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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Urquhart, Sen Anne
Waters, Sen Larissa
Ruston, Sen Anne
Siewert, Sen Rachel
Whish-Wilson, Sen Peter
Stephens, Sen Ursula
Pratt, Sen Louise
Cormann, Sen Mathias
Dr de Brouwer
Mr P Murphy
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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
(Senate-Monday, 24 February 2014)
Bureau of Meteorology
Dr de Brouwer
Murray-Darling Basin Authority
National Water Commission
Dr de Brouwer
Clean Energy Regulator
Dr de Brouwer
Director of National Parks
Dr de Brouwer
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Mr P Murphy
Dr de Brouwer
Climate Change Authority
- Bureau of Meteorology
- ENVIRONMENT PORTFOLIO
Content WindowEnvironment and Communications Legislation Committee - 24/02/2014 - Estimates - ENVIRONMENT PORTFOLIO - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
CHAIR: Welcome. Dr Reichelt, would you like to make an opening statement?
Dr Reichelt : No, thank you, Chairman.
CHAIR: We will go straight to questions.
Senator URQUHART: I have a lot of questions, but I will put some questions on notice. I will jump through some of the more important ones here. We touched a little bit in the previous questioning on the Abbot Point dredging. I would like to talk about the key findings of the dredging report that was received in June 2013. It included modelling that indicates that dredged material has the potential to migrate on a much greater spatial and temporal scale than previously thought—as I understand it, tens of hundreds of kilometres more, in fact. Can you explain what consideration, if any, you gave to these findings in granting the dump permit?
Dr Reichelt : My colleague Mr Bruce Elliot has been managing that area.
Mr Elliot : Yes, we did take that study into account when we went through our decision-making process, along with a range of other inputs as well. We also took into account, as articulated in the interpretive statement, which you will find on our website, which relates to that study, some of the limitations that also relate to the study.
Senator URQUHART: There are a number of questions that I will put on notice in relation to the advice you got back from several groups. I will not go through all those now. Did either the fishing or tourism industries identify potential job or revenue losses as a result of those dredging activities?
Mr Elliot : The representatives from the fishing industry that we have engaged with have indicated that they believe that there is potential it will impact on their businesses, but no-one has ever been able to provide any figures or estimates for that.
Senator URQUHART: But they raised concerns?
Mr Elliot : Yes.
Senator URQUHART: How did you take those concerns into consideration in providing the dump permit?
Mr Elliot : We acknowledged their concerns. The way we addressed those concerns is reflected in some of the conditions that we have applied to the permit.
Senator URQUHART: Did you assess the application on its own or did you look to propose alternative options to achieve the applicant's desired outcome? Would you only assess the offshore spoil-dump option in isolation?
Mr Elliot : We assessed the application that was in front of us on its merits. That application only included the proposed disposal site and the investigation area, which did not have specific sites identified. The application itself did not include alternate disposable sites. However, as part of the process, which included the public environment report, there were investigations into alternatives.
Senator URQUHART: What role did the minister or any of the minister's staff have the decision-making process?
Mr Elliot : Consistent with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act, the minister's decision is taken into account as one of the factors, but we have an independent decision.
Senator URQUHART: But what role did the minister or the staff have in that decision-making process?
Mr Elliot : Consistent with our act, we took into account the fact that the minister had provided an approval and we took into account the recommendation report that the department had provided to the minister.
Senator URQUHART: Did the minister or any of the minister's staff share their views on the assessment outcome?
Mr Elliot : Not beyond the minister's official decision.
Senator URQUHART: Within your own agency, who was involved in the decision-making process?
Mr Elliot : We had a number of staff involved in doing assessments and bringing together evidence for those, but the delegate for the decision was myself.
Senator URQUHART: I have a copy here of a letter that was issued to North Queensland Bulk Ports, with the permit conditions. You have seen that letter? I am happy to table it if I need to. In the third paragraph the letter states that North Queensland Bulk Ports have been granted permission to dispose of dredged material at the proposed dredged material relocation area. Where is that area in relation to the coast?
Mr Elliot : It is approximately 24km offshore from the coast.
Senator URQUHART: Straight out?
Mr Elliot : Not quite straight out. It is north-northeast of Bowen.
Senator URQUHART: The next sentence then goes on to read that the Great Barrier Reef Maine Park Authority could not carry out the legislated assessment on the proposed investigation area due to lack of specific information provided. Can you explain that to me?
Mr Elliot : Yes, I can. The investigation area is a large area, and within that area there are not yet any specific sites for disposal identified. In order to be able to do an assessment, we must have a specific site identified and that site must have been assessed by the proponent in sufficient detail for us to make a decision on it. That has not yet occurred for the investigation area.
Senator URQUHART: How does the investigation area differ from the relocation area?
Mr Elliot : I am not sure—
Senator URQUHART: The difference between the investigation area and the relocation area. This letter talked about the proposed investigation area due to lack of specific information. How does that investigation area differ from the relocation area?
Mr Elliot : For the relocation area, I assume you are talking about the approved site?
Senator URQUHART: Yes.
Mr Elliot : The disposal site itself has had quite an amount of investigation carried out on it, and that was the site that was fully analysed in the public environment report that the proponent undertook. At the time they did that public environment report they had not requested that the investigation area be added, and that is why there is not the same degree of information on that area.
Senator URQUHART: So for you to investigate it you needed to look at that report. Is that right?
Mr Elliot : What has to happen now—and North Queensland Bulk Ports are doing this, as per the minister's conditions in his approval—is that they will look at that investigation area for the purpose of finding specific sites within it. If, as part of that process, they identify sites that are of equal or superior environmental value, they will then request to use those and we will do a full assessment on those sites.
Senator URQUHART: Is it possibly a better area for dredge spoil dumping than the approved area?
Mr Elliot : At this stage it is potentially better, but we could not say that it is until such time as it has been analysed in enough detail.
Senator URQUHART: Further on in paragraph 7 of the letter, you say that it is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's view that a superior site further away from identified sensitive receptors could be found within the proposed investigation area. Do you plan for someone to look at that area?
Mr Elliot : North Queensland Bulk Ports are doing that as a requirement of the minister's condition for the EPBC.
Senator URQUHART: So that was one of the conditions. What happens if that is found to be more suitable?
Mr Elliot : If, as part of the process they are doing at the moment, they find a site that they believe is more suitable, they will request that the current permit be varied to use that site. We will then go through the normal analysis process to have a look at that site to confirm whether we believe it is a serious one.
Senator URQUHART: You go back and do an investigation process on that site?
Mr Elliot : Yes, we do an analysis of it.
Senator URQUHART: Would you delay your decision before that investigation took place?
Mr Elliot : We have already provided approval for the existing site. In order for us to examine another site, North Queensland Bulk Ports would need to seek a variation to use that site. We would not be able to do an assessment on that for the purposes of making a permit decision until that has occurred.
Senator URQUHART: But, as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, how can you reconcile allowing a project to go ahead if you think there is a better option?
Mr Elliot : There is the potential for a better site, but until it has been analysed we do not know that it is. At the time we made our decision, it was made on the site that was included within the proposal—the only site we could make a decision on—and we were subject to statutory time frames for some of those decisions.
Senator URQUHART: I understand this letter was on your website, but it is no longer there. Is there a reason for that?
Mr Elliot : I am not sure. It may well be that it is just not linked to the front page anymore, because we did put that letter, plus the two permits, on our website.
Senator URQUHART: I will go to the permit itself. Condition 8 states that the permit holder must not dump more than 1.3 million cubic metres in one calendar year unless otherwise approved by the managing agency. Under what sort of conditions would you allow for this to be relaxed?
Mr Elliot : If the proponent wished to do that, they would first of all have to get the recommendation of the technical advisory panel. The technical advisory panel, which is a panel of experts, is another one of the conditions and we have to approve the composition of that panel. If that panel recommended that it would be environmentally better, or at least not environmentally worse, if a larger volume were disposed of, the proponent would then have to seek the concurrence of both the minister, or the minister's delegate, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to make that change.
Senator URQUHART: Condition 10 states that the disposal of dredge spoil must not result in any harm to the environment, or to the cultural or heritage values of a number of key sites adjacent to the disposal area. How can you possibly ensure that this would not happen and how will you measure that?
Mr Elliot : The mechanism for ensuring that that outcome is achieved is, again, to a large extent through the technical advisory panel. The technical advisory panel will advise the proponents on what oceanographic conditions—the conditions for winds, waves et cetera—are conducive for the movement of sediments in the opposite direction. Essentially, they will define the conditions under which they will not be able to carry out the activity because it would pose too high a risk to harm to those areas. There are two different requirements for monitoring. One of those is what we call reactive monitoring, which is the monitoring carried out around the site so that if plumes do start to go in the wrong direction then the environmental site supervisor can halt the activity. There is also a long-term monitoring program which is designed to find any impacts over larger spatial and temporal scales.
Senator URQUHART: So that is regular, ongoing monitoring?
Mr Elliot : That will continue for five years after the last disposal activity.
Dr Reichelt : The site supervisor would be our employee not the port's employee.
Senator URQUHART: Condition 12 refers to a bathymetric survey prior to any dumping. That survey is to determine what is on the seabed, is that correct?
Mr Elliot : Correct.
Senator URQUHART: So why has this not already occurred?
Mr Elliot : We like that to be done within 20 days of a disposal action so we know there have not been any changes to the seabed. There have already been surveys of the seabed on the disposal site. This is to make sure that we have the most up-to-date information.
Senator URQUHART: What would you do if you find something of environmental significance down there? Would you have to reconsider the permit conditions? If you found something there, would you have to then reissue the permit or look at what the conditions are?
Mr Elliot : We would not have to reissue the permit. It would be unusual to find anything of a permanent nature there that is not there at the moment. The main reason for doing that is so we can then compare it to the postdisposal seabed.
Senator URQUHART: Monitoring it before and after?
Mr Elliot : Yes, it is to compare before and after to an extent.
Senator URQUHART: Condition 18 and a few conditions beyond that refer to a trigger level. Can you explain to me what the trigger levels are?
Mr Elliot : The trigger levels—again the advice here comes from the technical advisory panel—are things like sedimentation rates. We know, for example, what sort of sedimentation rates are acceptable to sensitive receptors, such as corals and seagrasses. The trigger values are to ensure that the sedimentation rates do not exceed those, which will ensure there is no harm.
Senator URQUHART: How often will the technical advice panel and management response group meet? What is their schedule? What is their relationship with the authority?
Mr Elliot : I would have to take on notice what their schedule is. Their relationship with the authority is that we must approve the membership of the technical advisory panel, but they do not work for us. We also need to approve the membership of the management response group. We have also dictated who some of those members will be—not the individuals but, for example, we require industry and community representatives.
Dr Reichelt : Tourism.
Mr Elliot : Tourism and fishing must be included, for example.
Senator URQUHART: Condition 28M has many subsections, all referring to the tourism and fishing industry. Who is involved in setting the baseline coral and water standards?
Mr Elliot : The plan for that or, if you like, the methodology for that, is being negotiated at the moment. We need to approve that as well.
Senator URQUHART: Who would be the mediator?
Mr Elliot : Mediator in?
Senator URQUHART: In looking at what it is. Obviously each party has their own interests to look out for.
Mr Elliot : I suppose at the end of the day we would be the mediator, because we have to approve the plan
Senator URQUHART: And would there be any compensation arrangements for any loss to businesses as a result of the dredging?
Mr Elliot : That is one of the conditions that has been included, and that is particularly pertinent for the fishing industry.
Senator URQUHART: Is the government liable in any way?
Mr Elliot : No.
Senator URQUHART: The conditions set out for the permittee are all monitoring-focused; there does not appear to be any attempt to prevent impacts on marine life. Can you please explain why that might be?
Mr Elliot : The conditions which relate to Holbourne Island and Nares Rock are to do with some of the sensitive receptors around those areas, such as corals. The reason that there is nothing specific for things such as dugongs and turtles is that, when we did our risk assessment, we found that the risk of impact to those species is quite low in the Abbot Point area.
Senator URQUHART: I want to talk about the Great Barrier Reef climate change action plan. Are you okay to do that?
Dr Reichelt : Carry on.
Senator URQUHART: The authority is due to publish the next outlook report in 2014. Is that correct?
Dr Reichelt : Yes, it is correct; by June this year.
Senator URQUHART: Can you please update us on the progress?
Dr Reichelt : The drafts are well advanced. They are at in-house review now. All I can say is that it is well advanced; it is being brought together. One reason we have been able to do it more quickly than our last one is that a lot of the material that we brought together for our strategic assessment has been fed into this one, since it is quite recent.
Senator URQUHART: What sort of consultation are you doing on that?
Dr Reichelt : The outlook report consultation been done through a round of meetings with some hundreds of people in major town centres, with our 12 local management advisory committees. This was work done also for the strategic assessment, so they have run together and we have had quite extensive consultation. We have had a management effectiveness review done, independently of us, and that work is underway now.
I would have to take on notice the precise plans for the consultation once this draft is substantially done, but it will happen more quickly than previously given the amount of community work we have already done. The strategic assessment will be tremendously informative, and we are already getting a lot of feedback on it as well.
Senator URQUHART: If you could provide the information about the consultation on notice, that would be fine.
Dr Reichelt : Okay.
Senator URQUHART: My last question is: what involvement are the minister and his staff having in the development of that report?
Dr Reichelt : Do you mean the outlook report?
Senator URQUHART: Yes.
Dr Reichelt : They have no role at the moment. Their role is to approve a review process managed by the department independently of us. Then the minister's role is to accept the report and table it within so many sitting days of receiving it.
Senator URQUHART: But they have had no role in developing the report?
Dr Reichelt : No.
Senator WATERS: I see that, at quarter past five today, the minister's report into conflicts of interest of folk on your board was released. I was not able to find the report, but I do have the minister's press release, which is brief. My understanding is that they have found there were no conflicts of interest, despite the links of two members of your board to the coal industry. My question is: will you be looking at your conflict-of-interest rules and having a fresh look at whether you think they are adequate?
Dr Reichelt : I understand that the intention now—and it is quite recently that the minister has announced this—will be to release as much of the full report, and very quickly, as any privacy considerations allow. The idea is to fairly quickly release the whole report. The report does go into some detail about the various conflict-of-interest provisions in place in the authority and the board. I think that will answer that question much more effectively than I will. The report finds that we have a high level of management of potential conflicts, and it also explains the structure of the board and that a disagreement does not amount to a conflict—our board is set out under the act to contain interests relating to the reef. I think I should stop there and wait until you have had a chance to read the report.
Senator WATERS: My question was whether you will revisit your conflict of interest procedures and you said no. Is that correct?
Dr Reichelt : At this stage, no. Why I explained it is that we have extensive conflict of interest management procedures and they have been found to be effective.
Senator Cormann: As you would see in the minister's press release, the review recommended that the authority take no further action in this matter.
Dr Reichelt : We accept the recommendation.
Senator WATERS: Thank you.
Senator Cormann: I thought it was helpful, given your line of inquiry.
Senator WATERS: Why was the dumping permit for Abbot Point granted before the probity inquiry had finished?
Dr Reichelt : The probity inquiry was conducted into the allegations of the 7:30 program and not specifically connected to the approvals decisions in front of us. I think the two processes ran in parallel.
Senator WATERS: We went over ground on Abbot Point in the last session, and I asked the department this same question. When you did your study for the proper modelling for dredged soil movement and how far it can travel with various parameters placed upon it—3D modelling, currents and so forth—you acknowledged it was a more comprehensive approach to modelling and you noted the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation had not factored in everything you had factored in. Did you request NQ bulk ports or ask the minister to ask NQ bulk ports to do fresh modelling on the dredged soil site they received approval for?
Mr Elliot : No, we did not. The standard required for north Queensland bulk ports was per our guidelines at the time the application was deemed to be assessed under the EPBC Act. Subsequent to that, and reasonably recently, we have issued updated guidelines for modelling. Any assessment done from now will be required to use those, but we did not retrospectively apply them to this application and require it to be remodelled. It is worth noting that any alternative site will be assessed under the new guidelines.
Senator WATERS: Were the new guidelines ready to go before the Abbot Point decision was made?
Mr Elliot : We had them in draft prior to making our decision, but not finalised at the time. They were not published guidelines at the time of the public environment report, the main report required.
Senator WATERS: I pick up on a remark made in response to Senator Urquhart's questions about halting offshore dumping should your modelling show winds or currents would make it inappropriate to continue the dumping. In the Gladstone example there were financial constraints on when the Gladstone Ports Corporation could cease the dumping in the contract with subcontractors using the machinery to do the work. Did you make any inquiries of North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation to make sure there was no such constraint on when they could cease dumping, such as they were able to comply with those conditions?
Mr Elliot : At the time we provided our permits they had not yet entered into contracts with the companies that will be doing the dredging and disposal. It is now a requirement that they make sure that our conditions can be achieved.
Senator WATERS: Have you specifically asked them to turn their mind to that point?
Mr Elliot : We have. We have had meetings with them since to make sure they are fully aware of the implications of the conditions.
Senator WATERS: That is good. Let us hope they listened to you more than they did me. I want to move now to the Yabulu refinery on the coast near Townsville. I am conscious that some FOI documents have been released that were then reported on which established that Mr Clive Palmer had threatened to sue GBRMPA if you were to exert authority over his operations and that you had found two instances where he had illegally discharged toxic waste to the reef. Did you advise the minister of the threat that you would be sued and of the threat to water quality and to the reef?
Dr Reichelt : I would have to check. It was at the time of a previous government. We had quite a lot of correspondence from Mr Palmer. The threat of legal action was one of them. A request for a cheque for $6 billion was another one. We have always dealt with that refinery issue with care for the environment and without any special treatment for the refinery. We are conscious that the bulk of that refinery's operations are on the land. There is a pipe leading away. We have never issued a permit for the use of the pipe. We became aware on two occasions, one in 2009 when it was owned by BHP, I think, or a subsidiary of BHP. When we raised our concerns about use of the pipe under what they called the emergency provisions they stopped discharging within three days, instead of the 100 days they had planned, and did not use it again.
At the time of the extreme weather—I think that was in 2011—its current owners were operating. They wished to use it and began making a discharge. At that time other actions were taken by Queensland, and the company agreed to enter into a discussion about how to fix the problem for the long term. That was the approach we took at the time. We did conduct monitoring a year later in the wet season. To our knowledge, the discharge has not occurred since that 2011 instance.
Senator WATERS: I now recall that I have seen a copy of that FOI document and that you did advise the minister of that situation and of the threats and of the things that you have just outlined for me. Thank you for so doing. Did the minister respond with any directive as to how you should respond to those threats of legal action or to the threat posed to the environment by those illegal discharges?
Dr Reichelt : I do not believe so. I think the minister was aware at the time of our action to not grant a permit.
Senator WATERS: So you did not grant the permit, but you also did not take any court action or enforcement action.
Dr Reichelt : The authority has never issued a permit since that pipe became incorporated into the marine park by an expansion of the marine park in 2001, I think. We undertake a risk based compliance of it. If there is a high probability of successful prosecution and it is not manageable by a cooperative approach to take the whole problem away, compliance action through the courts is an option. A lot of our successful changes in behaviour of people in the marine park have been done by warning letters. In fact, in the marine zoning plan, I think we have got nearly 100 per cent effectiveness, with no recidivism and no repeat offences.
Senator WATERS: With respect, that is for fishing rather than operation of a toxic refinery by one Clive Palmer. It may well be true for the fishing.
Dr Reichelt : It is true for this pipe as well, so far.
Senator WATERS: Have there been any other big developers who have threatened to sue the authority for doing its job?
Dr Reichelt : Not to my knowledge.
Senator WATERS: Would you say that is an unusual occurrence and one you do not normally experience?
Senator Cormann: You are asking for an opinion.
Dr Reichelt : Yes, it is drifting away from policy or from operation.
Senator WATERS: Okay. You have said not to your knowledge, so I will move on with that. You mentioned the threat that Mr Palmer made to sue you for $6.4 billion of compensation. How many years of GBRMPA's annual budget would that equate to?
Dr Reichelt : A considerable amount.
Senator WATERS: Many, many years?
CHAIR: He preferenced the Greens.
Senator WATERS: Would it be correct to say that if this did actually proceed to court—even if Mr Palmer lost, as he often does—the department would foreseeably still have to foot a considerable legal bill?
Senator Cormann: 'If', 'would'—that is very hypothetical.
Senator WATERS: How much does it cost when you get sued? That is the question.
Senator Cormann: How long is a piece of string? I do not think that there is one blanket rule. I think it is really a question that is very difficult for Dr Reichelt to answer.
Senator WATERS: I appreciate that. Sorry, I will rephrase: what is the department's budget for legal actions taken against it?
Dr de Brouwer : Do you mean the Department of the Environment, as opposed to GBRMPA?
Senator WATERS: Does GBRMPA not have its own legal budget?
Dr Reichelt : We do. Our typical action is where we are in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a decision, for instance. There is a few hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Senator WATERS: Each year?
Dr Reichelt : That is about the amount of our budget. It would not necessarily be used each year.
Senator Cormann: We might give you something more specific on notice.
Senator WATERS: Perhaps you could take it on notice.
Dr Reichelt : I could give you our past history of legal expenses on notice if that is okay.
Senator WATERS: Yes, particularly where the action has been taken against the authority rather than where you yourselves have taken the action. That is perhaps the apposite example. Reflecting on your earlier comments—
Dr Reichelt : Sorry, Senator. I was just getting advice. There are really only a couple of cases where it has occurred. It is not a very common event, but we will give you the information.
Senator WATERS: Thanks very much. Reflecting on your earlier comments that you had not issued a permit for the pipeline but nor had you prosecuted, can I ask whether or not there was any involvement of the minister or your board in that decision not to proceed with enforcement action for that 2011 breach.
Dr Reichelt : Not at that scale. The legal position at the time was that it was not 100 per cent sure that we would succeed in a prosecution and we had active intervention occurring at the same time with the Queensland government which they made us aware of and which we were supportive of. It just did not make sense to pursue a course of legal action when the discharge ceased and there was a commitment to work on improving the facility.
Senator WATERS: Thank you. With regard to that active investigation that you mentioned that the Queensland government has undertaken, I am just trying to find my relevant piece of paper but I understand that the Queensland government then revised the permit conditions and in fact lessened the protection for the reef. Is the authority now going to reconsider its earlier decision to not prosecute given that I think I recall reading that you said you reserved your right to take action against them in future?
Dr Reichelt : We did reserve that right. The advice I have had on that is that it is not true that the protections were lessened.
Senator WATERS: I cannot find my bit of paper.
Dr Reichelt : I would have to check if I am wrong.
Senator WATERS: Are you able to provide the checking to me? My understanding was that the environmental authority was significantly weakened as regards water quality, but I would be thrilled to be disabused of that.
Dr Reichelt : The briefing I had suggested that the standards were significantly raised. It became much harder—virtually impossible—to make use of the pipe under the conditions. But I am happy to explain that out of session or on notice.
Senator WATERS: Thank you; I would appreciate that. The chair has brought me to my final question: given the history of breaches that we have, sadly, had canvassed and given that I think GBRMPA has previously acknowledged that the company has a history of poor water management, does this raise questions, to your mind, about the suitability of future permits being granted to that applicant?
Dr Reichelt : In the case of the marine park authority, we are not in receipt of a permit request and have not issued permits. The only permit we have issued is to not insist on a removal of the pipe, because the advice in 2001 was that that would actually do more damage than good.
Senator WATERS: I will put my other questions on notice.
Senator RUSTON: Going back to Abbot Point, obviously, from the line of questioning we have had tonight and the issue constantly been canvassed in the paper, there is a huge amount of public interest out there about it and implications of the activities there. What is your role, and what you do to try and ensure that there is good, factual, consistent information in the marketplace so that people can actually make a sensible and objective assessment as to what is going on? Because, just sitting here today, one could be excused for thinking the world was about to come to an end!
Mr Reichelt : Our role in a decision like Abbot Point is to say yes or no and ask, 'Can it be done safely,' in plain terms. That involves identifying all the risks that, if unmanaged, would cause harm and then, same as the minister's decision, making sure there are conditions to prevent that occurring, and that is what we have done. But we have also been meeting with the community groups. In the last two weeks, we have met with our local management advisory committees and senior executives, and to those people I would say, 'We are hearing your concerns and we do need to get more information out to you quickly.' That is so that they understand not just the scientific rigour behind the controls that we have put in place but the independence—so the information is transparently available to the community and they hear it the same as we do, and to avoid secrecy agreements and things that prevent their representatives from talking to them about it. We intend to ramp that up in the case of Abbot Point. My colleague mentioned the technical panel and the management group, which would have community people on it.
I think also, in those meetings with them, I would like to explain the conditions under which it can occur in that particular site and what the attributes of that site are that make it not a damaging thing for the Great Barrier Reef. The area of investigation is a site where what they call the bed shear is very low; the bottom currents are low. The science that we have available is on what happens to a thin layer of like sediment, so where it is taken from is similar to where it is going. It must be non-toxic. In other words, the small animals that live in the sediment naturally will turn over the new sediment. The best science says that takes about one year and, after one year of a thin layer of sediment—provided it has not smothered things like seagrass and corals—it would be indistinguishable from the other billions of tonnes that are there already. The main concern that I am hearing, particularly from fishermen, is that it does not smother the microhabitats of the baitfish that are so important to them, and the predators that they fish. From the tourism industry, it is not to let fine sediment drift towards their prime tourist sites, because the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands are famous for their beautiful diving, and turbid water and tourism do not go together. So we have heard those and we will be talking to the people in the industry, in the coastal communities, to try and explain that, to give them access and to enable them to be critical and air their views and fears to the technical panels that are designing these controls.
Senator RUSTON: Yes. It seems to me that there have been a lot of environmental checks and balances put in and conditions put on this project, requirements about water quality and the like, but people need to know about that. They need to have that information to make that assessment. One of the other things, obviously, a reasonably new initiative, is the emergence of the Reef trust. I am just wondering if you could give us a bit of an outline of it: what are the sources of funding for the Reef trust and what is your early thinking about the kinds of activities that it can support?
Mr Reichelt : Could I start by saying what its broad intention is and perhaps ask a colleague from the department, Mr Thompson, to talk more about how it will be put together. Just to reinforce how important the Reef 2050 program, the Reef trust, is to future actions in the Barrier Reef, we have done a strategic assessment, we have identified the northern sector as being virtually pristine and the results will show that it should be protected. It must stay that way. The southern two-thirds of the system is offshore affected by storms and crown-of-thorns starfish. Inshore, floods and catchment run-off featured really strongly in the declines of corals and seagrasses. The data for those is for a much shorter time than the offshore data; it goes about eight years.
Where I am going there is that it is telling us that business as usual is no longer acceptable. We need to manage for resilience and remove pressures, but we need to think about restoration—protect the pristine, manage resilience and restore damaged areas that have been damaged over perhaps 150 years. The answer to restoration requires action on the land and in the sea. The marine park authority strongly supports intervention where it can clearly improve the system. To give people an idea, on the land the bigger changes that have affected the water quality are not to do with the towns and ports; they are to do with things like dissected salt marshes, where the flows of water have been changed, and they are to do with the bunding of pastures in some low-lying areas to increase grassland availability that have then restricted the connections between the land and the sea.
What we have been doing for the last 3½ years is documenting the nature of the changes along the coast. We have done it with Queensland's cooperation. They have provided all of their data to us and we have begun mapping the connections between the land and the sea, and where you might intervene to improve it. That is where we will be working with the department and the minister to identify high-priority restoration prospects. That is a work in progress, but we have done a lot of the groundwork already. Having said what it is for and what it will do, could I ask the department to explain the second part of your question.
Senator RUSTON: The kinds activities that it would support.
Mr Thompson : The Reef Trust is an election commitment. It is a key component of the government's Reef 2050 plan and it will be constituted by a $40 million investment from the Commonwealth with a focus on improving water quality and coastal habitat. There are some other elements contained in that: a $2 million investment in crown-of-thorns starfish control to address the serious outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish, which as you know are a threat not only to the reef but also to the tourism potential of the reef; and a $5 million turtle and dugong protection plan is part of that investment. The department is developing the Reef Trust in very close collaboration with the authority and also with the Queensland government. The intention is, as spelt out by Minister Hunt coming into government, that the trust be not only a vehicle for funds from the Commonwealth but also a funding vehicle for the pooling of offsets for significant projects under the EPBC Act.
CHAIR: I thank the representatives from GBRMPA.
CHAIR: We will now turn to outcome 1. I call officers from the department in relation to program 1.1, sustainable management of natural resources and the environment.
Senator URQUHART: At the previous estimates hearing in November, I asked you about the 20 million trees project. At that time, you were working on the design and scope of the project. Are you in a position to update the committee at this time?
Mr Sullivan : I cannot give you a whole lot more detail, primarily because some of that work is progressing in terms of consultation and program design options. It is subject to the budget process. So we are working within the constraints of the budget process with respect to the guidelines and the delivery options that will come with the commitment to establish green corridors in regional, periurban and urban areas. So the short answer is no.
Senator URQUHART: I have a couple of questions that relate to that. I will ask them anyway but it may be that, given that you have not done very much, you may not be able to tell me. I just wondered if you had progressed any further in determining the potential water impact of planting and maintaining the 20 million trees, especially in the early establishment phase of that.
Mr Thompson : Just before Mr Sullivan answers that, I will correct something in that comment you made. We have done a lot of work; it is just that we are not in a position to talk about a lot of that right now.
Mr Sullivan : I was going to make the same comment; we have been working actively. Part of that addresses those questions you have raised on the process of costings. Delivery models, land availability, potential delivery partners, the mechanisms for delivering on the commitment of 20 million trees, the time frame, seasonal planning constraints, optimising biodiversity outcomes as well as carbon abatement outcomes have all been part of the process of working through the development of guidelines as well as working through the machinery of the budget process.
Senator URQUHART: Do you know how much the funding will be and which budget line that money would come from?
Mr Sullivan : Again, that will be a matter for the costings process and a decision of government as part of the budget process.
Senator URQUHART: In terms of the proposal and the guidelines, is the intention for the green army to plant those trees or will it be tendered out to existing environmental or Landcare organisations?
Mr Sullivan : There were some specific commitments the government made in the election context where a proportion of the 20 million trees has been committed to be planted by green army teams. There are obviously options for broadscale regional plantings, which would be different in their scope. We are looking at how we can get synergies between an environmental labour force and the planting of trees. There are some specific components of the election commitments that have been made by the government, in particular with respect to the Cumberland conservation corridor in Western Sydney, and part of the 20 million trees will be planted by green army teams.
Senator URQUHART: I was going to say: you are not going to plant the whole 20 million in Sydney, surely?
Mr Sullivan : No.
Senator URQUHART: I would not have thought so. I want to move on to Caring for our Country. Have any cuts being made to the department's share of the Caring for our Country program?
Mr Sullivan : There are measures in the agency additional estimates statement with respect to Caring for our Country. As at the time of the additional estimates statement, there remained over $2 billion over the next four years—that is, going beyond the forward estimates—assigned to the appropriations that make up Caring for our Country. That comprises the natural resource management special account, the Natural Heritage Trust special account, the Working on Country program and the Environmental Stewardship Program. Obviously also as part of the budget process those appropriation lines are being recast to deliver on the government's election commitment to deliver a National Landcare Program.
Senator URQUHART: Where did the $6.7 million redirected to the Home Insulation Program royal commission come from? Was that committed or uncommitted funding?
Mr Sullivan : That was from uncommitted funding in 2013-14.
Senator URQUHART: Have all the contracts signed prior to the election been honoured?
Mr Sullivan : For contracts that were signed prior to the election on Caring for our Country—I am just try to think across all the appropriation lines—and the ones that we in the environment department are responsible for have been honoured.
Senator URQUHART: What about projects that were committed to but without signed contracts prior to the election? Have they been honoured?
Mr Sullivan : In Caring for our Country there were a number of projects. Ms Howlett may have to do some work to find out how many there were. My memory is for those projects that were agreed to, and not signed, by the time caretaker came down that there were 10 Caring for our Country target area grant projects, totalling $11.4 million. Those were subsequently approved by Minister Hunt on 9 of October, 2013.
Senator URQUHART: So they were the ones that were not signed but committed?
Mr Sullivan : They were committed and were not signed and have now been subsequently honoured.
Senator URQUHART: Does that capture all of them?
Mr Sullivan : In terms of Caring for our Country, yes.
Senator URQUHART: Have the natural resource management organisations all maintained their funding under Caring for our Country?
Mr Sullivan : There are a range of contracts that are in place across all of the natural resource management bodies, and those have not been altered.
Senator URQUHART: So they have all been maintained?
Mr Sullivan : Yes.
Mr Thompson : Just to frame that a bit more: as you know, the government is committed to create the National Landcare Program. So in terms of nomenclature, the Caring for our Country program has ceased for the government, and we are transitioning from that into the National Landcare Program. There have been, at this stage, no changes to any of the regional body funding arrangements in that transition.
Senator URQUHART: Are there planned to be any changes?
Mr Thompson : That is a matter for government, which it is considering.
Senator URQUHART: I just want to go to the Green Army. The statement of requirement was released in January 2014, and indicates that participants would be paid an allowance rather than a wage and associated superannuation et cetera. Is this effectively a Work for the Dole scheme?
Ms Lane : Participants under the program will be paid an allowance—a Green Army allowance. I think the statement of requirements gave a funding range for that allowance. It is an allowance which recognises the fact that participants will be engaged in work experience-like activity and undertaking training. So it is not a duplicate of the Work for the Dole program.
Senator URQUHART: But what is the allowance equivalent to?
Ms Lane : It is aligned to the national training wage.
Senator URQUHART: Okay. So it is more than Newstart?
Ms Lane : It is more than Newstart, yes.
Senator URQUHART: Is the department or the government intending to count the Green Army in its one million new jobs commitment?
Mr Thompson : I will take that on notice.
Senator URQUHART: I have asked whether the allowance replaces Newstart, and I guess in some respects it does. If someone is in the Green Army, they are not going to get Newstart and the allowance, would that be correct?
Ms Lane : That is correct. Full-time participants in the program will not be paid income support as well as the Green Army allowance.
Senator URQUHART: Once they finish the program, do they resume Newstart payments if they cannot find work?
Ms Lane : They can do, yes.
Senator URQUHART: Would there be any penalty time, or would they go directly back onto Newstart?
Ms Lane : I will take that on notice.
Senator URQUHART: Okay. Again, the statement of requirement refers to participants gaining certificates I or II, or part thereof, and skill sets from certificates III, IV, diploma and advanced diploma. What work has been undertaken to map career paths and available job opportunities?
Ms Lane : We are working closely with the industry department on the training component for the program. The intention is that participants, as you said, will be able to undertake training towards certificate I or II qualifications and either/or competency based skill sets. The service providers that will be contracted to deliver the program will develop training plans with each participant, recognising the level of skills that they have entering the program. That training plan will map out the skills that they will be developing through the program, and also mentoring will be provided to assist them once they leave the program.
Senator URQUHART: So does that go as far as mapping career paths and job opportunities that are available?
Ms Lane : It is not an employment program in the sense that the placements do not guarantee employment at the end of the 26-week period. That said, the service providers will, in developing the training plan, obviously take into account the needs and the particular career goals of participants when they enter the program.
Senator URQUHART: What are the implications of providing participants with partial qualifications?
Ms Lane : I think that is a recognition of the fact that there will be varying levels of skills sets of the participants engaging in the program. Some may not be able to undertake a CERT I qualification and may actually be more in need of, for example, basic literacy and numeracy skills or foundational skills for job readiness. If they were to undertake future placements with the program, they may then move on to CERT I or II qualifications. So the training component of the program is designed to recognise that there is a breadth of skills that can be provided to participants and that there will be varying levels skills of the participants engaged.
Senator URQUHART: Would there be any opportunity for participants to continue training after that time is over and, if so, how would that be funded?
Ms Lane : Within the program?
Senator URQUHART: Yes, I guess so. Once they have finished their Green Army time, are there opportunities for them to continue training, maybe through a TAFE college or something like that?
Ms Lane : There are certainly opportunities for participants to undertake further training. Once they have finished, they may undertake more than one placement, so they may be continuing their training within the program. Outside the program—once they exit their placement—they can undertake training. It is obviously not something that the program will financially support, but the training plan that they have mapped out with service providers will ideally give them a pathway once they leave the program.
Senator URQUHART: Would that be funded by government or be self-funded?
Ms Lane : The training plan for individuals will be part of the program. That will be part of the responsibility of service providers when they engage participants in the program.
Senator URQUHART: Can they do more than one stint with the Green Army?
Ms Lane : Yes, they can.
Senator URQUHART: How many times can they go through that?
Ms Lane : We have not put a limit on that. There will be, however, obviously a preference for those participants who have not yet had an opportunity to engage in the program, but it is certainly possible for participants to engage in more than one placement.
Dr de Brouwer : It is particularly important for Indigenous involvement to enable more than one placement.
Senator URQUHART: Information received in the November estimates indicated that modelling and costing scenarios were being prepared regarding the numbers of participants and spread over the four years. Are you able to provide that information now?
Ms Lane : In terms of the numbers of projects and placements annually? Is that what you are asking, Senator?
Senator URQUHART: Yes.
Ms Lane : In 2014-15, there will be 250 projects and 2,500 placements; 2015-16 is 5,000 placements and 500 projects; 2016-17 is 7,500 placements and 750 projects; 2017-18 is 11,500 placements and 1,150 projects; and 2018-19 is 15,000 placements and 1,500 projects. So it is 10 people per project team.
Senator URQUHART: I am not asking you to provide it now, but if you could do it on notice: do you have specifics of the areas where those placements will be? Do you have that sort of detail?
Ms Lane : No. The government made a number of commitments through the election campaign for some projects already, but there will also be a call for project proposals separate to the tender, where organisations like NGO bodies and local councils can submit projects. Depending on where those projects are located, the placements will obviously be in those locations.
Mr Sullivan : In terms of that parallel process following on from the statement of requirements and going through a tender process to look at service providers, there is another task for us in providing advice to the minister on the selection of projects. Those guidelines are in preparation at the moment. One of those issues that we will need to canvass will be around national coverage.
Senator URQUHART: The statement of requirement provides that the program be opt-in. What if not enough people take up the program to make it viable? What is the situation then?
Ms Lane : We do not think that is likely, given that there are already a large number of young people aged 17 to 24 who are either unemployed or in the income support schemes. Certainly, the conversations we have had with some of the other agencies—social services, human services—indicate that there is more than enough demand to meet number of placements for the program in that age bracket.
Senator URQUHART: But it is an opt-in program?
Ms Lane : It is a voluntary; yes.
Senator URQUHART: So if that does not happen—if there are not enough—what would happen? You must have looked at those contingencies.
Ms Lane : If there were not enough within that age bracket we would consider widening the age bracket for participation.
Mr Thompson : As Ms Lane indicated in her answer, it is something we have considered. It is a risk. How we would deal with that is something we would go to the government with at the time, in terms of options.
Senator URQUHART: What to industry projections say about the number of available jobs over the life of the deed? With 2,500 participants in year 1, what pathways would be put in place to ensure that they would be able to find work?
Ms Lane : I might take that on notice. I re-emphasise that the program is not an employment program, per se. It is not designed to find permanent employment for young people. There is obviously a focus on the program preparing young people for the transition from school to work or from unemployment to work but, because it is not an employment program, I do not have the details and we have not done the projections that you are talking about. I would have to take it on notice.
Mr Thompson : If it was not already obvious, Senator, we are developing this program in very close collaboration with the Department of Employment and the Department of Industry. So they are very much in the tent on this.
Senator URQUHART: The statement of requirements refers to the program guidelines being developed. Did you say that they are available?
Ms Lane : They are not yet available. They are nearing finalisation of the moment. They will be released with the tender documentation in the coming weeks.
Senator URQUHART: So they will be available to the public? In the next—
Ms Lane : We anticipated that that will occur in the first quarter.
Senator URQUHART: We are nearly running out of that. Can you confirm how much of the $200 million Reef Rescue 2 budget funding from 2013 to 2018 has been spent or allocated and how much is remaining?
Mr Sullivan : There is $142.3 million that has been contracted in terms of the $200 million commitment to the reef. I will have to get the exact figure of what is left uncontracted.
Senator URQUHART: Will that be allocated?
Mr Sullivan : That is part of Caring for our Country—the total investment program. The reason I am hesitant to jump to conclusions is that the broader national landcare program settings are part of the budget process in terms of the design. Remember, as I said before, that National Landcare Program will take over a whole range of appropriation bases.
Senator URQUHART: Is the announced $40 million funding for Reef Trust part of the $200 million that would be spent in the financial year?
Mr Sullivan : Sorry?
Senator URQUHART: There was an announcement of $40 million of funding for the Reef Trust. Is that part of the $200 million?
Mr Sullivan : No, it is a separate commitment from the government. It is part of the Reef 2050 election commitment.
Senator URQUHART: Which financial year would that be spent in?
Mr Thompson : The arrangements for that money will be settled in the budget context. So they are being confirmed now.
Mr Sullivan : Can I just correct my earlier evidence. I talked about $142.3 million being contracted. The $142.3 million has been announced, of which $137.4 million is contractually committed. We are still in the process of finalising some details around contracts for that remainder of the $4.9 million.
Senator URQUHART: Can you outline exactly how the reef trust will work, noting that in the proposal from WWF one of the options was to have the money held with and managed through a banking institution?
Ms Lane : We are currently working through the design of the reef trust so I cannot confirm any details at the moment except that we have had some conversations with the WWF about their proposal. So their ideas in their reef bank proposal are being considered in the design of the reef trust. However, the exact mechanism for holding the funds is still to be determined.
Senator URQUHART: When would that determination be made?
Ms Lane : Again, that is also part of the current budget considerations.
Mr Thompson : As I indicated in the answer I gave earlier to Senator Ruston, we are working in collaboration with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland government in designing this. Consistent with the government's broader agenda, we are looking to put in place a mechanism—or a vehicle, if you like, as that is what a reef trust is; it a vehicle for holding money and dispersing it—that is as simple and streamlined as possible.
Senator URQUHART: Just on that, is there any crossover or duplication between the reef trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation?
Mr Thompson : The Great Barrier Reef Foundation is a separate philanthropic entity. At this stage, we do not see that there will be a crossover between the two. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has a particular emphasis on research and practical research in resilience of the reef. The reef trust is aimed squarely at improvements in water quality outcomes on the reef.
Mr Sullivan : There is great potential there as well for some of the research that is coming out of the foundation, in terms of the work that it is funding, to help guide future investments through the reef trust and into the future.
Mr Thompson : I might just add too that we are in conversation with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation about this vehicle.
Senator URQUHART: Yes, so it is unlikely there is going to be no duplication.
Mr Thompson : No, we will be aiming for there not to be.
Senator URQUHART: Can you provide details of the planned on-farm improvements and systems repair, which I believe had a value of $58 million over the forwards?
Ms Lane : I do not have the detail of the projects that we have funded through that component of the previous program, but I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator URQUHART: Are you able to take that on notice?
Ms Lane : Yes.
Senator URQUHART: That would be great. I have just got a group of final questions on Tasmanian forests. At estimates in November, you noted that the role of the department in implementing the economic growth plan for Tasmania was minor. Can you update the committee on the elements of that plan for which your department has responsibility and what they are?
Ms Howlett : Sorry, could I just ask you to repeat the question?
Senator URQUHART: Sure. At estimates in November, you noted that the role of the department in implementing the economic growth plan for Tasmania was minor. Can you update the committee on the elements of that plan for which you do have responsibility and what they are?
Ms Howlett : This department does not have responsibility for the Tasmanian economic growth plan. That plan is really looked after by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. Any questions you have there about the economic growth plan would best be asked of that department.
Mr Thompson : We do have broad responsibility in a coordinating sense for the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement. There are elements of that funding package which we are directly responsible for administering. We could talk about those.
Senator URQUHART: Look, I will just go through the questions and any that you can answer would be appreciated. If not, then you can direct me to the correct department, which would be helpful. Officers have previously stated that they were confident that the FSC certification would be achieved by Forestry Tasmania. Has this now been achieved and how important is sustainability and certification to the forestry industry in Tasmania?
Ms Howlett : The Forest Stewardship Council certification process is quite a long and involved process. It is expected to take at last 12 to 18 months. That process is progressing as, if I recall correctly, Forestry Tasmania went out in the last couple of weeks with a public consultation process around community engagement on that process. It is being run primarily by Forestry Tasmania, and they have an active process of community consultation that will go along that. It is an international assessment process and will take quite some time.
Mr Thompson : Senator, that funding—and Ms Howlett must correct me if I am wrong—is administered by the Department of Agriculture, and there is also a contribution from the Tasmanian government.
Senator URQUHART: How dependent is it on the support of conservation groups, and would support for certification, and therefore timber sales, potentially be in jeopardy if the recent extension to the World Heritage area were delisted?
Dr de Brouwer : We are getting into conjecture, Senator. We do not know the future of those things.
Mr Thompson : It is really a matter for the environmental groups as to whether they would oppose it.
Senator URQUHART: Then, to your knowledge, has the special council raised any concerns regarding the proposed delisting of the 74,000 hectares of World Heritage area?
Mr Thompson : We are just confirming that we are not aware of any communication from the special council as the council; but there may have been communication to ministers that we are not aware of.
Senator URQUHART: At the last estimates on the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement, it was stated that any assessment of the TFA by the department formed part of policy advice or briefings to the incoming government. Can you now share with the committee your assessment of how government policy may affect the TFA?
Mr Thompson : That formed part of the advice in the incoming government context to the government, so I would not propose that we would share that. It is still live, deliberative material.
Senator URQUHART: Before the election, the government stated that it would honour existing and committed contracts under the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement. Can you update the committee on whether all these contracts have been honoured—more broadly, spending the $330 million under the 2013 IGA on track as budgeted?
Mr Thompson : We might take on the notice the particulars of whether those individual commitments are still being honoured. But you are right, Senator, in saying that the government did commit to honour existing commitments. The reason I am taking it on notice is that, as I have indicated before, under the intergovernmental agreement there is a whole series of lines of different commitments. Could I answer that properly on notice?
Senator URQUHART: If you can take that on notice, that would be great. During last estimates, the $25 million for conservation management under the IGA was discussed and evidence was given that none of the $7 million committed for 2013 had yet been spent. Can you update us on that funding as well?
Ms Howlett : I can confirm that the Tasmanian government met its milestones under the national partnerships agreement and that that payment was released before Christmas.
Senator URQUHART: In MYEFO, funding for the extended Tasmanian forestry worker assistance project was ceased, with $2.4 million over two years cut. To your knowledge, what effect will this have on forestry workers while the industry restructures?
Dr de Brouwer : I will have to ask some officials for their opinion, which is not a normal part of our evidence, Senator.
Ms Howlett : Senator, I do not believe that is a program we administer. I think that might be a question better directed to the Department of Agriculture.
Senator WATERS: I have one question further to Senator Urquhart's line of questioning about funding for Reef Rescue. I notice in a state party report that we discussed earlier there is a reference to $160 million being allocated for Reef Rescue, whereas I recall the minister making a commitment to continue the $200 million funding block. Can you explain the discrepancy there and whether the funding has, in fact, been reduced?
Mr Thompson : I am not aware of the discrepancy, so I would have to go back to the source document and check it. I would have to read the context in which the $160 million was used as a reference. But, as Mr Sullivan indicated earlier, there is around $142.3 million which has already been announced and $139 million, or close to it, already committed—
Senator WATERS: But has there been a reduction in the funding on the promised $200 million?
Mr Thompson : At this stage there has been no reduction in the funding that we are aware of.
Senator SIEWERT: I want to go back to the issue of the $6.7 million that was allocated to the pink batts royal commission. You said that money was uncommitted. Is that correct?
Mr Thompson : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: Can you tell me the funding source that money came out of?
Mr Thompson : It is table 1.2 in the additional estimates statement, and footnote 4 gives an explanation. This measure was announced in the 2013-14 MYEFO. It provides savings from the Fisheries Adjustment Assistance Package component.
Senator SIEWERT: That is what I am confused about, so I want to come to the actual fisheries package in a minute. But that original $100 million that came out of the fisheries package—which area of funding did that come out of? Did it come out of the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and, if not, which other account?
Mr Thompson : I think the previous government's commitment was up to $100 million, or in the order of $100 million. Because it was an adjustment assistance package, the government at the time was not wanting to confirm what the total budget amount was, and neither am I confirming that. As you know, under the Caring for our Country program there are notional allocations, typically. We have had those conversations many times before. My understanding is that because they are notional allocations it does not make—
Senator SIEWERT: I specifically want to know: did it come out of the NHT fund?
Mr Sullivan : That was from the trust.
Senator SIEWERT: So, why is money from the trust being spent on the pink batts royal commission?
Mr Sullivan : That was a measure in terms of the savings reallocation in terms of the government priorities—
Senator SIEWERT: I really want to be clear about this—
Senator Cormann: I might assist you here, Senator Siewert. The situation is like this: we have inherited a very bad—
Senator SIEWERT: I do not need the bit about—
Senator Cormann: I will be providing an answer to your question, so perhaps you can just bear with me. We have inherited a budget in very bad shape, with $123 billion worth of projected deficits over the forward estimates, with debt heading for $667 billion. And one of the budget process operational rules that we operate under is that if there is some new expenditure that takes place some offsets have to be found within other areas across government in order to ensure that spending across government does not keep increasing. So, the government made a decision to do what we said before the election we would do, which is to try to get to the bottom of what happened with the home insulation program. As you would recall, some people died, some people were seriously injured—
Senator SIEWERT: Minister, you are wasting my time.
Senator Cormann: I have been very quiet, I have been letting—
Senator SIEWERT: I asked a specific question.
Senator Cormann: And I am providing an answer to your question.
Senator SIEWERT: No you are not; I am sorry. I need to know—
CHAIR: Order! Senator Siewert, please allow the minister to continue to explain the budget.
Senator Cormann: Senator Siewert, this is a very important answer to your question. I am quite happy to let things go when it is just a matter of getting some facts, but here there is a perspective from the government that has to be put on the table. We said before the election that we would have this inquiry. We made commitments to the families of the people who got injured by this program in the lead-up to the last election. We are delivering on this commitment, but we are doing it in a way that fits within the fiscally constrained framework we are dealing with. As such, the officials probably will not be able to assist you much further, because it was very much a decision of the government to reprioritise the uncommitted funding that was available in those respective programs.
Senator SIEWERT: I specifically want to know: is this money coming out of the NHT fund? And I am sure Mr Thompson and Mr Sullivan know why I am asking that question.
Senator Cormann: I think that question was actually answered.
Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Was the NHT ministerial board consulted over that decision?
Mr Sullivan : I would have to check the records in terms of the meetings of the ministerial board that have taken place since the election. I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Did you provide advice to the ministers about the purpose of an NHT fund and the fact that this was being redirected out of that NHT fund account?
Mr Sullivan : The minister was quite aware of where the savings offset was—
Senator SIEWERT: Was the minister aware of the purpose of that particular fund and account?
Senator Cormann: Senator, I will intervene here again. The government made a conscious and deliberate decision. We take responsibility for the decision that we took. It is really difficult for officials in a department to try to justify what ultimately are decisions that were made by the government.
Mr Thompson : The language used in the budget documents is around redirection of funding. It is actually a take from the NHT. It is an offset from the NHT; it is not NHT money being used for this purpose.
Senator SIEWERT: That is why I was asking you about where the money came from.
Mr Thompson : Yes. So, it is an offset taken from the Natural Heritage Trust.
Senator SIEWERT: What do you mean 'it is an offset'?
Mr Thompson : It means that the money is taken from that appropriation. It is no longer linked to that appropriation, and it is used for another purpose. So, if the intent of your question—and I am sorry if it took me a while to get to it—is whether money has been, if you like, misappropriated or misused because it is governed by the appropriation of the Natural Heritage Trust, the answer is that that is not the case; it is actually offset.
Senator SIEWERT: Why is that? Is that money still available to be spent for what the NHT account was established for?
Senator Cormann: The answer is no.
Senator SIEWERT: In other words, the money did come out of there.
Mr Thompson : Yes, and it was a savings taken from that account.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. That is what I wanted to find out. In terms of the $100 million, as it relates to the fisheries money—the original allocation, which was a nominal amount, and I accept that process—that is because the management planning process is not being proceeded with—is that why that funding is now available for marine parks?
Ms Rankin : Yes. Because the management plans were set aside in going through a new process through establishing new management plans, we do not know the impact of the ultimate management arrangements on fisheries. Until that process has been finalised the Fisheries Adjustment Assistance Program has not been able to continue to be rolled out this year.
Senator SIEWERT: Mr Thompson, you have been referring to the National Landcare Program by its collective name. You will remember that last time in the ag committee we were talking about the fact that you had not quite resolved whether that is going to be the name of the program or not. Is that now confirmed—that all of the program will be called the National Landcare Program?
Mr Sullivan : I was not part of the ag committee, so I am not sure where the indecision came from. The future of the National Landcare Program, as I explained to Senator Urquhart earlier, is still a matter for the budget process. But our expectation is that it will take the appropriations from the NRM—natural resource management—special account, the Natural Heritage Trust special account, the stewardship program and the Working on Country appropriation.
Senator SIEWERT: Including the Landcare program?
Mr Sullivan : That is the Natural Resource Management special account/
Senator SIEWERT: What I was getting to is: is that what it is going to be rebranded as? Or will there be another name for that program?
Mr Thompson : Not that we are aware of.
Senator SIEWERT: And, judging from what you have said before, the decision on that is not going to be made until after the budget, obviously—the business plan process?
Mr Sullivan : That is a matter for the government. Obviously there are time constraints in terms of certainty for future funding, but the timing of details around future program settings are a matter for government.
Senator SIEWERT: So, nothing has been finalised for the next business plan?
Mr Sullivan : There are a whole range of existing contracts under the previous Caring for our Country—
Senator SIEWERT: I mean for the new process—
Mr Sullivan : And a great deal of work has been done on providing advice on future program settings. That is really now a timing issue, coupled with the budget process.
Mr Thompson : The government has said that it does want to release guidelines and it does want to consult on the future shape.
Senator SIEWERT: And that will happen after all that other process stuff?
Mr Thompson : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: The $1 million that was allocated for the National Landcare Network: can you confirm for me whether that comes under Minister Hunt, or Minister Joyce?
Mr Sullivan : That, again, will be a decision for the budget process.
Senator SIEWERT: So that decision has not been made?
Mr Sullivan : The decision has been made with respect to meeting the commitment—
Senator SIEWERT: The allocation of the money, but not under which minister?
Mr Sullivan : No decisions have been finalised in terms of government making clear what the settings will be.
Senator SIEWERT: Will there be any staff losses associated with the NRM change? Or should I have asked that this morning and put it on notice?
Mr Sullivan : It is too early to say.
Senator SIEWERT: What is the status of the biodiversity fund's projects, and its status in general?
Mr Sullivan : As is outlined in the portfolio additional estimates statements, the biodiversity fund has now been terminated.
Senator SIEWERT: But the projects that are ongoing—
Mr Sullivan : There is a continuation of managing contracts, and some of those contracts go through to 2017-18. The total expenditure for the biodiversity fund by 2017-18 will be in the order of $381 million. Those contracts will still be managed. They will still be reported on. The information that is coming from those will still be utilised in our monitoring and evaluation system.
Chair, with your indulgence: you asked before about the NHT ministerial board. I now understand the intent of the question. Basically, once the government decides to actually take funds as an offset from the trust, that is not a decision of the board; that is a matter for government, and the NHT board makes decisions on funding within the trust and is not responsible for making decisions for savings from the trust.
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, once it comes out of the trust. We will split those hairs later. I want to very quickly ask about the marine process. I just want to follow up on a couple of questions that were asked before. In the consultation process for the new lot of reviews, who has been consulted?
Ms Rankin : The details are still being established for the review panels—the terms of reference and the process they will run to undertake the consultation. So, that has not been finalised yet.
Senator SIEWERT: I have one last one related to the question I was asking about the $100 million. Management plans are not there, so for all intents and purposes the fishing that is currently going on in those areas in the boundaries of the marine parks is still all as it was before. Is that correct?
Ms Rankin : That is right.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would like to ask a few questions on the Expert Panel on a Declared Commercial Fishing Activity Final (Small Pelagic Fishery) Declaration 2012. How much of the approximately $860,000 that has been allocated has actually been spent on research activities?
Mr P Murphy : From the budget of $880,000, expenditure to date is $161,620.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I think when I last asked, at the last estimates, it was $109,000, so you have spent a little bit since then. I am interested, considering the reporting deadline is only six months away. Do you anticipate you will spend the rest of that on research? Is there something coming up that is going to take up the next 60 or 70 per cent of the allocation?
Mr P Murphy : It is really a matter for the panel to decide. So far, apart from the consultations that they have had with experts, they have commissioned three reports and there is more money than that contracted. So I think that the value of the contracts in total that are under contract is $274,000, and there is another $30,000 that deals with running the panel itself.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So would you consider, then, that the original money was an overallocation compared to what you needed, considering it was new territory? Or is there still more work that needs to be done by the panel?
Mr P Murphy : The panel still has to write the report and make its own decisions about what further research it might need.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So the original $880,000—was that estimated by your department? Who put that together us the necessary funding for the expert panel to make the deliberations?
Ms Rankin : We understand it was the department, yes.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: The department, but who in the department?
Dr Dripps : My staff in the relevant division at the time provided advice to the minister of approximately what we believed might be necessary, based on our understanding of the costs of fisheries research and other matters, and then the government made an appropriate decision at the time.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could you give us an update on the progress? There are three reports that have been written, but considering this came up fairly quickly are you confident that you have the necessary funds in place and the expertise to make a declaration on the fishing activity?
Mr P Murphy : So far the panel has considered the substantive submissions that were received through the consultation on the declarations. They have invited the authors of those submissions to suggest additional experts from whom the panel could seek further advice. They have undertaken face-to-face interviews with key experts. They have considered all the written submissions and they have commissioned two literature reviews and a technical review to inform their assessment.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So would it be fair to say that there have not been any studies done in the field, like EPM egg studies? Nothing like that has been required by the panel? A stock assessment would be one example.
Mr P Murphy : The stock assessments and the egg production model that you refer to—those sorts of things will be done by the fisheries management rather than the panel. The panel is looking at its terms of reference, especially in regard to the impacts on protected species and localised depletion caused by the activities of such a vessel.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So you anticipate you will be able to report in time, by October? You will have your work completed?
Mr P Murphy : The panel's advice to us is they are planning on submitting the report by the due date, which is 22 October.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: But at this stage you can confirm that you are only allocating roughly $300,000—$274,000 plus the $30,000—of the original $880,000?
Dr Dripps : No, I do not think that is what the officer said.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Sorry, that is the way I interpreted it. You said you had contracts in place for $274,000.
Dr Dripps : That is right, and the panel is still operating, so it is open to the panel the commission or undertake further work in the period that is available to them.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is that period until October?
Dr Dripps : That is when they are scheduled to deliver their first report to the minister, yes.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So the money does not need to be spent by October?
Dr Dripps : There are two declarations, both of which have different dates of expiry.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: One was the transhipment—is that correct?
Dr Dripps : That is correct. The second declaration relates to transhipment.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So you will be spending the rest of the allocation on looking at transhipment?
Dr Dripps : You are asking us to conjecture about a future that has not yet occurred. I think we have answered the question.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: A future that has not yet occurred? This is a fishing activity you have been asked to look at.
Dr Dripps : I think we have answered the question as best we can. We have allocated a certain proportion, we have an intention to allocate a certain other proportion in the not-too-distant future, and it remains open to the panel to allocate further resources to further studies during the period that they operate.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: In what period will they operate? When will they wind up? Has that been decided, or is it ongoing?
Dr Dripps : There are two declarations. The first one expires in October—
Mr P Murphy : The second declaration expires in April 2015. A panel to conduct a review under that declaration has not yet been established.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So where did you get the idea that you needed this extra funding for a panel that you have not yet put in place—unless you are saying what you have spent already is sufficient for the first declaration.
Dr Dripps : We do have a panel in place for the first declaration.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I asked about the second declaration. You just said you have not yet got the panel in place for the second declaration.
Mr P Murphy : That is right. A panel has not yet been established for the second declaration, but there is potential for the funding to be used by that panel.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: There is potential for the funding, but it is something you have not yet considered?
Dr Dripps : We are guided by the panel to establish their priorities.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: My line of questioning is pretty obvious. I want to know if you have spent all the money, if that is what you needed for resources. It is a pretty important thing that you are doing. When I asked you three months ago, you had only spent $100,000 of the $880,000 that was allocated; and now you have spent $161,000 with only six months to go. Are we getting bang for our buck?
Dr Dripps : As I said, we are guided by the expert panel about what they think we should be spending the money on and what research should be commissioned. It is not a decision for us to go out and commission research to allocate and spend all the funding. If the panel are confident that they can make considered, expert, independent advice to the government based on the research that they have commissioned to date, and it cost less than $880,000, then—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So be it.
Senator RUSTON: I would like you to list the Green Army projects in the states. Obviously I am interested in the projects that have been committed to in South Australia and the potential impacts of those programs upon the environment. You do not need to answer that now. Could you give us a quick outline on a few of the initiatives that the government has suggested that it would like to prioritise in relation to steps with the Tasmanian devil recovery project. Do you have any information on that?
Mr Sullivan : Are you asking for details around the Green Army projects?
Senator RUSTON: I am interested in the Green Army projects that have been committed to in the states—and I am sure there is a piece of paper somewhere that says what they are. I am particularly interested in the South Australian projects. You can take that on notice. I do not expect you to sit here and list every one of them.
Mr Sullivan : We can take that on notice.
Senator RUSTON: My next question is specifically in relation to the Tasmanian devil recovery program—how that is tracking along, what we are spending on it and what outcomes we are hoping to achieve.
Mr Andrews : Funding of up to $3.3 million was agreed to by Minister Hunt last month and announced for the Tasmanian devil conservation work in 2013-14. That will be delivered through a grant to the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment to increase support for the Save the Tasmanian Devil program. That program is addressing the facial tumour disease. Funding will be used to fence off areas of high priority devil habitat to form sanctuaries for disease-free populations—creating what we call insurance populations and also allowing for better monitoring and management of the species.
Senator RUSTON: The $3.3 million is new money?
Mr Andrews : Yes.
Senator RUSTON: What action is being taken to deliver on the protection plans for the turtle and the dugong, two really important marine animals?
Mr Sullivan : There are two parts to that, and one of those relates to Ms Rankin's work with respect to commitments through the election with respect to the $2.5 million turtle and dugong plan. There is also work, which the government announced last week, related specifically to turtles and feral pigs. This is $7 million of matched funding between the Australian government and the Queensland government and it is designed to better protect turtle eggs, hatchlings and habitat. Science and monitoring indicates that, in some nesting sites, up to 90 per cent of turtle eggs are lost due to feral pig predation. This is a way to better control feral pigs but also to promote increased survivability rates for turtles. Ms Campbell might have more information on that.
Ms Campbell : The programs will look at aerial baiting, ground baiting and asset protection—fencing turtle nesting sites—on both the west and east coasts of Queensland.
Senator RUSTON: Obviously if you got a 90 per cent loss rate we need to do something in a reasonably big hurry. So what is the duration of that program?
Ms Campbell : Four years.
Senator RUSTON: So the $7 million is available over four years?
Ms Campbell : Yes.
Senator RUSTON: Okay. I look forward to speaking to you at future estimates to see how you are going.
Mr Sullivan : Mr Richardson might want to add something about the turtle and dugong protection plans.
Senator RUSTON: I assume this is part of the Reef 2050 plan.
Mr Richardson : Yes. The dugong and turtle protection plan is one element of the Reef 2050 plan, which was an election commitment. It includes various elements that will contribute to the conservation of the dugong and the turtle, largely around Northern Australia. This is one of the commitments that will be going through the budget process before we get confirmation of the streaming of the money et cetera. But the announced elements that we are expecting it to cover off on are $2 million for a specialised Indigenous ranger program; $2 million for an Australian Crime Commission investigation into poaching and illegal take of dugong and turtle; the tripling of penalties for poaching and illegal trade of turtle and dugong under both the GBRMP Act and the EPBC act, which is already being implemented through parliament as we speak; some money for marine debris clean-up; some money to support the Cairns and Fitzroy Island turtle rehabilitation centres; a national protection strategy for marine turtles and dugong; and working with Indigenous leaders towards an initial two-year opt-in moratorium on the taking of dugong.
Senator RUSTON: Thank you very much.
Senator STEPHENS: I want to go more broadly to that program of sustainable management. You have spoken about the dugong protection program, the linkages with the Australian Crime Commission and the legislation about tripling the penalties. Has the department come to an estimation of what revenue the penalties may generate?
Mr Richardson : No, that has not been factored into our thinking.
Senator STEPHENS: Can you give the committee an indication of how many people have been charged and prosecuted under the previous regime—which might indicate what revenue is generated from penalties and whether or not they are a disincentive.
Mr Richardson : We are talking about two different pieces of legislation. I will speak about the EPBC Act. I am not aware of any prosecutions for illegal take of, or trade in, dugongs and turtles.
Senator STEPHENS: Anything other than the dugongs and turtles?
Dr Dripps : We can take on notice the provision of information relating to the GBRMP Act and also draw together recent information that was provided to this committee in inquiring into that bill.
Senator STEPHENS: Thank you, and I can go back to the Hansard and have a look as well. More broadly, regarding the Environmental Stewardship Program, I have heard lots of discussion about the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement and the implementation package. I am interested in their grants to voluntary environment, sustainable and heritage organisations and the role of the green army in the government's direct action on climate change and where the green army might make an impact. There is a significant investment in the forward estimates for the green army. Can you provide the committee with any additional information around how the green army is to be mobilised and activated and where this expenditure is going to be incurred?
Mr Thompson : I will turn to Ms Lane to answer that question in detail. In your lead-in to the question you named a number of different programs, but we will focus on the green army for the time being.
Ms Lane : The way the program is designed to work is that there will be a tender process quite shortly to identify one or more service providers, which will have responsibility for recruiting participants and deploying green army teams to projects, paying participants, managing their welfare et cetera. Separate to that, there will be a process for selecting green army projects, to which the green army teams will be deployed by the service providers. That process will be managed by the department through a separate or dedicated set of project selection guidelines. The successful applicants for that process will then be connected to the service providers for delivery of those green army projects.
Senator STEPHENS: If you could provide on notice any more detail about the scope and the arrangements of that program, that would be very helpful for the committee, particularly in relation to what additional training will be part of the green army beyond things like occupational health and safety.
Ms Lane : Sure. There is quite a bit more detail than what I have just given to you outlined in the draft statement of requirements, which we circulated in January for consultation. That does give quite a lot of detail around how the program is proposed to be operationalised and does include some information about training. That is probably the best document to look at.
Senator STEPHENS: If you could provide just the details to the committee around the time frames, that would be helpful. Is that publicly available?
Ms Lane : Yes.
Mr Thompson : It is on our website.
CHAIR: The committee will suspend. Outcome 1.1 is completed, thank you. We will return with outcome 1.2.
Proceedings suspended from 21:18 to 21:34
CHAIR: Welcome back ladies and gentlemen. We now have officers from the department in relation to program 1.2—Environmental information and research. We will kick off with Senator Whish-Wilson.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you, Chair. I have some questions relating to whaling surveillance. Can you confirm what I think the Antarctic Division told us this morning that only one surveillance flight has taken place this whaling season.
Ms Petrachenko : Yes, Senator, I can confirm that there has been one flight using the A319 aircraft through the Customs and Border Protection Service.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can you give us an idea of how long that flight lasted for and the type of area that they covered.
Ms Petrachenko : In terms of operational details, that is something that should be directed towards Customs and Border Protection.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay, so you can't answer any questions as to what type of surveillance equipment they used.
Ms Petrachenko : No, I can't.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay. Can you give us an idea of cost?
Ms Petrachenko : Yes, I can—$ 93,248.
Mr Thompson : Senator, just to add to that: that cost is for the use of the aircraft; it is exclusive of any cost that the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service might incur.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So that is the total cost for leasing the aircraft for a period of time or just for the one flight?
Mr Thompson : Your question was how much did that flight cost, and that was—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So that was just for that one flight. Who staffed that plane? Was that Customs officials or did you have someone from the Environment?
Ms Petrachenko : No, there was no-one from the Department of the Environment there; it was manned by Customs and Border Protection.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So what sort of arrangements did you have in place for them? Do they report back to you the details of how often they, for example, spotted the whaling fleet or how many dead whales they saw in the water? How was it supposed to work?
Ms Petrachenko : The charter arrangements are through our department with Customs and Border Protection Service, so they are in charge of the operation. So that is as simple as it is. And at the end of every operation there is normal debriefing with people who have been involved in the operation.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So your department would get a debriefing but you cannot divulge the details of those debriefings?
Ms Petrachenko : I think for all the operational questions it would be most appropriate to go to Customs and Border Protection.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Were you happy that it provided a disincentive to the Japanese whalers to enter Australian territorial waters or the whale sanctuary?
Mr Thompson : I think that is a question asking for our opinion or our feelings towards it. We saw the flight as meeting the government's commitment.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is there any reason why only one flight has taken place?
Mr Thompson : As Ms Petrachenko said, for operational reasons we don't go into details of this.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So you don't have any idea how many whales have been killed, for example?
Ms Petrachenko : What happens every year on that front is the Japanese are required to report the number of whales that they kill.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Correct.
Ms Petrachenko : They do that at the end of the season at the Whaling Commission meeting, which will be held in Slovenia in September this year.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Did you have discussions with other non-Customs-related departments about, for example, using an Orion aircraft or something that had a longer capability?
Ms Petrachenko : I am not an expert at all in what is the most appropriate vessel, aircraft or whatever for this type of operation—so, again, I have to say that would be a question for Customs and Border Protection.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I understand Minister Hunt met with the Japanese ambassador before the whaling season. Are you aware of the details of the discussion—whether, for example, rules of engagement were discussed with the Japanese ambassador?
Ms Petrachenko : It is regular for officials as well to meet with the Japanese. For example, one of the most important aspects is safety at sea—that is what this is all about. There was a communique issued in conjunction with other countries—New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United States—reminding all parties of the importance of safety at sea, and we delivered those messages here and in Tokyo.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I understand. However, speaking to those on the Sea Shepherd this morning, they were not convinced about their safety at sea at the moment, and there is certainly no aircraft or Australian presence where they are.
Senator Cormann: We cannot answer the fears of the Sea Shepherd.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Fine. The previous government promised in July 2013 an extra $6 million for whale research. Is this still going to occur? Are you still committed to that ongoing funding?
Ms Petrachenko : There is funding in the forward estimates for $5,980,000. That money is being expended this financial year and there is yet to be any decision on a future work program.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: In terms of the costs that you mentioned for the first surveillance flight, what have you got in the kitty for other flights? Do you expect there will be other surveillance flights?
Ms Petrachenko : I think Mr Thompson referred to that this morning.
Mr Thompson : This morning in table 1.2. There is an amount there that provides for that. That is a budgeted amount; it is a contingency amount; it does not say how many flights there will be.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have you been contacted today by Sea Shepherd requesting an additional flight, given the violence that occurred last night?
Ms Petrachenko : I have not.
Senator URQUHART: Can you provide the committee with an update on the whaling case that is currently in the international court?
Ms Petrachenko : As I think I reported at last estimates, the case was heard in the Hague in June and July. The hearings finished on 16 July and the court is currently deliberating. In terms of timing for the judgement, we are totally in the hands of the court.
Senator URQUHART: How long would they usually take—do you know?
Ms Petrachenko : It varies on cases. My understanding from what the Attorney-General's Department has indicated, it also varies. For example, if other countries have cases that require provisional measures, they have to go into the court, so that affects the timetable.
Senator URQUHART: I would like to ask a question on the National Environmental Research Program. Can you confirm that the National Environmental Research Program has 107 projects?
Mr Flanigan : The environmental research program funds five research hubs around the country: one in North Queensland, one in Darwin, another one based mostly out of Brisbane in Queensland, and two based out of Tasmania in partnership with the Tasmanian university. Each of those hubs has a program of work that they are contracted to deliver. I am afraid I do not have the details before me that would confirm, but there are 107 individual projects. As I say, each hub has a number of programs and projects that they run with individual researchers and scientists operating each of those projects.
Senator URQUHART: Would you be able to take on notice and confirm the number of projects but also a full list of those projects? Could you provide that on notice?
Mr Flanigan : I think we could do that.
Mr Thompson : To put some context around that, the portfolio budget statement from the last budget did include a deliverable of 102 research projects co-funded with other agencies, so that figure would be in the ballpark, with 376 researchers to be funded through the program.
Senator URQUHART: If you could provide that full list, that would be fantastic.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would like to ask a little bit more about the aircraft, the Airbus A319. You mentioned the cost. Was that a lease arrangement?
Ms Petrachenko : Yes, it is a charter lease arrangement.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Was it tendered out at all or was it just a negotiation, because you have worked with Customs or they would have been in the best position to provide the staff and personnel?
Mr Thompson : We are piggybacking on the lease, or using the lease effectively, that our Antarctic Division has with a private company, and that was tendered some years ago. It is an ongoing arrangement.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can you give us an idea of the procedure if the boat spots a Japanese whaler? Who is alerted? Does it go directly to you guys or does it go to the secretary of the department or the minister?
Mr Thompson : You are asking us to go into details of operations which I am actually not even privy to, let alone able to share. In detail, as Ms Petrachenko said, the flight occurred, and we were debriefed afterwards.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Mr Thompson, you mentioned a little bit earlier that you met the commitment, or perhaps you said 'a commitment'. Senator Cormann, my understanding was that the commitment of your government going into the election was to send a Customs vessel, the Ocean Protector, to the Southern Ocean. That was your official election commitment. I am a bit confused.
Senator Cormann: If I can help you with your confusion, I probably would have to seek the assistance of Minister Hunt, so I will refer that question to him.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: You are not aware that you had an official policy—
Senator Cormann: I am aware of the commitments we made and I am also aware that we made the announcement in relation to that particular flight, and the flight took place, but for all of the circumstances behind it I think it would be better if I referred that question to Minister Hunt.
Dr de Brouwer : I do not know whether it helps, Minister, but Minister Hunt put out a press release on 13 January in which he talked about using the aircraft as a way of meeting the government's commitment to monitor activities. He highlights that it is a remote and extensive area, so aircraft are easier to use on that basis, and it allows the government to monitor ships in what is a spread fleet, which is much harder with an ocean vessel. So that is the rationale, which the minister has said publicly—to deliver the spirit of that commitment by using an aircraft, which has greater flexibility in those distances.
Senator Cormann: Essentially, we get better bang for our buck.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I understand why you might say that. You may feel that I was asking for your opinion in my earlier question, but there is a very important operational issue here. Has it provided a disincentive for whaling, which is deemed illegal under Australian law? It is great that we are doing work in international courts, but if we had sent a Customs vessel, which would have been required to turn the Japanese whaling fleet back—
Senator Cormann: Except it is a very large area and you cannot necessarily cover the same—
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Sure. So I suppose I could ask the question in a different way: do you believe you have succeeded in your role in the environment department in stopping illegal whaling in the whale sanctuary or in the Southern Ocean this year?
Ms Petrachenko : I will refer to the previous question of your colleague, which refers to the case in the international court. The way the system works under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling is that, under article 8, Japan issues itself permits. Australia does not view that what Japan is doing is scientific; it views it as commercial in nature. As a result the government decided to take Japan to court, and we are awaiting that judgement now.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I do not know whether I can ask you this, but I can seek the minister's advice on where I can get an answer. If the decision is made in our favour, does that mean that next year we will take stronger action, like sending a Customs vessel?
Senator Cormann: That is again asking us a hypothetical question. We will cross that bridge when we get there.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Sea Shepherd claim they are doing the government's work for them, and I am actually quoting Minister Hunt's words exactly from the last few years, in that we should be doing our own work—and that is why he had a very clear policy on sending a Customs vessel to provide a very strong disincentive.
Senator Cormann: Sea Shepherd are doing what they choose to do. Nobody forces them to do what they are doing.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: And they would be the first to admit that, Senator—that they do it to save whales, because someone has to do that. I suppose it begs the question: is it our responsibility, considering how strongly this issue is felt in this country and what great work has already been done through the courts, including the Federal Court?
Senator Cormann : We are doing the best we can within the constraints of the resources we have got. We do our best to have the best possible impact.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: If the customs vessel wasn't off Christmas Island, acting as a water taxi in Operation Sovereign Borders, would we see it down in the Southern Ocean patrolling for illegal fishing?
Senator Cormann : You are well and truly stretching beyond the environment portfolio now, but I am happy to indulge you. The point I would make is the reason we have made such strong commitments to stopping the boats is that we did not want Navy and Customs vessels to be used as water taxis to bring effectively illegal maritime arrivals to Australian shores. The reason we are pursuing the strong border protection policy that we are is because we wanted to put a stop to that situation.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: While I respect your comments, if you were pursuing strong border activities you would also be protecting the Southern Ocean.
CHAIR: We are not dealing with immigration here.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: It is very important, so if I could perhaps explain that. This boat is an ice rated design for the Southern Ocean; it had a job to do and it cost the taxpayer $150 million. The Liberals went in with a strong policy to send it to prevent illegal whaling and also to monitor illegal fishing—that was also a very clear policy of the Liberal Party—both of those promises have been broken, because the boat is being used up in the tropical waters off Christmas Island.
Senator Cormann : I do not accept that a promise has been broken. We are implementing it in a different way. Having taken all of the advice that one has access to in government, we are implementing the commitment we made in a different way.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have you considered a different boat, perhaps?
Senator Cormann : You are now stretching my area of expertise. Maybe somebody at the table will be able to assist you.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: It is directly related to stopping whaling, let's be honest.
Ms Petrachenko : I think that is what I referred to previously, that those types of decisions and the choice of appropriate vessel type were made with advice. It would have been operational information, and the decision was made by the government.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: If I could say to that, we had a very clear indication from Minister Robb last week that the reason the customs vessel wasn't sent was because of the free trade deal with Japan. They did not want to cause the diplomatic incident. That actually puts it in an entirely new light. Government decisions come from all sorts of departments.
Senator Cormann : With all due respect, I won't take your word for what Minister Robb said.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: It was a direct quote in the media and I am happy to provide it for you.
CHAIR: We will now move to program 1.3 Carbon pollution reduction.
Senator PRATT: I want to begin by asking some questions about the land sector initiatives. Are you able to tell the committee where the $1.4 million cut from the Biodiversity Fund in MYEFO will come from?
Mr Sullivan : I am wracking my brain trying to think where the figure of $1.4 million came from.
Senator PRATT: I can give you a little bit of the history. There was the $1 billion Biodiversity Fund over six years; it had been previously reduced. In MYEFO it was cut by a further $1.4 million over four years.
Mr Sullivan : Thanks, Senator. I have done the figures now. That was a project that was previously approved. My recollection is that it was a project in South Australia. It was selected on the basis of significant co-investment and partnerships, which did not eventuate. Because of those partnerships not being forthcoming, the project could not proceed. That individual line which appears in the agency additional estimates statement reflects that project that had previously been approved.
Senator PRATT: So it was funding from a project previously committed in the second round but not contracted—is that right?
Mr Sullivan : No, it had been contracted. Through the contract negotiations, it became evident that the project partners that had been put in place as part of the project bid could not fulfil their part of the commitments. These projects often rely on co-investment, both in kind and financial contributions. So, based on the contract negotiations, it was deemed that the project was not viable given the changes in circumstances.
Senator PRATT: Are you able to tell us what that project was?
Mr Sullivan : I would have to take that on notice. My recollection is that it was in South Australia, but I am happy to take that on notice and give you the details.
Senator PRATT: That is no problem. Thank you, Chair. That is all I had on the land sector initiative.
CHAIR: That completes 1.3. Thank you.