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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Pratt, Sen Louise
Rhiannon, Sen Lee
Urquhart, Sen Anne
Ruston, Sen Anne
Waters, Sen Larissa
Birmingham, Sen Simon
Dr de Brouwer
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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
(Senate-Tuesday, 27 May 2014)
Department of the Environment
Director of National Parks
Sydney Harbour Federation Trust
Dr de Brouwer
Climate Change Authority
Dr de Brouwer
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
- Department of the Environment
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Content WindowEnvironment and Communications Legislation Committee - 27/05/2014 - Estimates - ENVIRONMENT PORTFOLIO - Sydney Harbour Federation Trust
Sydney Harbour Federation Trust
CHAIR: Welcome, Mr Bailey, and thank you for your attendance. We will go straight into questions. Senator Pratt.
Senator PRATT: I understand that the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust is self-funding. That is correct, isn't it?
Mr Bailey : Correct.
Senator PRATT: I would like, if possible, for you to give the committee a brief description of where you source your funding from.
Mr Bailey : The trust, as you say, is entirely self-funding. The majority of that revenue comes from leased properties. The trust inherited over 400 empty buildings in around seven or eight sites it has around Sydney Harbour. Some of those are heritage buildings, There is a very wide range of former Defence buildings, from small fuel sheds up to very large turbine halls, et cetera. The other sources of funding come from businesses that the trust runs—for example, camping and accommodation—and finally there is a source of funding from parking revenue from paid parking in Sydney.
Senator PRATT: That was parking, was it?
Mr Bailey : These are the larger ones. There are smaller sources from things like guided tours and those sorts of things. The significant funding sources are those three.
Senator PRATT: Are you able to quantify the relative importance of each of those three funding sources?
Mr Bailey : Precisely, no, but it would be in the order of 80 per cent from leasing and the remainder divided up between those other sources.
Senator PRATT: I would imagine that within those buildings you have responsibility, which clearly you lease and earn income from, you have to balance that up with redevelopment costs and the heritage role that you play in the custodianship of those sites?
Mr Bailey : Exactly, Senator, and we certainly don't lease all of our buildings. There are a variety of reasons for that. They are the reasons that you have given. It is to do with public access and heritage sensitivity, and those sorts of things.
Senator PRATT: So what is the overall state of play on the properties that you manage and maintain currently?
Mr Bailey : You mean how many are leased and how many are not?
Senator PRATT: Yes, and the capacity to earn enough income to maintain the sites that you have. Those kinds of issues.
Mr Bailey : The trust is in quite good financial shape at present. We were given a government appropriation back in 2002-03 which was to rehabilitate the sites. The maintenance on these sites had been run down over many years, and there were high levels of contamination on some of the sites because of the former uses. They were things like shipyards. That money was used to decontaminate and rehabilitate the services and the buildings on the sites. By and large, that has been done. We are now travelling quite well, financially. We have budgeted and plan for revenue sufficient to maintain our assets and to undertake appropriate capital renewal when that is necessary. Of course, a large component of that is the public good elements— education programs and so forth.
Senator PRATT: Have there been any significant controversies around any of your properties in recent times?
Mr Bailey : Over the life of the trust there have been considerable controversies over the future of these sites.
Senator PRATT: Indeed.
Mr Bailey : They are all on Sydney Harbour, and they are very controversial and contentious as a result of that.
Senator Birmingham: That, in fact, is why the trust was established in the first place.
Senator PRATT: Any significant ones of late?
Mr Bailey : At the moment the only significant controversy relates to a proposal that the trust is considering at Middle Head for an aged-care development to be located in a former transport terminal.
Senator PRATT: What prospect do you think that will have of being successfully resolved, and we hope that it is?
Senator Birmingham: That proposal is currently before the department for assessment under the EPBC Act as to whether or not it is a controlled action. I understand that a determination on that from the department is very close, and in fact we might be able to explore that later today when the relevant section—
Senator PRATT: Clearly the question is whether aged-care is going to have suitable or unsuitable impacts on a heritage site that has a transport and industrial history that is different to the kind of use that it would be given today. Okay. Are you surprised that the Commission of Audit recommended the trust be merged within the New South Wales or Commonwealth government?
Senator Birmingham: I am not sure that Mr Bailey’s emotional reaction to the Commission of Audit is a matter for Senate estimates.
Senator PRATT: I can rephrase the question.
Senator Birmingham: I always find him to be a very calm and thoughtful figure, personally.
Senator PRATT: I guess it seems rational to me, given that you are self-funding, that you would not necessarily want to place the capacity to maintain that at risk by suddenly being part of a much larger portfolio with interactions of departmental obligations in a much bigger institution. The current structure of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust is logical for what reason?
Senator Birmingham: Mr Bailey operates—
Senator PRATT: You don't want to answer that one?
Senator Birmingham: under legislation of the Parliament.
Senator PRATT: Do you have a view about these matters, Senator Birmingham?
Senator Birmingham: The trust was a good innovation of the Howard government. The current Prime Minister and the current Treasurer played key roles, and a number of the trust’s sites are in their electorates. It has been a successful and innovative model in terms of the self-funding aspects, and it is important when issues like the Middle Head aged-care proposal are considered that people are mindful that continued upgrading, preservation and opening up of trust sites is funded by the adaptive reuse and utilisation of buildings like those at Middle Head. That model has worked and is working quite well. The final call on Commission of Audit recommendations will be taken by the government in due course, but I think the trust model has been a great success.
Senator PRATT: That particular model may or may not be compatible with the trust being merged with other entities.
Senator Birmingham: We will obviously consider what the Commission of Audit had to say there. The trust manages discrete land sites around Sydney Harbour, specifically. We just heard from the Director of National Parks, who manages half a dozen terrestrial national parks scattered across the country, as well as the Royal Botanic Gardens here in Canberra. There are, of course, some disused Defence sites that still exist around parts of Sydney and parts of the country. The Department of Finance holds bits of land around the place and you have various entities in the New South Wales government either running national parks or overseeing parts of Sydney Harbour's management. So, is there value in always considering and exploring how these things might work? Indeed. Was there at the outset of the trust an expectation that one day those sites might be transferred into the hands of New South Wales Parks? Yes, there was and that was very clear and public at the outset. The life of the trust was subsequently extended—
Senator PRATT: Because of its success.
Senator Birmingham: and we will consider the merits of it. But, as I said, the trust has been a successful and innovative model and it is a great accomplishment that it has done a lot and is today a self-funding vehicle.
Senator PRATT: Thank you, Chair, I do not have any further questions.
CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, you have a few minutes left. I will actually give you through to 10 minutes past 10. That is something Senator Cameron never gave. I just wanted to distinguish myself from Senator Cameron, as far as strict rules go.
Senator Birmingham: There are many features that distinguish you. The fact that we can usually understand you is a good start.
CHAIR: What do you mean? Senator Rhiannon, you have the call.
Senator RHIANNON: I want to take up the issues of the trust’s land on Middle Head, part of the headland park at the entrance to Sydney Harbour. I noted that the trust’s objectives under the act include 'to protect, conserve and interpret the environmental and heritage values of Trust land', and 'to maximise public access to the land' and 'to establish and manage suitable Trust land as a park on behalf of the Commonwealth.' In the context of the residential aged-care facility, how does such a development meet those objects of the trust?
Mr Bailey : To put that in context, the trust has—I can't recall the exact number—well over 200 tenants. The principle the trust has operated on from the outset is that in order to fulfil those objectives, particularly the ones relating to conservation of heritage and maximising public access, we have chosen to utilise the hundreds of buildings that we own across these sites and reuse them for contemporary uses. The key element of that is diversity. So the more diverse range of uses we have in our sites and buildings, the more reasons people have to come and visit those sites and to take advantage of the natural and environmental qualities of the sites. So aged care, we believe, presents the opportunity for the residents, in a peaceful and quiet environment, to take advantage of those natural assets which I think everyone agrees are beneficial to everyone's health, not just the aged. That is the rationale for it.
Senator RHIANNON: Is it the case, though, that the original and the revised proposal do not actually comply with the trust’s own management plan and that there is a contradiction there?
Mr Bailey : There is a minor amendment to the management plan proposed. There is a sort of hierarchy of management plans for the trust site. There is a comprehensive plan, which oversees all of the sites, and then there are detailed site specific precinct management plans. In this case the precinct management plan would require a minor amendment to enable both the demolition of some of the older and less attractive barrack buildings and incorporation into the park, and a slight height increase to permit a two-storey development.
Senator RHIANNON: Most people don't see demolition as minor when we are talking about heritage. I thought that that would be interesting to explore. Is it correct that the development proposal seeks to virtually demolish most or many of the heritage listed buildings on the site?
Mr Bailey : No, that is not—
Senator RHIANNON: It has been claimed as adaptive reuse, but it is in fact a major removal of many of these buildings.
Mr Bailey : The first proposition is incorrect. It does not propose the demolition of most of the buildings on the site. This site is on the Commonwealth Heritage Register and includes a number of groupings of buildings. Some are barrack buildings—for example, the former 10 Terminal, which was an army transport terminal—and some are former Australian School of Pacific Administration buildings. The ASOPA buildings, which form the majority of the buildings on the site, have all been restored and are fully leased and tenanted by a wide range of occupants. There would be some partial demolition of the 10 Terminal barrack buildings under this proposal, if it is to proceed, and I need to point out that it has not yet received approval. It needs to go through the relevant approval processes.
Senator Birmingham: Either an EPBC Act approval or approval by the trust. So there are at least a couple of levels to go.
Mr Bailey : With the third grouping of three barrack buildings—which are, it seems, entirely unloved by the trust and the community—there seems to be general agreement that they should be demolished for the benefit of the parkland and to create greater green space.
Senator Birmingham: I think we could summarise that by saying that the site is a heritage site. The different buildings within that site are of different heritage values.
Mr Bailey : Correct.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that. Because of the time, I would like to move on to some of the issues that you raised about the peaceful and quiet asset and the benefit that would bring to elderly people if that is what ended up happening. But isn't the bushfire risk just enormous? Sydney has many of these wonderful sandstone headlands, but there is one way in and one way out. That is what is troubling people considerably—that you would be putting in an aged-care centre and making it virtually impossible for there to be a quick and rapid evacuation of people, particularly if the fire comes from the west, which is very possible?
Mr Bailey : That, along with many other issues—traffic et cetera—are all matters for the accreditation and approval process. However, I would point out that there are numerous institutions further down the road than this and they have all been able to meet the bushfire requirements.
Senator RHIANNON: But the approval process in New South Wales is known to be incredibly weak. In fact, it is why we have so many ICAC hearings, because it created too many loopholes. So I think you can answer most of my questions correctly in regard to it fitting with approvals and planning, but is it the right thing to do? What consideration has been given to that? I recently heard about, and am particularly interested in, your steel fence. What is the purpose of the steel fence? Is it safety? I was worried that that could add to this problem of evacuation?
Mr Bailey : The steel fence is an incorrect proposition that the opponents of this proposal have put up. There is no steel fence.
Senator RHIANNON: Seriously?
Mr Bailey : Seriously. The trust is not bound by New South Wales law, but we comply with it as a matter of policy. So we would comply with all of those standards and fire requirements of the Rural Fire Service et cetera. However, we have had our own detailed and independent fire assessment prepared, and in that document they have made recommendations for how to manage the risk of fire, one of which is to provide what they call a radiant heat barrier. The opponents have described that as a steel fence. I don't think any of us would like to see that. What it is more likely to consist of is landscaping in the form of mounds and lookouts that enable greater visual access and views of the harbour and surrounds, and it would form part of the parkland.
Senator RHIANNON: Would that involve clearing the native bushland?
Mr Bailey : No, it would not involve clearing the native bushland.
Senator RHIANNON: So no clearing?
Mr Bailey : No clearing.
Senator RHIANNON: Also, I am interested in some of the recent reports, and you would obviously know how much interest this is generating. What is the trust’s response to the new report by heritage and conservation expert Graham Brooks and Associates, which I understand strongly criticises the developers report as inconsistent with the Burra Charter for heritage conservation and for failing to address the relevant government guidelines? It was quite comprehensive criticism, and I am interested in your response.
Mr Bailey : Again, Senator, that is really a matter for the approval and review process that is being undertaken under the EPBC Act. The submission that you are referring to was submitted as part of that process, and I am sure it will be given due consideration.
Senator RHIANNON: That is why I noted your objects under the trust—that is, to protect, conserve and interpret the environmental and heritage values of trust land. When you get such significant and comprehensive criticism, surely you need to have a response to that. You can't just flick it off to the EPBC process, surely?
Mr Bailey : Ultimately we will have a response to it, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. When will that response be available?
Mr Bailey : We will first await the response to the EPBC process. The trust's position at the moment is that if this proposal does not cross that threshold and does not receive that approval, then there is no point in the trust giving it any further consideration. So we are awaiting that result. If it gets an affirmative result then the trust will go into detail and assess those sorts of things that you have raised.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Bailey, for your presence here today. I now call on officers from the department in relation to outcome 1.4, conservation of Australian heritage and environment. Senator Rhiannon, if you stay there I believe you have a couple of minutes of questioning in this next session. We could lead off with you.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, that is very nice of you.
CHAIR: I am always very nice.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, you are. You are a very fair chair and a good person.
CHAIR: We move to program 1.4. Welcome to the folk from the department. Senator Rhiannon?
Senator RHIANNON: With regard to what is called the royal reserves, which takes in the Royal National Park, Heathcote National Park and the Garawarra State Conservation Area, and their nomination for World Heritage listing and acceptance for their internationally significant cultural and natural heritage values, could you tell us where that application process is up to, please?
Mr Oxley : We are in the process, working with the New South Wales government, of developing a submission for the tentative list for World Heritage.
Senator RHIANNON: So it didn't go on the tentative heritage list by 31 January?
Mr Oxley : No, it did not.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you anticipate it will? Does the tentative heritage list always comes up at the end of January each year?
Dr Dripps : The submissions need to be with the World Heritage Centre by 1 February. The World Heritage Committee formally endorses the decisions that are put to it and makes its decisions during its meeting towards the end of June.
Senator RHIANNON: When is the next opportunity for these royal reserves to get on the tentative heritage list?
Dr Dripps : That would be in next year's cycle, so it would be submitted by 1 February 2015.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you anticipate that that will happen through the work between the federal and state governments?
Mr Oxley : It is really in the hands of the New South Wales government. We are working with them to that end.
Senator RHIANNON: In November 2011 the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct in Sydney was nominated for inclusion on the National Heritage List. However, I noted that it was not considered in the 2012-13 annual round. When will the precinct be considered for inclusion on the National Heritage List?
Dr Dripps : My colleague Mr Routh will take that question.
Mr Routh : That was one of the sites that was nominated as part of the public nomination process. That then goes through a number of steps and results in the Australian Heritage Council making recommendations on what would go on to the final priority assessment list recommendations to the minister. The minister then makes the decision on what is on that list. That site was not included in the previous round. So it is not on the list for assessment at present. That is where it stands.
Senator RHIANNON: Why was it not included?
Mr Routh : Well, there were 42 nominations, from memory, in that round of different sites across Australia, and a decision was taken based on significance, using the information that was submitted, plus priorities and resources.
Senator RHIANNON: Does that mean that of the 42 there is a limit to how many can go through, and therefore it just was not at the top of the list or were there problems in the submission?
Mr Routh : There is not a predetermined limit. It varies each year. But it is a matter of the quality and depth of the information that is submitted, together with resources and priorities.
Senator RHIANNON: I am not trying to verbal you, but it sounds like you may have judged that the quality and depth was not in that submission. Can feedback be given to the people who make these proposals so they can improve on it for next time?
Mr Routh : Certainly the department can have discussions with nominators, as we have in the past. That is a process that can be ongoing.
Senator RHIANNON: Will the precinct be considered for inclusion on the National Heritage List? Will that come up again or does it actually have to be resubmitted?
Mr Routh : I would have to check the process, but I think it is in the category that it would need to be resubmitted. But I would have to check.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you take it on notice, please?
Mr Routh : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Is there any consideration of the site being funded from the development of the first Museum of Australian Women's History and are there any federal funds available for that type of project?
Mr Routh : I am not aware of that proposal, and the funding side of it is beyond my knowledge because I have not heard of that proposition.
Mr Oxley : There is a new Community Heritage and Icons Grants program, which has been funded as part of the 2014-15 budget. Potentially any place of heritage value would be able to apply for a grant under that program once it is up and running.
Senator RHIANNON: When will it be up and running?
Mr Oxley : It will be up and running in the new financial year. We have to go through the process of developing guidelines and having those approved by the minister. We are aiming to get it going early in the year, but an exact time frame for launch has not yet been established.
Senator RHIANNON: What was its title again, please?
Mr Oxley : It is the Community Heritage and Icons Grants program.
Senator RHIANNON: How much in total is in that?
Mr Oxley : It is $1.4 million over three years. It is a small grants program.
Senator RHIANNON: Is that the only grant program that you think the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct project would come under? Are there any others?
Mr Routh : It depends on the nature of the work. It depends whether they are looking to do, for instance, interpretation and making information available to the public or whether they are, alternatively, looking to do actual works on the building. There is a separate line item in the budget that provides funding for physical works on buildings as well.
Senator RHIANNON: Right. Thank you for explaining that. Just to check again, to resubmit for the National Heritage List, who are the people they engage with?
Mr Routh : That is organised through the heritage branch in the department. It is usually an annual call for nominations and that usually happens early in the calendar year. It is a public call for nominations.
Senator RHIANNON: That is where you said that those people could give advice on what needs to be improved on?
Mr Routh : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Does the department have any interest or association with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience movement? I am wondering if this comes under your remit. The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is an international movement that engages with and documents the history of sites associated with trauma, loss and suffering. Is that something that anybody has become aware of?
Dr Dripps : We are not aware of the organisation. However, in the context of our work, on occasions significant sites that have had such associations may have been considered for World Heritage or National Heritage listing.
Mr Routh : For instance, at the moment we are doing what is called a thematic study on care institutions and the significance and history of those across Australia.
Senator RHIANNON: Going back to that question about the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, what is the process by which the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct can engage with the department to have the site included as an International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, or at least get that conversation going about these sites of considerable trauma?
Mr Oxley : As a department, we do not have responsibility for the type of recognition that you are identifying. As Dr Dripps has already indicated, it is conceivable that values such as those would be identified as part of a heritage listing of a place where they meet the criteria for heritage listing. But we do not have an engagement, and we do not have a process for engagement, around the specific theme and recognition in the way that you are identifying. But those values, if established, could be recognised as part of a National Heritage listing.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Senator Urquhart.
Senator URQUHART: Given these are general questions maybe they are for Dr de Brouwer, but I am happy for you to flick them wherever. There have clearly been some wholesale changes in the department since this committee met last time. I have a couple of general questions about outcome 1 and how it is now configured. Can you please explain what is now included in outcome 1 and the rationale for the changes?
Dr de Brouwer : The changes to the outcomes are a government decision, so it is really consolidating the various elements of environment protection as well as biodiversity, conservation and environment programs as well as the air quality or environmental quality programs and to bring them together in that overall rubric of environmental protection. So that brings all of those three or four outcomes together in outcome 1.
Senator URQUHART: Will there be any impacts on staffing and resources as a result of that consolidation?
Dr de Brouwer : Overall, as I said yesterday, there is an impact on resources because we are consolidating the department in line with the various cuts either by the efficiency dividends or reductions in various programs that have been in place. That was outlined yesterday with the voluntary redundancy process overall, with 250 this calendar year.
Senator URQUHART: That is all tied in to this?
Dr de Brouwer : That is all tied in. We are really working through individual divisional and group budgets now.
Senator URQUHART: I am going to ask you about the budget. Previous outcomes 2 and 5 are now rolled into outcome 1. Can you explain how the budget for the new outcome is $142.3 million less in 2014-15 than the previous budget for those combined outcomes? Are functions being discontinued or delegated?
Dr de Brouwer : That is a very broad question, Senator. I have it at 100 less.
Senator URQUHART: You are saying $100 million less, not $140 million?
Ms Carlos : The table on page 35 of the PBS document has the outcome funding from the estimated total funding for expenses from 2013-14 through to 2014-15, and that is, as Dr de Brouwer said, $816 million down to $716 million. The funding for each of those structures has been mapped like-for-like. So it is a $100 million reduction and that is across all of not only departmental but administered functions as well.
Senator URQUHART: I am happy for you to provide the details on notice if you can, and then I can provide you with a bit more detail.
Dr de Brouwer : Yes, thank you. Looking at that table in program 1.3, I suspect that a large part of that reduction is going to relate to changes around some of the carbon arrangements, particularly around the biodiversity fund. We'll come back on that.
Senator URQUHART: I will get the details of that to you on notice. I have some questions on the community heritage grants. The community heritage grants are an election promise. How are the preparations progressing?
Mr Routh : The Community Heritage and Icons Grants Program, as Mr Oxley said, is a three-year program starting in the coming financial year. It has a total of $1.4 million for small projects, up to $10,000 per project. There are also two other dimensions to that, with funding again being allocated from the $1.4 million. There is $80,000 per annum for the three years going to the Federation of Australian Historical Societies and there is $50,000 per annum going to the Australian Heritage Council. So it is around $467,000 per annum across each of the three years.
Senator URQUHART: Do you have any scoping or tender documents for this?
Mr Routh : There will be guidelines issued for the elements that are community grants up to $10,000 per grant, per annum. There will be guidelines issued by the department early in the new year. There will be an open call application process early in the financial year.
Senator URQUHART: Is that early 2015 or early in the new financial year?
Mr Routh : Sorry, early in the new financial year. So starting shortly.
Senator URQUHART: How many funding rounds will there be for the local groups?
Mr Routh : There will be three, one in each of the three financial years of funding.
Senator URQUHART: So there is one round per year, effectively?
Mr Routh : Yes.
Senator URQUHART: What other current funding opportunities are there for these local groups?
Mr Routh : That is the primary opportunity for funding from the Commonwealth for heritage for local groups, in terms of doing things such as interpretation, providing information, visitor access and those sorts of activities. As I said, that would be up to $10,000. There is another funding line item in the budget heritage grants, which is for physical structures—work on buildings. That is $4.2 million going through the forward estimates. That amount is available for works on national historic sites.
Senator URQUHART: So they are obviously distinct. So there is no opportunity for double-dipping on the one program?
Mr Routh : Potentially, applicants could apply to do both physical work on the site and also, in tandem, to do complimentary, for instance, interpretation work. So potentially they could have access for different purposes through different applications.
Senator URQUHART: They are two different funding streams.
Mr Routh : That is right; they are two different funding streams.
Mr Oxley : I might also make the observation, just to be clear, that they are two distinct programs. One is focused at National Heritage places and the other is more focused at community level heritage. We have not yet got to the place where we have finalised those guidelines. I would just want to take a little care about being definitive.
Senator URQUHART: Those guidelines are what?
Mr Oxley : Those guidelines will be released in the new financial year. I just want to be a little careful about the department being definitive about the operation of the program, because we are yet to provide advice to the minister on draft guidelines and so forth. That is something that will happen over the course of the next month or two.
Proceedings suspended from 10 : 30 to 10 : 45
CHAIR: The committee will resume with outcome 1.4. Senator Urquhart.
Senator URQUHART: Thank you very much. The Australian Heritage Council received $50,000 a year for three years. How does this compare with current funding to the council and would it be additional to current funding?
Mr Oxley : This is a new funding allocation to the Heritage Council over and above the resourcing that the department currently provides to underpin the Heritage Council's operations.
Senator URQUHART: If it is over and above, what is the total amount?
Mr Oxley : Senator, we will need to take that on notice. It is a complex question because in many respects a large part of the operations of the Heritage Branch in the department is directed towards the business of the Australian Heritage Council—not exclusively—and it may be quite a difficult thing for us to disaggregate that and the resources required to do so. So, if you do not mind, I would like to take that on notice.
Senator URQUHART: Yes, that is fine—thank you. Will the Heritage Council be expected to broaden its remit or expand its work plan if it is receiving additional funding? You might need to take that on notice too.
Mr Oxley : No, Senator, it would not.
Senator URQUHART: Can you tell us more about the funding to the Federation of Australian Historical Societies? Do they currently receive any competitive or non-competitive funding?
Mr Routh : That 80,000, as we were saying, was part of the 1.4 million—the election commitment for funding. I am not aware that they receive any funding at present. So it is funding towards their operations, I understand.
Senator URQUHART: So the 80,000 is for their operation?
Mr Oxley : Yes.
Mr Routh : As I said, it was in the election commitment.
Mr Oxley : And for purposes yet to be agreed—
Mr Routh : In an agreement—
Mr Oxley : between the department and the federation.
Senator URQUHART: Okay. So you do not know if they receive any competitive or non-competitive—
Mr Oxley : I am not aware of their organisational funding arrangements, Senator.
Senator URQUHART: Are you able to take that on notice and provide some further information on that?
Mr Oxley : Yes—to the extent that we can do that from within our portfolio, we could certainly do that.
Senator URQUHART: Thank you. I just want to talk about the national World Heritage listings. On the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area delisting request, can you inform the committee what has been spent on this?
Dr Dripps : Senator, we would have to take that question on notice because it has been departmental officers working on the documents that were submitted on 1 February and so we would have to undertake a calculation of the amount of time that those officers have spent on that.
Senator URQUHART: Okay—if you could take that on notice, that would be great. Can you provide details on the staffing resources, the travel et cetera that has been invested in pursuing this request to the World Heritage Committee?
Dr Dripps : Thank you, we will take that question on notice. I would just draw your attention to the fact that, with our World Heritage engagement, we undertake work on a range of different fronts and we do not take additional trips for specific projects. We have the DFAT ambassador to UNESCO, who is located in Paris and who does a lot of work—as part of his other work he is also the ambassador to Chad in the Central African Republic. So part of his role is in being the ambassador to UNESCO. We do attend the General Assembly of States Parties and other meetings such as the meeting that was held in March on the voting procedures of the World Heritage Committee. As part of those meetings we do deliver on our other policy objectives at the same time.
Senator URQUHART: Okay. But, if you can break that down on notice, that would be great.
Dr Dripps : Thank you.
Senator URQUHART: I have no doubt that you are aware of the International Union for Conservation of Nature advice to the World Heritage Committee meeting in June that the request should be rejected. You are aware of that?
Dr Dripps : Yes, we are.
Senator URQUHART: Is the department preparing to counter this advice in any way in the lead-up to the meeting in Doha?
Dr Dripps : The department is preparing material to support the delegation's negotiations and discussions with World Heritage Committee members on this topic. We will be doing that towards achieving the government's policy objectives.
Senator URQUHART: So, effectively, you will be providing information on how you are going to counter the information that has come from the International Union for Conservation of Nature?
Dr Dripps : We certainly have a different policy perspective, from the Australian government's point of view, than the IUCN does, yes.
Senator URQUHART: Can you tell us if there are further resources that are expected to be spent pursuing that request?
Dr Dripps : Senator, there will be a delegation from Australia that attends the meeting of the World Heritage Committee and that delegation has yet to receive its delegation instructions. However, I would anticipate that they would be to pursue the government's election commitment in having the area delisted.
Senator URQUHART: What would be the cost of that?
Dr Dripps : As I indicated, the delegation will be pursuing a number of objectives for Australia as part of that meeting. We can provide you with the membership of that delegation and the costs of their travel to the meeting. However, I would note that not all of their time will be spent on the Tasmanian matter.
Senator RUSTON: Senator Urquhart, can I just ask a supplementary question to that?
Senator URQUHART: I have a couple more on this, so—
Senator RUSTON: Only in as much as I was just wondering if you could provide similar sorts of information in relation to the 2013 listing in terms of the expenses.
Dr Dripps : Yes, of course.
Senator URQUHART: I have no doubt that you have read the Senate environment and communications committee report on this delisting.
Dr Dripps : Yes.
Senator URQUHART: Has the department put any resources, or are you intending to put any resources, into responding to the inquiry report?
Dr Dripps : Senator, I would have to take that question on notice. Certainly, we have been preoccupied with other things. I think it is only a week or so since we received that Senate committee response, so I would have to take that question on notice.
Senator URQUHART: Has the department undertaken any analysis of potential further work should the proposal be rejected?
Dr Dripps : We would plan any future work that was needed to be done after we had the decision of the World Heritage Committee. As was covered in the evidence to that Senate inquiry, there are four possible outcomes that could occur: Australia's request could be accepted; Australia's request could be rejected; the decision could be referred back to the state party for more work; or it could be deferred future consideration by the World Heritage Committee.
Senator URQUHART: So have you taken into account what work you would need to do if it was rejected or it was not in line with the policy at the moment?
Dr Dripps : We are in the process of planning next year's work and we will finalise that after we have the decision of the World Heritage Committee.
Senator URQUHART: Are you able to provide that when you have done that?
Dr Dripps : Certainly—we can provide a response to that.
Senator URQUHART: I know that we will get to the 20 million trees program a bit later on today, but how many trees would be in the 74,000 hectares?
Dr Dripps : I do not know how many trees that would be, Senator. Possibly we could make an estimate.
Senator URQUHART: I doubt that it would be 20 million. It would be less than that. Are you able to have a look at that and provide some information?
Dr Dripps : We will endeavour to do so on notice.
Senator URQUHART: Is it true that the Tasmanian Upper Florentine forest meets seven out of 10 of the World Heritage criteria?
Dr Dripps : I am aware that the areas that have been proposed to be included in the area of the delisting contain logging cribs and degraded areas. In terms of meeting seven out of the 10 criteria for World Heritage listing, I would have to take that on notice.
Senator URQUHART: I guess what I would ask is: which specific criteria is it currently recognised as meeting? I would like you to take that on notice as well, if you can. Do you know how old the trees are in that area?
Dr Dripps : Not the individual trees—no. But there are old trees there.
Senator Birmingham : Of variable duration, I would expect.
Dr Dripps : I cannot imagine that they are all the same age.
Senator URQUHART: Are you able to find that information? Clearly if you are opposing the listing then you would have some idea, I guess, as to how old the trees are.
Mr Oxley : Senator, we can take on notice and seek to provide information to you on the age class of that particular area of forest.
Senator URQUHART: Okay—thank you.
Senator Birmingham: Senator, just on language, which is important in these things, the government does not oppose the listing, as you just said. The government fully supports 1.4 million hectares of World Heritage area that was listed prior to 2013. We are supporting the inclusion of almost 100,000 hectares that were added—
Senator URQUHART: I am aware of that.
Senator Birmingham: in 2013. So we are—
Senator URQUHART: I am aware of that. I am just talking about the additional 74,000.
Senator Birmingham: talking about in the relative scale of the listing of World Heritage areas in Tasmania a relatively small area. There is certainly no opposing of the listing. We support the overwhelming majority of the listings of World Heritage in Tasmania.
Senator URQUHART: I understand that; I am talking about the 74,000 hectares that have been listed. Is it true that the trees meet World Heritage criteria in their own right?
Dr Dripps : There are a number of World Heritage criteria which are considered together in determining whether or not a property has World Heritage values. We can provide to you, I expect quite shortly, the list of the precise criteria.
Senator URQUHART: But are you aware of it? Do you believe that they do have World Heritage criteria?
Dr Dripps : What I can say to that, Senator, is that last year the World Heritage Committee agreed that the entire area had World Heritage values. We will await their decision this year in terms of whether we have persuaded them otherwise.
Senator URQUHART: Do you know what endangered species live in the area?
Dr Dripps : We can take on notice to provide you with a list of those species. I could make some assumptions, but I am quite sure that the Tasmanian senators would tell me that I had not quite got them all.
Senator URQUHART: But you have some idea as to what they are?
Dr Dripps : Yes.
Senator URQUHART: Okay. I do not have any further—
Senator PRATT: I just have a quick follow-up. If there are, say, 2,000 trees per hectare and there are 74,000 hectares at risk, it makes a nonsense of your 20 million trees policy.
Senator Birmingham: Senator Pratt, you are attempting to draw a conclusion there suggesting that, just because an area may not have World Heritage listing, it will be clear felled or something. That is not the case. That is definitively not the case.
Senator PRATT: That is not actually what I am alleging.
Senator Birmingham: Senator Urquhart has rightly asked some questions about endangered species—
Senator PRATT: Because in fact there are far more—
Senator Birmingham: Senator Pratt, could you let me answer the question. If there are endangered species of national environmental significance there then actions in those areas would become subject to EPBC determination down the track. So there is indeed no reason to draw the conclusion that you are seeking to draw that, by not being listed, there would be no trees there. There are plenty areas of Australia that are not listed as World Heritage areas in which there are lots and lots of trees.
Senator PRATT: All right. Just let me rephrase my question then. If even a small proportion of those trees go, it could still be up near 20 million trees given that, if there are 2,000 trees per hectare, that would be some 140 million trees. So 20 million of 140 million is actually not that many. It would not be that large a geographic space. I just want to point out that it does create somewhat of a nonsense of your 20 million trees policy. But we will get to that later today.
Senator Birmingham: It is an interesting hypothetical exercise, Senator Pratt, but it does not really have any bearing on the reality of what is being considered here. There are lots of other matters of protection and decisions that would be taken before you saw those types of activities in this area, whether it was listed or not.
Senator PRATT: I do not think there is any harm in drawing attention to the fact that there is clearing of trees in this nation that takes place in sensitive areas that would far outstrip the 20 million trees policy that the coalition has put forward. That is all.
Senator URQUHART: Can I just ask: what is the rationale then? If it is not clearing then what is it? What is the rationale?
Senator Birmingham: The rationale, Senator, goes to whether in fact these are areas of genuine World Heritage value—
Senator URQUHART: Which have already been assessed as being that.
Senator Birmingham: and our government has concerns that we have locked up areas that have been identified, in no fewer than 117 areas, as being disturbed or of variable condition, some of which have been logged previously and some which have involved plantations. We think that a World Heritage Area of the iconic status of Tasmania's 1.4 million—to be 1.5 million now—hectares of forests should be genuinely a World Heritage Area of high value, not that we should be putting into such areas sub-optimal areas for addition. That detracts from the overall World Heritage values of the reserve.
Senator URQUHART: So, if it is not World Heritage, what do you want to do with it?
Senator Birmingham : That would then become, of course, a matter for other assessment processes, including by the Tasmanian authorities.
Dr Dripps : Just to add to the parliamentary secretary's response on that question, the land use is within the control of the Tasmanian government and future decisions about the use of this area, should it be removed from World Heritage, is a matter for them.
Senator URQUHART: I think that is what worries us.
Senator Birmingham: They got a pretty good mandate at their last election, Senator.
CHAIR: Dr Dripps, some of the 74,000 hectares that the government plans to remove from World Heritage listing has been logged, hasn't it?
Dr Dripps : Some of it has been logged.
CHAIR: Have you ever known a World Heritage listing area that has been listed that has been logged before? Surely it is not in its original state.
Dr Dripps : There are a number of World Heritage Areas that are stands of large forest that have previously been logged, including the Californian redwoods. In those cases, as has been the case in Tasmania, the impact does not cover all of the area and the stands are expected to recover their ecological values with time.
CHAIR: What is the world recommendation for areas for national parks and World Heritage listings—in other words, protected areas—when it comes to mass of land? Is it 10 to 15 per cent?
Dr Dripps : In terms of the representational reserve system, I believe that is correct, yes.
CHAIR: And Tasmania has an area of six million hectares. Are you aware that currently 52 per cent of the area of Tasmania in total is locked up in the World Heritage Areas or national park?
Dr Dripps : Yes, I am.
CHAIR: That is about four times above the world recommendation. But, anyway, Senator Ruston, do you have questions?
Senator RUSTON: I do. Just following on from that, just back on exactly that same topic, one of the things that concerned me about the process or the comments that came out about this request to excise some of the land from the 2013 listing was the determination as to whether it was considered a minor boundary realignment or whether it was a major realignment. Am I correct in assuming that it has been put forward as a minor boundary change?
Dr Dripps : Senator, both the 2013 and the 2014 requests by Australia were put forward as minor boundary modifications. The 2013 request was for an increase in the area of the property of around 12 per cent. The guidance material that is provided to states parties indicates that generally a minor boundary modification ought to be in the order of 10 per cent of increase in the area of the property. But the decision of the World Heritage Committee in 2013 was to accept Australia's request for a minor boundary modification at least in part because the committee had for some years been asking for the inclusion of those tall eucalypt forests as part of the property.
Senator RUSTON: So the 10 per cent is not something that is set in stone or has any substance to it; it is something that is quite flexible and the committee can—
Dr Dripps : It is a general guideline.
Senator RUSTON: What is the percentage of the change with the 74,000 that we are talking about at the moment? It is obviously significantly less.
Mr Oxley : It is 4.7 per cent.
Senator RUSTON: So that would under no circumstances, one would suggest, by the guidelines that are put out by the World Heritage Committee be considered a major change or a whole new application? Would that be your understanding?
Dr Dripps : That would be our interpretation of the operational guidelines.
Senator RUSTON: There has been a suggestion by some of the NGOs that it should be considered as a whole new listing, but thank you for that qualification. Can I ask you some questions about the Green Army. Is this the right place for that?
Dr de Brouwer : No, Senator—the Green Army will be on in program 1.1, which I think is at 7.45 this evening.
Senator RUSTON: Thank you. Can I just perhaps whizz back to the heritage listing again. What is your understanding of the ability for the specialist timber people to be able to operate within any of the jurisdictions that are covered—whether they be parks or whether they be wilderness heritage areas et cetera? My understanding is that they actually only take fallen trees; they do not actually cut them down. Is that correct?
Dr Dripps : Senator, we just have to find the right page of our notes. I have a recollection of reading something recently about the management planning process for specialty timbers, but I do not have the detail precisely at hand. It may be that we might be able to see if we can find that while we are here and get back to you a little later in the session.
CHAIR: Also, Dr Dripps, on that very issue, were those specialist timber workers consulted during this process of expansion of the World Heritage listing area?
Dr Dripps : The discussions that went on during the process of finalising the 2013 nomination were extensive and were as part of the negotiation of the agreement between the green environmental groups and the forestry industry in Tasmania. I will ask Ms Howlett to come to the table to give a list of precisely who was involved.
Ms Howlett : The Tasmanian Forests Agreement process, as you would be aware, was a negotiated process between stakeholders. The stakeholders who were party to that negotiation were a range of industry, community and environmental non-government organisations. On the industry side there was the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, the Australian Forest Products Association, the timber communities association and a range of other organisations that represented the timber industry, including forest contractors and the regional sawmilling associations. There was not a specific specialty timbers representative in the group of signatories, but there was a range of groups, such as the timber communities association and the regional sawmillers, who had connections with the special species industry.
CHAIR: Thank you.
Senator RUSTON: I wanted to ask about the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit. Is that now or tonight?
Dr de Brouwer : I think that is also tonight, I am sorry, Senator.
CHAIR: How are you going, Senator Ruston?
Senator RUSTON: I am doing really well. What about the Community Heritage and Icons Grants program? Mr Routh, which one can I ask you about?
Mr Routh : The Community Heritage and Icons grants program.
Senator RUSTON: I am just interested if you could give us a bit of an outline about how these programs will assist community groups, particularly at a local level.
Mr Routh : The program is three years of funding starting in the coming financial year. The construct of the grants will be grants of up to $10,000 for projects put forward by community heritage groups and, as we were saying just prior to the break, the department is working on the guidelines for that program with a view to those guidelines coming out early in the financial year for an open call for groups to submit their applications.
Senator RUSTON: What has the response been from the community for the introduction of this particular grant program?
Mr Routh : Because we have not gone out for the call for applications yet, it is obviously very early days. But I think it is fair to say that there is an awareness in some parts of the heritage community that grants are pending in the coming financial year and there is a level of interest.
Senator RUSTON: In terms of their administration, what types of groups would be able to get access to these types of grants?
Mr Routh : Just recently, in the last couple of weeks, we have been doing a round of consultation in relation to the draft Australian Heritage Strategy that was issued on 14 April by the minister. One of the things that we talked about in those consultations with a very broad range of groups and individuals interested in heritage issues is the upcoming opportunity of the grants program. So it is on people's radar. They are interested. The range of groups that could apply is very broad—from very small groups that perhaps run a local historical museum using a lot of voluntary labour right through to larger groups such as, potentially, the National Trust. So I guess we will see when we see the applications come in. But certainly there is some awareness and interest.
Senator RUSTON: What is the rollout program for this? Obviously the guidelines are being developed as we speak. When are communities likely to be able to access and see some money on the ground?
Mr Routh : The guidelines need to be, as I think Mr Oxley said, approved by the minister. Then from there it will be a matter of rolling out the program and calling for applications through our website. We would also provide information through our networks to a whole range of groups that are on our lists, so we would directly advise them as well. That would occur once the guidelines are issued and available in the new financial year.
Mr Oxley : And we would certainly be working to have the program up and running as early in the new financial year as we can so that local communities start to see the benefits of those grants as quickly as we can achieve that.
Senator RUSTON: That is great. Thank you. Threatened Species Commissioner—I see nodding. Could you give me a bit of a broad outline of how that process is going and what the benefits of having a such a commissioner would be?
Mr Oxley : As you know, it was an election commitment to appoint a Threatened Species Commissioner. The minister is intending to make that appointment by 1 July. We issued a draft terms of reference for the Threatened Species Commissioner position earlier in the year. Public comment on the draft terms of reference closed in mid-April. The department is just in the process of finalising terms of reference, which the minister will sign off and announce at a time of his choosing. It will be a non-statutory appointment. The commissioner's role will be one that is complementary to the existing range of activities, including the operations of the EPBC Act, which are directed towards the protection and recovery of threatened species. The terms of reference in draft would give the commissioner quite a wide-ranging and important role, including in relation to really bringing together the significant body of work that is done departmentally around the listing of threatened species, the promulgation of conservation advices about the protection of those species and the development of recovery plans, and making a connection between the significant planning and statutory work around the protection of threatened species and then its connection to the activities of community groups, of state governments and so forth and the philanthropic sector, which is keen and interested in investing in recovery and protection of threatened species. So it will be very much a facilitative role working across the spectrum of what you might call the threatened species protection conservation community.
Senator RUSTON: We hear a lot about the cute furry animals that everybody loves, but what does Australia's track record really look like in terms of our ability to address the issue of threatened species? We seem to have had a fair bit of money and a fair bit of effort. What do the outcomes look like?
Mr Oxley : The historical record shows that the track record is patchy. We have seen extinctions of species over many decades. Some of that is attributable to human activities of one form or another. But we also have seen positive stories around the recovery of species and, indeed, some species finding their way off the threatened species list—if I am understanding things correctly. Mr Richardson may want to comment on that.
Mr Richardson : As Mr Oxley has just said, a number of species are delisted each year. Some of those—a very small number—are through successful recovery actions being implemented and the conservation status of those species improving. Others, quite a number, are removed because of either taxonomic changes or new information coming to light around species extent—more survey work et cetera, so as information improves. But there are a small number, as Mr Oxley said, that have been successes.
Mr Oxley : We are in circumstances where there are a very large number of threatened species. One of the challenges we face continually is to identify where conservation efforts are best directed. The Threatened Species Commissioner is proposed to have a number of roles and responsibilities. In the short term, in the first 12 months, there are a few things that the commissioner will be tasked with undertaking. These include identifying priority nationally listed threatened species for which conservation actions are likely to be successful, working with stakeholders to identify the highest-priority actions to secure those species in the wild for at least the next 100 years as the objective, and identifying and securing partners and funds to implement a program of action around these high-priority actions over the long term. Those are three short-term things which the commissioner will be focusing on. And quite obviously we have a significant foundation of advice and assessment around actions that could be directed towards the recovery of threatened species through our existing system of conservation advices and recovery plans. So one of the key roles will be to transform them into truly enabling plans of action around the recovery of species through a wider engagement with the conversation sector, with state governments, with philanthropic organisations and with private enterprise to leverage and secure a greater overall investment in species recovery activities.
Senator WATERS: How many staff do you have working on World Heritage matters?
Mr Oxley : I will take that on notice because the number of staff working on World Heritage matters varies significantly according to what we are needing to deal with at any particular time in the World Heritage space. The staff of the Heritage Branch in the Wildlife, Heritage and Marine Division—some but not all of their efforts are directed towards World Heritage matters. A lot of their effort is directed towards National Heritage places assessments and so on.
Senator WATERS: The 19 Australian World Heritage Areas that we have—how many staff do you have working on those?
Mr Oxley : Again, this is something I will take on notice. The efforts of the Heritage Branch are generally directed towards World Heritage. We are structured into streams. We have a natural heritage team, an historic heritage team and an Indigenous heritage team, and embedded in their responsibilities is a focus on World Heritage. So I cannot be precise without taking that on notice.
Senator WATERS: So you do not actually have a World Heritage stream?
Mr Oxley : We have a team which is directly responsible for our engagement with the World Heritage Committee. It coordinates across the rest of the Heritage Branch and, indeed, other parts of the department to enable that engagement in relation to World Heritage. It is difficult to put an estimate on the number of staff because that activity goes across many different divisions in the department.
Senator WATERS: Can you at least tell me how many are on the team that manages relations between the government and the World Heritage Committee?
Mr Oxley : There are approximately six people in that team who manage directly our engagement with the World Heritage Committee. But I would not want that to be in any way represented as the totality of our efforts directed around World Heritage; that is certainly not the case.
Senator WATERS: Okay, but it would have been helpful if you could have given more clarity about the totality of efforts.
Mr Oxley : I understand, and that is why is I have offered to take the question on notice because I do not have precise numbers.
Senator WATERS: Thank you. I am just a bit surprised, given that we only have 19 World Heritage areas and that we have estimates three times a year, that you are not able to give me the numbers of people working on World Heritage.
Dr Dripps : We will take that as a comment, Senator. We have undertaken to provide that information on notice.
Senator WATERS: It is fairly disappointing that you are not able to provide that specificity.
Senator Birmingham: Senator, I suspect, in fairness, that a number of staff in the department work across multiple functions and have different responsibilities. So to ask a blunt 'how many people work on World Heritage areas' question—the officials will come up with an answer for you as best they can but really I am not sure what the aim or purpose of your question necessarily is, and the snide comments directed at officials really are quite unfair.
Senator WATERS: I am interested in your remark that those staff do a range of tasks. I would be concerned if we did not have people who are solely dedicated to World Heritage.
Senator Birmingham: I am sure there are some who are solely dedicated; I am sure there are some who perform numerous functions. Obviously some of Mr Oxley's time is spent on such matters. Some of Dr Dripps's time is spent on such matters. Would you like them to spend time trying to apportion how much of their time they spend on such matters to answer your question?
Senator WATERS: I am more interested in the dedicated staff in that area. I will await that response on notice. Can you turn your minds specifically to World Heritage areas. Firstly the Tasmanian World Heritage area. Are you able to give me an approximation, if not a definitive answer, of how many staff are dedicated to the ongoing management of that area?
Dr Dripps : Mr Oxley has responded to the question in the general sense, and the answer in the specific sense can be also covered off in the question on notice.
Senator WATERS: Is that the case, Mr Oxley—you are not able to shed any light on how many folk are involved in the ongoing management of the Tasmanian World Heritage area?
Mr Oxley : Dr Dripps has answered that question already, Senator.
Senator WATERS: By taking it on notice. Are you able to shed any further light on that for us at the moment?
Mr Oxley : Again, the number of people working on any particular World Heritage matter depends entirely on the body of work that needs to be done at any particular time. So we would have more people working on Tasmanian World Heritage right at the moment in supporting the government's objectives in relation to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area relative to what we might have had in previous times.
Senator Birmingham: Senator, in relation to your question of how many staff are involved in management, the management of World Heritage areas is related to the ownership of them, so the Tasmanian World Heritage areas are managed by the Tasmanian government. There are Commonwealth staff who are involved in terms of their status as World Heritage areas and the oversight of complying with some of the World Heritage principles and those types of things. But to phrase the question in a way that makes it sound like it is somehow a Commonwealth national park that we responsible for managing—that is most definitely not the case; it is managed by the Tasmanian government, and you would need to ask them as to how many of their staff they have involved in the management. I am sure it is a lot more than the Commonwealth staff, who have more of an oversight and policy role.
Senator WATERS: Oversight and policy—so there are no federal staff involved in the ongoing management of the Tasmanian World Heritage area?
Senator Birmingham: It depends what you mean by management, I suspect. Mr Oxley can probably define what the federal staff are responsible for.
Senator WATERS: I am just going with your words.
Mr Oxley : Senator, if we are talking about on-ground management of the World Heritage area then no. We do, however, have staff who are involved in managing the, for example, state of conservation reports, which are developed by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. We coordinate the state of conservation reporting for that property and other World Heritage properties. So it is through that engagement that we have a line of sight into the management of these properties, together with our engagement with the various committees and so forth that exist around each of the World Heritage places.
Senator WATERS: Thank you—that was helpful. We did get there in the end. I appreciate that. In relation to outcome 1, which I understand covers regulation and heritage, I note from page 35 of your budget papers that there appear to be 128 staff that will be reduced from outcome 1. I am interested in how many of those will be from the World Heritage section or folk who have World Heritage amongst their work obligations.
Dr de Brouwer : It is too early to say how that will fall out in particular areas. That is an estimate over the coming year. We are going through our divisional plans at the moment and that will be determined over the next month or so looking at what will happen in 2014-15.
Senator WATERS: Are you able to rule out reductions to staff working on World Heritage areas?
Dr de Brouwer : Not at this stage, no. The department takes a flexible approach to managing the priorities to meet the government's priorities and agenda. World Heritage is a priority of the government, so we will assign our staff accordingly, with some flexibility. But in principle there is no ruling out across the department.
Senator WATERS: In relation to the heritage funding, I note that there will be a reduction from $41.5 million to $32 million. What are the implications of that cut? What work will not proceed?
Mr Oxley : Senator, can you give me a reference to where you are drawing that number?
Senator WATERS: No, unfortunately I cannot.
Mr Oxley : I am not aware of the reduction you are referring to.
Senator WATERS: It is in the portfolio budget statements, but I do not have a page number here, I am sorry.
Dr de Brouwer : Could you repeat it, Senator?
Senator WATERS: It is the heritage funding to be cut from $41.5 million to $32 million.
Mr Oxley : We are on page 34 of the portfolio budget statements. It is the total funding for program 1.4, which is reducing by the amount you have identified, Senator.
Senator WATERS: Which heritage work will you not proceed with as a result of that cut?
Mr Oxley : Outcome 1.4 is a very broad outcome and I am not in a position now where I can advise you on that. I will need to take that on notice.
Senator WATERS: So you have not worked out yet what you will have to drop?
Dr Dripps : As the secretary has indicated, one of the activities that the department undertakes after the federal budget is handed down is the development of detailed business plans and the definition of activities and staffing that are assigned to each of those activities. We are in the early stages of undertaking that work presently and would be able to advise the Senate further on that later.
Senator WATERS: What is the time frame on when you will expect to be able to work out what will have to go as a result of those cuts?
Dr Dripps : As was covered in general evidence yesterday, we are looking to adjust our staffing numbers to our budget for 1 July of this year. It is usual practice that we develop our business plans through the course of June with a view to their being endorsed by management early in the new financial year so that they can effectively guide the work of the department during the next financial year period.
Senator WATERS: Moving now to the government's plan to give the responsibility for approvals down to state governments, can I check that we have the right—
Dr de Brouwer : I think this is in program 1.5. It is outcome 1, but it is program 1.5.
Senator WATERS: I am happy to direct it to a different section, but my question goes specifically to the draft decision of UNESCO about the Great Barrier Reef. So I am hoping that, given the World Heritage context, we have the right folk here.
Dr Dripps : Yes.
Senator WATERS: Recommendation 6 mentions that UNESCO believes that the hand-off of responsibilities is 'premature'. What is the Australian government doing about that? Have you advised the minister that to proceed with this hand-off of powers to state governments, given that UNESCO says it is premature, might actually increase the chances of the Great Barrier Reef being placed on the World Heritage in-danger list?
Dr Dripps : As you are well aware, Australia is part of the way through a long program of reform to ensure the long-term protection of the reef, and this year's draft decision by the World Heritage Committee is part of that process. The minister has stated publicly that it is his intention to ensure that the long-term sustainability plan is available for the community to consider in advance of finalising the one-stop-shop arrangements in Queensland. We anticipate that not all members of the World Heritage Committee would necessarily appreciate that point, or the nature of Australia's federation. We intend, subject to receiving delegation instructions from the government, to explain further to members of the World Heritage Committee how that process is intended to operate. That may or may not result in the World Heritage Committee making a different decision from the one that was drafted for them by their advisory bodies.
Senator WATERS: What is the time frame on that long-term plan? Are you referring to the strategic assessment or to the Reef 2050 Plan?
Dr Dripps : The strategic assessment's completion is imminent. We envisage that that would be likely to occur early in July. The work on the long-term sustainability plan needs to be completed in time for Australia to report back to the World Heritage Committee for 1 February 2015, so that work would be completed between now and the end of this year. I would anticipate that there would be an advance draft of the long-term sustainability plan possibly towards the end of August or into September of this year. Again, that is anticipation based on work that has not yet been completed.
Senator WATERS: If the long-term strategic plan is due for completion before 1 February next year—and you say that that work will occur before the Queensland government is given responsibility for approvals that might damage the reef—am I correct then that the Queensland government will not assume those responsibilities until after February? That is contrary to my understanding.
Dr Dripps : That is not actually what I said. What I said was that the minister had announced that the draft long-term sustainability plan would be released before the agreements on the one-stop-shop were finalised.
Senator WATERS: So we will have a draft document, but somehow you think that is enough to meet UNESCO's concern that it is premature?
Dr Dripps : That would be asking for my opinion.
Senator WATERS: I hope the minister is turning his mind to the serious warnings we have had for several years now that the reef may be put on the World Heritage in-danger list and I trust that you are advising him accordingly.
Senator Birmingham: The government is taking this process extremely seriously, and believes that we do have appropriate plans to ensure the long-term protection of the reef. We will continue to work on the implementation of those plans.
Senator WATERS: In that vein, how will the Australian government guarantee that Australia can actually fulfil its obligations under the World Heritage convention if it will no longer control the approvals for damaging development in the reef?
Dr Dripps : I am sure the colleagues from the one-stop-shop team will be able to take these questions more generally in outcome 1.5. The process of negotiating the approvals bilateral is extremely intensive in terms of aligning the standards for consideration under the EPBC Act, with the state laws that are intended to be accredited. We are in the process of working through those negotiations with each state and territory, and when those laws meet the required standards the government will be in a position to proceed with the approvals bilaterals agreement.
The Queensland government has already begun to strengthen its legislative protection of the reef. Its state planning policy now requires explicit consideration of matters protected under Australia's national environmental law, including threatened species and the outstanding universal value of World Heritage properties. The draft port strategy prohibits dredging for the development of new, or the expansion of existing, port facilities outside the key long-established ports at Townsville, Abbot Point, Hay Point, Mackay and Gladstone for the next 10 years. We are committed to making sure that the process of the one-stop shop maintains the high environmental standards required under the EPBC Act.
Senator WATERS: So you are confident that the Australian government will be able to guarantee that its obligations to fulfil the World Heritage Convention responsibilities can be done even though it won't actually have anything to do with it anymore? You have got confidence in Campbell Newman to do that?
Dr Dripps : That is the way that the agreements have been constructed and are being negotiated.
Senator WATERS: I have a grave fear for the reef.
Senator Birmingham: The approvals process, Senator, are very detailed and in many instances they will raise the standard of activities occurring at state levels—
Senator WATERS: They will have to, because the state laws are pathetic.
Senator Birmingham: as well as ensuring compliance with, of course, federal requirements. You can be quite confident that we want to make sure these are robust and ensure that we do not have a diminution of compliance against federal environmental standards.
Senator WATERS: I am glad you raised compliance, Minister, because I want to take you now to the Gladstone inquiry report that was recently given to the minister, which is very damning in that it states that compliance was poor and that conditions were poorly drafted.
Senator Birmingham: You are now getting into some of the greater detail of program 1.5. We are in the hands of the committee, we can see if officials are present and able to take those questions, but that is not the area that we are in.
Senator WATERS: I will phrase it this way: given the indictment on compliance in that report as it relates to a World Heritage area, has the department advised minister around the need for improvements to compliance in World Heritage areas?
Senator Birmingham: Senator, aside from the subjective language in your questioning—
Senator WATERS: It is pretty clearly in the report, Minister.
Senator Birmingham: as I said before it is really more relevant to area 1.5. You have also asked a question about what the department has advised the minister, and I think you know that we do not go to matters of advice.
Senator WATERS: I am concerned that the government is not taking that report seriously.
Senator Birmingham: If you want to ask some questions about the response to that, that is fine. The right place to do it is in 1.5. As I say, if the committee is happy, if there are not any other questions that anybody else has in 1.4, then we can start dealing with these matters if the officials are present.
Senator WATERS: I am happy to re-agitate in 1.5 but, given that it is about a World Heritage area, it is often unclear as to where these questions sit, but I will take that up in the next session.
Dr de Brouwer : Can I just respond: the officers when they are here will be able to explain very clearly how the compliance processes, procedures and outcomes have changed in the department over the past couple of years.
Senator WATERS: Good.
Dr de Brouwer : The department responding on behalf of what the department has done over the past couple of years—we can through that in considerable detail for you.
Senator WATERS: Thank you and, given that the repost is only three weeks old, I would be interested in improvements made after that date as opposed to years ago, but thank you. I will take that up in 1.5.
Senator Birmingham: The department may well have been making changes over time—and they will obviously respond to that—that have improved their practices in the time between those—
Senator WATERS: In the last three weeks? Good. Pleased to hear it.
Senator Birmingham: identified actions and the report being handed down. It is not just a matter of what may have changed in three weeks.
Dr de Brouwer : Can I just clarify: the report goes back to events of a couple of years ago, not just the past couple of weeks, and the material that our officers will go through is explaining over the past couple of years what has changed—
Senator WATERS: Okay. Excellent.
Dr de Brouwer : and after those ones.
Senator WATERS: I look forward to that when we get there. Is the Australian government trying to alter any of the World Heritage Committee's draft recommendations in relation to the Great Barrier Reef?
Dr Dripps : As I indicated, we have yet to receive delegation instructions on this matter; however, there are a number of parts of the draft decision with which the government would be expected to have contrary view, including the one that you have raised with regard to the one stop shops in recommendation 6; including the statements about the lack of consideration of other options around Abbot Point in draft recommendation 7; and including the arrangements with regard to the Queensland ports strategy which we referred to in recommendation 8.
Senator WATERS: So why does the Australian government have a contrary view to the World Heritage Committee in relation to those recommendations?
Dr Dripps : In the first instance, the draft decision is not the recommendation of the World Heritage Committee.
Senator WATERS: The draft recommendations.
Dr Dripps : That is very, very important to put on the public record that at this stage we have a technical report prepared by bureaucrats, which is a recommendation to the World Heritage Committee.
Senator WATERS: Bureaucrats criticising bureaucrats—we have heard it all.
Dr Dripps : If I recall, we have covered already recommendation 6 in terms of the government's intention to release the draft of the long-term sustainability plan in advance of the conferral of powers to states through the approvals bilateral.
Senator WATERS: The draft of that plan?
Dr Dripps : The recommendation relating to Abbot Point does not acknowledge Australia's robust and rigorous environmental impact assessment processes and does not acknowledge the comprehensive assessment of alternative and potentially less-impacting development and disposal options for Abbot Point. It also does not recognise that the Australian government very carefully considered any potential impacts on trade-exposed outstanding universal value of the property with regard to Abbot Point. Recommendation 8 in particular refers very broadly to proposed development outside of priority port development areas and does not acknowledge the existing and ongoing work of the Australian government and the Queensland government on the Queensland port strategy.
Senator WATERS: You call it a robust and rigorous environmental impact assessment process and you say there has been a comprehensive analysis of alternatives particularly in relation to dredge spoil. I have asked in previous estimates what consideration was given to those alternatives. Was there a cost-benefit analysis done of alternatives to offshore dumping? The answer was: 'No. There was no cost-benefit analysis.' How was that a comprehensive, robust or rigorous consideration of alternatives, if you are not even doing a cost benefit-analysis of alternatives?
Dr Dripps : The officers who are responsible for that area are not here yet, but what I would say is that in undertaking the environmental impact assessment the proponents do consider a range of different options and in assessing it it is not part of the department's usual role to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the projects put forward to us.
Senator WATERS: Precisely. So how can you contend that it is a robust and rigorous process on the part of the department if you are just taking the proponent's word for it?
Dr Dripps : With respect, Senator, we do not just take the proponent's word for it. We take a deep assessment of the ecological impacts of the proposed activity. We undergo extensive discussions; we take technical advice on the projects and that process is extremely rigorous.
Senator WATERS: I hope you will be able to continue and in fact increase the level of rigour, despite the staff cuts that you will soon be considering. You actually need people to do good work. Has the minister or the department taken any steps to alert the World Heritage Committee or the secretariat about the findings in that recent Gladstone Bund Wall inquiry report?
Dr Dripps : I believe that I signed a letter on that recently, Senator, but we will have to check. I am almost certain that we did.
Senator WATERS: Given that the report finds that compliance is poor, that the conditions were poorly drafted and that complaints of alleged breaches of those conditions by members of the public were not appropriately followed up, will you now review the conditions placed on development in other World Heritage areas, particularly the Abbot Point approval?
Dr Dripps : As we indicated, the officers from the Environment Assessment and Compliance Division will be able to take you through in some detail the improvements that have been undertaken in the division over the last three or four years. I would suggest to you that the time period between the two approval decisions is quite long and that we have learnt a great deal in the meantime about how better to construct robust outcome focused conditions.
Senator WATERS: Good, because the conditions, as I read them, are very vague and frankly defer everything to a subsequent plan that is yet to be drafted.
Senator Birmingham: If we are going to go to the conditions, let's do that in the proper place, please. I am sure we can go through some of the details of those conditions then if you would like.
Senator WATERS: I will attempt to do that, but that will be a matter for the chair. Given that report's findings, which are very damning, said that compliance and even the drafting of conditions in World Heritage areas have been vague and insufficient, what hope does the rest of the Australian environment have if we can't get World Heritage management right?
Senator Birmingham: That is a lovely rhetorical question for you to ask.
Senator WATERS: Care to answer it?
Senator Birmingham: If you want the department, the relevant section, to go through the detailed changes that have happened over a number of years—not just in three weeks—in relation to improvements in standards, they would be more than happy to take you through that. But it is worth noting that those decisions were made a number of years ago. As Dr Dripps has rightly said, as you would rightly expect, the department has made continual improvements to their standards, processes and activities during that period of time. Of course they take the findings of this report very seriously. Where further improvements are required, I have no doubt that they are being made. You can use all the rhetorical flourish you like for questions like that, but it is not really a question that either seeks an answer from officials or is being asked in the relevant part of the program.
Senator WATERS: In relation to those further improvements, how will they be carried out when there will be 450 fewer staff?
Senator Birmingham: Chair, can I seek some clarity? Do you want us to bring the officials to the table for this?
Senator WATERS: If you are not able to answer, then—
Senator Birmingham: Are we going to skip the program through to outcome 1.5 or not?
CHAIR: No, we are not—because Senator Urquhart has further questions on this segment as well.
Senator WATERS: I want to move now to the Threatened Species Commissioner, which Senator Ruston started to ask about as well. It is a non-statutory appointment. It will somehow be complementary but not duplicative of the existing Threatened Species Scientific Committee. Can you outline to me what funding that position has associated with it?
Mr Oxley : The Threatened Species Commissioner funding arrangements are being resolved as part of the department's budget processes and business planning over the next month or so.
Senator WATERS: So there were no additional funds committed. The department has just got to find the money somehow within its departmental allocation.
Mr Oxley : It is an activity that we will support as part of our core business in the area of threatened species.
Senator WATERS: It is a non-statutory role and we already have a Threatened Species Scientific Committee. What is this person going to do?
Mr Oxley : I outlined earlier the terms of reference, or part of the terms of reference, for the commissioner. I would be happy to elaborate on that if that would be helpful.
Senator WATERS: I did jot down what you said before and one of the points you mentioned was that there would be wider engagement with the conservation sector. Yesterday we discussed that the GVESHO funds, which have previously facilitated consultation with the community and the conservation sector, have been cut. How will the appointment of a non-statutory person, with no additional funds, who is meant to lead consultation with the community and conservation groups work if you then cut their funding as well?
Senator Birmingham: It is not for government to fund other people to talk to government. Other entities can be free to talk to government, whether it is through the Threatened Species Commissioner, parliamentary inquiries or any other process government runs. It is not for government to be funding third-party organisations to make representations to government.
Senator WATERS: So community consultation is not something this government values?
Senator Birmingham: Community consultation is vital, absolutely vital, but community consultation involves people in the community putting their views forward.
Senator WATERS: If they have previously been resourced to do that as a peak body—the Queensland Conservation Council, for example—and now that funding has been removed, you are still expecting them to be able to fulfil those obligations?
Senator Birmingham: You may have a philosophical view that the government should fund a whole range of different third-party commentators around the community. I think the government should keep—
Senator WATERS: Yes, I do believe in community consultation.
Senator Birmingham: The government differs.
Senator WATERS: We are going to be in for a helluva few years.
CHAIR: You would fund the National Farmers' Federation as well.
Senator Birmingham: A very valid point. Yesterday I—
Senator WATERS: Just not conservation—
CHAIR: I was being sarcastic.
Senator Birmingham: I heard your questioning of Senator Cormann yesterday, Senator Waters. You used the Water Act as an example. You seem to suggest that the Queensland Conservation Council should be funded to make submissions to the review of the Water Act, yet presumably the National Irrigators Council should not.
Senator WATERS: I am just simply pointing out that on the same day that they had their funding cut they were asked to consult.
Senator Birmingham: They are both valid stakeholders. I have invited both of them to make submissions to the Water Act review.
Senator WATERS: And on the same day as their funding was cut they were asked to consult on an important piece of legislation. I think it just highlights the lack of emphasis and importance that the government puts on genuine consultation.
Senator Birmingham: I want their views. But like any other stakeholder they can fund themselves.
Senator WATERS: I think we can probably leave it there, Minister, with that very clear statement of the government's priorities.
Senator URQUHART: I have a couple of follow-on questions about the Tasmanian forests stuff. I think Senator Ruston asked Ms Howlett some questions about the specialty timber industries. Can you tell me if the special timber industry had the opportunity to participate in that consultation?
Ms Howlett : Could I just clarify which consultation you are talking about?
Senator URQUHART: The consultation about the new forest agreement of the 74,000 hectares. The consultation that has been happening in relation to the World Heritage listing.
Dr Dripps : As we advised the parliamentary committee into this process, the consultation on the removal of the 74,000 hectares of World Heritage was undertaken by the government as part of their process of formulating their electoral commitment. The department has not undertaken subsequent consultation beyond the government in the intervening period. It was quite a short period between then and 31 January.
Senator URQUHART: As I understood it, Senator Ruston was talking about the discussions about the new forest agreement. I think Senator Ruston made a point about the special timber industry and asked whether they were involved in the consultation. I thought it was Ms Howlett who answered that, but I may have been wrong.
Dr Dripps : It was Ms Howlett who went through in some detail who were the signatories of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement, and I am sure she can do that again. It was also obviously—
Senator URQUHART: My question was not about the signatories but about whether or not the special timber industry had had the opportunity to participate in the consultation process. Also, on that consultation process, were people or organisations selected for consultation or was it broad? Who was in and who was out, and how was that determined?
Dr Dripps : The submission of the previous minor boundary modification to the Tasmanian Wilderness occurred as an outcome of that signatories negotiation process and was obviously widely known among the community in Tasmania during the period in which it was being discussed, negotiated and prepared. So in terms of the heritage part of the story, there was not an additional formal consultation process that occurred. Ms Howlett might run through again the process for the signatories of the Tasmanian forestry agreement.
Ms Howlett : The Tasmanian Forests Agreement negotiation process was a protracted negotiation of at least two years—
Senator URQUHART: I am aware of that.
Ms Howlett : And possibly three. The way that negotiation worked was that there was a group of signatories totalling around about 12, if I recall correctly. They were the sorts of groups that I went through before in my answer to Senator Williams's question. Those organisations were the signatories to the agreement and the parties to the negotiation. Each of those groups brought forward the views of their constituencies to the negotiation. It is important to understand that that was a stakeholder negotiation. Neither the Tasmanian government nor the Australian government were parties to that negotiation but did provide support to those community groups and industry groups that were part of the negotiation. Within that negotiation process, there was a subset of signatories who were nominated by the broader group of signatories, a group of eight—so four on the industry side and four on the environment side—who conducted most of the negotiations. The subset took their discussions and issues back to the broader group of signatories, and then that broader group of signatories each took the issues out to their board of constituencies. So it was a very long and difficult process but one that had a range of levels of engagement.
Senator URQUHART: I understand the process, because I am from Tasmania. I wanted to get it on the record, because I think the questioning from Senator Ruston seemed to indicate that the specialty timbers industry had not had the opportunity to participate. The question I was asking and trying to clarify was: from your information did the special timbers industry have the opportunity to participate in that consultation through that stakeholder process?
Ms Howlett : As I suggested in my answer to Senator Williams earlier, the special species timber industry did not have a specific and singular representative in the signatories group. There was an opportunity for them to be consulted through the various industry groups and, certainly, after the agreement was reached there was a special species representative appointed to the special council.
CHAIR: That concludes that section of questioning. Thank you, departmental representatives. I call on officers from the Climate Change Authority.