERGUSON —But if only a very limited amount of land is released it will be so expensive that it will be out of the range of people who may want to use the land not only for private dwellings but also for businesses.
Mr Moore —That issue is currently being addressed. Lots of properties have been passed over from Commonwealth to private ownership since 1992. Prior to 1992, practically everything on the island was Commonwealth owned. There has been a major shift from the Commonwealth owning everything to the Commonwealth owning only some of the residential and business infrastructure.
Now there is a need to construct new buildings on land that has not got buildings on it, and that is the issue that we are now addressing. The effort previously, as indicated, has been put into this release of properties that are currently occupied by people who want to use them for businesses. Our resources now need to be directed into this land release strategy.
Senator FERGUSON —How long will it be before any significant amounts of land become available for purchase? Is it a six-month time frame, 12-month time frame? What is the likelihood of land being released in the next 12 months?
Mr Moore —I am not involved personally in the task force or their plans, or in the consultations with the minister on the process. But I am aware that it has now been given the highest priority within the office to address it and to release land. It is not true to say that there is no land. In fact, I was going to talk about economic development which is very closely linked with land release, as has been drawn to attention by other witnesses, particularly this Chamber of Commerce.
It is not true that there has been no opportunity for economic development. A number of sites have been advertised for expressions of interest, including a light industrial area, the old hospital site and some land out at Lily Beach. That has gone through a public tender process to ensure probity, because whilst the Commonwealth is committed to economic development it is committed to development which allows equal opportunity.
The Commonwealth is not in a position where it is going to do special
deals with any particular people. It wants an open process. That process
which has provided these sites for development is now at the stage where
negotiations are being held with those bidders. There is no final outcome
for those as yet.
Senator FERGUSON —You say that consultations are going on in the minister's office. How much consultation has gone on with the people of Christmas Island?
Mr Moore —Extensive consultation has gone on with the people of Christmas Island over a long period on both the release of the properties that have been bought by people and the potential land release strategies.
For example, under the Christmas Island rebuilding program the Silver City land was developed. In the end mostly government housing was constructed, although it was also used to construct council houses and some private houses. That site, for example, was the result of a study of possible infill sites within the urban area. That particular site was recommended and chosen after consultation with the shire council. A consultative process produced that land for release.
There has been a consultative process with the Shire Council on town planning, which I also mentioned. As a result, the light industrial area site has been settled. The consultative process has not always been easy. For example, for a long time the light industrial area has been dear to the heart of the Chamber of Commerce. It has been dear to the Commonwealth's heart for a long period of time as well. In fact in 1992 we had a site identified in our 1992 statement of evidence showing where the light industrial area should be placed. As a result of representations from within the community, including from the Chamber of Commerce, that potential light industrial area site has changed to about five or six locations. We believe it is now settled in a site which we have now advertised for expressions of interest.
I make that point; that the consultative process has been continued but it has not been an easy one. That consultative process has involved town planning issues which are the joint responsibility with the Commonwealth, the Shire Council and, through the Shire Council, the community obviously. But under the Western Australian Local Government Act model that applies on the island, responsibility for the initiation of town planning rests with the Shire Council.
Over a period of time since 1992, the Shire Council has put some effort into developing a town plan, but that plan has not yet been finalised. It is currently at a stage where, with the assistance of the Commonwealth, there is a consultancy being let to review the draft town plan that has been produced, because the plan that was produced did not adequately or properly do the job. For example, initially it identified a town site in close proximity to the airport and studies by the FAC, which we commissioned, showed that would put it within aircraft noise zone limits which are inappropriate. As a result of that, it was put to the Shire Council that they needed to rethink that aspect of it.
Also for various reasons it involved potential developers showing an interest in a golf course up at the top of the hill. Ultimately it has involved a proposal for the use of the Irvine Hill area for either a golf course or residential development. Basically that leaves a very difficult situation because we believe it is not possible to do both. That makes it very difficult to pick up the ball and run with it in relation to the Irvine Hill planning proposals, for example, that the Chamber of Commerce has put forward.
I will not go on any longer, but I mention it just to indicate that
these problems, whilst they are not directly involved with the rockfall
issue, have been raised by others. They do need to have some sort of
response and the matters are not simple. There has not been a case of
inaction on the Commonwealth's part. There has been a lot of action and a
lot of resources put into these issues and there are continuing efforts put
in to solve them.
CHAIR —I would like to conclude on a note that I feel obliged to make as the chairman and that is that, while these are not directly related to the task that the committee has before it right now of rockfall risk, they are related to how we house people and they appear to be a matter of major moment to those who have appeared. Thank you for that detailed explanation. I have at least two questions on the subject, but I would appreciate if we can try and keep our answers reasonably compressed. I am conscious of the time constraints that Ms Chilvers is facing, for example, and I would like to be dealing with some of the rockfall issues as well.
Mr HATTON —I have a prefatory remark picking up the last thing that you said in terms of making a decision between housing and light industrial versus the golf course. The most pressing problem on the island would seem to be housing and future housing at a reasonable cost. I just make the point that putting that as a higher priority than the golf course is fairly important in terms of consideration of the town plan.
I want to ask about title--what the Commonwealth government has title to and what community groups have title to. I understand from some information that was given to me that we have a lot of crown land, but the situation of title has not yet been worked out.
—Yes, that was what Mr Moore was alluding to when he
said that, if someone comes along and sees a piece of land that they want,
there is not always title to it at this stage because the land has not all
been surveyed. One thing we are hoping to develop is a priority for surveys
so that we can, in conjunction with the town planning process and talking
to the Shire Council, identify the sites that are as a priority to be
surveyed so that the Commonwealth can get title to it and so that we can
then go through that title exchange--the transfer of title--whether it be
leasehold or freehold.
Mr HATTON —There is no title for the Boat Club and the mosque?
Ms Chilvers —I would not be able to say with any certainty whether there is title to any of those, but it is certainly all crown land or Commonwealth land.
Senator CALVERT —Would it be an advantage, given the discussions we had yesterday with the Malay community and the Islamic Council, to do a survey of the Malay people in the Kampong to see whether, if better and larger housing were available outside that area, they would be willing to move? That leads me to the second question. Given the chronic shortage of housing on the island and what was said by the Chamber of Commerce, Mr Woodmore and others, including the union representative, would the private enterprise alternative take some pressure off the government as far as costs are concerned? I know it is detailed, but if for argument's sake 50 or 60 new home units built by private enterprise became available and there were people willing to rent or buy them surely that would take the pressure off and allow you more freedom in the redevelopment work you are trying to do in the Kampong?
Ms Chilvers —I think the answer is yes. If they were available and people were willing to move, it would certainly take pressure off the Kampong.
Mr Moore —You would find no argument from me personally in developing land on the top of the hill with a proper town plan in place which provides for the way that should be done, but it will require funds for head works, as mentioned before, and there is the issue of resources. There are scarce resources at this point in time.
Senator CALVERT —The developers have been known to fund head works in the past if they are serious.
Mr Moore —We are quite happy to test the market and see whether they would do something.
Senator CALVERT —That is all I am asking. Would a survey of the residents in the Kampong be an advantage?
Mr Moore —Again, I am quite happy to take those questions on notice. It is not my particular responsibility, but it sounds a sensible idea.
—From the comments last night, we had the feeling
that the people did not want to leave because of their religious and
natural ties to the water. On the other hand, it seemed that some of the
younger generation with families would have gone if they had bigger homes.
Mr Moore —My only proviso on that would be that it would have to be done carefully so as not to raise expectations as to what the Commonwealth would provide.
Senator CALVERT —For instance, you could say that private enterprise was going to build it.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Is there evidence of a percentage variation in rockfalls between wet season and dry season? Does it happen more often in the wet season? If so, what percentage would be wet season?
Dr Baynes —I have not been able to derive detailed enough records to make such an assessment, unfortunately.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Would the assumption be correct then, as the commodore was saying, that with heavy rains the mud obviously shifts and therefore rocks become exposed and are more likely to fall?
Dr Baynes —Yes. Generally you would assume that you would have a higher proportion of rockfalls during the rainy season.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —And the ones that we have on evidence, when did they happen? Was the 30-tonne rock a wet season incident or was it in 1995?
Dr Baynes —In March 1995.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —So it was soon after the wet season?
Dr Baynes —Yes.
Mr Moore —I understand it was an unseasonably wet period, not necessarily in a season, but it was a specific wet period.
Dr Baynes —In my report I have tried to document those kinds of things as much as I can, but unfortunately my short-term memory is not such that I can recall these things.
—Can I intervene here. You may have another question, Mr
Evans, but I had hoped that we might deal with this summary--I think Mr
Moore is anticipating this--by dealing with the issues as he raised them.
The issue he raised was one of land title, which clearly was of some
moment. It was the questions on land title that I wanted to deal with
before he moved onto the next issue. Are there any other questions on land
title? It has been fairly extensively dealt with.
Mr Moore —There are other points I wanted to make. There is in fact an interim development order in place so the town planning is not totally stalled in any case. There is an issue as well of access to services if development were to be carried out on the top of the hill. It is not far to anywhere on Christmas Island, but they do say that we should have access to a shop within walking distance and access to a school, if possible. So you end up with a requirement for not just some head works, but a number of particular government funded or government required services in that particular area.
In relation to an earlier statement of mine which was picked up subsequently, I would just like to say that I was quoted as saying that the department plans to sell buildings 408 and 412. I am not actually a decision maker who can make that decision. The committee should be aware that what I was saying was that it is not inconsistent with the policy direction of the Territories Office.
Mr TED GRACE —During all the investigations this morning and remarks made by the panel we have in front of us now, a lot of emphasis was put on the town planning and the advice of the council. A couple of questions arising of that would seem to me to be a bit of duck shovelling. Who is responsible for town planning?
Mr Moore —The Shire Council is responsible under the act for proposing a town plan. They employed a team of consultants, Whelans, who came out and visited the island and who were involved in an extensive community consultation process before they put together a document which was a draft town plan. It is their responsibility to bring that town plan to a point where it is submitted to the planning commission. Under the act it is the Western Australian Planning Commission. The administrator on Christmas Island is delegated with the power.
This is under our arrangements here on the island. We have a Western Australian look-alike act, but the significant powers rest with the Commonwealth. The planning commission is the administrator and can appeal to the minister and the minister's role in the act is the minister for the territories, not the Western Australian minister. You have a situation where, to get a town plan in place, the process requires the Shire Council to prepare a draft town plan; submit it to the planning commission, which is the administrator; and the administrator, as the planning commission, then recommends to the minister, who is the Commonwealth territories minister, to put the plan on public display for a period of three months. At the end of that period the publicly invited comments that are made during that period are considered by the minister, with the advice of the planning commission, and the plan is then actually formally set in place.
The process we have got to so far in the period since 1992 is that the Shire Council put a plan to the administrator as the planning commission identifying deficiencies and shortcomings. There has been discussion between the administrator and the Shire Council. This involved the Shire Council's lawyers who contested the power of the Commonwealth under the act to do certain things. There has been a change of councillors, a change of shire clerk and a change of approach between the Shire Council and the Commonwealth in relation to town planning.
There is now agreement on a way to resolve the issue of the town plan. A
consultancy is being let, with the agreement of both parties, to redraft
the plan to meet the deficiencies which have been identified. I should
mention that the deficiencies or shortcomings that were identified followed
a review of the draft town plan that was prepared by the Shire Council and
conducted by the National Capital Planning Authority on behalf of our
minister to review its validity in a planning sense. It was also as a
result of comments which have been received from the Western Australian
Department of Planning which we have arrangements with to get advice on the
application of the Western Australian planning legislation.
Mr FORREST —Can I just interrupt here. The question was very simple. Mr Moore has said the shire is responsible. The shire prepared a town plan, but the Commonwealth overruled it. Surely it is the Commonwealth's responsibility. That does not make sense. That is a long answer, but essentially the shire has no responsibility; it is the Commonwealth's. Why don't we just get on with it?
Mr TED GRACE —Perhaps you do not understand why I asked the question. I think it was you specifically, Mr Moore, who made the remark that several decisions were made on where the light industrial area would be. That is what prompted my question; it was not a smart alec question. I am at sixes and sevens to know where the responsibility for town planning lies.
Mr Moore —I see that town planning rests with the Shire Council, frankly.
Mr TED GRACE —I have another question leading on from that.
CHAIR —Do you want to ask your other question?
Mr TED GRACE —No, I would like to hear the answer to this one first.
—Under the legislation, the Shire Council has the
responsibility to prepare a town plan, but the minister--and in this case
the minister is the Commonwealth minister--has the responsibility to tick
it off and to say, `Yes, this is an acceptable town plan. Go back to your
constituents and put it on public display.' It is modelled on the Western
Australian legislation. The difference would be that in Western Australia a
shire would prepare its town plan and would take it to the state minister
for planning. But, because this is a territory and we have applied
legislation which is Commonwealth legislation, the minister for territories
has the powers that a state minister for planning would have. The
Commonwealth is also the state in the territory, if that is a clearer
Mr TED GRACE —There is nobody on the island qualified to inform the council of their rights or advise them on subdivisions, land release or anything like that?
Ms Chilvers —The council employs experienced shire staff. The council has access to solicitors for advice as to the legal ramifications and their legal responsibilities.
Mr TED GRACE —The $64,000 question I wanted to ask, Mr Moore, was: in view of the remarks you heard this morning and the fears and suggestions made by the rest of the community, are you now prepared, with your colleagues, to recommend an option to this committee?
CHAIR —Are you talking about an option for town planning or an option for retaining things? I am quite happy to allow that question, but I would prefer us to deal with these issues one at a time and get town planning out of the way if we might.
Mr TED GRACE —I am finished with town planning, Mr Chairman.
CHAIR —I am not sure that Mr Forrest is, because he was still unhappy that the delay had in fact been in the Commonwealth's court and wanted to know whether it was being addressed.
Mr FORREST —I am aware of the way the local government acts work, but in reality here we have a situation where a local community is trying to get on with it, but big brother is coming in and saying, `Well, you've got it wrong. We're going to do it ourselves.' It must be very frustrating for the community to operate in an environment like that, so why don't we do it anyway with them on side? It should be the Commonwealth providing the resource development professional plan. Why don't we do it that way?
Ms Chilvers —The Commonwealth is jointly funding the development of the town plan, so we are accepting responsibility in a funding sense, which I am not sure would happen in a state. I do not think we have the legal right, as does the Commonwealth, to say that we are going to do a town plan because there is a piece of legislation that says that the Shire Council prepares the town plan. I do not think we can step outside those bounds.
Mr FORREST —As long as it is done the way we want it.
—I would have difficulty recommending to the minister
a town plan that I was not convinced was a sound town plan and that, for
instance, was going to allow the development of a residential area in close
proximity to an airport where in five or 10 years time if the economic
development that is hoped for for this island proceeds suddenly people were
to say, `There is too much aircraft noise so we want to relocate the
airport' or `We want insulation in our housing.' We are all very mindful of
the Sydney experience.
CHAIR —A little more mindful than this committee.
Ms Chilvers —I and my predecessor Mr Gillespie would be derelict in our duty in exercising the delegations that we have been given if we steamrolled the process before we were convinced that it was a sound town plan. I am sure that any town planning commissioner would act in the same way.
Mr FORREST —In view of the evidence that we heard from the local Chamber of Commerce they are obviously frustrated by this process. They ought to be made aware that this is what is going on.
Ms Chilvers —They are.
Mr FORREST —I heard immense frustration from them in their evidence earlier today.
CHAIR —The call has been for an extra shovelful of coal in the steamroller, as it were. I invite Mr Moore to move to the next issue that the department wished to address.
Mr Moore —The next issue is in relation to the Boat Club. Partly we have covered that one. In relation to heritage classification I understand that the cove area, the cove district basically from the marine building around and including the administrator's residence and the gun emplacements, has been heritage listed. I think that is what he was referring to. That whole area has a heritage category on it. But the Boat Club building is not specifically heritage listed. It is Commonwealth owned, as was indicated.
Mr HOLLIS —On that point, I am absolutely confused by what I have read and heard. What is the situation with the heritage listing of the land or the building on which the yacht club is located?
Mr Moore —The Heritage Commission has an approach whereby, under the act as well as listing particular buildings, it is able to list a precinct as having heritage significance. In relation to Christmas Island it has listed a number of precincts. That is one of them. It has identified specific precincts.
The Settlement area is a precinct that it has identified. The intention of their listing is that, through decisions that the Commonwealth makes, we need to make sure that the heritage value which is the current appearance, look, feel, shape of that Settlement area is retained. This means that we cannot go in there and build higher storey housing and we cannot remodel the houses in different materials that do not fit in.
Similarly they have heritage listed as a precinct the Flying Fish Cove
area and the administrator's residence. That precludes development which
would change the current character of that particular area. That is the way
that they express it.
Mr FORREST —Obviously the members of the Boat Club hang their hat on whatever their status is. Is there a precinct from the Boat Club up to the administrator's--
Mr Moore —That would preclude us from changing the nature of the foreshore by putting in, for example, a marina. Unless there is no prudent or feasible alternative, under the Heritage Commission Act we as the Commonwealth are not allowed to take actions.
Mr FORREST —I do not understand what all this means. We could take action to remove the Boat Club building, but what else could we not do?
Mr Moore —We cannot construct anything there that would be out of character.
Mr FORREST —Could we build gardens and barbeques?
Mr Moore —Yes. We could do things in character with the existing arrangements. Whatever we proposed for that area we would have to run past the Heritage Commission and get their endorsement. That is the way the process operates.
Ms Chilvers —In fact the approach that we have been taking is to get heritage management plans prepared by specialists that actually set down guidelines for the development of the area. We are getting those approved by the Heritage Commission. Then the Shire Council, in approving building proposals, will take into account those heritage management plans.
So each application to put on a verandah or a carport does not actually have to go to the Heritage Commission. But the shire, in its building approvals role, will look at the heritage management plan that has been prepared for the area and say, `Yes, these materials are acceptable', or `This window treatment is acceptable', or `This level development is acceptable.' So it does not always have to go back to the Heritage Commission, because we are following that process of getting management plans approved by the commission.
Mr FORREST —Why could we not incorporate that into the town planning process? Why does there have to be another bureaucracy running that?
Mr Moore —It will be incorporated into the town planning process, but it is a requirement under an act which is the problem. It has to be met. It is a requirement on us by a Commonwealth act by the parliament.
CHAIR —Which applies equally in all of our electorates.
—The last point I just wanted to make in relation to the
previous evidence that was given was in relation to 401 and 412. ANCA
indicated that Dr Rumpff said that public access could be allowed for this
area if the decision was made to remove 408 and 412 so there could be
public access and people could have picnics et cetera there. The
Territories Office would not favour that option. We would prefer that
access to areas exposed to rockfall risk were minimised.
Mr FORREST —What does that mean?
Mr Moore —We would put up a fence and we would discourage people going there unless they had a reason to do so.
CHAIR —As I understand Mr Moore's response, if we were to remove 408 and 412, it would be because we saw them as hazardous. Therefore, allowing people access in that area would in some way counter the very decision we had taken.
Mr Moore —Yes, it would be exposing them to risk.
Mr FORREST —Are you saying that you favour a fence line on that heavy black line as the limit, or a fence line where that personnel fence is being put now? What is actually there?
Mr Moore —I would propose extending the personnel fence around the sites of the buildings that have been demolished, if they were to be demolished. So we would go in front of where the buildings are now.
Mr FORREST —Are you saying that the area south of the heavy black line, which Dr Baynes has outlined, would be prohibited? That is flat country.
Mr Moore —We have a personnel fence which follows much of that line at the moment, which we are constructing; but it goes around the back of the buildings because the buildings are currently occupied. If the buildings were to be unoccupied we would move the fence forward to the front of them. Those sites would be revegetated. I think it would be an appropriate response to revegetate them with ficus or something that would assist as a barrier to any stray rocks that might still come down there.
Mr FORREST —That is super conservative.
CHAIR —Mr Grace had a matter that was raised earlier in the day that he wanted to deal with, under what I will loosely call general business.
Mr TED GRACE —I thought it would generate a final discussion.
CHAIR —I was not sure that everyone else had got to the point of final discussion, but I was happy to have your point raised now.
Mr Moore —Can I present one further piece of information which I just omitted? I wanted to draw the committee's attention to a comment made by Dave McLane of the UCIW about the cost of the Conclad houses being exorbitant. These were the sites that we visited yesterday, amongst others in Silver City. I made the comment then, and will restate it for the purposes of Hansard, that not all the people who live in such houses are unhappy. In fact there are some who are quite happy. The superintendent of police is extremely happy and he has expressed that personally to me.
The houses are airconditioned. This is a requirement under the standards
that we apply, the GEHA--government employee housing standards from Western
Australia. These standards are applied to government employee housing
because some of the people who are housed in such residences are Western
Australian government employees, such as teachers. I would like to flag
that Works Australia has just done a check on the costs, to indicate the
costs of both the Conclad houses and the alternative houses which were
designed in a way that Dave McLane approved of. I approved, too. They are
designed for a tropical environment and they are certainly a better design
for a tropical environment, because they do allow you not to use
airconditioning if you do not wish to.
Mr Franklin —The 12 houses in Silver City that have already been constructed, we calculate, worked out at $185,000 each. The Troppo style houses, which we have now verified with Mr Layton, are $224,000 each, as an estimate.
Mr Moore —Both of those were exclusive of land. So it does not matter where you put them.
Senator CALVERT —Are they the same size?
Mr Franklin —Basically they are the same.
Mr Moore —The first cost includes the cost of additional works, such as airconditioning and landscaping which were not provided initially because we were trying to do a very cheap job, the cheapest we could. We were shocked with the cost of the project overall, notwithstanding the fact that we had tendered it twice, and had done our best to get the cost down. What it does indicate is that to provide better quality livable housing costs you more money on Christmas Island.
Mr FORREST —I would like to follow up on that point. The concept of the Troppo approach is to reduce operating costs like airconditioning. There is a power problem on the island, so that approach has obviously got advantages. You have got to weigh up the higher capital cost with some sort of assessment of the benefit, of not spending so much money on power. The equations meet somewhere. I would be interested in that kind of assessment if it is available. That is just really a minor point.
There are a couple of things that have occurred in evidence that I want
to get cleared up in respect of the definitions of where these rocks are.
We had evidence that there were rocks as big as this room. We have got to
make sure that this is kept in perspective. I assume that that is the rock
we looked at along the old tram track, a rock which had been broken down. I
assume that is the same rock that has been referred to as being near the
Westpac Bank. It needs to be perfectly clear that that is a rock that fell
one metre and was collected.
CHAIR —If I could interrupt: Ms Chilvers has to get away. So if there is another issue you want to raise that the acting administrator should respond to please do so and, if not, then those two points you have raised can be addressed in her absence. What is the other question?
Mr FORREST —I am happy to do that.
CHAIR —No, sorry. You had a second point apart from the rock.
Mr FORREST —I think I have made my point. One was the comment about the operational costs of housing. But I want that rock identified.
CHAIR —We will come back to the rock question. I am assuming that you will be leaving soon, Ms Chilvers.
Ms Chilvers —I have another 10 minutes.
CHAIR —I am anxious that if there are questions that people wish to ask the acting administrator they should be asked as a priority over Mr Forrest's rock question, without eliminating it altogether.
Senator CALVERT —We were talking about planning earlier and I did omit to ask this question: as part of your planning process, I presume you will have a plan of some sort for Flying Fish Cove which will be amended from time to time for whatever reasons?
Ms Chilvers —Again, the Shire Council has been managing the development of a plan for Flying Fish Cove. That was under way last year. I am not quite sure what the final stage of it is, but that was certainly something that the Shire Council took the running with, used consultants, community consultation. Because it is a difficult area, because of that--
Senator CALVERT —It is a very sensitive area. It is probably the most sensitive area on the island; that is why I am making the point.
Ms Chilvers —Because it is one of the few places that the island people can actually have easy access to the water. It is also our port. There are a lot of demands on it, so it does need to be handled carefully.
—And a long-term strategy perhaps?
Ms Chilvers —Indeed.
CHAIR —Any other questions to the acting administrator? Ms Chilvers, before we address Mr Forrest's question to Mr Moore or Dr Baynes, to allow you to get away at an appropriate time--Mr Moore may be in full flight at the time and therefore I will not have the opportunity to rise and make a comment--may I simply say how much the committee particularly has appreciated, as I indicated to you last night, the hospitality. It is always difficult for the committee, because one does not want to feel in any sense compromised by generous hospitality. But in your case, and I wish you to be perfectly aware of the fact, quite apart from the hospitality which was appreciated, you have made us feel welcome on the island. We are grateful for that. That applies to the entire community.
The other thing you have done that has been almost unique is that you have devoted the entire time we have been here to accompanying us and seeing that we were both cared for and looked after. We appreciate that in your busy schedule you have made so much time available. I am aware that the acting administrator is now leaving to officiate at a wedding, so she has little choice about the time that she chooses to depart. For that reason we just want you to know that we are grateful for the time you have made available to us. Thank you.
Ms Chilvers —Certainly, Mr Chairman, I have really enjoyed meeting with you. I think it is always a bit intimidating to meet a new committee and to know what their expectations are going to be. I think, though, as I said last night, the community welcomes the opportunity to talk with the decision makers and to get the chance to put their views. In terms of the hospitality, it is our pleasure as much as yours. Thank you very much, and I hope you do not mind me sneaking out in about 10 minutes.
CHAIR —We trust it will be a very successful officiation.
Mr TED GRACE —It is always intimidating for us to meet the new administrator!
CHAIR —Mr Forrest, do you want to rephrase your question, or does Dr Baynes or Mr Moore wish to respond and then we can develop on the response?
Dr Baynes —I believe what we are talking about is a rock that fell down in February 1995. It is the one that we looked at and which had been broken up, the one behind the Westpac Bank. I estimated the mass of that to be 30 tonnes. On the scale of things, I think it would probably fit into that room over there rather than occupy this room here.
Mr FORREST —That is the same rock that is behind the Westpac Bank?
—That is the one that we looked at, yes.
Mr FORREST —Is anyone prepared to comment on my question about capital costs of energy efficient housing?
Mr Franklin —We will need to take that one on notice and get some actual comparisons.
Senator FERGUSON —I have a couple of questions in relation to the proposed fence. If that were to be the option that we took up, how long would it take after approval was granted for it to go ahead with that restraining fence? How long after approval had been granted would it be able to be put into action, and how long would it take to build? I ask that because it would seem crazy, if that were the option that the committee went along with, not to have it in place before the next wet season.
Mr Moore —We had in fact thought about that, and we were very keen to resolve that point through the committee. We have done some exploratory work--Works Australia has already talked to the people--but we got to a point where we could not make any more progress without committing funds. We did not feel that we were able to commit funds until we had a direction from the committee as to whether it was appropriate, because under some strategies it might be possible that you relocate all of the residences, for example. It is perhaps unlikely, but you could relocate all those residences and the PWC could say to us we should not build a rockfall fence, in which case we would have wasted Commonwealth money. We have discussed that and, if we can get a very quick answer, I understand you should be able to get it done in time.
Mr Franklin —Yes. We have prepared a document ready to go to tender to a number of companies we have identified, basically of international origin, on a design and construct basis. As I said earlier this morning, they would actually need to come and look at the environment they have to build it and design it for. But in effect we anticipate possibly a four-week tendering period, two to three weeks to assess tenders and possibly an 18-week construction period. It is that length because we have also built in a six-week shipping period to get the materials onto the island.
Senator FERGUSON —That would run you pretty close, wouldn't it, in that time frame?
Mr Franklin —Yes, it would be getting pretty close.
Senator FERGUSON —How many other companies are there that build the type of fence that Dr Baynes talked about, apart from the one that we saw the video of? Are there a number of companies who are building or would be providing that identical type of restraining fence?
—We have identified three very firmly, and I still
receive provisional quotes from them on a meterage basis. I have also
identified another one tentatively and, if we were to continue the process,
I am sure that we could identify some more.
Senator FERGUSON —And was the figure that you have quoted for the cost of the construction of the fence done on the basis of the preliminary quotes that you got from those people?
Dr Baynes —I believe so, yes.
Senator FERGUSON —So you are quite confident that any tender would not go over the amount that you have specified in this submission?
Mr Franklin —As confident as we are, given that we are not experts in that particular field. To get an expert to the island to actually look at what has got to be done, there is an element of risk with the pricing.
Senator FERGUSON —Particularly with the nature of the area that we would have to put it in, that is what I am thinking of. All that we saw on the film were clear open areas where it was easy to get access with vehicles. To me, this looks like it would not be a very easy proposition to put the fence up.
Dr Baynes —On the other hand, if I might say, these fences are designed to be built in awkward places.
Senator FERGUSON —Yes, I understand that.
Mr TED GRACE —The tender documents, do they specify or eliminate any costs associated with the tender itself? You talk about experts coming here; we are assuming they are going to do it for--
Mr Franklin —We have had discussions with DEST on the basis that, if contractors do firmly want to tender in this environment, they actually wear the costs to come here and look at the facilities.
Mr Moore —I was just going to say that we wondered whether we might be able to get someone to come on the chance that they might tender, but they wanted some certainty.
Mr HATTON —This proposal indicates three rockfall fences. What I am interested in putting up in the committee is the possibility of doing one fence behind 408 and probably, as well, another behind 412. After those people move out to other accommodation, 408 and 412 could be progressively demolished. We could then relocate those fences, which look as if they are about half the size of this one, and that would go behind the marine building. We would then have the one complete fence behind there.
Is it possible to relocate them in that way and, therefore,
significantly save money on that fencing? If we took that approach, and
after we had done away with 408 and 412, I would think that we could hold
with the marine building for a few years and just use those first two lots
of fencing to make one complete lot of fencing in the end.
Dr Baynes —I guess I would like to approach the matter with some commitment to doing something, and then with every step that you made the risk to the community would be progressively reduced. How much you reduce the risk to the community depends on how much you want to spend. You need to have a cost envelope with time within which you stay, but within which you ensure that everything that you do reduces the risk to the community and meets some long-term aims. If a plan along the lines of what you were talking about could be put together and if it met those objectives, then that would seem to me to be a reasonable approach.
Mr HATTON —So it is from a broader conceptual basis that you are approaching this instead of just looking at the small elements of it?
Dr Baynes —Yes.
Mr Moore —Could I just make a comment on that? How much money you saved from that approach would depend on what component of that construction cost of the fence was a labour content and how much was materials. Certainly, in the nature of the building of this fence and in the activity that would be involved in decommissioning and moving it, it would be very labour intensive.
Mr Franklin —It would be a case that would have to be looked at on its merits. Obviously, over time, there is degradation of the material also which we talked about earlier. So, if it were a long-term thing, you would have to seriously consider that it would not be viable to erect a new one.
Mr HATTON —Yes. If there is a 30-year life to the fence, it would not make much sense to put fences up and later demolish 408 and 412. We would have wonderful rockfall fences sitting there for a full 25 years afterwards, stopping the rocks coming down onto the Garden of Eden at the bottom. The Garden of Eden may as well do the job, rather than having us putting the money into permanent rockfall fences behind there, given that that is beyond our direct zone there. So it is a question of looking at another way of actually making a more cost-effective approach to it, so that you were not committed to three separate rock fences, two of which may be entirely unnecessary in five years time. So it is a question of looking at that in that way.
CHAIR —I would remind Mr Hatton that we are more worried about Adam and Eve than we are about the Garden of Eden!
—They would not be allowed into it according to the
approach we have had to take.
Senator CALVERT —This is something that I do not recall being talked about, Dr Baynes, and it might be like one of those questions I asked earlier today where an intelligent answer was better than a stupid question. But, particularly in the case of the boatshed, and given the evidence from ANCA, has the fact been looked at that this phosphate soil does not compress? Would it have been possible to build a big heap of dirt behind these buildings and block it with heaps of dirt?
Dr Baynes —Yes. What we will actually do is build a gabion structure--that is, a wire mesh basket filled with rocks. You could build such a structure behind the marine building, perhaps, if that is what you wish to do. That is a design option.
Senator CALVERT —Right.
Dr Baynes —At the moment I think we are looking for some kind of policy approach within which the most effective design options can then be worked out. But, yes, that could be done.
Mr HATTON —That is behind the marine building but not behind the boatshed because of the incline?
Dr Baynes —Behind the marine building you said?
Senator CALVERT —No, the boatshed.
Dr Baynes —There is room behind the marine building. It is a lot steeper behind the boatshed and you run the risk, if you build an earth structure on steeply sloping ground, that the earth structure might fall over and kill someone. But, again, that could be assessed.
Senator CALVERT —You could strengthen the roof on the boatshed.
Dr Baynes —When I approached Maccaferi, which manufactures gabions and also nets, and talked to them, they immediately came out with a sort of commercial ploy, `Have you thought about using gabions?' I think that that is a very relevant comment. We have to look for the most cost-effective solution.
Mr FORREST —Would gabions stop a 10-tonne truck at whatever kilometres an hour?
Dr Baynes —It comes down to Newton's balls--if you don't mind my saying so.
Mr RICHARD EVANS
—Just referring to some of your
strategies--strategies 2, 3, 4 and 5--you said that you wanted to vacate
and demolish the Boat Club and the restaurant. You do not say `relocate';
you say `vacate and demolish'. According to evidence from the commodore
today, he was concerned about that. What is the plan?
Mr Moore —As indicated in earlier evidence, I would like to put to the committee that we have had a change of view on that particular recommendation. We do not see that as an appropriate strategy now in that order of the sequence. We suggest that the demolition of the Boat Club is not necessary. The issue of the Boat Club could be better dealt with by a management strategy rather than a demolition strategy.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Therefore the management strategy would be inclusive of the $57,000, or would you see that price going up? Does the $57,000 cover item 6 under the plan here--the risk reduction management strategy?
Mr Moore —I believe it could be incorporated within that figure.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Does the $57,000 cover what is listed here under 6, or is there additional stuff?
Mr Moore —No, that is a best estimate. But I would have to say that it is only an estimate and, with these estimates, Works Australia has been fairly conservative.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Is that a one-off cost or is it an ongoing cost?
Mr Moore —There are some ongoing costs in that.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —So all the costs you have here really are initial capital costs. We have not got a breakdown of ongoing costs.
Dr Baynes —No, not at this stage.
CHAIR —Are there any other questions?
Mr FORREST —There has been a little bit of uncertainty created about the construction of this mesh fence. Is it possible for anyone on the committee to walk the proposed sites for these fences so we can get a bit of a feel for the terrain and so forth and the construction difficulties that are likely to occur? Is anybody able to do that?
Dr Baynes —I have walked it with Bryan and I took Holger there yesterday so that he could actually see what was going on. I would be delighted to take you there tomorrow, if you wish.
—I would like to do that, thank you.
Dr Baynes —And anybody else who wishes to go for a walk in the scrub.
Mr FORREST —Rather than go and watch that bird--
CHAIR —Although in fairness to ANCA, Mr Forrest, you may wish you had done both, and that option may exist, too.
Mr TED GRACE —If you could just bear with me, Mr Chairman: I did mention before about the role of the council. I was not being facetious when I asked who was responsible here and who was doing what as far as planning was concerned. But the shire president this morning did mention that a number of professional officers were employed by the council. Am I right or wrong?
Mr Moore —A number of employees, he mentioned.
Mr TED GRACE —Yes. One of them was a chief executive officer--that is, a town clerk.
Mr Moore —Yes, there is a shire clerk.
Mr TED GRACE —I am just surprised that, in view of the questions to be asked of the council, the town clerk was not here today.
Mr Moore —I understand that the shire clerk and some of the other key people who may have given evidence are actually absent from the island as a result of prior arranged commitments.
Mr TED GRACE —I just find it strange because everybody is saying, `Well, the council, the council, the council,' yet we have nobody here from the council. Apart from the evidence given by the president this morning, we do not even know what stage the council is at. The administrator herself does not know what the process arrangements are with the council or how far they have got. It just seems surprising to me.
Having been a shire president myself and knowing something about the procedures of council, I know you always ask the top bloke. He is the bloke who is paid to do the job, and we have not got him here today.
CHAIR —He was asked; that was the point of it. He was invited.
Senator CALVERT —He has been in for only two weeks, though; he is probably working.
—We have the president here and we have got councillors
in the room. One of them has been here all day.
Mr TED GRACE —Normally the person who answers questions on behalf of the council is the senior executive officer. I am completely at sixes and sevens. I am not particularly keen on winding up the committee's hearings, so do not get me wrong. I do not feel that I have got the professional qualifications, unless you want me to put an electric fence around it. I cannot advise you on it. I have not got the professional qualifications to make my mind up and therefore I agree with the comments and concerns of my committee colleagues and other people this morning. I pose as an open question: are you and your colleagues prepared to recommend to us one of your options and say, `This is what you should be doing'?
Mr Moore —I would like to answer that on behalf of the department. I am not in a position to make a personal recommendation. I speak on behalf of the department and on behalf of the minister. There are financial implications of the recommendations which have to be taken into account and I am not able to make recommendations which would bind the appropriate decision makers, ultimately the minister and the government.
I did indicate earlier that a way in which the matter could be approached to ensure that maximum expert input was put into the exercise was if the committee were to provide some guidance to DEST in relation to levels of risk. In which case we would be happy--if you were to provide us with some principles and guidance--to provide you with a firm recommendation after we have got authority from our minister.
CHAIR —Did you want to follow up, Mr Grace?
Mr TED GRACE —No, I just find that strange. Are you asking us? You are going to get permission from the minister whom we have to advise eventually? I cannot see the process there; forgive me. We are not going to make a decision whether to build; we are going to advise the government of the day and that is your minister. You are coming back the other way at us. You are really confusing me now.
Senator FERGUSON —You have employed a professional person to assess the risk and you are asking us, who are non-professional, to decide which is the best option that you have put forward. It just does not make sense.
CHAIR —I am sorry, but as chairman of the committee I have to disagree with the committee members. My view is that we are the committee and we are charged with the responsibility of making a decision like this. We have had presented to us professional advice from a range of sources over the last two days and on record today we have had access to Dr Baynes and all of the objective advice that he has given. I think we now have a task and that is to make a recommendation as we would whether we were building a building or constructing a rockfall fence.
Mr TED GRACE
—We have big problems, Mr Chairman, I hate to tell
you. Do you see what I am talking about? Even if we agree with the
chairman--which I do not--and we give a recommendation to our government
minister, you are telling us that he is the one who is going to advise you
on the proposition.
Mr Moore —No, he is not going to advise me. He is the decision maker in relation to budgetary matters. I am not the decision maker.
Mr TED GRACE —I cannot agree with you. You are the person who has the professional advice given to you. I can delegate you, as far as I am concerned, to give us that advice.
Mr Moore —Which is what we have done. We have gone through a process where we have tried to muster the best advice from a professional point of view and also in relation to the social and other implications. We have tried to present that evidence to the committee to the best of our ability so that the committee is fully aware of the facts. The only difference between what we are doing now and what you would normally do is that we have not picked out one point on that spectrum.
If we had picked out a point on the spectrum, your decision making process would be identical, except you would have something of a benchmark to look at. All we have done is remove the benchmark. You still have to make a decision with the same facts. You have to sit in judgment on professional advice and social evidence. You have to make that decision as politicians and recommend that to the government. All we have done is take away the benchmark.
Mr FORREST —I am just trying a different tack. Mr Moore, you have already said that you are prepared to modify one of the options and I understand that that is about the yacht club. Is that the only thing that you are prepared to modify?
Mr Moore —All I am saying is that it does not fit in the sequence. That sequence of strategies is meant to have a logic which relates from progressive risk. The way the evidence was presented it was in the wrong spot; it needs to be out back at the far end rather than in the middle. In other words, if you were going to do something about the Boat Club, it is not one of the last things that you would do something to mitigate risk against about because it is not very risky in relation to other matters.
—It is not very risky if there is no-one there and
nobody uses it. You have a question of risk if people sleep in a place and
they are there 10 hours a night--then 408 is more risky than the Boat Club.
But in terms of where most of the rocks have come down in the past--because
the most active part is over the Boat Club--it is quite possible that we
are going to get a major incident involving a lot of people at that Boat
Club if we leave it there. It is as simple as that.
Mr Moore —That is correct if we do not stop the people congregating there. Obviously it precludes the use of the Boat Club as sleeping accommodation.
Mr HATTON —As a gathering place.
CHAIR —I think the intent is the same.
Mr FORREST —This is another tack on the question Mr Grace has raised about this decision we are supposed to make. Before I am involved in that decision, I want to see the relative risk of other events around this island. I have spent two days here and it is quite obvious to me that there are other things happening on this island probably of equal risk to what we are talking about here.If there is an expectation for me to make a decision on this, I would like to see that in context. All the evidence submitted has not been relative. People have spoken about flying in aeroplanes and other things when they are blissfully unaware there are other hazards on this island. This thing has to be kept in context.
I think it was the shire president who asked the question about comparability with other communities where there are other hazards. We really need this information if we are going to be able to make that decision. Mr Moore, if it is not available can it be made available to assist us in the decision that we have to make?
CHAIR —The answer to your question is that any information that is available can be made available to us. I think Mr Grace asked me a question that required some further elaboration about what the council's attitude was. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot, as a committee, write to the shire clerk and ask for an explanation as to where he was today, if you wish, or other issues concerning council, which would not be his opinion of course but council's opinion. We can do the same thing in accessing Dr Baynes independently or the department independently, any one of the witnesses independently or anyone else we choose. But ultimately the decision rests with this committee and I will not have the role of this committee usurped by bureaucrats, and that is what some committee members are seeking right now to have happen.
Mr TED GRACE —I totally disagree, Mr Chairman. I resent that remark because I assume it is directed at me.
Mr TED GRACE —I am not doing that. All I want is for a professional man who is paid professionally by the Commonwealth and who has explored and taken professional advice himself to give us a decision or at least to pass some remarks in favour of one of the decisions. That is all I am asking. I have no intention of usurping--you know me better than that--the conditions of the committee by allowing the bureaucrats to dictate to
me, but I think they have a mandate to tell us which option they favour.
What is going to happen when we make a decision is that these guys over
here are going to say in a couple of months time, `That mob of drongos
picked that option. We did not need that one.' That is what they are going
to say. If something happens in two years time, I do not want to get the
blame by adopting a proposal that has not been favoured by the professional
people who brought it up.
CHAIR —With respect, Mr Grace, if I had directed it at you I would have named you. I was not directing it at you. I simply make the point that we have a responsibility to make a decision which I do not wish to shirk or about which I do not wish to appear to be reluctant, but I do intend to have all the facts available to the committee before that decision is made.
Senator CALVERT —I want to show support for my chairman and say that I am quite willing to make a decision eventually but I would like a bit more information, if I could.
CHAIR —My point is that we are not making a decision now in public. We will call an in camera hearing for that. I merely want to indicate where I think the committee should be going.
Senator FERGUSON —I do not want to shirk making a decision either. I followed Mr Grace's question because I agree that you are the people that have more information at hand than any of us. Mr Moore, you adverted to the fact that, because it involves expenditure et cetera, you have to seek the approval of the minister before you give us an answer. I guess what I really want to know is, if there weren't any dollar signs at the end of all of these options--in other words you were just presenting to us a range of options which might or might not be suitable for the problem on the island--if it was not for the fact that it involved expenditure, would you have any preference?
Mr Moore —I have to be very careful here because--
Senator FERGUSON —You have been careful all day.
Mr Moore —I do not have professional indemnity insurance--
CHAIR —Neither do we!
Mr Moore —And I am not empowered to make financial decisions that bind the Commonwealth.
—I understand that.
Mr Moore —We do have a situation here where I am bound by rules that apply to public servants, but I have a consultant who is not bound by rules that apply to public servants and who indeed may have professional indemnity insurance. It is possible that you could ask Fred Baynes what his view is and that he may answer--I am not answering for him and I cannot say whether he will or will not answer. But you could direct that question to him a little more readily than you can direct it to me.
CHAIR —May I interrupt here and say that I would have thought Dr Baynes would comment as he feels fit. I would have thought that yesterday, and again indeed today on the Hansard record, Dr Baynes has indicated--and this is why I do not understand, frankly, what has been going on for the last 20 minutes--that he would be a reluctant occupier with his family of blocks 408 and 412 in their present condition but happy to be there himself, because of his philosophy of life; but were the rockfall fences in place he would then be happy to have his family there. I thought that was a generous endorsement on his part of the program formally before the committee, that is why I remain a little astonished at the current level of apprehension. If I have misrepresented Dr Baynes, I invite him to say so.
Mr TED GRACE —I would be happy if somebody else also agreed on that proposition.
Dr Baynes —You have not misrepresented me. I am personally and professionally more than happy to assist, or support or help in the decision making process. My original brief was to provide a landslide risk assessment. I guess one of the mistakes that I made was that, in providing that assessment, I suggested that you sought legal advice.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —That was a problem.
Dr Baynes —I am acutely aware that one of the ways in which I feel that I have failed this committee is to provide you with the right kind of referential framework for you to be able to support decisions, or perhaps I have failed my client in that respect.
The problem that I have is that I am not party to all of the pieces of relevant information in the decision making process, because it involves social issues, financial issues, government policies--and the government has changed. So bearing all that in mind, I now feel, having sat through these proceedings, that I am reasonably in tune with most of the issues. I would be quite happy to say that this is what I think you ought to do. But I will not do it here and now. I will sit down and write it out and present it to you, if you wish me to do that. I do not have any problems doing that kind of thing.
CHAIR —Thank you, Dr Baynes.
Mr Moore —The only thing I would say in conclusion is that, as a public servant
representing the department, I am not willing to commit myself in answer to
the question that Ted Grace asked. I can envisage a situation, if the
committee were to insist that I answered such a question, where I appear as
a sworn witness in my own right, and I would seek legal advice before I
answered. But I would prefer not to go down that track.
Mr HATTON —In 1992, when the decision was made to refurbish 408 and 412, who made the decision? Given that it cost government money, how was the decision capable of being made then, if advice cannot be provided now?
Mr Moore —The process involved Works Australia, me and the government.
Mr HATTON —So what is the difference between 1996 and 1992--apart from the level of money involved and the fact that we had a big boulder come down a little while ago?
Mr Moore —We are at a step in the process here where the PWC has come in at a step before the decision has been made by government; whereas, in 1992, the PWC came in after the government had made a decision on a recommendation by me and others. Once government has made a recommendation, I will fully support that recommendation. At this point in time, I do not have the authority of the government.
Mr HOLLIS —Just on that point, and agreeing with Mr Moore on that, having been a member of that committee, the 1992 hearing was a very wide ranging hearing. In fact, it was called rebuilding Christmas Island facilities or something. The cliff was a small part of it. There were things like the hospital, there was a whole wide ranging lot of issues examined that day. I think that was the difference. This one is a very specific and much more technical hearing than the one in 1992. The one in 1992 was very wide ranging.
CHAIR —Are there any other questions to the department?
Senator CALVERT —Just a small matter. In my decision making process--I flagged this earlier--I would find helpful a survey of the Kampong residents to see whether a majority, or a minority or how many of them would be willing to move into bigger or better housing if that opportunity arose. I just think that it would clarify things somewhat for me, given the conflicting evidence we had yesterday where some people said yes and some said no. If we had a little bit more than that, I think I would find that a bit more helpful, if that is possible.
Mr Moore —I can take that on notice. As Merrilyn Chilvers indicated before, we will take that on notice.
Senator CALVERT —I do not mean being moved to subsidised housing; I mean being given the opportunity to buy privately, as was talked about earlier by the Chamber
of Commerce--if a private estate was established, whether they would be
interested in renting privately and buying privately. I am not talking
about Commonwealth subsidised accommodation.
Mr Moore —If the committee would find that helpful, we are keen that a decision be made on this matter. If that would be helpful, then we will proceed to do that.
Senator CALVERT —I think it is something you should do down the track anyway, not just on this project.
CHAIR —I also think it important, as the acting administrator pointed out, that the survey be so worded that the residents of the Kampong do not feel that the closure of 408 and 412 is in some way inevitable.
Senator CALVERT —That is not my intention.
Senator FERGUSON —I think that, should option 3 be the option this committee decided on, the decision would need to be made fairly quickly in order that this fence could be put up prior to the next wet season.
CHAIR —The secretary and I were talking about that and we will convene a meeting of committee members shortly. Are there any other observations from the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories?
Dr Baynes —Two things. Firstly, I would like it to go on the record that, whatever we end up doing, there will always be some risk and everybody must appreciate that. Secondly, a year ago I recommended that there should be prompt and considered action. We have had the considered bit but we really do need to have the prompt bit now. I think that is a very important facet--that time is running out. We need to do something.
Mr HOLLIS —The election did intervene, which delayed things a little bit.
Dr Baynes —The rocks did not, though.
Mr HOLLIS —No, I know that. That is the democratic process.
CHAIR —I think it was due to the fact that an election was called. Are there any other questions that people wish to ask the representatives of the department? If not, can I thank the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories and Works Australia for their contribution to today's deliberations.
Before closing, there are some submissions and departmental responses to those to
be incorporated in the transcript. Is it the wish of the committee that those documents be
incorporated in the transcript of evidence? There being no objection, it is so ordered.<INC.DOC>
The documents read as follows--
[DOCUMENT OMITTED FROM DATABASE, SEE HARD COPY PAGES 274-294]
CHAIR —I would like to thank all witnesses who appeared before us today and I would also like to thank all those who assisted in our inspection yesterday, a number of whom are in the room and a number of whom are sitting before me now. Particularly, may I say that we are grateful not only to the department for their assistance but also to the Christmas Island Shire Council for the use of this facility and for the way in which we have been freely able to use all of the facilities available to us in this room.
Can I also thank my committee members for their forbearance. I express my thanks to Hansard and to Sound and Vision for the way in which they set up the meeting room, which was not, as you will appreciate, easily done. My thanks also and the thanks of all the committee members to the secretariat, Peter and Mike, for the support that they have given not only through the two days of hearings but also in preparation for this hearing.
Resolved (on motion by Mr Hollis):
That, pursuant to the power conferred by section 2(2) of the Parliamentary Papers Act 1908, this committee authorises publication of the evidence given before it and submissions presented at public hearing this day.
Committee adjourned at 5.08 p.m.