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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
SUSTAINABILITY, ENVIRONMENT, WATER, POPULATION AND COMMUNITIES PORTFOLIO
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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Joyce, Sen Barnaby
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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
(Senate-Wednesday, 29 May 2013)
SUSTAINABILITY, ENVIRONMENT, WATER, POPULATION AND COMMUNITIES PORTFOLIO
Murray-Darling Basin Authority
National Water Commission
Environmental Water Office
Office of the Supervising Scientist
Senator IAN MACDONALD
- Murray-Darling Basin Authority
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Content WindowEnvironment and Communications Legislation Committee - 29/05/2013 - Estimates - SUSTAINABILITY, ENVIRONMENT, WATER, POPULATION AND COMMUNITIES PORTFOLIO - Environmental Water Office
Environmental Water Office
CHAIR: We are now moving to program 6. I call officers from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office together with officers from the department in relation to program 6.1: Commonwealth environmental water. Senator Joyce.
Senator JOYCE: Congratulations, you are now the biggest irrigators in the nation, are you not? You would have the largest amount of water compared to any other body in Australia?
Mr Papps : As I understand it, we are the single largest holder of water.
Senator JOYCE: On the books, how much is that water worth?
Mr Papps : That water is valued at about $1.89 billion.
Senator JOYCE: How many staff do you have?
Mr Papps : The current full-time equivalent staff numbers are 55.66.
Senator JOYCE: What is the average cost of each staff member?
Mr Papps : I would have to take that on notice.
Senator JOYCE: Over the past five years, how much water has the water holder delivered to the environment?
Mr Papps : The total delivered since the commencement of the program five years ago to 30 April is 2,359 gigalitres.
Senator JOYCE: You were allocated 2,978, is that correct?
Mr Papps : The figure I have is 2,812 gigalitres, but I will check that during the day and let you know.
Senator JOYCE: So there is about a 550 difference between the two or something, is that correct?
Mr Papps : About 450, according to my numbers.
Senator JOYCE: What did you do with that water?
Mr Papps : The difference?
Senator JOYCE: Yes.
Mr Papps : The difference is made up of the fact that the 2012-13 water year has not yet finished; so there will be more water used. There have been some evaporative loss deductions during the life of the holdings. In accordance with the normal state rules, there has been a very small amount of forfeit and then the balance is made up of carryover that we are expecting into 201314.
Senator JOYCE: What do you mean by 'forfeit', for the purpose of Hansard?
Mr Papps : Forfeit or reallocation by basin states is a process whereby essentially—if you cannot use your water, you are not entitled it carry it over and you have not traded it—under certain circumstances, given the rules in each basis state, you forfeit it or lose it.
Senator JOYCE: Use it or lose it! How much forfeit water was there?
Mr Papps : Over the life of the program, the total forfeiture for the Commonwealth environmental water holdings is 0.464 gigalitres.
Senator JOYCE: So that is at 46,000 megs or something?
Mr Papps : Yes.
Senator JOYCE: Is there any chance of selling that on to anybody? Seeing that we are going to lose it, is there any chance of selling it to farming communities or something like that that might want to buy it?
Mr Papps : Not really in the time that we have been operating, simply because, particularly since the Basin Plan has come into force, there are new rules governing the trade by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. I have to be compliant with those rules before I can trade, and I am not yet in that position.
Senator JOYCE: So just for the purpose of Hansard, 46,000 megs is about half of Beardmore Dam. Do laws need to be changed so that you could actually trade that water back into the market? Are there things that we need to change so that could happen?
Mr Papps : No. I think the trade question is reasonably settled. With the new provisions in the Basin Plan as it now exists and the requirements on me and, indeed, every irrigator within the basin states—they have got their own sets of rules and regulations—as far as I am concerned, as the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, I simply have to address those requirements so that I am in a position to trade. At this stage, I do not see any changes that are necessary.
Senator JOYCE: You should read the notes just beside you.
Mr Papps : Thank you.
Senator JOYCE: You are welcome. How many people do you have in the field?
Mr Papps : How many people in the field?
Senator JOYCE: Yes.
Mr Papps : Do you mean based outside Canberra?
Senator JOYCE: I mean in the field, where your environmental assets are—driving around in the field and checking out how the trees are growing.
Mr Papps : We do not have any staff at the moment permanently located outside Canberra. We are in the process of employing six local engagement officers who will be employed within the basin, outside Canberra. Having said that, I should also say that the staff within Canberra travel across the basin very frequently and very widely, particularly those staff involved in the delivery of Commonwealth environmental water, because they undertake this process in a very collaborative manner with a wide range of other agencies, interest groups, local communities and the like. Those sorts of relationships and that sort of interaction can only be facilitated by direct contact throughout the basin. So while they are not based in the basin, they are certainly out there a great deal.
Senator JOYCE: You have a $1.89 billion asset. You have 55 staff based in Canberra. The water, the asset, is out there across the Murray-Darling Basin. In regard to your environmental assets, you are supposed to be watering them out there as well. If you were a company, you would be in probably the top five or six per cent, in terms of size, of companies in Australia. So we are talking about a big show. Don't you think it would be good to have some more sort of ontheground staff permanently applied next to your environmental assets? If that is what we are supposed to be doing all this for, how do we know it is actually achieving its objectives?
Mr Papps : There are two elements in response to that question. The first, as I alluded to before, is that the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and, indeed, the Commonwealth environmental watering process is an extensively collaborative one. In other words, we undertake both our planning for water use and our delivery of Commonwealth environmental water in collaboration with a range of other agencies and entities, particularly the state-based agencies: in New South Wales, for example, State Water and the Office of Water; with river operators, for example, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority; and with private companies, for example, Murrumbidgee Irrigation. So the total resources available to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder are less relevant; it is the collaborative work that we conduct across the basin.
In terms of monitoring outcomes, it is fundamentally important for us to be able to demonstrate the effect that our water is having. Of course, given that we have a commitment and an obligation to an adaptive management framework, you cannot do that without monitoring the impact of our watering activities. We have an environmental monitoring program and we are seeking to expand that.
Senator JOYCE: What will be the value of your asset at the end? How much water will be the book value? What do you anticipate to be the ultimate value that you will have on the books for your water by the time the plan is completed?
Mr Papps : I am not able to answer that at the moment; it is not information that we have available. I can take it on notice.
Senator JOYCE: Roughly, over $2 billion?
Mr Papps : I would expect so.
Senator JOYCE: And the increment of that asset as it increases, will that be booked as a capital profit, or how will we deal with that? Obviously the value of the water goes up; so the value of that asset would go up. How will the government deal with it?
Mr Papps : I will just ask my colleague.
Mr Costello : They are characterised as intangible assets. So they come on to the books at cost but they are revalued. Each year, we have a look at all of the trades through the state water registers and then see whether there has been a significant decline or increase in the value of the assets so that they can be written down. They can only be written up to cost, if they go beyond that.
Senator JOYCE: Can you provide figures on a catchment-by-catchment basis, that is, how much water has been allocated in each catchment in each year and how much water has been delivered in each catchment in each year?
Mr Papps : We can provide those figures. I will take that on notice. We can probably provide them today.
Senator JOYCE: Thank you very much for that. How much have you lost over the past five years; that is, how much water were you allocated that subsequently could not be used? Was that just the forfeit amount?
Mr Papps : Essentially it is just the forfeit amount in the way that we interpret that. So, in effect, from our perspective, there are four broad uses that water can be put to: we can use it for environmental watering activity; we can trade it; where we do not trade it and do not use it, subject to the rules that apply, we can carry it over, as can other irrigators; and then the fourth category is forfeit, and I have given you the figures on forfeit.
This year, because it is essentially a rolling program where the ledgers, if you like, are squared off at the end of each water year, if we go to 2012-13, which are the figures represented in some of the recent reports, we are in a position where we are forecasting total use of around 1,125 gigalitres, but that may go up because we are still contemplating a number of watering activities and we are forecasting a carryover of about 350 to 400 gigalitres. Again, the precise nature of that number will not be known until the end of the water year. It is dependent on, as I say, a number of watering activities that we are still contemplating before the end of the water year. As you would be aware, Senator, carryover water is not water lost; it is still available to us. We would expect to utilise it in the early stages of the next water year.
Senator JOYCE: Do you ever get to a point where you just say, 'Look, we can't use the water we've got. It's not being used. Let's get this back to farming communities. Let's at least sell some of it.' If it does not have an environmental use and there is no prospective environmental use because it might have flooded, you could do something with the water. Tell me about that process.
Mr Papps : Sure. Our principal focus is obviously on environmental water and use. That is why the water has been purchased. That is why it has been given to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. That is my legislative remit, to protect and restore the environmental assets of the Murray-Darling Basin.
Having said that, the Water Act gives me the capacity to trade. Without going into the detail of it, which I would have to read out to you anyway, there are very limited circumstances in which I can trade, the net effect of which amounts to, if I cannot use the water for environmental purposes for some reason or if I could get a net environmental gain from trading in the water then I am entitled to trade and it is my intention that, once all the processes are in place, including the Chinese walls that I am required to implement under the basin plan, we would trade. Having said that, my expectation is that our trading activity would be a minor part of the portfolio.
Senator JOYCE: Even as a minor part, it would be a massive asset. You would be one of the biggest water traders in the market.
Mr Papps : I think that is speculative. I really cannot comment on that.
Senator HEFFERNAN: If you traded, would it be a gross or a net trade?
Mr Papps : I do not know, Senator. I would have to get back to you on that.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Do you know what I am talking about?
Mr Papps : You are talking about the specific rules that apply.
Senator HEFFERNAN: If you have got environmental water and, as Senator Joyce correctly points out, you want to trade it to someone and it is in a dam somewhere and I order it halfway to Adelaide, what am I buying when I buy 300 gigs? What comes out of the dam and what gets halfway to Adelaide?
Mr Papps : The simple answer I have to that—and my colleagues may be able to provide more detail—is that what you get is what you are entitled to get under the trading rules of the basin state in question.
Senator HEFFERNAN: So if it takes 900 gigs—
CHAIR: Senator Heffernan, I have not given you a call. I think you are diverting Senator Joyce's questioning. Senator Joyce.
Senator JOYCE: How much do you expect to be allocated in the 2012-13 year?
Mr Papps : I am sorry?
Senator JOYCE: How much water do you expect to be allocated in the 2012-13 year?
Mr Papps : In the 2012-13 year—that is, this year?
Senator JOYCE: Yes.
Mr Papps : Our allocation this year—our holdings are 1,583. What is available for use is 1,610 gigalitres.
Senator JOYCE: You expect to use how much?
Mr Papps : We have approved already for delivery 1,223 gigalitres. But, as I said, there are some watering actions still in the balance, still being contemplated, so I cannot give you a precise final figure.
Senator JOYCE: There is no environmental watering plan set down yet, is there?
Mr Papps : The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder has watering plans. For 2012-13 there are watering plans. We are currently working on finalising the watering plans for 2013 to 2014. Those plans, and certainly the next plan, the 2014 plan, will reflect the objectives and other obligations within the environmental watering plan, which is chapter 8 of the basin plan.
Senator JOYCE: But there is not a finalised environmental watering plan, is there?
Mr Papps : It depends how you define 'environmental watering plan'. The environmental watering plan terminology—I am taking you to mean chapter 8 of the basin plan.
Senator JOYCE: That is correct.
Mr Papps : Chapter 8 is a final environmental watering plan. I think you are probably alluding to the fact that the environmental watering plan does not identify specific obligations on watering activities catchment by catchment. It sets up a series of processes, a series of principles, a series of objectives. It, for example, gives me guidance on how to identify priority environmental assets—
Senator JOYCE: How do you do that?
Mr Papps : I apply the rules in the environmental watering plan. For example, priority environmental water assets would include Ramsar-listed wetlands. They would include water dependent ecosystems that contained listed threatened species or ecological communities. They would include water dependent ecosystems that are rare or unique. They would include water dependent ecosystems that are representative, so they show the characteristics of a once widespread wetland. There is a series of criteria that help me, and other water holders, of course, because other water holders are bound by the same plan, to identify those assets.
Senator JOYCE: When you have two Ramsar wetlands, how are you going to choose between the two? When it is the lower lakes or something upstream from them, how are you going to define the lossage? You can say: 'Well, I can get 80 per cent of the job done here or 20 per cent of the job done at the lower lakes.' How are you actually going to go through that process?
Mr Papps : That is a very complicated question. If there were a trade-off required—so I am assuming you are talking about if water was constrained and we did not have sufficient environmental water to meet the needs of all of those assets—then you would go through a process of examining the condition of those assets. Most require wetting and drying cycles, as you would understand, so we would make an assessment of where they are in the cycle. We would make an assessment of their health. We would make an assessment of what had occurred in prior years. Where we are dealing, for example, with a wetland that because of natural wetting was in good condition and had developed ecological resilience and therefore could perhaps go without environmental—
Senator JOYCE: I get the gist of what you are saying. Who makes those decisions?
Mr Papps : In the end I make those decisions.
Senator JOYCE: You make them presented on the evidence of who?
Mr Papps : I am provided with formal advice from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, which is a division in the department. They, in turn, draw on a wide array of advice. I have referred to them before. I do not necessarily want to go through them in great detail. They would draw on advice from a scientific advisory panel that we have set up, they would draw on advice from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the relevant state agencies and, of course, Senator, as you would appreciate, local community knowledge.
Senator JOYCE: I refer to the Auditor-General's recent report on environmental watering. In that report it stated that the CEWO is preparing to make changes to its water use guidance and materials and introduce additional reporting to meet the requirements of the recently introduced basin plan. What are the changes you are preparing to make?
Mr Papps : To a large extent those changes have already been made. Before I defer to my colleague for more detail, for example, the decision making framework that guides how I make my decisions about the allocation of environmental water required some minor modification to better reflect the obligations imposed on me by the environmental watering plan in the basin plan. So those changes were made.
Senator JOYCE: The Auditor General notes that in January 2012 the CEWO engaged the Australian Government Solicitor to identify and assess the sources of the CEWO's strategic, legal and governance risk and identify appropriate treatments. The detailed assessment finalised in June 2012 indicated that risk treatment could reduce the ratings of most risk sources to medium or low. Can the CEWH provide a copy of this report?
Mr Papps : Yes, Senator.
Senator JOYCE: What were the risks which were identified?
Mr Papps : I do not have the detail in front of me. I can provide that information, though.
Senator JOYCE: Will that also deal with what risk treatments could reduce the ratings of most risk sources from medium or low?
Mr Papps : Yes, Senator.
Senator JOYCE: The Auditor-General's report states that, in the absence of long term monitoring and evaluation, the CEWO has adopted a measured approach to short term ecological monitoring and evaluation that is based on delivery partner monitoring activities and detailed studies at key locations where Commonwealth environmental water has been delivered. Why is there not a long term monitoring and evaluation strategy?
Mr Papps : We are working on one now. We are in the last stages of developing a long term intervention monitoring program because we recognise, through our own experience, that there were limitations in the short term processes. Ecological processes, for example, often take a long time to manifest themselves. We have commissioned consultants to prepare the scientific background for the long term intervention monitoring and later this year we will move to implementing that.
Senator JOYCE: What would happen if your oversight over the department—what would actually happen to the water asset if you guys were not there?
Mr Papps : I have never actually contemplated that. The legislation, the Commonwealth Water Act, provides me with the statutory responsibilities to make decisions over Commonwealth environmental water. If I did not exist I would have to assume that the Commonwealth Water Act no longer existed or had been amended.
Senator JOYCE: What would happen to the water?
Mr Papps : It would be, I imagine, a stranded asset.
Senator JOYCE: Where would it be stranded? It would just be that an unallocated amount of water would go down the river?
Dr Grimes : I think we are actually straying a little bit here into speculative matters. It is very difficult for officials to be able to comment, as you would appreciate, on hypothetical examples.
Senator JOYCE: What I am getting at is the differentiation of holding an asset. We hold an asset, a $1.89 billion asset, and we are managing it. I am just thinking that if we said those licences do not exist anymore, they are no longer there, that asset just becomes like an unallocated measure of water and it goes down the river like any other piece of water.
Mr Papps : Or, more importantly, Senator, again acknowledging what the secretary says about being speculative, I think the more important outcome of such a scenario would be that we would fail to address the very purpose of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, which is to protect and restore the environmental assets of the Murray-Darling Basin.
Senator JOYCE: I am glad you are holding the asset. It is valuable. Whilst you are holding the asset and whilst the nation is running out of money, people are going to start looking at that asset to try to work out how they save money. Someone will say, 'Well, if you're holding a $2 billion asset, could you hold a $1 billion asset?' When the nation hits its credit limit it is going to look everywhere to try to work out how to save money.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Over my dead body.
Senator JOYCE: You will not have much say in it because the cheques will be bouncing. What other agencies, state or federal, will be involved in metering and monitoring CEWH's watering actions? Have there been funding cutbacks within any of these organisations which will impact on the metering and monitoring of CEWH's environmental watering?
Mr Papps : I cannot speak on behalf of other agencies or entities. I do note that our long term intervention monitoring program is set in the context of other monitoring programs undertaken by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and relevant state agencies.
Senator JOYCE: In response to question No. 129 of the last estimates you stated that the accumulated impairment relating to the water entitlements held and managed by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities was $313.470 million. In effect, that means that the Commonwealth has made a loss of more than $300 million on water buybacks. Why did the Commonwealth pay too much for water?
Mr Papps : I will ask my colleague.
Mr Costello : The impairment loss reflects the change in the value of entitlements over time. Not just our entitlements but all water entitlements have decreased in value over the last couple of years.
Senator JOYCE: Where did you make your biggest loss? Which purchase was the worst one?
Mr Costello : The impairment figure looks at the holdings as a whole. I have not broken it down.
Senator JOYCE: How about the Twynam purchase? What is the value of that on the books now?
Mr Costello : I would have to take that on notice. I do not have that.
Mr Papps : Could I provide some generic overview rather than the detail. The Commonwealth environmental water holding has enormous value, as you would appreciate—I think you have already acknowledged this—in addressing the problem that it was established to address. It is fair to say that while there is an obligation on me over time, particularly using trade to balance the portfolio if I think it needs balance—that is, if I could sell some water and buy water that has greater environmental utility—overall you would have to see it as an asset that has great value, and difficult to assign a dollar value to in terms of the ecological impacts it has.
Senator JOYCE: You have all your officers in Canberra. Whereabouts is your office in Canberra?
Mr Papps : It is in the John Gorton building.
Senator JOYCE: When does the lease on that run out?
Mr Papps : I do not know.
Senator JOYCE: Is there any reason it could not be in Albury?
Mr Papps : That is a question that is often asked. My view is that our effectiveness and our efficiency in managing the environmental watering is best served by having officers based both in the regions, in the basin—
Senator JOYCE: But we do not have any officers in the region.
Mr Papps : But we will. By the end of this year, we will.
Senator JOYCE: Whereabouts?
Mr Papps : We are yet to work that out. We are negotiating with hosting agencies within each basin state. But going back to the original question, there is merit, I believe, in retaining some Canberra based staff because, first of all, it is beneficial to have a critical mass, rather than spreading a smaller number of staff across a wide array of locations. Secondly, there are real synergies involved in being in Canberra where, for example, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has its headquarters, and where we are very capably supported by the department, both in an administrative way and, more importantly, by interactions with other water groups and biodiversity groups within the department. There are real synergies and benefits in being located here. Having said that, I acknowledge the value that we would derive from working more closely with local communities in the basin.
CHAIR: Senator Joyce, your colleagues have indicated they are seeking the call as well.
Senator JOYCE: My final question is: could the states do your job? Could the state water holders do your job?
Mr Papps : I do not believe so. In any case, it is largely an academic question because we work so closely with the states that it is already a seamless collaborative exercise.
Senator McKENZIE: I want to follow up on question on notice 135 about the Commonwealth local engagement officers, which I think are the positions you were referring to in answering Senator Joyce.
Mr Papps : That is correct.
Senator McKENZIE: I got a vague answer and I want to see if you are any further along the line of appointing, how many you intend to appoint and where you want them. Similarly, you say they are going to be working closely and collaboratively with state agencies. Will they be superseding or doing work that is already being done? Given the long process that we have been going through with getting this right, doesn't that expertise already exist on the ground and wouldn't it be a better way rather than you paying for people on the ground?
Mr Papps : I will try and address each element of your question in turn. Our intention is to appoint six local engagement officers across the basin. As I said in reply to Senator Joyce, we have not made final decisions about where they will be located.
Senator McKENZIE: Who are you discussing that with? Who is part of that decision making?
Mr Papps : We issued a public request for tenders from interested agencies and organisations to host a local engagement officer. We believe, and we still believe, that this was going to facilitate the integration of these officers, although they will be performing Commonwealth duties—I will come back to that in a moment—both into the local community and into the relevant agencies and entities within the basin. We invited, as I say, those organisations to tender. We received a number of tenders. We are in the process of analysing those.
Senator McKENZIE: How many tenders?
Mr Papps : I believe it was 10.
Senator McKENZIE: Across all basin states?
Mr Papps : Yes. So we are in the process of analysing those. Not surprisingly, we are looking at both the offer of hosting organisations—the level of resource support, and also support in terms of integration into existing processes and systems. Also, we are looking at where we have our environmental assets, where our key environmental assets are, where most of our water is distributed, where there are particular local community concerns or a particular desire to be involved in the decision-making process. A combination of all those factors will lead us to decide where they will be located.
Senator McKENZIE: Have the position descriptions been done?
Mr Papps : No, they are being finalised at the moment.
Senator McKENZIE: I am getting that there is an engagement bent but also a bit of a PR component?
Mr Papps : I probably would not use the term 'PR' but I would certainly acknowledge that there is a large component about community engagement. They will be involved in the decision-making process to support me and my decisions around Commonwealth environmental watering. We are also keen for them to be involved in capacity building within local communities across the basin.
Senator McKENZIE: I am conscious that Senator Heffernan has some questions. How much has been allocated in the budget for these six positions, and obviously their ongoing support?
Mr Papps : It is approximately $5 million.
Senator McKENZIE: I might apply for one, Mr Papps!
Mr Papps : That is over seven years, Senator.
Senator McKENZIE: Okay. We will do the maths.
Mr Papps : You might want to reconsider that.
Senator McKENZIE: So $5 million over seven years for six positions?
Mr Papps : Yes.
Senator McKENZIE: I might have some questions on notice on that.
CHAIR: I am sure somebody else would take your position in the Senate, if you were successful.
Senator McKENZIE: The Nationals in Victoria have depth.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I am not too sure who is buying the water, so I might seek some guidance—the Wah Wah water.
Mr Papps : Who is buying the water?
Senator HEFFERNAN: Wah Wah water—is that going to the environment?
Mr Papps : That is a question you should direct to Ms Mary Harwood.
Mr Parker : I am sorry; Mary has departed.
Senator HEFFERNAN: What I am curious about is that the Wah Wah scheme is a channel scheme that comes out the back end of the irrigation area. There are 9,000 megs in the allocation for the conveyance. They are going to pipe it, which is a good idea. But they are paying $4,200 a meg for that water, which is conveyance water, and $2,200 a meg—same water, different scheme, the Darcoola scheme. Who decides the price of water?
Mr Parker : I would have to take that on notice. The price of water which comes out of irrigation infrastructure projects depends very much on the composition of the project and the investment.
Senator HEFFERNAN: It is not the value of the water, is it? You can value the water so that you can take the cost of the piping of water out of the water account by charging so much for the bloody water, but it is actually not for the water; it is paying for the pipeline.
Mr Parker : Correct.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Which is what the Nimmie-Caira thing is all about it; it is a dodging of the books. The bulk of the money there—
Mr Parker : If I could—
Senator HEFFERNAN: No, there is no getting away from it. The bulk of the money there is for the land.
Mr Parker : The Nimmie-Caira proposal includes water, it includes the land and improvements and it also includes infrastructure.
Senator HEFFERNAN: It includes a whole lot of things, but it is the dodgiest deal I have ever come across. I thought the Tandall deal was bad enough. That was 230 gigs. Were you blokes involved in the Tandall buyback?. It was 230 gigs at $350 a meg, which was net 11 gigs at the Murray, and they thought that was a good deal.
Mr Papps : We were not directly involved in those purchases.
Senator HEFFERNAN: It has financially saved Tandall. It just befuddles me. I will, minister, take up this issue of the Ulonga matter and the Wah Wah scheme versus the—
CHAIR: Senator Heffernan, you have a couple of minutes. I have some questions.
Senator HEFFERNAN: In the last drought this particular Ulonga Grazing Company had water allocations on the Murrumbidgee River. I actually have a place in the region, so I know about it. It is 23 kilometres out to the One Tree Plain. They sold Murrumbidgee water for $1,663 a meg to the feds and built a pipeline to save a lot of water, because the Lachlan was buggered. They were also fully participating in the Wah Wah scheme, which is different water that comes down and waters the same property, but there was no water in the scheme: They are beside themselves about how they can get equity, having done what they have done. That is what it is all about. We will have to talk about it.
CHAIR: Mr Papps, Senator Joyce was asking you about a $300 million loss. You said basically you had to look at the ecological value of the asset. Could you just explain that a bit more in terms of the context of someone looking at this as a loss and then saying this scheme is not working? What are the values that you should put on the scheme?
Mr Papps : It was intended as a contextual commentary about the Commonwealth environmental water holding, which has a dollar value because water is a tradeable commodity and can be bought and sold; so there is a dollar value. I was simply providing a contextual comment that there is a value that that water holds in restoring and protecting the critical environmental assets of the Murray-Darling Basin which is hard to quantify in dollar terms but nonetheless should be taken into account in our consideration of the value of it. There is, of course, a lot of literature around assigning dollar values to ecosystem functions and ecosystem services. We are not in a position to do that with environmental water holdings. I do want to make the point that it has that enormous value to the basin. Again, if I can go back to a contextual comment, it is certainly my view that a healthy economy in the basin is dependent on a healthy ecosystem.
CHAIR: There was, again, what seemed to be some implied criticism from Senator Joyce in relation to your management system. You have indicated that that will devolve to some extent as you go on. I have had a look at your business plan for 2012-13, and in 2.1 it talks about active management, how you deal with it. It talks about how you make decisions, how you develop options for the use of the water and how you assess your potential actions, including seeking local and expert advice. We only have a couple of minutes. Could you, in a couple of minutes, advise us how that is going?
Mr Papps : Yes. From my perspective it is going very well. We already had a reasonably well-established decision-making framework before the basin plan was finalised and with it the environmental watering plan. I think the Murray-Darling Basin Authority folks had been alluding to the fact that we had been environmental-watering; there had been Commonwealth environmental water used before the basin plan. So we already had a decision-making framework. It was based on best available science and it engaged with local communities and, as I have said before, other entities in the basin.
We have refined that over time, based on experience. Again. the adaptive management framework, which we are obliged to implement, means that we go back and look at what we have done and we compare what happened with what we thought would happen and we make adjustments year by year. The more formal process that we have engaged in recently is making sure that the decision making framework now properly reflects the obligations on me generated from the environmental watering plan in the basin plan. That has further emphasised the role of best available science and the role of local communities, which is one of the reasons why, for example, we have established the local engagement officers to give better effect to our commitment to ensuring that local knowledge is incorporated into decisions.
CHAIR: It might be a bit difficult before September, but on a number of the other committees that I have been involved in, when senators are not aware how the management system is working, we have actually gone and visited the authority or the government body. Would that be an option after September, to come and look at how you are going?
Mr Papps : I would be happy to accommodate senators.
CHAIR: Would there be any benefit in that for the Senate? If there is no benefit, I would not want to do it.
Mr Papps : I would need a better understanding of what you were looking to enhance in terms of your understanding of our approach. But based on those conversations—
CHAIR: A briefing outside the estimates atmosphere might be constructive, I think.
Mr Papps : In the first instance that is probably a more productive way to go. I am happy to oblige, of course.
CHAIR: We might organise that for after September.
Mr Parker : Chair, Mr Slatyer can provide an answer to a question asked during the course of the morning by Senator Birmingham.
CHAIR: Yes, Mr Slatyer, as long as it is not a long-winded answer.
Mr Slatyer : Senator Birmingham asked how many further versions of the draft intergovernment agreement had been prepared since the answer was given on question 67. There have been five further iterations to the agreement since that time. They have been relatively minor iterations.
CHAIR: We will suspend for lunch. We will be back at 2 pm.
Pro ceedings suspended from 13:00 to 14:00
CHAIR: I welcome Minister McLucas to the table. Dr Dripps, I have some questions on this area. We are now up to program 5. I call the officers from the department in relation to program 5.1, conservation of Australia's heritage and environment. Dr Dripps, are you aware of proposals to build a bridge in Windsor?
Dr Dripps : Yes, I am aware of that.
CHAIR: There is very, very significant local concern about the implications for Thompson Square.
Dr Dripps : Yes.
CHAIR: As I understand it, Thompson Square is described as not only rare but unique. Is that your understanding of Thompson Square?
Dr Dripps : I have read correspondence that has made that suggestion, yes.
CHAIR: Apparently it is the only 18th century civic square in Australia.
Dr Dripps : I cannot answer the question about whether it is the only one, but I have certainly read the correspondence around the matter.
CHAIR: Senator Boswell, I am having difficulty hearing Dr Dripps.
Senator BOSWELL: You must have supersensitive hearing.
CHAIR: I have. You just have a big voice, Senator Boswell. If you want to talk, can you talk outside, please. Thompson Square, which is called the conservation precinct, has evolved over 217 years. So it is 217 years old. It is considered Australia's earliest remaining civic square. Is that consistent with your understanding of it?
Dr Dripps : As I have said, I have read the incoming correspondence.
CHAIR: I also understand that there has been an application for a heritage listing.
Dr Dripps : Yes. It was considered by the Australian Heritage Council in its consideration last year and not recommended for further assessment work.
CHAIR: Is that the end of it as far as a listing is concerned?
Dr Dripps : I will just pass you over to Ms Rankin for the detail of the consideration by the Australian Heritage Council this year.
Ms Rankin : The nomination is going to go back to the Australian Heritage Council for reconsideration again this year.
CHAIR: It is going back for reconsideration?
Ms Rankin : Yes. So they can consider it two years in a row. This will be the second year that they are able to consider whether they want to recommend to the minister that it goes on the priority assessment list for further assessment work to see whether it meets the criteria for national heritage listing.
CHAIR: Were there reasons provided for not listing?
Ms Rankin : They did not think that it met the criteria for national heritage listing.
CHAIR: Let us deal with that. So it is the only 18th century civic square in Australia. That is either factual or not. Are you aware of that?
Ms Rankin : I do not have the extra detail about whether that is the case or not, as Dr Dripps has said.
CHAIR: If it is the only 18th century civic square in Australia, and if we cannot get a heritage listing, there must be reasons for that. Take on notice to provide details of the reasoning why this unique and rare example of early Australian settlement is not considered of heritage value.
Ms Rankin : We will do that.
CHAIR: I understand that there are some issues of timing on this and some urgency to dealing with this. In the submission made by New South Wales Transport, Roads and Maritime Services, they say in terms of heritage approval that the project to build this bridge is not supported by the Heritage Council of New South Wales. Do they have an input to the national heritage assessment?
Ms Rankin : They would certainly have had the opportunity to provide comment on the nomination.
CHAIR: And the Heritage Council say that Thompson Square is listed on the state heritage register and has potential national significance, but that was rejected by the national heritage assessment last year?
Dr Dripps : It was last year and, as Ms Rankin has indicated, the Australian Heritage Council will consider that matter again this year and provide their advice to the minister about what ought to be considered for listing in the future.
CHAIR: The Heritage Council of New South Wales is saying that if this bridge goes ahead, there will be irrevocable damage to Windsor and Thompson Square. They say that the project should be refused on the grounds of heritage impact. The problem we have is that unless there is a listing on this square, the New South Wales government's development process will deal with this as a priority project and then we have lost this rare and unique heritage square. Is there a fast-track option that can be taken by the Heritage Council when you are faced with impending destruction of a heritage value site?
Dr Dripps : There is a provision under the EPBC Act for emergency national heritage listing of a property.
CHAIR: And how does that work?
Dr Dripps : If I recall correctly, a request is put to the minister for emergency heritage listing. The minister then asks the department for advice and has a time period in which to make that decision, which is quite short, although I do not have the act in front of me. During the period of time that a property is on the emergency national heritage list, it is referred back to the Australian Heritage Council for a full assessment of its values.
CHAIR: Do you have details of when this assessment would be made of the Windsor site?
Dr Dripps : I am not aware that we got a request to consider emergency heritage listing of the site, Chair.
Mr Murphy : There was an application last year for the minister to use the emergency powers under the EPBC Act and that was in parallel to the Australian Heritage Council's consideration under the normal process. As the council advised the minister that it did not meet the criteria for national heritage listing, the minister decided not to use the emergency powers.
CHAIR: Is that being reconsidered just as a matter of form or because there is a concern that they may have got it wrong?
Mr Murphy : The reconsideration by the Australian Heritage Council is a standard process, where if it is not successful in the first year, the legislation requires reconsideration in the second year.
CHAIR: I know Windsor Square. If you cannot get some heritage protection there, I just do not understand what the act does if it cannot protect one of the oldest and only examples of that type of architecture in the country.
Dr Dripps : We might take that as a comment, Senator, if that is okay.
CHAIR: Pass it on. It really is of significant community concern as well. I know that you get significant community concern on certain issues. Mr Murphy, you did not answer my question about what the timeframe would be for a decision, even if it is not an emergency decision. What would be the timeframe for the second assessment?
Dr Dripps : The minister generally makes his decisions about inclusion of items on the priority assessment list for the Heritage Council by the end of the financial year or early in the next financial year. So the minister would be expected to be advised reasonably shortly of the council's recommendations.
CHAIR: I might move on to another issue of heritage that I did raise some questions about at the last estimates. That is the question of the New South Wales state government implementing what is described as a standard instrument local environmental plan. Are you aware of these standard instrument local environmental plans in New South Wales?
Dr Dripps : Yes. We are aware of them.
CHAIR: The Blue Mountains Conservation Society have written to me and spoken to me about this issue. They are an active organisation with a big membership in the Blue Mountains. They are concerned that this standard instrument local environmental plan could potentially risk the continuing World Heritage listing of the World Heritage area because of development outside abutting the Blue Mountains World Heritage area. Are you aware of those concerns?
Dr Dripps : I have heard of those concerns, yes.
CHAIR: Are you aware of what the standard instrument LEP from the New South Wales government is intended to do?
Dr Dripps : At the broadest level I am, in that it is intending to apply a standard approach to development across New South Wales and thereby, one assumes, remove regulatory burden.
CHAIR: The Blue Mountains Conservation Society claim that it means the application of inappropriate zones, decreased information and mapping, significantly decreased assessment of the environmental impact of development, less stringent and certain language in terms of what needs to be considered and addressed when undertaking development, and the exclusion of comprehensive environmental and landscape overlays. That is what they have put to me. How would the department deal with that concern?
Dr Dripps : It is not our approach to assess planning schemes as such. We are interested in developments that have or may have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance, so we do not assess statutory plans made by state governments specifically except in circumstances where the state governments or others have called for something like a strategic assessment to be done of such a plan or for a conservation agreement to be developed that applies to a particular area. So there are a couple of examples in Sydney where those instruments have been used. There has been a strategic assessment of western Sydney to protect the Cumberland Plains grassy woodlands in partnership with the New South Wales government. There is work being undertaken on a conservation agreement to protect the heritage values of Parramatta as they relate to the viewscapes from Old Parliament House.
CHAIR: What the Blue Mountains Conservation Society is saying is that they believe it will have a significant impact and that you should act under part 2 of the EPBC Act. Do you need someone to bring this to your attention to assess it? What happens?
Dr Dripps : We would undertake an assessment of a planning scheme generally at the request of the planning authority if they were seeking to ensure that they optimised and maximised the environmental outcomes. We would also have consideration of the planning measures as part of looking at the management plan for the World Heritage property, although there are limitations to the extent to which that can be considering activities outside of the property.
CHAIR: If the New South Wales government implements the standard instrument LEP and then development starts taking place, and consistent with that standard instrument LEP it has a significant impact on the World Heritage area, would it not be better for us to actually have a look at the standard instrument LEP now and make an assessment as to whether it is appropriate for development abutting a World Heritage area?
Dr Dripps : That might be a very strategic way to go about things.
CHAIR: How can we deliver that assessment if the New South Wales state government says, 'This is our business. We don't want you to be involved in it?' How can we do something about it?
Dr Dripps : I am not sure that the provision of policy advice is part of the role of officials attending this committee. But there are a number of measures that could be used.
CHAIR: I am not asking how the act works.
Dr Dripps : I was just going to go there. There are a number of measures that could be used, including undertaking a strategic assessment of the local environment plan in that area.
CHAIR: What are the others?
Dr Dripps : We would need to take a look at the extent to which the management plan for the World Heritage property is able to consider matters outside of the area of the World Heritage property and the way in which they are undertaken. Another option available is should there be an action that is likely to have a significant impact, the onus is on the proponent to refer that. If they do not refer that, there are penalty provisions of various kinds under the EPBC Act.
CHAIR: One of the issues that has been raised by the Blue Mountains Conservation Society is that they make an application to UNESCO. That seems to me to be a last resort type option. They would seek a World Heritage endangered listing. I really do not think we should be going down that path. So the other issues you have raised would be done before you would do something like this, would they not?
Dr Dripps : Well, I would certainly hope so. But people have liberty to make their own choices about these things.
CHAIR: I am just trying to get a practical way forward to address the concerns that the conservation society and the public have in the Blue Mountains area without them having to make applications to UNESCO. I may have some discussions with you outside estimates, because I would like to try to help get this resolved. That is good. Thanks for that information. My last issue is shooting in New South Wales and recreational hunting in New South Wales national parks. At question No. 073, I asked about New South Wales reserves where recreational hunting is done. Does the Blue Mountains World Heritage area abut any of the New South Wales reserves where recreational hunting has been approved? Your answer was that the Blue Mountains World Heritage area abuts the Goulburn River national park. That is one of the reserves listed by the New South Wales government as being assessed for the supplementary pest control program, which is political speak for hunting by amateurs in the park. If we have an abutment to the Blue Mountains World Heritage area and you are going to have recreational amateur hunters wandering around the Goulburn River national park, how will those hunters delineate when they are in the Goulburn River national park or in the Blue Mountains World Heritage area? When does abutting become encroaching?
Dr Dripps : They would know that they had moved from one estate to the other if they had a GPS tracking device or if they were very good at reading maps.
CHAIR: These are amateur hunters. What if they are not good at reading maps and they do not have a GPS device?
Dr Dripps : Then they may not be aware that they have moved from one property into the other.
CHAIR: So there are implications for this legislation in New South Wales for the World Heritage area in the Blue Mountains?
Dr Dripps : Well, there—
CHAIR: That would be the logical conclusion you would have to come to?
Dr Dripps : That would be one conclusion. The World Heritage area, as you know, Chair, is listed for its values. Whether a very small number of recreational hunters would have an impact on those values I think is probably a matter for debate. But I would lean towards it being reasonably unlikely.
CHAIR: So if we have one of the World Heritage area rangers going about their business in the Blue Mountains World Heritage area and we have these amateur hunters tramping around the Goulburn River national park abutting the World Heritage area firing at whatever they want to fire at, what are the health and safety implications for staff employed by the World Heritage area or your department?
Dr Dripps : Senator, we do not have World Heritage area rangers employed by this department. The ranger arrangements are done by the New South Wales government rangers. We are not experts in occupational health and safety risk analysis in that regard. But there would be a possibility of there being an unintended interchange between hunters and rangers.
CHAIR: An unintended interchange. You mean somebody could get killed?
Dr Dripps : That is possible.
Ms Rankin : We would have to assume that as part of any arrangements New South Wales is making in relation to their consideration of this legislation, they would be considering these issues and putting in place mechanisms.
CHAIR: Why would we assume that, Ms Rankin? Why would we assume anything if you are under political pressure from a sectional pressure group to bring in recreational hunting and you have expended a lot of political energy in doing a deal with them? Why would you assume that they are going to look after this?
Ms Rankin : I cannot imagine any government would want to see a situation arise where there was a chance of somebody being accidentally killed.
CHAIR: Well, you may not, but that is not the debate that is taking place in New South Wales at the moment.
Senator BOSWELL: You are leading the witness.
CHAIR: We are not in a court, Senator Boswell. The officers know when they are being led. They are smarter than me. So you have conceded that there could be someone killed in the Blue Mountains World Heritage area because of this amateur hunting that is going on in the Goulburn River national park. Can you take on notice and provide me details of what actions we could take at the federal level to try to minimise someone who is using the Blue Mountains World Heritage area in a recognised way not being killed by some amateur shooter in the Goulburn River national park?
Dr Dripps : We can certainly make inquiries about that and take that question on notice.
CHAIR: Thank you.
Senator LUDLAM: I have a couple of general questions on the heritage portfolio. I want to start with some quick true or false answers. I will work my way through the budget papers and you can tell me if I am reading them right. Staff cuts in environment regulation and heritage from 588 to 540? Staff cuts in the environment regulation and heritage area were from 588 to 540. Does that sound about right?
Dr Dripps : So 48 people. Yes, I gave some evidence to Senator Waters yesterday on this matter.
Senator LUDLAM: Heritage grants cut from $7.4 million to $4.4 million across the forward estimates?
Dr Dripps : That is right.
Senator LUDLAM: Your total program expenses cut from $56 million to about $50 million in the forward estimates?
Dr Dripps : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: And that is off the back of the year on year cuts that I have been asking about in here since about 2008. So of the 40 staff or thereabouts who are cut from environmental regulation and heritage, how many were cut specifically from heritage?
Dr Dripps : As I advised Senator Waters yesterday, it is approximately 15 staff. The other thing I should add to my evidence from yesterday which I failed to recall at the time was that the balance of the numbers that were not included in yesterday's evidence is from the regulatory reform taskforce within the division, which at the start of the financial year was undertaking the approvals bilaterals work with the states.
Ms Rankin : I want to clarify that figure. Dr Dripps just mentioned the 15 relates to cuts from the combined heritage, wildlife and marine functions.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not want to traverse ground that Senator Waters covered yesterday if it is already on the record. I am specifically interested in the heritage side of the portfolio. Is it possible to carve out how many fewer people are working on heritage post budget than before, or is that not possible?
Dr Dripps : We would like to take that question on notice, if we could, please, Senator.
Senator LUDLAM: In the last four years, how many people in total have been cut from heritage? Maybe take that as a supplementary on notice, if you like.
Dr Dripps : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: It appears that the Commonwealth's capacity around heritage matters has been severely degraded. The budget of a fortnight or so ago has not given us any good news. Sticking specifically to the heritage portfolio, what programs and services will these most recent cuts specifically impact?
Ms Rankin : Senator, are you referring to just heritage?
Senator LUDLAM: Yes. I will leave the environment side to Senator Waters. From our perspective, I am interested specifically in heritage.
Ms Rankin : When we talk about heritage in my division, heritage and wildlife functions are combined together.
Senator LUDLAM: I am interested in the human heritage side inasmuch as you are able to disaggregate programs.
Ms Rankin : One action we will be taking is reducing the number of branches from five to four. That means a reduction in the number of SES officers working in the area. We are going to be adopting a much more, I guess, triage focussed approach to providing advice on the potential impacts of proposed developments that are going to have an impact on heritage matters. The timelines that will be taken to undertake some heritage listing assessments are likely to be extended and will have to take longer than under a circumstance where we had more resources. In a number of cases, we have had to extend the legislative timelines for the assessment of places nominated for a national heritage list out to the maximum legislative timeline.
Senator LUDLAM: Thanks for being so forthright. It sounds as though we have indeed degraded our capacity even further. Am I correct in assuming that the national heritage strategy still does not exist?
Ms Rankin : That is right.
Senator LUDLAM: Has it been affected in any way by the most recent budget cuts?
Ms Rankin : No. It is still an issue that is being discussed with the Australian Heritage Council.
Senator LUDLAM: The last time I picked this up was at question on notice No. 130. Thanks for your reply to that from January. It said that the timing of the final strategy has not yet been determined. What is taking so long? This is not going to be thesis length. This is going to be, I expect, a fairly short document. Why is it taking more than three years for it to be developed?
Ms Rankin : There have been a lot of considerations about what the best approach to the strategy would be. A number of iterations have gone backwards and forwards, with the Australian Heritage Council providing comment on drafts. They are proposing to consider it again at their next meeting. They most recently were interested in looking at a comparison between the approach taken with the draft heritage strategy they were considering with the cultural heritage policy that was released and to make sure that there was some cohesion and alignment between the approaches being taken by the two broad policies. So that probably came out after their last meeting. That is something they have asked us to look at again and provide them with some advice on.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you give us some advice on when it might be tabled and when we might actually see it?
Dr Dripps : That is really a matter for the minister, Senator. I might add to Ms Rankin's comments. I think it is fair to say that out of the stimulus package and the jobs fund there was a substantial investment in heritage which has come off. So the fundamental question for the strategy is: what does national leadership in heritage actually mean and how does one best engage in heritage in the oversight of the management of properties, in the setting of standards and in enabling people to protect their heritage? That has been a fundamental challenge for the people involved in drafting the strategy.
Senator LUDLAM: I can imagine it has, as you are seeing resources running down before your eyes. I will move on. A response by the minister to the AHC's report on the outstanding universal values of the Dampier Archipelago in the Burrup Peninsula was received more than a year ago—last April. What is happening? Is anything at all progressing in the matter of the World Heritage listing of the Burrup or, indeed, anything at all?
Mr Murphy : The report from council identified two of the World Heritage criteria that may be met by the Burrup and enable a successful nomination. It also identified that much more work would need to be done with the traditional owners and custodians of the area on identifying the cultural values of the engravings. The minister has written to the Murujuga Aboriginal Council and asked for that work to take place. He has also asked the Australian Heritage Council to consider adding similar cultural values to the national heritage listing.
Senator LUDLAM: In the interests of time, because I have one other question on a different matter, could you provide us in writing and on notice any other information regarding the Commonwealth's policy on World Heritage listing for the Burrup? I have framed that very broadly. Anything at all you can tell us beyond the fact that you have put the ball back into the court of the Murujuga association. My last question is on buildings and, in particular, empty buildings. What grants are currently available for adaptive reuse? Is there any work at all being done on an Australian adaptive reuse code or standard for bringing heritage properties that are currently empty back on to the market for either residential, commercial or cultural use? Any thinking going on at all in that space?
Ms Rankin : Not that we are aware of. The Australian Heritage Council recently considered and released a report on, I guess, the inherent energy values in heritage buildings and the potential benefits of how you need to factor that into your potential energy costs versus rebuilding a new building.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not think the benefits are in any way in dispute. It is more whether anything is being done to bring heritage properties or precincts back into active service. We have an acute homelessness and housing affordability crisis. We have businesses that cannot afford rent in our town centres anymore and we have a large amount of empty and vacant space in our cities and towns. Is anything being done in your branch to bring those two agendas together at last?
Dr Dripps : As the officer advised you, Senator, we are not aware of any work of that type being done. In terms of the heritage grants that are available, as you indicated when you were reading from the budget papers, the potential of those grants to fund the kind of activities that you are talking about would be quite limited.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Because we have run capacity down so far. I will leave it there, Chair, thanks.
Senator BOSWELL: What is the current status of the work on a World Heritage nomination for Cape York?
Mr Murphy : Consultation with traditional owners is continuing to take place on their interest in proceeding with a nomination for Cape York.
Senator BOSWELL: Is the government working with some traditional owner groups with the intention of lodging a World Heritage nomination prior to the federal election?
Mr Murphy : The minister has made it clear that the timing of a nomination or submitting a nomination is in the hands of traditional owners.
Senator BOSWELL: You have said that you are working with groups of Aboriginals to seek World Heritage listing, so you are obviously looking for groups to make a consent to the process. Is that correct?
Mr Murphy : Yes. Any nomination would be subject to traditional owner consent.
Senator BOSWELL: What form would this consent process take?
Mr Murphy : The form of the consent is really up to the traditional owners, and discussions with various groups about what that consent might look like is ongoing.
Senator BOSWELL: This would have to be done by an Indigenous land use agreement, I would assume?
Mr Murphy : Well, Indigenous land use agreements are used under the Native Title Act and World Heritage per se is not a matter of native title. There have been some discussions on the use of Indigenous land use agreements, but at this stage no group is proposing to use that mechanism.
Senator BOSWELL: Is the intention of the department to achieve World Heritage nomination before an election?
Mr Murphy : As I answered before, the timing of any submission is really in the hands of traditional owners.
Senator BOSWELL: There is a huge number of traditional owners. The only way that you would get a true agreement would be by an Indigenous land agreement. Otherwise you can go and get this little group here of three or four people and five or six over here, but that is not getting Aboriginal consent. The department must know that you are just not going out there on a fishing expedition. You must know how you are going to get this consent and what process you are going to use.
Mr Murphy : The form of the consent is up to the traditional owners. For example, if an area of land is owned through a trust, then not only would perhaps the traditional owners give consent; they may then go to the owners and seek their views. If the owners of the land consented, and they did not want to pursue other mechanisms, such as Indigenous land use agreements, then that consent would be good enough for that particular area.
Senator BOSWELL: How many groups of people have you contacted and who are they?
Mr Murphy : We have a number of different contracts in place.
Senator BOSWELL: Who are they with?
Mr Murphy : We have contracts with eight country based planning groups.
Senator BOSWELL: Who are they?
Mr Murphy : We have Mapoon, Laura, Pormpuraaw, Kuuku Y'au, Olkala and there is another one in the Hopevale area. To the north, there are contracts in place for Mapoon.
Senator BOSWELL: When you say contracts, what is a contract? You go to certain people and say what? How do you contract with them?
Mr Murphy : The country based planning groups started with the Queensland government. There was a co-investment from the Commonwealth.
Senator BOSWELL: How much was that?
Mr Murphy : We funded half of the cost of that. So the Australian government component was approximately $920,000.
Senator BOSWELL: Those contracts were agreed by the Queensland government with those eight traditional owner groups?
Ms Rankin : And as part of the terms of those contracts, Senator, one of the outcomes we were seeking through our co-investment was advice about whether those groups consented to World Heritage nomination and over what areas, if they did consent.
Senator BOSWELL: This is the problem. We have numerous people out there. Some live on land but they are not traditional owners. Some traditional owners may live in Brisbane. Some traditional owners may live in Cairns or Townsville. But they are the custodians of the land. You cannot make a decision without them. If you try and give someone's land away to World Heritage without consulting them and getting their agreement, you will start World War III. So you just cannot go out and select a group of Aboriginals that happen to be on an area and get an agreement with them. Those agreements must be locked down to the people that traditionally own that land. The only way I see you do it is with an Indigenous land agreement. To do it without that would be really putting it up the Aboriginal people.
CHAIR: Senator Boswell, I am sure the officers are thoughtfully advised. You have one minute left for questions.
Senator BOSWELL: Are there any offers to these eight groups of some form of incentive if they agree?
Dr Dripps : No.
Senator BOSWELL: What is the World Heritage covering? The whole of Cape York or just some areas in Cape York?
Dr Dripps : As Mr Murphy has advised, there will be the submission of a World Heritage nomination for Cape York only when there is agreement to participate by the relevant traditional owners in the appropriate areas.
Senator BOSWELL: Is the department trying to seek World Heritage over the whole cape or just parts of the cape?
Dr Dripps : We are running a process that identifies the values in the cape. At this stage, we do not believe that the values cover the entire cape.
Mr Murphy : The minister has made it clear that there will be no blanket listing of the entire Cape York Peninsula.
Senator BOSWELL: That is good to know. I am sure there will be very serious interference in this parliament if you go out and seek to get a listing without getting full consultation with the traditional owners. Anything other than that will be fraught with danger. Thank you.
Senator COLBECK: I want to ask some questions on the process for the nomination of 170,000 hectares in Tasmania for World Heritage listing as a minor boundary adjustment. Can you give me the parameters to start with of what qualifies as a minor boundary adjustment?
Dr Dripps : If I recall correctly, a minor boundary modification is generally a modification of about 10 per cent of the total area of a World Heritage property.
Senator COLBECK: About 10 per cent? Up to about 10 per cent?
Dr Dripps : If I recall correctly. I do not have the procedures of the World Heritage Committee in front of me.
Mr Murphy : Senator, that is correct. The committee does not have a specific number. But from the decisions it has made in the past, it has indicated that it is quite comfortable with extensions of around 10 per cent.
Senator COLBECK: So extensions in excess of that would normally go through the full process rather than a minor boundary adjustment?
Mr Murphy : Every extension is a decision that the World Heritage Committee would make.
Senator COLBECK: But their parameters are around up to 10 per cent. In respect of the community consultation opportunities that come with a minor boundary adjustment versus a full nomination, how does the government look at the opportunities that are provided in a minor boundary adjustment versus a full nomination? How does the government see that they have been satisfied in this particular circumstance?
Ms Rankin : The nomination for the minor boundary adjustment to the Tasmanian wilderness area was undertaken as part of, as you know, a lengthy negotiation process around the Tasmanian forests.
Senator COLBECK: I understand fully the circumstances by which it came about.
Ms Rankin : So, as part of that process, there was extensive consultation that occurred between a range of different interest groups. The only areas that are covered by the proposed boundary extension are areas that are already preserved as national parks or some sort of state owned land. So the Tasmanian government has been consulted or consented to that. There were a couple of small areas of private land where we were specifically requested by the owners of those areas to include them within the extension nomination.
Senator COLBECK: So the inclusion of private land under those circumstances is an accepted part of the process?
Dr Dripps : Yes. That is right, Senator. Not every country has the same land tenure arrangements as Australia so it is quite common for World Heritage properties to encompass private land.
Senator COLBECK: I do not have an issue with that. But the circumstances of the forest agreement were between two particular parties—that is, the forest industry and the environment movement. As you would be very well aware, that whole process has been very, very contentious with respect to other parties that were not included in that negotiation. So how does their exclusion from that process satisfy the requirements for broader community consultation?
Ms Rankin : The requirements for consultation are largely related to people that are directly impacted by the proposed extension. In this case, the areas of land that are covered are, as I mentioned, already crown land owned by the Tasmanian state government or by private landholders who specifically requested that areas be included.
Senator COLBECK: So what about those that might have boundaries with those pieces of land? What about the impacts on them? We heard through questions earlier in the hearing that you have people with an interest in a World Heritage area complaining about provisions that might occur outside the boundaries of them. So there is clear inference, even from that line of questioning from Senator Cameron, that there is an expectation of impact outside the World Heritage boundaries. My understanding is that there are considerable areas of private land that abut the proposed boundaries. So what about the impact on those people and their opportunity to be consulted as part of the process?
Mr Murphy : The legislative requirement is that the consultation takes place with the owners and occupiers of the proposed area.
Senator COLBECK: Well, has that occurred?
Dr Dripps : Yes. There has been consultation.
Senator COLBECK: Of the occupied area, the area being nominated? What about the people on the boundary who are obviously impacted by that process? There is an expectation in the New South Wales case that Senator Cameron talked about about planning requirements outside. I would not expect that to be any different anywhere else. That is a given. I am not arguing about that. There are considerable areas of private land—farming land—that are operated for very different purposes on the boundaries that we know of. Those people who will be impacted by this process have had no opportunity under that process to have their say. How has that then become a legitimate part of the process? How is that considered as part of this nomination?
Dr Dripps : As Mr Murphy has indicated, the legislative obligation is to consult with the owners and occupiers of the land included in the nomination. I think it is fair to say also that during the Tasmanian forestry process there was a range of views provided to the government from a range of different stakeholders who may or may not have been part of the formal negotiating process. So in terms of the views and concerns, I think it is fair to say that the government was well aware of them in submitting the nomination.
Senator COLBECK: Let us go to the boundaries themselves. In a letter to Jane Calvert, who was one of the negotiators within the process, the minister said on 30 April that the boundaries were not finalised. Are the boundaries finalised for that nomination?
Ms Rankin : Senator, the boundary submitted to the World Heritage Committee is finalised. What we are doing at the moment is working through a process of detailed technical, I guess, GIS refinement to make sure that when we gazette the boundary and actually produce it, if subject to a decision being taken by the World Heritage Committee, it is actually meaningful on the ground. When we overlay different data layers, what has actually been described needs to make sense and align with roads and not create little strange cut-offs in things that were not intended. So we are going through quite a detailed technical process of verifying the data to make sure that the technical mapping of the boundary is correct.
Senator COLBECK: But my understanding from that letter is that it related to some coupes that were still to be logged that were inside the boundaries of the World Heritage area. My understanding or inference from the letter—if I am wrong, I am wrong—is that there were some attempts to remove them from the World Heritage proposal so that the principles of not logging within a World Heritage area could be maintained if the listing were accepted. So on what basis can you say in that circumstance that the boundaries are finalised?
Dr Dripps : There have been a number of matters like that which have been under active discussion, Senator. The commitment from the forestry authorities in Tasmania was that where there were such coupes that were scheduled for logging, they would be logged in advance of consideration of this matter by the World Heritage Committee and then allowed to regrow as part of the World Heritage property.
Senator COLBECK: Have they been logged?
Ms Rankin : I think the provision was up to 14 June. There were some small numbers.
Senator COLBECK: My understanding is that there is still a number of coupes to be logged, which was legitimately the point of the discussion. I am not complaining about that. It is legitimately the point of the discussion.
Ms Howlett : I may be able to assist you here. As you would be aware, the negotiations around the forestry agreement have been quite complex.
Senator COLBECK: I do not want to revisit that. I have a very, very short period of time. I just want to know if the boundaries are finalised. While you are on that, what impact does the decision by the Tasmanian parliament to excise 35,000 hectares from the area nominated have on the listing application?
Ms Howlett : I will just take you back to your question about coupes being logged within the World Heritage area, Senator. In the preparation of the nomination there were a number of what are termed by the signatories and Forestry Tasmania transitional coupes. A number of those coupes are scheduled for logging to be completed by 14 June. So in any coupes that were included in the World Heritage area, logging will be completed by 14 June. There was a small number of coupes that could not be completed by 14 June, and they were excised from the nomination.
Senator COLBECK: At what point were they excised?
Ms Howlett : They were excised prior to the Australian government lodging the nomination at the end of January. Then there is a third set of coupes—those you refer to being excised by the Tasmanian legislation.
Senator COLBECK: It is not a set of coupes. It is 35,000 hectares.
Mr Thompson : For those coupes, the effect of the Tasmanian legislation is that they cannot be formally proclaimed as reserves by the Tasmanian government prior to either or both of the World Heritage Committee making a positive decision on the World Heritage area and the Tasmanian government obtaining forest stewardship certification for their forestry operations. That legislation does not have an impact on whether or not the World Heritage Committee makes a decision about the World Heritage boundary extension. So if the nomination is successful, those coupes will be covered by the EPBC Act and protected as World Heritage. Further to that—
Senator COLBECK: But that is clearly not the intent. I spoke to the member who moved the motion. The intent of that motion was to excise that 35,000 hectares from the World Heritage listing. There is no question in my mind about that.
Ms Howlett : I cannot speak for the intent of the member. But the effect of the legislation—
Senator COLBECK: What you are saying is the effect of the amendment that he moved is as you have just described?
Ms Howlett : It has an impact on the Tasmanian government's reserve making powers. It does not have an effect on the World Heritage listing.
Senator COLBECK: I have another question and it relates to the ICOMOS report to the World Heritage Commission in relation to consultation with the Indigenous community. We just heard Senator Boswell talking about that, so perhaps that throws some light on what is happening. Why was consultation not done? What is happening with that consultation?
Ms Rankin : We have started that process of consultation, including writing to a number of Aboriginal groups in Tasmania. The minister wrote to them earlier this year to say that the Australian government was wanting to work with them to undertake the process of describing and properly identifying the cultural heritage values of that proposed minor boundary extension area. I guess the primary focus of the original nomination to the World Heritage Centre was on the natural values of the extension area. We clearly identified in our submission to the World Heritage Centre that the Australian government was very committed to continuing to undertake work in the timeframe required to work with Aboriginal groups to allow them to properly identify those cultural heritage values and that we would come back to the World Heritage Committee at a future date once those consultations had been completed.
Senator COLBECK: Before or after the assessments considered?
Dr Dripps : The intention would be after. We have a previous decision relating to this property that requests that Australia come back with information on Indigenous cultural values at the meeting in 2015.
Senator COLBECK: So why is the approach for the Cape York Indigenous community different from the approach for the Tasmanian Indigenous community?
Ms Rankin : It is not.
Senator COLBECK: Well, it clearly is. The Cape York Indigenous community have control over whether the listing goes ahead or not. The Tasmanian Indigenous community get the opportunity, which they did not even know about until the ICOMOS report came out, to start having consultations after the nomination has been submitted. How is that the same?
Dr Dripps : This property has been listed since 1982.
Senator COLBECK: Not the extension.
Dr Dripps : I was going to go on with that to say that it has been listed for its mixed cultural and natural values for that period of time. The property has been considered for a number of boundary extensions over the period of time between then and now.
Senator COLBECK: Do you consider that clause 40 from the RFA has been given full consideration as part of the nomination?
Dr Dripps : I am sorry, but I do not have the RFA in front of me, Senator. Can we take that question on notice?
Senator COLBECK: Yes, certainly.
CHAIR: Senator, you will have to wind up.
Senator COLBECK: Really, was this not just the government trying to get, as Senator Boswell was talking about before, a nomination in before the election? Was that not what this was all about? This area is clearly larger than 10 per cent. My understanding is that the government continues to communicate with the World Heritage Commission on this submission. The boundaries, from what I have read, are not finalised. How can the community fairly get the opportunity to comment on this submission when the boundaries are still being modified by the process, their submissions were supposed to be in by 28 February, and that process, from a government submission perspective, continues potentially right up to the consideration by the World Heritage Commission of the nomination? How is that a fair process?
Dr Dripps : As the officials here have described, it has been a process in line with the Australian legislation and driven clearly by the Tasmanian forestry process. In terms of its fairness, I am not at liberty to provide a view on whether that is fair or not.
CHAIR: I do not think we will use the full time with the Office of the Supervising Scientist, but we will need a fair bit of time. Senator Singh and Senator Waters still wish to make a contribution. I will run past a bit on this. Are you just about finished, Senator Colbeck?
Senator COLBECK: Just one question and I will finish. Are you satisfied that this listing has been made in full compliance with the guidelines?
Dr Dripps : That is my understanding, Senator.
Senator COLBECK: I will leave it at that.
Senator WATERS: Can you, firstly, tell me how many government officials will form part of the delegation to the Cambodia World Heritage Committee meeting?
Dr Dripps : As I indicated, I think, yesterday, I will be leading the delegation. Have you got the list there?
Senator WATERS: I do not need the names as such. Just the number will be fine, thanks.
Dr Dripps : There will be four Commonwealth government officials, one official from GBRMPA, one official from DFAT, one official from Tasmania and a technical expert from Tasmania.
Senator WATERS: How many days will the delegation be there for?
Dr Dripps : It does depend a little on the agenda for the World Heritage Committee, Senator. The properties are discussed in a particular order, so the attendance of officials will be based on the likely timing of discussion of those matters. The meeting runs for 12 days.
Senator WATERS: I want to take you to the draft decision of the World Heritage Committee around the Great Barrier Reef—decision 37.COM/7B.10—which I am sure you are well aware of. Will the delegation be seeking to have discussions with other participants to that meeting with a view to changing the terms of that draft decision?
Dr Dripps : We have been advised by the World Heritage Centre that the item will be opened up for discussion. So we expect that we will be approached by various state parties to present the position of the Australian government. The position of the Australian government has not yet been finalised. There are discussions with Queensland and, obviously, amongst members of the Australian government around what that should say. However, it is fair to say that there are a number of announcements by the Australian government that are not reflected in the draft decision, probably reflecting the timing of those announcements, along with the timing of the drafting and translation of the draft decision. In particular, the Prime Minister's announcement of 24 April about the $200 million worth of investment in Reef Rescue is a very significant contribution and addition to the preservation of this property.
Senator WATERS: Sure. Beyond those funding announcements that were made subsequent to the draft decision being released, are there other matters that the delegation will seek to amend in that draft decision?
Dr Dripps : There are not any matters that I can comment on at this time, Senator, because those decisions have not yet been made.
Senator WATERS: Given about a year or so ago the World Heritage Committee expressed extreme concern—their words—about the reef, has the minister requested advice on whether there are any other issues arising with the management of our other World Heritage properties?
Dr Dripps : I do not recall the minister specifically asking for that advice, Senator.
Senator WATERS: If you could just take on notice and double-check, that would be helpful. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority yesterday, in response to some of my questions about the release of Legacy Mine Water in Queensland, said that they thought there were likely to be significant impacts on the river systems, the estuarine systems, as opposed to the marine park itself. Has the department looked into this issue at all—the release of the contaminated mine water authorised by the Queensland government?
Dr Dripps : Dr Reichelt referred to localised impacts on rivers in Queensland. I am not aware of whether we have or have not. It would probably be a question best answered by the folk from the environment assessment and compliance division. Now they have a heads-up, they can come armed with that answer later, if that is okay with you, Senator.
Senator WATERS: Thank you. Particularly given that that program was extended yesterday, in fact, was the minister or the department consulted by the Queensland government on the extension of that program?
Dr Dripps : Which program is that, Senator?
Senator WATERS: The Legacy Mine Water program.
Dr Dripps : I am not aware of consultation that may have occurred yesterday, Senator. We can take that question on notice.
Senator WATERS: Or obviously consultation prior to the announcement yesterday. Thank you. Have you advised the minister, either at your own initiative or in response to a request from the minister, about the potential environmental impacts on matters of national environmental significance from the repeal of those wild river declarations?
Dr Dripps : I can recall a number of verbal discussions with the minister on that matter. We would have to take on notice whether there were specific briefings. It would not have been from officers from this area.
Senator WATERS: Which area would that have been from?
Dr Dripps : It may have been outcome 5.2 or it may have been officers from the water part of the department.
Senator WATERS: If you could take that on notice on their behalf, that would be great. Have you advised the minister on whether or not any of those rivers formerly protected under those declarations have national heritage values?
Dr Dripps : The advice that we have provided the minister on national heritage values is based on consideration by the Australian Heritage Council after nomination of those properties for consideration by the Australian Heritage Council.
Senator WATERS: So you do not do a proactive advice? You wait for a nomination to be made before providing input?
Mr Murphy : The general process is as Dr Dripps said. For example, if the minister wanted to consider an emergency listing, we might provide advice for that purpose.
Senator WATERS: Has advice around an emergency heritage listing been provided to the minister for any of those formerly declared wild rivers?
Dr Dripps : We would have to take that question on notice, Senator. We are not immediately aware.
Senator WATERS: Have you advised the minister on any other ways to protect those rivers using the means available to the federal government?
Dr Dripps : I think we will need to wrap that question up with the others we have taken on notice, Senator.
Senator WATERS: Thank you. I want to go back to the broader World Heritage areas. You said earlier you were not sure whether the minister had requested advice on whether there are any other issues about the management of our World Heritage properties. You have taken on notice to check on that. Is there any sort of regular review or public reporting process either to the Australian public or to the World Heritage Committee on how each of our World Heritage properties are faring?
Dr Dripps : Yes, this is, Senator. As an example, I draw your attention to the State of conservation report that has been prepared for Macquarie Island that is available on the World Heritage Committee's website, which commends Australia for the management effort over the past about half a dozen years in controlling rats and rabbits on Macquarie Island. That is an example. There is a regular process of reporting back to the World Heritage Committee on the management of the properties, which becomes more frequent if there is a level of concern.
Senator WATERS: And how regular is that? Is it every year?
Dr Dripps : No. It is not every year.
Senator WATERS: You said it is regular, but it is not every year. That is not terribly regular, in my books.
Dr Dripps : It is more like every five years. But I am not certain, Senator, so we would prefer to check that with the guidelines.
Senator WATERS: Are those reports then made available on the SEWPaC website?
Mr Murphy : I think the periodic reports are available on the World Heritage Centre's website.
Senator WATERS: The full text and not any sort of summarised or edited version?
Mr Murphy : Yes.
Senator WATERS: Great. Do those reports address not only the state of the property but also any pressures that they are facing and any funding variations that might have occurred?
Dr Dripps : Yes. They cover those things.
Senator WATERS: They cover all aspects—administration as well as pressures. Good. Lastly, has the department briefed the minister on what additional steps he could take to implement the World Heritage Committee's requests that we fix our limited progress on their recommendations?
Dr Dripps : As I indicated previously, there have been a range of announcements made since the draft decision was drafted by the World Heritage Committee. It would not be my view, and, as I said, the Australian government has not completed the process of forming its view, that that statement is true. We do brief the minister on a range of matters relating to Queensland—the strategic assessment and the progress of the implementation of the findings of the World Heritage Committee.
Senator WATERS: Beyond wanting the Reef Rescue funding to be properly referenced in the World Heritage Committee's reports, have you provided any advice to the minister about additional steps that he could take to address the concern of the World Heritage Committee around the management of the reef?
Dr Dripps : As I indicated, Senator, we provide advice to the minister on a range of different things relating to the management of the World Heritage area—the progress of the strategic assessment and the way in which the recommendations might be read. In addition to the $200 million of funding, there has also been the release of the report card and some correspondence with the World Heritage Committee around factual inaccuracies in the draft decision.
Senator WATERS: Sure. That all goes to things that are currently afoot. Have you provided any advice to the minister on additional measures beyond what is already being undertaken to address the World Heritage Committee's concerns?
Dr Dripps : Senator, I have provided as much advice as I am able to. I think I have answered the questions two times so far as best I can.
Senator WATERS: Well, you have talked about an update on existing initiatives. Have you provided advice on additional new things that the government could do to address the concern of the World Heritage Committee?
Dr Grimes : Senator, I think this is really starting to stray into the possible policy advice given to the government. Dr Dripps has indicated—
Senator WATERS: I am not asking what the advice was. I am just asking if it has been provided.
Dr Grimes : Dr Dripps has indicated that there has been advice provided to the minister in relation to the draft decision that has been submitted to the World Heritage Committee. I think she has provided as much information as we can here this afternoon.
Senator SINGH: This time last year at budget estimates, I asked about the Cascades Female Factory at the historic site in south Hobart. I asked specifically about UNESCO and the Commonwealth. Conditions had been placed on the visitors centre because it was anachronistic and, therefore, would need to be demolished. You took on notice most of that question. In your response, you have provided me with the fact that there was a deed of agreement established between the Commonwealth and the Festival of Tasmania requiring the ownership of the site to be transferred to the state government of Tasmania but that the demolition of the fudge factory, which is the anachronistic part of the site, be done prior to the handover to the state government in 2009. The last time I looked, that building had not been demolished. If the inclusion in the deed of the transferring of ownership of the property to the state government included the demolition of that building and it is part of the Commonwealth and UNESCO's position in its World Heritage listing, what has gone on?
Ms Rankin : Senator, there is probably not much more that we can add to the answer on notice that we took last year. The situation has not really changed.
Senator SINGH: You handed it over with that deed in place saying, 'This anachronistic site needs to be demolished for the Commonwealth to hand it over' but did not stick to the wording in the deed? What happened?
Ms Rankin : We are continuing to have conversations with Tasmania about their undertaking that they would do that. We do not have any way of forcing them to do it.
Senator SINGH: You had the option, I would have presumed, to have held on and not handed it over until the requirements in that deed were met.
Dr Dripps : Senator, if I recall the answer to the question last year, that deed of agreement was made at a very long time in the past. So the officers here are not able to explain to you why it was that the required activity did not occur at that time.
Senator SINGH: So why did 2009 get decided as the date to do the handover without meeting the requirements in the deed?
Dr Dripps : I do not think we have the information available here to answer the question, Senator, I am sorry. We will have to take that further question on notice.
CHAIR: Thank you. I think that concludes the questioning for the department here. We will move to the Office of the Supervising Scientist.