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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
REGIONAL AUSTRALIA, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, ARTS AND SPORT
- Committee Name
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Humphries, Sen Gary
Macdonald, Sen Ian
Heffernan, Sen Bill
Williams, Sen John
Joyce, Sen Barnaby
Abetz, Sen Eric
Edwards, Sen Sean
Back, Sen Chris
Nash, Sen Fiona
Gallacher, Sen Alex
Ryan, Sen Scott
Rhiannon, Sen Lee
Smith, Sen Dean
Lundy, Sen Kate
Eggleston, Sen Alan
Thorp, Sen Lin
Lundy, Sen Kate
- Sub program
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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
(Senate-Thursday, 30 May 2013)
REGIONAL AUSTRALIA, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, ARTS AND SPORT
Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority
Australian Sports Commission
Office for Sport
Office for the Arts
National Film and Sound Archive
National Gallery of Australia
Senator IAN MACDONALD
- Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority
- REGIONAL AUSTRALIA, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, ARTS AND SPORT
Content WindowRural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee - 30/05/2013 - Estimates - REGIONAL AUSTRALIA, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, ARTS AND SPORT - Screen Australia
Senator HUMPHRIES: Very quickly, there have been cuts in the budget in the past of things like the Get Reading! program, but Screen Australia has had additional funding in recent years for an interactive games fund. While we are cutting funds for kids' reading, do we really need to be funding interactive games? Is there really a high priority in your view for this kind of expenditure at a time when we cannot afford to do other things that might be regarded as quite basic and important?
Dr Harley : Yes, we do think that games is a very important area of funding in the media sector. It has very large audiences; it is the fastest growing part of the sector; it has got the biggest uptake of users; and it is very heavily used by young people. Partly for the reason of developing Australian businesses and partly for the reason of providing Australian creative people with the opportunity to work in the sector that they have chosen to work, we do think it is a very important area.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Will the private sector itself not support those jobs? Surely it is a boom industry and there is no need for the government to subsidise what is already going ahead in leaps and bounds in a commercial context.
Dr Harley : It is clear that the private sector will not support it. The games industry in Australia used to be a fee-for-service industry and at that point it was entirely private sector. Largely, as a result of the dollar, there is almost no fee-for-service work left in Australia. It is a matter of going back and becoming an intellectual property based industry. It is an IP development exercise and, no, the private sector have not shown wanting to support it.
Senator HUMPHRIES: You were asked in a question on notice from Senator Brandis about consultation you did on this new interactive games fund and you mentioned that included in your consultation was your dedicated Facebook page and you had likes of almost 400 on it. Now, it is great for Screen Australia to have that, but can we really describe likes on Facebook as consultation?
Dr Harley : We have many dimensions to our consultation. We went around all of the states and we met all of the people who wanted to come to those public meetings.
Senator HUMPHRIES: That is all good, but when you are answering a question on notice from a Senate committee, to suggest that you have consulted with the public because people like you on Facebook; is that standard government policy? Is that what you are told is the way to describe the consultation that you undertake?
Dr Harley : It is just one element of the consultation that we undertook.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I have lots more questions but I assume I have no more time.
CHAIR: I do appreciate that you are one of the senators that really do have an interest in this area, Senator Humphries. Where we are up to now, before you run away? Before we move on to our next round of witnesses, and it does pain me but I am going to have to say it, when canvassing who we wanted we the RRAT committee were told that we wanted the National Library of Australia because there were questions for them. I am not pointing the finger at any senator in this room; I will make that very clear. The senators who wanted these are not in the room. The senators are not here for the National Museum of Australia, Creative Partnerships Australia and the National Portrait Gallery. Quite frankly this is becoming very embarrassing. I am at pains to sit down with my colleagues, as I do every round of estimates, three times a year, for the fair dinkum members of the committee and the senators outside who do make the effort, it is nothing short of a disgrace; it is a waste of taxpayers' funds. I apologise profusely to the officers who have been dragged out from their workplace to sit here like a stale bottle of milk.
Crikey, for young players who want to learn how to do Senate estimates, start watching this committee when we ask the portfolios of arts and sports to come here. Disgraceful. Thank you very much to those officers that did come up. To defend my colleagues from the government side, we said that we did not have questions for those departments. Minister Lundy.
Senator Lundy: Without wanting to make a political point, I will make one, and that is when senators complain about waste and cost, I remind them that there are waste and cost involved requiring officers to be here when they are subsequently asked no questions at all, particularly those from interstate.
CHAIR: I agree.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I will make a point as well. I have questions for every one of the agencies that are here now and I would be very happy to ask them, but I do not have the time. I note the other senators have also got questions; they have asked for the agency and they have not turned up. They have to cop that. I certainly have a question for each agency.
CHAIR: Senator Humphries, if there is any confusion, I did think I had made it clear: not you. I am certainly not pointing the finger at you. You are consistent every round of estimates, three times a year, and I apologise because you actually do, and then get done over because there is something else that seems to be of political importance before we get to the nitty-gritty of some decent questions from your good self.
CHAIR: Anyway, on that, I now on a brighter note welcome Regional Development. After a request from Senator Macdonald and in agreement with myself and the committee, we will start Regional Development, but we will start with the Office of Northern Australia.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: In answer to a previous question which was not identified, I was told that the Northern Australian Sustainable Futures program was, amongst other things, working with the beef industry to assess contemporary emergent risks and opportunities that are facing the industry. I am wondering, did the program anticipate or model the current beef crisis in Northern Australia? This answer was to question 65 from the February estimates.
Mr Atkinson : The body of work modelled more strategic, long-term outcomes. It did not do specific drought modelling.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: The beef cattle industry, apart from mining, is the biggest industry in Northern Australia. Did it anticipate the crisis that is currently confronting the industry?
Mr Atkinson : No, it did not predict this crisis.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: It did not?
Mr Atkinson : No.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: This Northern Australian Sustainable Futures is a program led by the ministerial forum. What exactly is it? Is it a group of people, a group of scientists, a group of researchers, a group of public servants?
Mr Atkinson : It is a body of work that is made up of several elements. It has got things like the Northern Australian beef strategy, the ABARES report that you are referring to and the risks and opportunities for beef, investment options for the north-west Queensland meat processing facility, carbon farming opportunities for Northern Australia, and the North Queensland irrigated agricultural strategy is being wound in with that. It has the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics assessment for bulk resources commodities work as part of it and some local government capacity building with the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government around supporting economic opportunities in the north.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You have given me a lot of this in the written answers, but one of the things is to provide a thorough assessment of emergent risks to the live cattle trade and opportunities and constraints for diversification in growth. Your ministers would have seen around the Parliament today and the last couple of days a group of farmers from there that have a tragic tale to tell and, quite frankly, the northern beef industry is just about defunct. I am just wondering what the North Australian beef industry strategy was all about if it did not anticipate this, and more importantly did not look for some solutions to the emerging problem?
Mr Atkinson : The strategies focused more on the positioning for strategic opportunities.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What opportunities are there if there is no industry left because of the live cattle ban followed by drought, followed by bushfires, followed by BJD? Why do we bother with a strategy if the crisis confronting the industry was not even considered?
Mr Atkinson : I might ask Mr Dickson if he has any further details.
Mr Dickson : The circumstances you describe are absolutely difficult for the northern beef industry, but the Northern Australian Sustainable Futures program deals with a number of issues and opportunities across northern Australia. At its inception, it was an initial response from the Commonwealth government to the findings and recommendations of the Northern Australia Land and Water Task Force.
Since that was first established in 2010, the program has been built in collaboration with the three northern jurisdictions—Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland—and of the $6 million which was originally committed by the Commonwealth to this program, we now have a program of research across a whole range of issues in Northern Australia amounting to approximately $17 million of work.
So, in the beef industry there are number of issues which are critically important to the long-term sustainability of that industry, such as land tenure and the ability of producers to reform tenure arrangements so that they can raise capital; there are issues around the viability and sustainability of Indigenous pastoral operations, which this program is addressing. In the context of intensifying and diversifying beef production, we are doing work on mosaic irrigation and opportunities to access groundwater resources.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will come to that. One of the major elements was the sustainable future of the beef cattle industry. It is clearly on its knees at the moment, and I regret to say that, but it is. I just wonder what was the purpose of this strategy when this was not anticipated? This was a strategy in which the federal government was clearly involved with the state governments, but it all started to fall to pieces with the live cattle ban. Was that strategy fed into those who made the decision on the live cattle ban?
Mr Atkinson : The live cattle ban is an issue for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am talking about your strategy for the sustainable future of the beef cattle industry. You spent part of the $6 million trying to do it. What I am saying is that it is like most things that come out Canberra: a lot of meetings and a lot of assessments and research, but what happens on the ground? The industry is on its knees and no one has a solution.
Mr Dickson : The strategy we have developed in collaboration with industry and the action agenda, as we refer to it, was developed over a period of 12 months to 18 months after the suspension of trade to Indonesia. The action agenda was developed in close collaboration with the three northern jurisdictions and with the northern beef industry and was supported and endorsed by the three northern jurisdictions and by representatives of the northern beef industry.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I can hear these words coming out, Mr Dickson, but the facts are before you. I am just disappointed that there was not—
Mr Dickson : The Office of Northern Australia, in collaboration with the three jurisdictions in the north, continues to try and address those issues that are critically important to the long-term sustainability of this industry. Absolutely, the circumstances are now—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What are you doing? What is the government actually doing? Forget about the Office of Northern Australia, what is the government doing?
Ms Beauchamp : Of course there are a number of elements and initiatives the government is doing. In terms of our role, in terms of supporting the North Australian ministerial forum, the beef industry is certainly on the agenda for the next North Australian ministerial forum coming up in, I think, mid-June. In terms of the work that we have been doing to support that, we are working with industry; there have been a number of industry round tables on the beef issues. As Mr Atkinson pointed out, what we are looking at is how do we actually look at the diversification and the sustainability in the longer term. I think one of the things we provided in terms of a question you raised on notice was looking at the constraints around diversification, logistics and supply chain, productivity improvements; we were looking at the land tenure, pastoral arrangements, irrigation and better use of water and things. So, there are a number of factors that we are doing to support the North Australian ministerial forum and I am sure on the agenda will be what has actually happened over the past little while.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am sure when I go back and give these cattlemen that answer that will make them a lot happier. I can see that there is work being done on land tenures, thanks to the Queensland government, no thanks to Commonwealth government I might say, and contrary to the previous Queensland government, which had no interest in addressing the land tenure difficulties or the vegetation issues. Turning to the North Queensland Irrigated Agriculture Strategy, I am told that DAFF Queensland and CSIRO are working with local producers to establish commercial benchmarks and best practice farming systems suited to soils, climates and geology of the north to aid producers to develop their enterprise. Can you tell me where that work is at? What practical pieces of work are available that people can see and can be of assistance to local producers?
Mr Atkinson : That body of work is due in December this year. There has been significant work to date with over 700 days of consultations on the ground, workshops and getting the information in to progress that work. The product should be available in December this year.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What work has been done on the availability of water for irrigation across northern Australia? Perhaps, in view of the time, can I confine my question to the gulf rivers, the three river systems that run into the gulf in Queensland. Is there information available on what water is available for agriculture?
Mr Dickson : The North Queensland Irrigated Agriculture Strategy is focused specifically on the Gilbert and the Flinders rivers. The river system modelling and the estimate of water availability for that is almost complete. It will be complete by the end of this year. I am sure you are aware that the Queensland government recently announced the results of the tender for water that is available under the Gulf Water Resource Plan for the Flinders and the Gilbert. The Minister for Environment in Queensland has made it clear that in considering a decision to review the Gulf Water Resource Plan and to make more water available he is waiting for the results of the North Queensland Irrigated Agriculture Strategy. So, the work that we are doing, led by the CSIRO, goes to this exact issue, how much water can be sustainably extracted from these rivers. That will be done by the end of the year.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: How long has CSIRO been doing this now?
Mr Dickson : CSIRO started, I believe from memory, in early last year. The total project will have taken approximately 18 months.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Did they change the terms of the contract with CSIRO? With the original, as you know, Mr Dickson, they were not allowed to consider storing it or damming it. Has that all changed?
Mr Dickson : This project is absolutely looking at all the options to develop water resources in these two catchments. CSIRO is using new state-of-the art science to identify all opportunities for surface water capture and storage in these catchments as part of the option. They have identified 24 locations in these rivers, four of which have been identified previously but a lot of which have not been identified previously and are evaluating their feasibility.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are you aware of those, Mr Dickson?
Mr Dickson : Am I aware of all of them?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: The 24.
Mr Dickson : I am not aware of all of them. I am aware of some of them.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can you make us aware of those?
Mr Dickson : We will certainly take that on notice.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Does that mean you will take it on notice and give me the ones that you are aware of?
Mr Dickson : I can certainly make you more familiar. What I am saying is that the analysis has not been completed yet, so to the extent that it is available and completed then we would be able to make it available.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You say they have had—
Mr Dickson : I know of some of them that have been located so I can certainly make you aware of that.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You said that they have identified 24. I accept that the analysis is not—
Mr Dickson : A total of 24 proposed dam/weir sites and four existing dams in the area have been visited and are being evaluated. I can make you aware of the 24 sites that have been visited.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: It would be good if you could do that. Now, similarly, with the work on soils across the north, I have been told—I forget where from—quite a bit of work has been done on analysis of soils, but it was simply drawing boundaries around the different classes of the soils without actually analysing their suitability or their value. Is that not right?
Mr Dickson : No, that is not the case.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can you tell me what the case is?
Mr Dickson : At the commencement of the project, CSIRO undertook a comprehensive analysis of that information which was available around land suitability and soil suitability. It became apparent that in fact most of the studies that had previously been done did not look into the issue of soil suitability but were really land suitability assessments. CSIRO has completed, in collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture, detailed soil sampling throughout both catchments and will shortly be in a position to publish a detailed digital soils map of both of these catchments, which has never been done before.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is it only for these two catchments? What about across the top of Australia?
Mr Dickson : The North Queensland Irrigated Agriculture Strategy is focusing specifically on the Flinders catchment and the Gilbert catchment essentially to prove up this process of evaluating the potential for irrigated agriculture within the northern catchments.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is there any similar work being done to other catchments across northern Australia, in the Northern Territory or the north of Western Australia?
Mr Dickson : There is no other work going on at the moment that I am aware of.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: There is no other work going on regarding the suitability of soils in north of Western Australia, for example?
Mr Dickson : Certainly not from the Office of Northern Australia. There may be work being funded through the state and territory government, but I am not familiar with that.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is that something the forum would be collaborating on and sharing?
Mr Dickson : One of the objectives originally in focusing on the Gilbert and the Flinders was to establish the method and then to try to draw the learnings out across northern Australia. So, it is certainly our intention. If it is proved that this sort of information is critically important to investment decisions, we would learn from that and in collaboration with the northern jurisdictions we would identify those priority investments across the north.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I only have four minutes left. This work is being done out of this $10 million allocation last year. How much of that remains to be spent? How much has been spent and what is left?
Mr Dickson : I know that we are up to date with paying the invoices. There is a payment of $600,000 which will remain and is due in 2013-14. The bulk of this money will have been spent.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Has that principally gone to CSIRO?
Mr Dickson : The Commonwealth contract at CSIRO for $6 million to undertake the detailed assessments of each catchment—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: That we have just been talking about—water and soil?
Mr Dickson : Yes. CSIRO contributed another $800,000 in kind of their own resources to fund—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: So, that is $6,800,000?
Mr Dickson : That is 6.8. And the Queensland government, Department of Agriculture, contributed $3.2 million.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Nearly all of that has been spent?
Mr Dickson : The Queensland government funding will go on for another couple of years.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am interested in the Commonwealth and CSIRO.
Mr Dickson : The vast bulk of the Commonwealth money will have been spent.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can you tell me, perhaps on notice if you do not have it, how many people that are full time equivalents from CSIRO have been working on this strategy?
Mr Dickson : I am happy to do that. I can tell you the number will be far in excess of 70.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: In excess of 70?
Mr Dickson : It is a huge team. This is a huge exercise that CSIRO is undertaking.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: On notice, do you think you can give me a brief summation of what their research actually involved—for example, aerial mapping or driving through the land with a Landrover and digging up some soil and testing it?
Mr Dickson : I am perfectly happy to do that. There is a website on the CSIRO's server I can direct you to that has details of the full project. They have developed what is called a methods report. There are 12 or 13 research streams that cover river system modelling, the ecology, environment, social, Indigenous values—the whole gamut.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Could you email the secretary with that link. He would no doubt pass that on to me so I can have a look at that.
Mr Dickson : Sure.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I have some other questions more of a technical nature about costs and number of employees, but I have run out of time so I will put those on notice and would ask that you get me answers as soon as possible. I do not suppose it is going to matter much if you get the answers. It is really up to the minister to make sure that we get them, and that is a different question. If you could get them as soon as possible.
Ms Foster : Before Senator Macdonald leaves us, could I just clarify two issues from the last conversation? The first is on the question of land tenure. The Commonwealth has sponsored some work through the Northern Australia Ministerial Forum that our group of independent technical experts is carrying out for us. They have done an initial report to the ministerial forum and there is further work to be done.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What are they looking at precisely?
Ms Foster : Mr Dickson will be able to give some details.
Mr Dickson : We have an expert advisory panel that assists ministers with technical issues. The ministers request advice from the panel on essentially the question: are land tenure arrangements across Northern Australia a barrier to investment, to raising capital and to raising business finance?
Senator HEFFERNAN: The answer is, yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I could have given you the answer, like Senator Heffernan, in one word.
Mr Dickson : We have been around the traps for a bit and we hear this a lot. It is a technical issue about exactly how we might reform and harmonise tenure arrangements across northern Australia.
Ms Foster : It is trying to get a better understanding of what those barriers are and what the possible solutions might be to them. That is that body of work. The second issue I wanted to—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Just before that. The Queensland government is currently doing that sort of thing in its own jurisdiction and actually changing land tenure.
Mr Dickson : Absolutely, and in Western Australia.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Relying on the research that you are talking about?
Ms Foster : They are a part of this program. They are doing their research, as you say, but they are also contributing to this broader program. As you know, they are part of that Northern Australia Ministerial Forum.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Could we have the names of the people on the panel?
Mr Dickson : Absolutely.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Does that include a government of Western Australia representative?
Ms Foster : The panel itself is made up—
CHAIR: Senator Heffernan, Senator Macdonald has to leave, so let us finish that.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can you just finish the other one?
Ms Foster : I will finish quickly. It is a panel of technical experts, but we work with them as government officials and ministers. Those two things come together. Secondly, we were talking about what the government is doing in response to the crisis in the beef industry, and in particular you were referring to drought. You might find it useful in the regional Australia blue book that was produced with the budget this year a description of the programs that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is undertaking in response to that.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: We have had them before, and I must say we were unimpressed with the responses they gave, but thank you for pointing that out to us. Strangely they never did, but it is good that you did. Thank you very much.
CHAIR: Senator Heffernan, if you want to continue that question and then we will go to Senator Williams, Senator Back and Senator Joyce.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I have a few questions, as you would expect I could have. Will the soil typing include things like the permeability and rehabilitative capacity of the soil? That soil is depleted but it can easily be rehabilitated. Is it including that sort of stuff, Mr Dickson, or is it just saying, 'That is clay. That is loam. That is shale, sand, and whatever'?
Mr Dickson : Honestly you are stretching my technical expertise here.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Could you take that on notice?
Mr Dickson : I am happy to take it on notice. I was going to say that CSIRO is also working very closely with DAFF Q and with local producers in these catchments around farm productivity. So it not just about mapping. It is also about on-farm production systems and productivity. I would be very surprised if soil rehabilitation is not an issue that is being addressed.
Senator HEFFERNAN: They should co-opt a few of us into that. With the Gilbert study have they gone back to the original peg-out plans which were done in 1957?
Mr Dickson : My understanding is that they have scoured the countryside for past research and all the studies that they have found are listed on the CSIRO website.
Senator HEFFERNAN: That was originally pegged out in '57, as you are probably aware. I have more questions.
Senator WILLIAMS: I will only be a couple of minutes. Mr Atkinson, just a couple of things. On the portfolio budget papers at page 37, $19.1 million is allocated to the operation of the RDAs in 2013-14. When will individual funding be announced for each committee?
Mr Atkinson : We are hoping to get the funding agreements finalised in the coming weeks so that we can have the payments at the start of July.
Senator WILLIAMS: So, do you hope in the next two or three weeks that might be finalised?
Mr Atkinson : Hopefully, yes.
Senator WILLIAMS: Why has there been a delay? The RDAs are marking time on such things as renewing office leases, car leases, et cetera. Do you understand the importance of this?
Mr Atkinson : We are aware of the importance of that, and we are progressing as quickly as we can.
Senator WILLIAMS: Do each of the RDAs receive the same amount of money for this part of their leasing of vehicles and so on?
Mr Atkinson : No.
Senator WILLIAMS: They do not?
Mr Atkinson : No.
Ms Foster : We do not break down the money that we provide to RDAs by the type of expenditure. There is a sum of money given to the RDA, and it works out how to allocate that across its priorities.
Senator WILLIAMS: Mr Atkinson, I want to ask a procedure matter here. When a board member lodges a travel claim, such as for motor vehicle travel, must that claim include the registration number of the vehicle being claimed for?
Mr Atkinson : I would have to take that on notice, because that is an internal claim against RDA funds and RDAs are actually—
Senator WILLIAMS: No. If I am a member of an RDA in your organisation and I take my car to catch a plane somewhere or whatever, I will put in a travel claim for it. When I fill in that travel claim form—and you would have seen plenty of them, no doubt—do you have to lodge a registration number on it?
Ms Foster : This is an internal RDA question. The claims are not forwarded to us, they are forwarded to the executive officer of the RDA for processing.
Senator WILLIAMS: The executive officer of the RDA?
Ms Foster : Yes.
Senator WILLIAMS: If I want to check out a TA claim that has been put to you I would have to go to that other organisation, would I, to the executive?
Mr Atkinson : The TA is within the RDA, yes. The RDA is not part of the department. That is what the funding agreements say—
Senator WILLIAMS: I did actually know of one that had gone through that you responded to. If I put in a travel claim or my staff, we must lodge the registration number and I would think that would be the way it would be through your organisation as well. What is the name of that body again that we must go to for FOIs?
Ms Foster : Each individual Regional Development Australia committee is allocated an amount of money and they can spend it in particular ways for particular outcomes. So, if you as a member of that committee travel you will submit your request for reimbursement to the executive officer of that organisation, so of the RDA committee. If you are in RDA Northern Inland, you would submit to RDA Northern Inland your request for reimbursement.
Senator HEFFERNAN: That would be receipt driven, would it not?
Ms Foster : I would think so.
Senator HEFFERNAN: The cook could drop you at the airport and you could say, 'I took my car' otherwise.
Senator WILLIAMS: That is exactly right. But as I said, in the case of our staff taking their vehicle, when they lodge a travel allowance claim they must put in their rego number and all the details. On another issue, the Freeman House in Armidale received $8 million in funding from the RDA fund in 2011 and the contractor, National Buildplan Group, has gone into voluntary administration. What is the status of that project and what oversight does RDA have of this?
Ms Foster : Is that an RDA fund program?
Senator WILLIAMS: I believe so. Funding was from the RDA fund in 2011.
Ms Foster : We just need to call the responsible officer to the table.
Senator WILLIAMS: Ms Fleming, are you familiar with the project that I am talking about?
Ms Fleming : No. If I could just ask you to repeat the question, please.
Senator WILLIAMS: Freeman House in Armidale received $8 million in funding from the RDA fund in 2011 to carry out a project and the contractor was National Buildplan Group, which has gone into voluntary administration. What is the status of that project and what oversight does RDA have of those contracts when they were issued out?
Ms Fleming : If it is a Regional Development Australia fund contract the RDA does not have any oversight. We would be oversighting projects. We have several hundred projects that we manage. I would be happy to take that on notice and see if we could respond to you in this session around the status of that particular project.
Senator WILLIAMS: It is a serious problem. It looked like $30 million of money owing by this contractor, including one of your projects. We are now seeing subcontractors not being paid. They look like having serious bad debts. It is quite amazing when you do subcontract work for government jobs and you are not getting paid because the company that has won the contract has fallen over.
Ms Fleming : Mr McCormick has more of the details of that individual project.
Mr McCormick : With the project, Freeman House rebuild for the Regional Health, Education and Communities Project—my understanding is that it is currently in progress. The second payment was due in May for completion of 30 per cent of the project work, and my understanding is that we have not made that payment yet. The proponent advised that this milestone would be completed on time. We have really only paid one milestone payment on signing the funding agreement. I was not aware of any issues regarding—
Senator WILLIAMS: You were not aware of the contractor going broke?
Mr McCormick : The proponent is the Trustees of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, who we have the funding agreement with. We have a financial agreement—
Senator WILLIAMS: So, they brought on the contractor to do the job?
Mr McCormick : Yes.
Senator WILLIAMS: You gave the money to Saint Vincent de Paul?
Mr McCormick : Yes.
Senator WILLIAMS: Of the $8 million you gave a first instalment. The second instalment is coming up.
Mr McCormick : Yes.
Senator WILLIAMS: They have a contractor who has won the deal. That contractor then subbies the job out to other smaller contractors. The National Buildplan Group, who have got the contract, has now fallen over financially and we have a serious financial problem.
Ms Fleming : Insurance elements are attached to our programs. They are compulsory as part of our contractual agreement. The proponent will have arrangements with their contractor. We make payments after milestones are met. If milestones are not met, we do not make a payment. We will follow up with the proponent to see what the arrangements are that they have for the build of this project, but they are required under Commonwealth grant guidelines to have this insurance.
Senator WILLIAMS: Who is 'they'? In this case is it Saint Vincent de Paul or the contractor?
Mr McCormick : The funding agreement is with the proponent, Saint Vincent de Paul. We require them to ensure that they have all of these provisions in place.
Senator WILLIAMS: Are you saying that Saint Vincent de Paul, if they have done everything right, will have insurance to cover this contractor?
Mr McCormick : Yes.
Senator WILLIAMS: So the subbies will get paid, hopefully?
Ms Fleming : If they have done work on this particular project.
Senator WILLIAMS: If they have done work on that particular project?
Mr McCormick : That is my understanding.
Senator WILLIAMS: That might be the first good news that we might hear for a while, but we still need to have it checked out that all the insurance is in order and the insurance company comes good.
Mr McCormick : We will follow that up with Saint Vincent de Paul.
Senator WILLIAMS: Please do. Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Senator Back has kindly thrown over to Senator Joyce.
Senator JOYCE: I would like to go through a number of questions. The first of these are projects that were under the Community Infrastructure Grants programs that have not yet been approved for value for money and have funding agreed. I want to find out if these have funding agreements finalised. I do not want to take any of these on notice, because I think it is a pretty simple answer. I will go through them individually and I just want to find out if they have a funding agreement finalised .The Ettalong Beach foreshore redevelopment.
Ms Fleming : If you could just bear with us for a moment while we see if we have information on those individual projects. I can tell you that 79 of the agreements are already in place. We have 101 funding commitments under the Community Infrastructure Grant program.
Senator JOYCE: So, 79?
Ms Fleming : Some 73 have been approved for funding, 72 are contracted and one has a funding agreement under negotiation. Thirteen are under assessment or waiting additional information and 15 are yet to provide project information. I am not sure whether you want to run through the whole 73.
Senator JOYCE: I am looking for the ones that do not have project information. I will run through them and we will find out where we are with these ones. Ettalong Beach foreshore redevelopment, Kempsey Airport upgrade, Margaret Olley Centre, Port Macquarie Indoor Sports Stadium—and please excuse the pronunciation of this—Birubi Point Surf Life Saving Club, Ryde River Walk, Jingili Club upgrade, Moorooka Community Hub construction, Mackay junior soccer grounds relocation, Townsville Convention and Entertainment Centre construction, Burnside Hockey Club upgrade, Belmont Lions netball facility relocation, Colac sporting precinct development, Victoria Street Gateway Revitalisation, Monbulk soccer club facilities upgrade, and Horsham Theatre and Art Gallery construction. This is because they have been announced as election promises at the previous election. Obviously what I am getting at is when things are announced as a promise in an election do we actually ever get them? Are we going to get these things built or are they still just out there waiting for something happen? If they are, what are we waiting for and which ones are they?
Ms Fleming : We work with all of the proponents for the commitments under the Community Infrastructure Grants program. I think at previous estimates we have explained the kind of value for money assessment we do before we sign proponents up to funding agreements. Some proponents have their projects affected by adverse weather conditions that delay us, some of them start a process and then there is an appeal through the planning process that has to be worked through the various state bodies. Some find that they have identified land that then sits under a flight way and they have to have that land re-identified for projects. The projects that are not yet under funding agreements usually have those or a combination of other issues that they have not been able to provide us with the information that enables us to make a value for money assessment that enables them to be funded at this point in time.
Senator WILLIAMS: Thank you, Ms Fleming, but all I really need to know is which ones they are.
Ms Fleming : As at 28 May, Mr McCormick can read through the ones that we are still waiting to sign up.
Mr McCormick : As at 28 May these are the projects that we are waiting further information on and ready for approval. Blue Mountains, Springwood Town Centre. City of Yarra, Richmond, Victoria Station. Gosford City Council, Ettalong Beach. The NT BMX Association.
Senator JOYCE: Ettalong Beach Foreshore Redevelopment?
Mr McCormick : Yes. I think the NT BMX Association, the Jingili BMX Club upgrade. The Cairns District Junior Jones Park Rugby League. The City of Greater Geelong. The Belmont Lions Netball Club. Colac Otway Shire, the Colac sporting precinct. Kempsey Shire Council, the Kempsey Airport upgrade. The City of Ryde, Ryde Riverwalk. Port Stephens Council, the Birubi Point Surf Lifesaving. Mackay Regional, Mackay Junior Soccer. The Yarra Ranges, the Monbulk Soccer Club. The Gloucester Shire, the Bucketts Way upgrade. Greater Taree, Taree road maintenance. Port Macquarie Indoor Sports Complex.
Senator JOYCE: So, the Margaret Olley Centre is finalised and ready to go?
Mr McCormick : I understand that has been approved.
Senator JOYCE: The Moorooka Community Hub construction is ready to go?
Ms Fleming : If it is not on that list, we are operating on the basis that we have now signed a funding agreement, but we will check on that.
Mr McCormick : Margaret Olley has been approved and we are negotiating a funding agreement.
Senator JOYCE: You are negotiating a funding agreement there. The Townsville Convention and Entertainment Centre construction?
Mr McCormick : No.
Senator JOYCE: So, no, it is not ready to go?
Mr McCormick : No, that is not ready to go.
Senator JOYCE: The Burnside Hockey Club upgrade?
Mr McCormick : I am sorry, I cannot locate that on my list. I know it is there.
Senator JOYCE: It is there?
Mr McCormick : Yes.
Senator JOYCE: So it is ready to go?
Mr McCormick : Burnside does not ring any bells as not.
Senator JOYCE: What about the Horsham Theatre and Art Gallery construction?
Ms Fleming : It is my understanding that we have signed that funding agreement now, but we are just checking our records.
Senator JOYCE: So, the Horsham Theatre and Art Gallery construction?
Ms Fleming : If I can take that on notice and get back to you.
Senator JOYCE: As soon as possible.
Ms Fleming : We will try to advise you at the end of the session.
Senator JOYCE: Whilst you are looking for that, there is the Moorooka Community Hub construction, the Margaret Olley Centre, the Victoria Street Gateway Revitalisation and the Horsham Theatre and Art Gallery—maybe you read them out, but I am not quite sure where I am with them. Are there any unallocated funds in the forward estimates of the community infrastructure program?
Ms Fleming : Yes. There are several projects that are still awaiting funding agreements to be approved and committed. At the moment there is around $118 million uncommitted.
Senator JOYCE: What was that last part? How much was it?
Ms Fleming : It was $118 million uncommitted at this stage.
Senator JOYCE: Is there any money for contingency reserve or in decisions taken not yet announced for spending under the Regional Development and, if so, how much?
Ms Beauchamp : If there has been no announcement made by the government in relation to those measures that you have just spoken about, we are not in a position to answer that question.
Senator JOYCE: I would like to ask some questions in relation to round 3 of the RDA Fund. How many applications in total were received for this round of funding?
Ms Fleming : For round 3?
Senator JOYCE: Yes.
Mr McCormick : Some 216 projects were selected to go to full application, and 205 applications were received by the department.
Senator JOYCE: How did the advisory panel rank the projects and what was the process for recommending them to the minister?
Ms Fleming : The panel assess projects against the selection criteria specified in the guidelines, and then they provide recommendations to the minister on the merit of those projects, taking into account departmental information around eligibility, the assessment of the application and their own knowledge/expertise.
Senator JOYCE: I suppose the question is: did the minister follow those recommendations or did he sometimes make his own announcements?
Ms Fleming : The guidelines are discretionary grants, so the minister selects projects based on advice from the panel.
Senator JOYCE: So, every time he made a decision it was a decision that was following the process of recommendation from the advisory panel? It might be his right, but did he ever go and say, 'Regardless of the advisory panel I'm actually picking this project over here today'?
Mr Eccles : We would have to take that on notice and do a reconciliation.
Senator JOYCE: Do you know if he did it at all? It is completely within his rights. I would not be surprised.
Ms Fleming : Across the rounds, 1, 2 and 3, the previous minister and the current minister have been able to select projects based on the advice of the panel or not select projects that are supported by and recommended by the panel. Where they do so, they write their reasons for agreement or disagreement with the committee's recommendations. Those are recorded on a decision sheet. Those are available in the ANAO reports. You will see in the ANAO reports of rounds 1 and 2 there were areas where the previous minister disagreed with a panel member and they are all recorded. So, should the minister not decide that all of the projects recommended by the panel, if she agreed that they were meritorious, they would be written in the decision sheet and they would be recorded.
Senator JOYCE: It is not a case of saying, 'Here comes a project for the new hall at Danglemar' and rather than accepting it he says, 'I'm not interested in the hall at Danglemar. I've decided today that I'm very interested in this other hall at Parkes.' All of a sudden we are approving something that had not actually made the criteria as far as the advisory panel goes. It might have been there somewhere but ranked lower and he says, 'I'm grabbing this project and putting it up.' Did that ever happen?
Ms Beauchamp : The ministers take into account a number of inputs and one of those inputs is the advice of the panel. The ultimate decision maker, as you are aware, is the minister. The minister assesses the views of the panel alongside his or her other information gained from other areas. We are not in a position to provide the information today in terms of what the panel recommendations were and what the minister has agreed to. In a sense, in terms of the grant guidelines, the panel is an extension of the department and it is advice to the minister, but the minister makes those decisions based on a number of inputs and the panel is one of those.
Senator JOYCE: I understand that the minister has discretion to go outside the panel's recommendation because he is the minister. It is not surprising that he would. I am just trying to work out how many times out of the 216 that he did. How many times was it said, 'That was a decision by the minister in this instance and not by the panel'?
Mr Eccles : That is what I undertook to take on notice.
Senator JOYCE: Do you know whether he has done it at all?
Ms Fleming : I would be very surprised if any minister agreed with every recommendation that a panel makes.
Senator JOYCE: So would I. This is not about catching you. I would expect that would definitely be the case. I am naturally enough curious about the ones where it was the minister's discretion where they were and for what purpose. I am just being an open book.
Ms Beauchamp : We will take that on notice.
Senator JOYCE: What is the total amount of funding awarded under round 3?
Ms Fleming : The funding round was $50 million. There was around $32 million worth of projects.
Mr McCormick : It is $31.137 million.
Senator JOYCE: Thirty two?
Mr McCormick : $31.137.
Senator JOYCE: Does that mean that there is still—
Mr McCormick : And $83.
Senator JOYCE: Does that mean there is roughly $18 million left?
Ms Fleming : $18 million not allocated under round 3, roughly.
Senator JOYCE: $18 million not allocated?
Ms Fleming : Yes.
Senator JOYCE: Have all proponents been notified of the outcomes of this round?
Ms Fleming : Yes.
Senator JOYCE: When were the successful proponents notified and how were they notified?
Ms Fleming : I believe the last of the announcements were made by the minister last Friday and as soon as the last announcement was made all proponents, successful and unsuccessful, and RDAs were notified of the full list. There is a list on the website of all the successful projects for round 3, and fact sheets on all of the successful projects.
Senator JOYCE: Does the minister have the capacity to go back and award more to cover that $18 million that is still out there?
Ms Beauchamp : Those matters are currently under consideration by the minister. The funds have been appropriated to the Regional Development Australia Fund and the minister is currently considering the options.
Senator JOYCE: If he was going to award out of that $18 million could he do that right up to the election or right up to the issuing of the writs?
Ms Beauchamp : Award out of?
Senator JOYCE: If he was able to award more out of that $18 million it is in his power. It is discretionary. He can do that right up to the issuing of the writs on whenever it is, August 14?
Ms Beauchamp : As business as usual in the government, he can make decisions up until caretaker.
Senator JOYCE: Obviously it would be a handy little war chest to take into the election. Whilst we are talking about that, in the budget there was a floating amount of prospective funding of some hundreds of millions that could be used for other forms of regional—
Ms Beauchamp : Further rounds of the Regional Development Australia Fund?
Senator JOYCE: Yes. Was there a floating amount of $300 or $400 million, an amount for yet announced schemes? It had some vague terminology such as proposed but yet announced schemes.
Ms Beauchamp : I am not sure of the vague terminology, but we have now had four rounds of the Regional Development Australia Fund and the minister is considering the future rounds in the allocation of the remaining Regional Development Australia funds appropriated to the portfolio.
Senator JOYCE: Is there an agreement between the Commonwealth government and the New South Wales state government in regard to the Western Sydney RDA?
Mr Atkinson : We are currently in discussions with the New South Wales government to implement the government's announcement to set up a second RDA in western Sydney.
Senator JOYCE: You are going to set up a second RDA in western Sydney?
Mr Atkinson : It will be the first one in western Sydney. There is currently one RDA for all of Sydney.
Senator JOYCE: For western Sydney. Where is the second one going to be?
Ms Foster : Physically the location of the office has not been determined.
Senator JOYCE: What will be its area?
Ms Foster : It will encompass several local government areas around Parramatta.
Senator JOYCE: Around Parramatta?
Ms Foster : Yes. I can get you all those areas.
Senator JOYCE: East of Parramatta, west of Parramatta or just centred on Parramatta?
Ms Foster : Let me get you the four areas so I am not speculating.
Senator JOYCE: What negotiations have you had with the New South Wales government about setting that RDA up around Parramatta?
Ms Foster : There have been discussions between the former Minister for Regional Development and his counterpart minister and also with Premier O'Farrell.
Senator JOYCE: So you have had discussions with them?
Ms Foster : We have also worked at officials level to talk about how this might work, how it might be constituted and so on.
Senator JOYCE: Has anything been signed?
Ms Fleming : Not at this stage.
Senator JOYCE: Can you see that there will be some sort of confusion with the Regional Development Fund for Parramatta? Would it not be like the Urban Development Fund of Parramatta? After Sydney, it is the central place in Australia. It is actually the geographic centre of Sydney.
Ms Foster : I think you are conscious that the Regional Development Australia network covers the whole of Australia on the basis that every area is a region, as opposed to being part of regional Australia and so there are Regional Development Australia committees in all of the capital cities.
Senator JOYCE: Have there been discussions with Minister Albanese about setting up the RDA of Parramatta?
Ms Foster : We have briefed Minister Albanese on where we were at.
Senator JOYCE: Would Marrickville be in that RDA?
Ms Foster : I do not believe so.
Senator JOYCE: How close to the Sydney CBD does this regional part of Australia get?
Ms Foster : Someone is just finding those areas for me now. We will have an answer for you in a minute.
Senator JOYCE: What is the RDA that Centrepoint Tower is in?
Ms Foster : That would be RDA Sydney.
Senator JOYCE: RDA Sydney, the regional area of Sydney. So I could have a Regional Development Fund to upgrade the Sydney Opera House?
Ms Foster : I think we are talking about two slightly different things. The Regional Development Australia committee network covers all of Australia, and so there are RDAs, as I said, in the capital cities. The guidelines for the allocation of the fund, the projects, is managed by Ms Fleming and Mr McCormick, and they would be happy to talk you through how those guidelines work.
Senator JOYCE: So, every part of Australia is now regional?
Ms Foster : No. What I was trying to say was that the Regional Development Australia committee network covers all of Australia. That is a different question to what is regional.
Senator JOYCE: What is the difference between regional and urban?
Ms Foster : Are you looking at that in the context of the RDA Fund?
Senator JOYCE: Yes. I am thinking what is the point of calling it Regional Development Australia when it is anywhere, it is not actually regional?
Ms Fleming : In terms of the Regional Development Australia Fund, when the fund was established it was not called the Regional Australia Fund, it was called the Regional Development Australia Fund specifically because the then minister wanted all RDAs to be able to participate in that funding agreement. So it is the Regional Development Australia as in RDA Fund, because the RDAs are a critical component of developing opportunities within their regions, recognising as we have explored in previous estimate sessions that every part of Australia is a region and the capital cities are eligible for application where a service provides a regional benefit. The best example I can provide of that is the Leukaemia project in Adelaide funded in round 2, where that project is located in a capital city but specifically provides 15 accommodations for regional families to come to Adelaide while a member is having treatment and was supported by some eight RDAs as far as western Victoria through to New South Wales and then all regions of Adelaide. So, not every service that benefits a region is located in that region and the fund tries to articulate and embody that within its guidelines.
Senator JOYCE: When it comes to other parts of government policy, especially immigration, Regional Australia's definition of the Australian government is designed to promote some areas of the country especially for immigration. When they talk about regional Australia for immigration, they do not talk about them moving to Centrepoint in Sydney or to Kirribilli or Campsie. They talk about them actually moving out to the country. Would the Regional Development Fund best be associated with people who might have some belief that if that is a government policy it has something to do with the country?
Ms Fleming : I think we try to embody that in the guidelines by specifying that projects within the capital city must have a regional benefit. The capital city projects that have been selected have had regional benefits. They are not local inner-city projects. They are projects that have demonstrated regional benefits such as the Leukaemia project. The majority of projects have been located in regional and remote areas, but there are some where you would not exclude a city such as the Leukaemia Foundation that provides necessary services because those services for rural families are actually provided in a capital city. It is a delicate balance. Each project and each context has to be taken into account and that is why you get this multiplicity of perspectives about urban and regional issues, whether you are dealing with an airport or whether you are dealing with a service. Some can be in situ, but some happen to be a regional hub.
Senator JOYCE: Let us go back to the RDA that is around Parramatta. How much did it cost to set up this RDA?
Ms Foster : We are still working through those details. We do not have a final plan yet.
Senator JOYCE: Who are the applicants on the board of this RDA?
Ms Foster : Again, we have not determined that yet.
Senator JOYCE: Do you have a list of possible candidates?
Ms Foster : When we set up RDA committees or when we replace members at the end of their term or fill casual vacancies we typically go through some form of an expression of interest process.
Senator JOYCE: Has that started?
Ms Foster : Not for Greater Western Sydney.
Senator JOYCE: It sounds like a football team. With the RDA appointments what is the tenure of them?
Ms Foster : It varies a little from state to state. It is typically between two to four years.
Senator JOYCE: What are they paid?
Ms Foster : They typically do not get paid as such. There are arrangements such as fees for the period which the member is engaged in RDA business. Mr Atkinson might be able to add to that for me.
Mr Atkinson : They are a volunteer and they are paid based on their costs.
Senator JOYCE: Do they deliver invoices or do they get paid a daily rate? I imagine they get paid a daily rate, because that would make it a lot easier.
Mr Atkinson : The costs are around reimbursements for travel and those sorts of things to attend meetings and they are funded from the RDA to the individual members because the RDAs are independent corporate entities. So they actually fund that. The chairs are actually entitled to an honorarium as well, because they are the only people who are paid.
Senator JOYCE: How much do they get for the honorarium?
Ms Foster : It is in the order of $200 a day. It is not excessive.
Senator JOYCE: I have no problems with that. It is not $2,000 or $3,000 a day?
Ms Foster : No. I have the 14 local government areas now if you would like them.
Senator JOYCE: Yes.
Ms Foster : As I said, this is not settled yet. We are just in discussion about what we are doing. We are thinking at the moment that we would use the New South Wales Department of Trade and Industry boundary for that region, because as you know New South Wales divides their regions up by local government areas. Those local government areas are Auburn, Bankstown, the Hills Shire Council which was formerly Baulkham, Blacktown, Blue Mountains, Camden, Campbelltown, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Holroyd, Liverpool, Parramatta, Penrith and Wondilli.
Senator JOYCE: When was the department first advised that the government wanted to establish this RDA?
Ms Foster : It was some months ago. I could not recall exactly when.
Senator JOYCE: Since the start of the year?
Ms Foster : I am not even sure I could not be that precise.
Senator JOYCE: When did the government advise the New South Wales government that it was going to establish a separate Western Sydney RDA?
Ms Foster : The discussions that were held between Minister Crean and his counterpart were earlier this year and we may have had some discussions at officials level before then.
Senator JOYCE: When was the decision to allow the Western Sydney applicants under the RDA for round 4 extra time to submit their applications?
Ms Foster : I will ask the RDA Fund people to answer that.
Ms Fleming : The question was: when was the decision taken to allow Greater Western Sydney applicants more time to lodge their applications?
Senator JOYCE: Yes.
Ms Fleming : We will see if we have some material on hand to answer that question.
Senator JOYCE: While you are doing that, who made the decision to set up the Western Sydney RDA?
Ms Fleming : It was a decision of the minister.
Senator JOYCE: Minister Albanese?
Ms Foster : Minister Crean at that point.
Senator JOYCE: It is my understanding that all 20 expressions of interest submitted to the RDA of Western Sydney for round 4 were invited to proceed to full application. Given that every other RDA in Australia was only given the opportunity to submit three, on what basis did you decide to allow all 20?
Ms Fleming : It was a decision of government. Minister Crean was on the public record at that time saying that there was a new RDA being established that was not fully established and at that time they decided to invite all applications that were put to the RDA to go forward for consideration in round 4.
Senator JOYCE: Have you had any complaints from other RDAs in relation to this Western Sydney RDA?
Ms Fleming : I think some RDAs questioned the purpose of that and I believe at the time Minister Crean put out a press release on that decision and responded around that decision noting that normal distributional elements would apply. There were some RDAs that were more concerned than others around that announcement.
Senator JOYCE: Was this setting up of the Western Sydney RDA, to be frank, anything to do with the Prime Minister's visit to Western Sydney to try and have an announcement for the day?
Ms Fleming : I could not answer that.
Ms Beauchamp : I think there had been much agitation from the local areas a long time before that. My understanding is that it was announced by the government in March, but certainly the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils had raised issues with the government and with the department as far back as August 2012. They were looking at having a separate arrangement and a focus on that Greater Western Sydney regional area rather than just the Sydney area. It has been on the cards for some time.
Ms Foster : Part of the thinking was that within Melbourne, for example, the Melbourne city area was covered by four RDAs and there was a consciousness that Sydney RDA with I think 41 local government areas and 4.5 million people was a very large area.
Senator JOYCE: You talked about agitation. Do you have correspondence from the Auburn City Council and the Bankstown City Council saying that they wanted an RDA?
Ms Beauchamp : I would have to take that on notice in terms of the actual documentation but it was certainly the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils that was calling for a separate regional authority.
Senator JOYCE: When did they call for that? Do you have any correspondence?
Ms Beauchamp : I do not know the exact dates. I will have to take that on notice.
Senator JOYCE: In what form did they call for it, in a letter or a phone call?
Ms Beauchamp : I am not sure. I cannot confirm with you exactly, but I will take it on notice, unless any of the other officers have that information.
Ms Fleming : I cannot recall exactly, but I do recall that there had been concern amongst RDAs generally that, for example, Melbourne had four RDAs, and the way that it was constructed it spanned out into the broader regions, and Sydney only had one RDA. I think this has been a longstanding issue of equity, because of the way RDAs were established when they were first set up based on state distribution networks rather than a single national view. We work with RDAs through state governments and state governments had their own way of establishing them.
Senator JOYCE: Ms Fleming, the statement was that there was agitation from Western Sydney that they wanted an RDA. To be honest, I am slightly sceptical as to whether that was the case. My scepticism will remain until I see some form of correspondence, otherwise I am inclined to believe there was a political decision premised on the fact that the Prime Minister was going to Western Sydney at that stage. We have said that there was agitation. I am trying to ascertain what form that takes. Was it a letter? Was it articles in the paper? Is there anything you can table to show that agitation?
Ms Fleming : No. I could take that on notice, as the secretary advised. I was just trying to give some flavour that this has been an issue that has been discussed over many years by various RDAs—around the equity between Sydney and Melbourne and the number of RDAs that had its origins in the way RDAs were set up in 2007, to put it into context.
Senator JOYCE: But you will table something?
Senator Lundy: With respect, Senator Joyce, perhaps you should go and ask them, instead of coming to this Senate committee and impugning some political motivation; you should familiarise yourself with the views of the councils.
Senator JOYCE: The reason we have Senate estimates is to ask questions. That is why we are here. I am sorry if you find that inconvenient. It is the reason we turn up to these things.
CHAIR: I am going to cut off both of you, Senator Joyce and the minister. Smoko.
Proceedings suspended from 16:00 to 16:15
Senator ABETZ: I am not sure whether the information was passed on in relation to questions I asked the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet about a grant that was announced by the Prime Minister for the Dunalley community hall. Who can assist me with that? That was an announcement on 1 March.
Ms Fleming : We can answer questions that you have relating to that project.
Senator Heffernan interjecting—
Senator ABETZ: I have got no idea about that but we do know we had a terrible fire down there. If you want to reminisce about the early days of your life in the last century feel free to do so. My line of questioning will not be going there, albeit you might be happy that the hall has burned down. Can I ask: was a brief prepared in relation to this announcement by the department prior to the Prime Minister making it?
Ms Fleming : The announcement was a decision of government.
Senator ABETZ: Yes.
Ms Fleming : So, we did not prepare—
Senator ABETZ: One assumes that if the Prime Minister announces something that it might be a decision of government. Can I ask whether or not a brief was prepared prior to the announcement.
Ms Fleming : Not by us, to my knowledge.
Ms Beauchamp : Can I clarify that? A brief was not prepared by this portfolio for that announcement. It would normally be the responsibility of either the department or her office in terms of the brief around the announcement.
Senator ABETZ: I was told at Prime Minister and Cabinet that they could just simply not help us and we had to come to this department. Of course, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has now been and gone and we cannot recall them. Basically, your advice is that no brief was provided by this department in relation to this $250,000 for the community hall project, is that right?
Ms Beauchamp : In terms of the announcement, as you will see from our budget papers there is a budget measure in our portfolio for that.
Senator ABETZ: Yes. I think I am aware of events after 1 March when the announcement was made. What I am interested in is what happened before 1 March. I want to know what due diligence was undertaken before this announcement was made. If you did not prepare a brief, would it be fair to say no due diligence had been undertaken by this department prior to 1 March in relation to that announcement?
Ms Beauchamp : The due diligence, given that it is in our portfolio, will occur in terms of the funds that have been announced as a contribution to the project.
Senator ABETZ: Yes, will occur. My question was: had it been done by the time of the announcement on 1 March. The answer to that I suspect is no.
Ms Beauchamp : Not by this portfolio.
Senator ABETZ: That is what I was trying to get at. As I said to Prime Minister and Cabinet, there is a rumour—and I only put it as strongly as that; I do not have any actual proof—that this community hall was absolutely and utterly fully insured for replacement value and when this was announced on the run people were somewhat taken aback. Now, no due diligence was done beforehand. Has due diligence been done after 1 March and what has that revealed?
Ms Fleming : If I could just take a moment to do the context and answer specifically your question. The Community Infrastructure Grants program under which this project falls covers decisions of governments and election commitments. So, governments make decisions and then the grant guidelines are such that we evaluate value for money for all projects post-announcement and we make that assessment and we provide the Reg. 9 assessment for the minister to enable them to sign off value for money.
It is my understanding that the overall project cost is expected to be $1,050,000, of which the Australian government is providing $250,000. Other funding is being provided by Sorell council. We understand $600,000 of that is their insurance premium and Rotary Australia are providing a further $200,000. The $600,000 being provided by Sorell council, which we understand to be the insurable value, is to replace the original building. The new facility will exceed the insurance amount, so there will be a betterment element, for want of a better word, with improved layout, increased size and provision of a commercial kitchen, including and allowing the core to cater for larger functions.
So, it is actually an enhanced project, not a replacement of the original project. So, yes there is an insurance component, but the total project that we are funding is a larger, more substantive project, and the government contribution goes towards the enhancement of the project, not the insurable value. That all forms part of the value-for-money assessment that we are doing with the council.
Senator ABETZ: That is now how it is all being recalibrated after the event. On 1 March 2013, what plans had been put in place for an enhanced community hall? There were not any, were there?
Ms Fleming : I do not know.
Mr McCormick : I am not aware of any.
Senator ABETZ: No, there were not any. So, the Prime Minister makes an embarrassing announcement that the replacement of the hall is completely guaranteed by the insurance. Oops, we have got an extra $250,000; how do we cover off on this. We just enhance the project so that we can spend the $250,000.
Mr McCormick : The original building was built in 1898. It was a wooden structure with a tin roof; it was very small and did not accommodate the communities needs. With that in mind, the insurance value was not going to provide any betterment, it was only going to replace the original.
Senator ABETZ: Wait a minute. This is all after the event. You were not aware of any of this when the Prime Minister made her announcement on 1 March 2013. This is all trying to get together a whole lot of evidence to justify that which the Prime Minister said. You did not have a brief on it; you knew nothing about it at the time. So, we are now trying to justify after the event that which the Prime Minister bumbled herself into.
Mr Eccles : I am not sure that is a fair characterisation. The government announced their intention to provide an additional component of funding for the facility and our job is to give effect to their commitment.
Senator ABETZ: I am not criticising the department here at all. The public announcement here was to rebuild, not to build an enhanced facility, not to build something with greater capacity, et cetera. It was simply to rebuild that which had been destroyed. The Prime Minister, without getting any advice from you, clearly no due diligence from you—I do not blame your department for that or any officer in that department—but when I asked about due diligence from Prime Minister and Cabinet how the Prime Minister could have made this announcement, but for those sort of questions you have got to come here. You now tell me that, as I suspected, the rumour looks as though it is true, that there was no due diligence and we had no information.
Ms Beauchamp : The due diligence will be undertaken as—
Senator ABETZ: It will be, but it was not at the time when the money was—
Ms Beauchamp : Can I just say that the budget measure talks about a contribution to a facility which is much needed for that community.
Senator ABETZ: Yes, that but is a budget measure announced in May. This is the Prime Minister's announcement two and a-half months earlier without any scoping study, without any understanding of the need. She goes down there and says, 'The government is going to be really good, it is going to make this contribution to help rebuild the hall.'
Senator Lundy: I think you are trying to paint this as some sort of grand conspiracy. It was obviously an excellent decision by the government for filling a need. All of the due diligence is done and it is in the budget papers. No matter how much you come in here with your sarcastic line of questioning, it is clear that a government decision was made to enhance a hall and rebuild it and that is now being put in place.
Senator ABETZ: To rebuild, not to enhance, and on 1 March there were—
Senator Lundy: You have got to drill down pretty deep to draw a conspiracy out of that. Come on!
Senator ABETZ: I am not drawing a conspiracy. What I am drawing out is a—
Senator Lundy: A government decision has been given—
Senator ABETZ: —shambolic government that sees a problem, throws money at it and then tries to look at the administration of it afterwards. That has been the hallmark of your government, Minister, each and every time.
Senator Lundy: You would be the first to criticise us if we were not responsive to the community's needs. The picture you have painted is one of a government responsive to community needs with a confident department backing in those decisions.
Senator ABETZ: No. The department—
CHAIR: I think the winners on that are the good folk of Dunalley.
Senator Lundy: Indeed.
Senator ABETZ: did not make any submissions, did not undertake any due diligence and had no input whatsoever into this decision. When I asked the Prime Minister's department, 'How on Earth did we arrive at the figure of $250,000? How did we know that that was'—
Senator Lundy: Goodness gracious if the Prime Minister and her office consulted with the community.
Senator ABETZ: Excuse me, can I finish? When I asked all of the detailed questions—whether due diligence, how we came across this figure, why was this the appropriate amount and not $200,000 or $300,00, et cetera—I was told to come here because you had all of the answers.
Senator Lundy: So, let us get the—
Senator ABETZ: We now know that no work had been done by this department—and no criticism of the department. How were they to know that the Prime Minister was going to make a spur of the moment announcement. You are now picking up the pieces as a department, doing undoubtedly a fantastic job—no criticism, but cleaning up the mess left by a Prime Minister who just felt compelled to make an announcement without any real basis to it.
Senator Lundy: The fire left the mess. The community obviously expressed their view. The Prime Minister responded in a timely way and the department is following through. If that is the criticism you have of our Prime Minister, that she is responsive in a timely fashion to community needs, so be it.
Senator ABETZ: If you do not have it, can the department take on notice the date of the design plans—
Senator Lundy: It is irrelevant because the Prime Minister responding—
Senator ABETZ: Wait a minute, let me finish. The date of the design plans—
Senator Lundy: Excuse me, the Prime Minister was responding to the community needs.
Senator ABETZ: for the enhanced community hall. I do not take wagers but, do you know what, I am willing to wager it was after 1 March.
Senator Lundy: The department is following up the decision of the Prime Minister, as is their obligation.
Senator ABETZ: I will take the wager that it was after 1 March—
Senator Lundy: Your complaint is that there has to be due diligence when it had been done by the department.
Senator ABETZ: which bells the cat—
CHAIR: All right! Okay!
Senator Lundy: Hit me with a wet lettuce.
Senator ABETZ: that the department—
CHAIR: I am doing everything to try not to yell.
Senator Lundy: They are doing their job.
CHAIR: Just everyone zip for a minute. Senator Abetz.
Senator ABETZ: Can the department confirm that they have taken on notice to tell me the date on the design plan for the new enhanced hall? Thank you.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Could I just add that, in humour, it would not be possible for us to have a jury stocktake at the Eurongilly hall and get the same set-up?
Senator Lundy: That is not even funny. Here we are discussing a community hall that is being rebuilt—
Senator HEFFERNAN: I am trying to lighten it up. Don't take it that way.
Senator Lundy: It is just too late in the day for that, Senator Heffernan.
CHAIR: I have got to tell you, Minister—
Senator Lundy: Can I just say, the community was devastated as a result of this incident, so I am sure it was warmly received when the announcement was made. To have it reflected upon in this way I think is a really unfortunate situation.
CHAIR: I agree. What I must say, Minister, I know you were a little bit upset with Senator Heffernan but we have to put up with the dear senator for 14 hours in a day. You have got one day every now and again.
Senator Lundy: It has been a long day.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I think we will have a ball in the new hall.
CHAIR: On that, Senator Joyce still had some questions and Senator Back has questions. Then we have other senators that will be coming in, so Senator Joyce can I call on you to chuck the skates on and get your questions out of the way.
Senator JOYCE: Is there any agreement between the Commonwealth government and the New South Wales government in regard to the western Sydney RDA? If so, is this agreement the same as with other RDA committees in New South Wales? The final part of that is the pertinent part. Is the RDA agreement that you have with western Sydney the same as with other RDA committees?
Ms Beauchamp : Before we answer those questions, I think we said we are still in the development and negotiating with the New South Wales government. I would like to table the media release put out by the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils on 7 August 2012 talking about the creation of a dedicated western Sydney regional development authority. I think that provides some level of evidence that this issue has been around for some time.
Senator JOYCE: Were any jobs lost as a result of creating this new RDA? If so, please provide details. Were any jobs lost by the creation of that new RDA in western Sydney?
Ms Foster : We would not expect any job losses.
Senator JOYCE: Do you have any further plans to create any more RDAs before the election?
Ms Foster : Not at this stage.
Senator JOYCE: I heard you talking to Senator Williams about Freeman House in Armidale, which received $8 million. Did you tell me that project is completed? Is that finished?
Ms Fleming : No. We said that the first milestone payment had been made and that we were going to investigate the senator's advice around the progress of that in light of the builder going into some liquidational difficulties.
Senator JOYCE: Could you please provide a breakdown of how much money has so far been allocated under the entire RDA fund and how much is yet to be allocated?
Ms Fleming : Yes. At the moment, under the current funding round, we have made funding commitments of around $350 million with around about $32 million announced in round 3. So, that is roughly $382 million that is committed.
Senator JOYCE: How much is actually left in the fund?
Ms Fleming : There is about $399 million.
Senator JOYCE: Of that $399 million that is left in the fund, how much is actually earmarked already? Can that $399 million be allocated by a new government to new projects, or is it already allocated?
Ms Fleming : That would cover funding for rounds 1 to 4, noting that there are no announcements yet around round 4. So that funding would remain in the appropriation.
Senator JOYCE: So, whoever wins the next election, they will be able to commit from $399 million of funds that are there?
Ms Fleming : Assuming there are no further rounds of—
Senator JOYCE: Assuming there are no further rounds between now and then; does that $399 million include the $18 million that has not been distributed from round 3?
Ms Fleming : No, we have included that in our calculations.
Senator JOYCE: That is not in your calculations.
Ms Fleming : We have included it in our calculations.
Senator JOYCE: So, it is included?
Ms Fleming : We took the four rounds, which is $150 million for round 1, $200 million for round 2, $50 million for round 3, and $175 million for round 4. If you take those four rounds as subject to commitments or pending commitment announcements, that leaves around $400 million in the fund.
Senator JOYCE: So, does it include the $18 million or not?
Ms Fleming : The residual does not include the $18 million.
Senator JOYCE: So, there is really about $417 million there?
Ms Fleming : Possibly.
Ms Beauchamp : We should say that is as at today. We have a fair bit of work to do in terms of round 4 and any subsequent rounds that the government might want to pursue and announce.
Senator JOYCE: Can you provide an update of the status of round 2 projects?
Ms Fleming : Yes. I understand that 43 funding agreements have been signed for round 2. Round 3 is still under negotiation and one project has been completed.
Senator JOYCE: One is completed, is it?
Ms Fleming : Yes.
Senator JOYCE: What is the completed one?
Ms Fleming : I will ask Mr McCormick.
Senator JOYCE: If it is that hall, I do not want to hear any more about it.
Mr McCormick : It is not the Dunalley hall.
Ms Fleming : We are just finding that. While we are finding that information—
Senator JOYCE: I will keep on going with the others. Where is the funding coming from for the $280,000 awarded to the new medical centre for Ashford in New South Wales, which was announced in the budget? When is this construction due to begin?
Ms Fleming : Sorry, could I just go back to your earlier question, the completed project. Mr McCormick has the answer.
Mr McCormick : It is the Coober Pedy's water for growth project, installation of a 13.2 kilometre PVC water pipeline from the bore field north of Coober Pedy and the new irrigation systems at the community oval and orchard in Coober Pedy.
Senator JOYCE: Beautiful.
Ms Fleming : Sorry, what was your other question?
Senator JOYCE: Where is the funding coming from for the $280,000 awarded to a new medical centre for Ashford in New South Wales, which was announced in the budget?
Ms Fleming : Is that our portfolio? I do not have that on my list.
Mr McCormick : We will find out which portfolio that is on.
Senator JOYCE: I thought it was coming from your portfolio. We saw it on a budget, we are just trying to work out where. There is also $80,000 awarded for the completion of a Werris Creek community shed.
Ms Fleming : Yes, that is ours.
Senator JOYCE: What is the process with that? Have you announced it? Has the cheque been sent to them?
Ms Fleming : These projects will be projects under the Community Infrastructure Grants program, so they are decisions of government and we will seek information from the proponents. We will assess the projects for value for money and once we have made that assessment we will advise the minister, as we always do in a brief, that the project is now ready for funding. Then the minister will consider that information and then we will negotiate a funding agreement with the proponents.
Senator JOYCE: I used to live at Werris Creek, at 31 Gordon Street; the first house I bought with my wife. How did that process happen? Where did it come from? What was the application process that brought that about?
Ms Fleming : As I advised Senator Abetz earlier, these are decisions of government. They sit within the Community Infrastructure Grants program, which is the election commitment and other decisions of government, and then we do value for money. So, the department is not consulted around these projects but we do value-for-money assessments and they sit under a program of community infrastructure grants.
Senator JOYCE: So, basically it is just a decision of the minister?
Ms Fleming : A decision of government.
Senator JOYCE: It does not come down to you. Did you have any correspondence that they were looking at doing? So the first correspondence that you got about that $80,000 is that you just got a note from the minister saying, 'I have approved this. Do it.'?
Mr Eccles : No. In the lead-up to the budget the government advised us of their intention to support this and we gave advice about how it should be reflected in the budget papers. We are now in the process of giving effect to the government's commitment.
Senator JOYCE: That is interesting. So, in the lead-up to the budget they said, 'We are going to approve $80,000 for a community shed in Werris Creek', and you told them the right place to put it in the budget papers?
Mr Eccles : Pretty well, yes.
Senator JOYCE: How many of those types of requests did you get?
Mr Eccles : Werris Creek is part of a broader budget line item. I believe it is—
Ms Fleming : I can confirm that the Ashford Medical Centre that you spoke about is actually in Budget Paper No. 2 under the department of health on page 185, so it is not our portfolio. There is a list of projects on page 28.
Senator JOYCE: I am probably going to run into a few more of them and rather than bore you with them—
Mr Eccles : Yes, Budget Paper No. 2, page 28, Community Infrastructure Projects.
Senator JOYCE: So, did they have to increase the amount of funding in the Community Infrastructure Grants program to do it?
Mr Eccles : Yes.
Senator JOYCE: They did have to increase the funding in there?
Ms Fleming : Yes.
Senator JOYCE: So, was this just advice from the minister? Minister Albanese just said, 'These are the sort of things I want.'
Ms Beauchamp : All of these decisions and budget measures are outlined in Budget Paper No. 2. They are cabinet- and budget-in-confidence processes so the discussions that go on through the expenditure review committee and government are matters for the government. All of those decisions are reflected in Budget Paper No. 2. Some of them, in terms of delivery, impact on this portfolio.
Senator JOYCE: What about the $400,000 that was awarded to the Liverpool Plains Shire Council water strategy? Was that also not your portfolio?
Mr McCormick : That is not our portfolio.
Senator JOYCE: How many RDA committee contracts are due to finalise on 30 June this year?
Mr Atkinson : That is 55.
Senator JOYCE: Will these contracts be renewed?
Mr Atkinson : Yes.
Senator JOYCE: They will be renewed possibly for two years; is that generally how long they are renewed for?
Mr Atkinson : Last year they were renewed for one year.
Senator JOYCE: When they are renewed on 30 June will they be renewed for one year?
Ms Foster : That is a decision that is yet to be made.
Senator JOYCE: What is the longest they can be extended for?
Ms Foster : We have had three-year contracts.
Senator JOYCE: If you wanted to break those contracts, how could you do it?
Mr Atkinson : By decision of government.
Senator JOYCE: What steps are being taken to process renewing these 55 contracts?
Mr Atkinson : There has been an ongoing process over the last six months of negotiating with the states and consulting with the RDAs on the structure of the funding agreements. We sent out draft funding agreements previously and we are just incorporating some changes into those.
Senator JOYCE: Has the department provided any advice to committees that they may extend the workplace contracts with employees, officers and vehicles beyond the completion of contracts which are due to end on 30 June?
Mr Atkinson : Yes.
Senator JOYCE: Can you provide some details of that?
Mr Atkinson : We gave correspondence to RDAs so that they could continue, based on the inclusion in the forward estimates of forward funding for the RDAs.
Senator JOYCE: How many RDA board positions does the government anticipate filling before the election?
Mr Atkinson : I will just get that information, sorry.
Ms Foster : While Mr Atkinson is looking for the details, there are both expiring terms, so terms that are coming to their completion, and casual vacancies. Of the casual vacancies, I understand there are currently 56.
Senator JOYCE: What assistance and support does the department provide to the 55 RDAs across Australia?
Ms Foster : The support ranges from information flows, so ensuring that the RDAs have access to grants programs that are being announced across the government, information on major initiatives to share with their communities that might be of benefit to them to obviously the funding that we provide for their set-up and operation, and from time to time specific funding to carry out particular initiatives. We provide them with regular newsletters and with support on administrative issues, if they are having challenges with their staffing, for example. So, that is a pretty broad range of support.
Senator JOYCE: I just want to go back to the Community Infrastructure Grants programs that were foreshadowed before the budget and you advised on where to put them in the budget papers and they ended up in the Community Infrastructure Grants from which you expended the funding. I want you to go to the Auditor-General and his comments on appropriation of funds:
Ministers are expected to discharge their responsibility in accordance with wide considerations of public interest and without regard to considerations of a party political nature. Where they are approving the making of a grant, ministers are approving the expenditure of public money. This role brings with it particular accountability obligations, including statutory requirements, which govern the circumstances in which ministers may provide such approvals. In particular, the financial framework requires that a grant not be approved by ministers unless reasonable inquiries have been undertaken to demonstrate that the proposed expenditure will make efficient and effective use of public money.
In the extension of the community infrastructure grants that happened prior to the election for such things as the Werris Creek hall, was that undertaken?
Ms Fleming : The way this works in respect of the community infrastructure grants and election commitments is that the government of the day makes its election commitments, or decisions of government; we receive those as a list. We then work with the proponent against the guidelines that are approved by the government and the risk assessment is done in conjunction with the department of finance. We then work through those and make what they call a reg. 9 assessment, which is a value-for-money assessment. Once we have done—
Senator JOYCE: Did you do that for the hall?
Ms Fleming : We may not have yet, because that has only just been announced, but we would be doing it now. So, for all of the projects in here we follow exactly the same process as we do for the—
Senator JOYCE: So, if you find that it is not value for money, does that mean that you then give advice back to the minister to reverse it?
Mr Eccles : Yes.
Ms Fleming : We would not recommend a project for funding or we work with the proponent to strengthen the application to a point where we can advise the minister that it is value for money. If I could just go back to your list of the earlier Community Infrastructure Grants programs, there is a list of those because we have not yet determined that they are value for money. I can now read those out if you would like to also have that list.
Senator JOYCE: Yes, please.
Ms Fleming : So, it is the City of Ryde Riverwalk. It is the Kempsey Shire Council airport upgrade. It is the Tweed Shire Council Margaret Olley Centre. We are still in discussions with them; I correct the record. It is the Port Macquarie Hastings Council Indoor Sports stadium. There is the Port Stephens Council Birubi Point Surf Lifesaving Club redevelopment. There is the Gosford City Council Ettalong Beach foreshore redevelopment that you mentioned. There is the Northern Territory Jingili BMX Club upgrade. There is the Brisbane City Council Moorooka Community Hub construction. There is the Mackay regional football junior soccer grounds; the City of Greater Geelong Belmont Lions Netball Facility; the City of Yarra, Richmond, Victoria Street Gateway Revitalisation Program; the Colac Otway Sporting Precinct redevelopment; the Horsham Town Hall redevelopment has not yet been agreed; the Monbulk Soccer Club facilities upgrade; the Burnside City Council upgrade; and the Townsville Convention Entertainment Centre.
Senator JOYCE: What I am really interested in is has the minister approved the projects announced in the budget or not?
Ms Fleming : No, they are announcements and we have to work through a value-for-money assessment, then—
Senator JOYCE: So, they are not approved?
Ms Fleming : Not yet approved.
Mr Eccles : So, the government has forecast its intent and our job is to give effect to that intent. There are some delays and some of the delays are for very valid reasons, including the importance of community consultation, the need to get final approvals, some zoning issues, et cetera.
Senator JOYCE: I hope that that men's shed in Werris Creek is pretty well a fait accompli, but if there were a change in government the next minister could come and say, 'Well, I haven't approved it. I have just had a look at it and it doesn't stack up. It is not happening.'
Mr Eccles : I would expect that—
Senator JOYCE: Hypothetically.
Mr Eccles : I cannot really enter into hypotheticals.
Senator JOYCE: Is it the right of an incoming minister to not approve that shed and to stop the funding going to it?
Mr Eccles : One only needs to go back through history to find incoming governments not completing undertakings made by earlier governments. In these instances, knowing the hard work of Ms Fleming's team, we expect to be very significantly advanced or over the line with them.
Ms Beauchamp : It does all depend whether we have actually entered into a contract or a funding agreement. So, from a legal perspective, if there has been an offer and acceptance I think there would be an obligation to carry that through.
Senator JOYCE: So, are the grants subject to the financial management and accountability regulations? I just want to quote to you section 9 of those regulations: 'An approver must not approve a spending proposal unless the approver is satisfied, after making reasonable inquiries, that giving effect to the spending proposals would be a proper use of Commonwealth resources.'
Ms Beauchamp : Correct.
Senator JOYCE: So, these projects have been approved and if they are found not to be a proper use of Commonwealth resources the projects will not go ahead, will they?
Mr Eccles : That is why the delegate needs to sign what is known in public service speak as a reg. 9, which basically indicates that the delegate is satisfied to those conditions and it is common practice for successive governments that that takes place after announcements of intent.
Senator JOYCE: How many of these Community Infrastructure Grants programs, such as the Werris Creek hall, are in the seat of New England?
Mr Eccles : Can you repeat that?
Senator JOYCE: How many of these budget line approvals such as the Werris Creek men's shed are in the seat of New England?
Mr Eccles : We would need to take that on notice and check that out. We do not look at those things.
Senator JOYCE: Because obviously the people in the seat of New England would be surprised to find out that these things, although announced, are not approved.
Ms Beauchamp : That is a normal part of the budget estimates process. These are budget estimates and we are now in the process of making sure that we can deliver these commitments on behalf of government. We are required to do that under the Financial Management Act and other grant guidelines and the like. It is our job to make sure we can deliver the intent of government.
Senator JOYCE: It is just a statement of fact that these things such as the Werris Creek men's shed are announced but not approved.
Mr Eccles : I think that people understand that it is upon signing of contracts that everything gets locked and loaded.
Senator JOYCE: That is fine. I am just clarifying. How much funding do the states contribute towards the RDAs?
Ms Beauchamp : That varies from state to state. Did you want to go through it state by state? Because some of them are cash, in kind, locational; so there is quite a diversity of support.
Senator JOYCE: If you have got it at your disposal just give it to me on notice.
Ms Foster : We do not have it right here, so we will give it to you on notice.
Senator JOYCE: We are all very mindful of the fact that this is the last estimates, so if you say, 'We will give it to you on notice'—
CHAIR: This is your last estimates, Senator Joyce. More importantly, we will still be around.
Senator JOYCE: You will certainly be around, and if I do not see you in person I will see you on TV, but only if I am totally insane. In which states do RDA committees receive local government funding as well?
Ms Beauchamp : Sorry, could you repeat that?
Senator JOYCE: I asked the last question about the states; I am also asking about local governments. How many are supported by local government funding as well?
Ms Foster : We have identified the state government funding for you now. Mr Atkinson will read that. I think the only state in which the local government contributes also is South Australia. We have a tripartite agreement there between Commonwealth, state and local. That is because when we set up the RDAs in 2007 we based them on the models that were existing within each state for regional development, and in South Australia there was an existing structure that was a joint state and local government structure, so we joined that and made it tripartite.
Senator EDWARDS: We are a bit different in South Australia.
Ms Foster : It is a very effective model.
Senator JOYCE: For budgetary reasons, that Werris Creek community shed, does it flow through the underlying cash balance in the budget?
Mr Eccles : Yes, it does.
Senator JOYCE: Even though it has not been approved?
Mr Eccles : Because the government has indicated its intention to fund it, and that is why there are subsequent processes to clarify budgets through additional estimates and other things. Provision has been made for it in the budget and our job is to give effect to that. If for whatever reason there are delays or other unforeseen issues, that can always be reflected in subsequent budget documents.
Senator JOYCE: So, similarly, the $280,000 awarded to the new medical centre in Ashford would also be, at this point, not be approved?
Mr Eccles : I am not aware of that.
Ms Beauchamp : You would have to ask the department of health.
Senator JOYCE: You are not aware of the $400,000 awarded to the Liverpool Plains Council. The $280,000 for the medical centre was not under a community infrastructure grant and you are saying that you have actually seen that in the budget papers?
Ms Beauchamp : That medical centre you have spoken about is under the Department of Health and Ageing. That is administered by the Department of Health and Ageing.
Senator JOYCE: Is that a similar sort of announcement to the community infrastructure grant, that it is announced but not approved.
Ms Beauchamp : We are responsible for administering the community infrastructure grants. You would have to ask the other agencies the arrangements they have got in place for administering their grants.
Senator JOYCE: Is the $400,000 awarded for the Liverpool Plains Council water supply strategy not in your agreement, either?
Mr Atkinson : It is not. That is in the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Senator JOYCE: We will put that on notice to them. Which members of the RDA committees receive a salary?
Mr Atkinson : None of the members of the RDA committees receive a salary. The executive officers receive salaries.
Senator JOYCE: Can you list how many resignations have occurred from each of the RDA committees since their inception.
Mr Atkinson : I would have to take that on notice.
Senator JOYCE: Fair enough. How many members of each board are paid? For example, is the chair paid?
Mr Atkinson : They get honorariums.
Senator JOYCE: I think I will give someone else a go.
CHAIR: Senator Back.
Senator BACK: I will just go back to the north again, particularly with regard to northern Western Australia. Last year, right at the end of the year, the then Attorney-General made the decision to withdraw any funding to pastoralists and others to assist them in the process of negotiating and finalising native land title claims. Was the department involved at all in the advice to the minister, or to the then Attorney-General, on what the likely impact of that might be on the pastoralists?
Mr Atkinson : No, we were not involved in that.
Senator BACK: Are you aware of the impact?
Mr Atkinson : No.
Senator BACK: The second point then, again across the north—you would be familiar in the Northern Territory with the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Scheme. Is that a scheme of which you have some understanding or knowledge?
Mr Atkinson : Yes.
Senator BACK: Can you tell me whether that program is ongoing or has it come to its conclusion?
Mr Dickson : There are two elements to it. One is that it is a financial arrangement directly with the ConocoPhillips development.
Senator BACK: That is the one. That is correct.
Mr Dickson : I believe that funding arrangement is ongoing, but I am not intimately familiar with it?
Senator BACK: Are you aware of an attempt to effectively replicate that program in the Kimberley region in the north of WA and, if you are, can you advise me of the success or otherwise of that program to extend the West Arnhem Land concept across into the Kimberley?
Mr Dickson : I do not have intimate familiarity with this. I am aware of fire abatement and fire management issues being eligible technologies within the context of the Carbon Farming Initiative, which is managed by the Department of Climate Change. I am aware of a number of new projects that have been developed. There is one at Fysh Creek Station in the Douglas Daly region, which has a successful carbon farming initiative. I am not familiar with activities in the East Kimberley, but it certainly would not surprise me if that was the case. These are certainly within the context of the carbon farming initiative.
Senator BACK: What agency would be likely to have more information?
Mr Dickson : It would be the Department of Climate Change or the Department of Environment.
Senator BACK: If I can come further south. I am not sure if you are familiar with the Goldfields—
Mr Atkinson : Can I just correct that?
Senator BACK: Please.
Mr Atkinson : I think carbon farming, while initiated in those agencies, is being managed by the Department of Agriculture.
Senator BACK: Coming then down to the Goldfields-Esperance region, are you familiar at all with the 2011-2021 Strategic Development Plan, which Regional Development Australia Goldfields-Esperance is a co-author co-sponsor of?
Mr Atkinson : Yes, we are familiar with that.
Senator BACK: Can you give me some understanding of what assistance, if any, has been available or is budgeted to be available from Regional Development to give effect to the various projects contained within that development plan?
Ms Foster : The way that the plans work is that we ask the Regional Development Australia committees to consult to draw on evidence bases, et cetera, to develop plans for their region that can then be fulfilled by appropriate funding sources. For example, within the Regional Development Australia Fund that we have been talking about earlier today we actually require the RDAs to support the projects that come forward so they are usually contained within their plans, but it may be that some of the projects that they have identified are health or education projects and we would then help facilitate the RDAs to make applications to those departments for relevant grant funding to fulfil those. That is the normal way that would work.
Senator BACK: So, specifically with regard to the Goldfields you do not have any current knowledge of where that activity may have been taken with regard to the development plans that are specified in this particular strategic development plan?
Ms Foster : No, not specifically.
Senator BACK: Is Western Australia the only state that has regional development commissions or do other states and territories also have them?
Ms Foster : Western Australia is the only state that has such a formal and comprehensive structure of regional development commissions that are run by the state, although I might say that Victoria has a not dissimilar model. The difference is that in the case of Victoria we have actually joined the state entity and the Commonwealth entity into one RDA. In Western Australia we still have two entities operating. In Queensland there are development organisations, some of which have some government input as well. It varies a little bit from state to state.
Senator BACK: That leads directly into the question that I want to ask, and that is: in Western Australia's case, if not in all instances then certainly in the majority, the boundaries for the RDCs and the RDAs is, in fact, the same boundary. In many instances, again if not most, the RDC personnel seem to be on the board of the RDA locally and vice-versa, which is exactly what one would hope was the case. You say I think that in Victoria you have worked a scheme of arrangement in which there was a closer liaison between them. My question is: for the effectiveness of spending taxpayers' money, what is the scope in Western Australia for the functions of the RDAs, for example, on clearly the basis of contractual agreements, heads of agreement, to be undertaken by the regional development commissions in each of those areas?
Ms Foster : You are right in identifying that the areas are largely the same. I think there might be one where there are some differences in boundaries. We have been having discussions for the past 12 months or so between the two governments on what options there are for closer collaboration ranging from simply asking the committees to work more closely together or to share priorities through to actually amalgamating the two organisations. There was an exchange of correspondence between the then Minister for Regional Development, Simon Crean and Brendon Grylls, about an in-principle commitment to work towards that. That work was put on hold over the period of the WA caretaker and election. We are just starting to work our way forward again on that.
Senator BACK: It certainly seems that the aspirations of the two groups are closely aligned and if, as you say, they are geographically overlapping—I notice even in this particular one that I just quoted we have Mal Osborne, the Chair of the Regional Development Australia Goldfields-Esperance as one of the co-signatories, one of the three, along with the chair of the Regional Development Commission, John Price, and the mayor of Kalgoorlie. It would appear that there would be a lot of value to extending those discussions to see whether either amalgamation or closer liaison could take place. Chairman, those were the questions that I had. Thank you very much.
Senator EDWARDS: I would like to go to the Unity Housing Affordable Housing Project. This is just a follow-up. It is not going to be anything exciting. I am referring to the written question on notice 74 from the additional February estimates regarding the Unity Housing Affordable Housing Project. Have the negotiations with the supplier involved in the project been completed?
Ms Fleming : I will just check that material for you.
Senator EDWARDS: Hopefully they have.
Ms Fleming : Do you have another question while we are looking for that?
Senator EDWARDS: Subsequent to that, can the funding agreement between yourselves, the state government and the stakeholders be made publicly available, because it could not at the time? If they are not complete, perhaps if you could provide the milestones contained within the funding agreement. There are three rat-tat-tat for you. I will move on while you are storing these up, because the chair and I share a view on keeping this show moving.
Ms Fleming : If you could please.
Senator EDWARDS: With reference to question on notice No. 60, you graciously supplied me with the towns in which the houses were to be built, but I failed to ask you how many houses would be built in those towns. So if you would not mind just providing me with that information. Lastly on this topic, will any of the houses cater for people living with disabilities and, if not, what was the rationale for doing so? How are we going, Mr McCormick?
Mr McCormick : The second payment of $1 million for milestone 2 is due to be paid on 15 September this year. That is for evidence of contributions being secured, 25 per cent completion of the project and all statutory approvals being obtained.
Senator EDWARDS: So the money has been paid?
Mr McCormick : Not yet. It is 15 September.
Senator EDWARDS: That is a Sunday. On 14 September there just happens to be something going on.
Mr McCormick : I think we just put it in the middle of the month as a milestone. If they can achieve it beforehand then—
Senator EDWARDS: So there are no other milestones that have come and gone?
Mr McCormick : No. We have only paid the first payment of $250,000, and the second one is $1 million due in mid-September.
Senator EDWARDS: There is no impediment to that going on?
Mr McCormick : Not that I am aware or have been advised.
Senator EDWARDS: Are you able to give me how many houses are going to be built in each of these towns?
Ms Fleming : I think we have to take that on notice.
Senator EDWARDS: If not, that is fine.
Ms Fleming : Yes. I think we have to take that on notice, including the issue about whether there are any disability features within those houses.
Senator EDWARDS: Do you want to take that on notice as well?
Ms Fleming : Yes, please.
Senator EDWARDS: 'On notice' meaning over the next few days would be terrific, because it would not be hard.
Mr McCormick : We will try to get that information for you this afternoon.
Senator EDWARDS: That would be terrific. I wanted to move on to the Wakefield Regional Water Supply. That project is very important. Is the project progressing on track, on time and on budget?
Mr McCormick : It is, as you know, in progress. The second payment of $2.6 million is due to be paid on 12 July 2013, and that is on confirmation of the state government contributing to the project, the award of the tender and the procurement of the major infrastructure.
Senator EDWARDS: When you say the 'state government', there is the SA Water Corporation. They just happen to be flush with funds and profits. Despite being told not to do otherwise, have just increased their rates again, but that is another story. They had to find $20 million?
Mr McCormick : The council advised at the end of April that they expect that milestone to be completed ahead of schedule—all of that to be confirmed.
Senator EDWARDS: When is the $20 million due from SA Water or the South Australian government? The South Australian government keeps raiding SA Water's piggybank.
Mr McCormick : They are part of the activities that the state is actually funding. It is not part of our funding agreement. Our funding agreement ensures that the whole project is to be established. I do not have information on the timing of the South Australian funded activities.
Senator EDWARDS: Mr Mrdak had a bad experience yesterday and we have been talking about that for some time, where he found he had to try to claw back $41 million from the South Australian state government. It took him nearly 12 months to get it back, for a project which was abandoned.
Ms Fleming : I think we established last time on this issue of concern to you at estimates that we pay on milestones. We do not pay in advance on any of their RDAF projects.
Senator EDWARDS: Which is terrific. There is no problem at all with that. So, all contract arrangements have been finalised and your next commitment is on 12 July?
Ms Fleming : That is my understanding.
Mr McCormick : That will be when the state government has confirmed their contribution, the tender and the procurement of the major infrastructure.
Senator EDWARDS: So theoretically nothing can go wrong?
Mr McCormick : As I said, they will invoice us prior to 12 July.
Ms Fleming : We would say theoretically—
Senator EDWARDS: You check the veracity of all of their claims, of course, in the normal way?
Mr McCormick : Yes.
Senator EDWARDS: Thank you very much.
Senator BACK: I asked in previous estimates about a submission by the Wagin community as part of the Wheat Belt Regional Development Authority. It was a multifaceted program associated with using chaff from agricultural activities to generate electricity, which was going to desalinate water for use in fish farming and a range of activities. It was unsuccessful, but is currently another round of grant applications out there? From memory, in terms of priorities, I think it got to No. 1 or No. 2, but obviously did not get a guernsey. Can you tell us where they might be in terms of another round of funding applications?
Ms Beauchamp : Are these applications coming through the Regional Development Australia committees?
Senator BACK: That is right. I corresponded with you and minister.
Ms Beauchamp : Yes. The announcements have not been made for round 4 and the minister is considering the arrangements for any future rounds.
Ms Foster : We have a couple of answers to Senator Joyce's earlier questions, if we could answer those for him?
CHAIR: Yes, please.
Ms Foster : One was about the number of resignations. I appreciate you have not had the questions for very long. That was actually dealt with in one of the questions on notice from last estimates, question 79. I have just done some rough arithmetic, so forgive me if the numbers are not quite accurate, but it would look like about 170 resignations since July 2009 to March 2013. Just to put that in some context, in rough terms there are 55 committees with something like 10 to 12 members on each—somewhere around 600 committee members in total.
The second question was about the amount of state government funding for RDAs. Again, this is an approximation because we do not require them to acquit all of the money that they put in. They can choose to contribute more should they wish to. In rough terms from New South Wales there is about $2.17 million per annum. In Victoria they provide operating funds of about $5.6 million per annum. In Queensland it is an in-kind contribution to the value of approximately $1.5 million. In South Australia it is approximately $3.9 million and in addition there is $1.25 million provided by local government organisations. In WA, as we have discussed, we have separate entities, and so there is no funding from the WA government. In Tasmania there is in-kind support with office space. In the Northern Territory there is $150,000 plus in-kind support for accommodation. In the ACT it is $154,000 plus GST.
Senator JOYCE: Is it back to me, Chair?
CHAIR: Yes, Senator Joyce. Do you have long to go?
Senator JOYCE: I could go all night, but I am not going to.
CHAIR: Can you give an indication?
Senator JOYCE: I have that much more to go.
CHAIR: Go for it, Senator Joyce.
Senator JOYCE: We prepare for these.
CHAIR: I am not attacking you. I have worked it out; there are going to be tears and a lot of people are going to miss you at certain times of the day, but that is from our side when you leave. I cannot guarantee your own colleagues.
Senator JOYCE: This is what I have been.
Senator NASH: I am on board with you.
Senator JOYCE: I am going to relish my final couple of hours of being a pain in the backside. What is the department's role in the Murray-Darling Basin Regional Diversification program?
Ms Foster : We are responsible for that program.
Senator JOYCE: You are not?
Ms Foster : We are responsible for that program.
Senator JOYCE: Tell me all about it.
Mr Atkinson : The government announced that there is $100 million for the Murray-Darling Basin Regional Economic Diversification program, which we are working on with states at the moment. It is contingent on the states signing up to the intergovernmental agreement for the implementation of the Basin Plan, which is in Minister Burke's portfolio.
Senator JOYCE: This is of crucial importance in places like Dirranbandi, St George, Surat, Bourke, and many other towns out west that could really be done over by this. What on-the-ground fieldwork have you done in these areas to give them a sense that there is an economic future if the water disappears?
Ms Foster : For some time we have been engaging with the communities. Initially then Minister Crean asked the RDAs to work with their communities to come up with potential projects and so on. We then had a couple of consultancies where we asked those consultants to work with both the RDAs and with the communities.
Senator JOYCE: Who are those consultants?
Ms Foster : We had two different ones—Marsden Jacobs and RMCG. We were aiming to match people with knowledge of the area and economic understanding and skills, because the purpose of the program is to identify things that will actually diversify the economic base of the communities and provide, as you say, an economic future for them. We have the results of that work.
Senator JOYCE: Give me instances of tactile things. We have sent the consultants out. They have gone to see people. They have done an assessment. Can you give me an area and an outcome of the sorts of things that they are going to do. We have $100 million and we do not want to waste it. It is going to be vitally important.
Ms Foster : I am a little hamstrung. Until the government decides and announces projects it would be premature to talk about the sorts of things that are identified. I am not trying to be unhelpful. I am just, as I said, a little hamstrung in being able to give specific detail. If I can make an analogy with Tasmania, which has been announced, the sorts of things we were doing was saying that if these are the competitive advantages of this area—it might be dairy or whatever.
Senator JOYCE: Or out west, roo works?
Ms Foster : Yes. What kinds of concrete projects could we put in place, whether it is a bit of infrastructure, some public use infrastructure, or some skills training for local folks to be able to participate in a higher skilled technology relating to that industry. That is the kind of project we were looking at. Since then we have been speaking with the state governments, who also clearly have views on this. We are pretty well positioned once the intergovernmental agreement is signed to finalise the allocation of that $100 million across the four states and announce specific projects.
Senator JOYCE: So, this is dependent on the intergovernmental agreement being signed?
Ms Foster : That is right.
Senator JOYCE: The regional development spending is dependent on the intergovernmental agreement being signed. Is that correct?
Ms Foster : That is right.
Senator JOYCE: Are water cuts dependent on the intergovernmental agreement being signed?
Ms Foster : That is a question that you would have to address to the Department of Sustainability and Water.
Senator JOYCE: When you talk about taking people in and upskilling them, what sorts of stringencies have you placed on that? If you are taking away the economy of the town by taking away their water, what they need is the economic base. There is no point upskilling someone to a fitter and turner or to a boiler maker or to an accountant or anything else if there is no actual economic base for those skills to rest on.
Ms Foster : What I was trying to do, to avoid the problem of talking about specific projects in the Murray-Darling, which the government had not yet decided and announced, was make an analogy to Tassie, which is where we had done something like that.
Senator JOYCE: Whereabouts in Tassie did you do that? Smithton?
Ms Foster : I think it was in the context of the potential of that area around Smithton to move from cattle to dairy, and so it was a different skillset that was needed for the higher productive output from the dairy industry than the cattle industry.
Senator JOYCE: Where has your focus been so far with that $100 million? Where have you been looking?
Ms Foster : We undertook the consultancies in—
Senator JOYCE: For instance, Tamworth is in the Murray-Darling Basin, but it is not going to be affected by water cuts so you do not need to go there. Other areas might be affected. In places such as western Victoria, Mildura and Dirranbandi—these places are affected. It is really important to know where these consultants actually headed off to.
Ms Foster : That piece of work was actually done around the Murray, the Murrumbidgee, the Goulbourn Broken and the Condamine-Balonne catchments. We were taking the socioeconomic analysis that had been done by various studies, mostly by the Department of Water and Environment, and saying, 'These are the areas which have been identified as most likely to be most affected so let's focus our efforts there.'
Senator JOYCE: How much do those consultants cost?
Ms Foster : From memory, it was in the $400,000 mark over time.
Senator JOYCE: How many consultants were there?
Ms Foster : In each company there were about two or three primary ones who did most of the ground work, but they were supported by other people in their companies.
Senator JOYCE: All up you had two or three in how many companies? Are you talking about 10 people on the ground, six people on the ground or three people on the ground?
Ms Foster : I would probably say about six on the ground.
Senator JOYCE: Do we know the name of the companies that did it?
Ms Foster : Yes. Marsden Jacobs was one and RMCG.
Senator JOYCE: ROCG?
Ms Foster : RMCG.
Senator JOYCE: What does that stand for?
Ms Foster : As we were doing this in a fairly short timeframe, we asked them to focus on the areas where they had most expertise. Again, from memory, I think RMCG—and someone is looking for what that stands for—did Victoria and Queensland, and Marsden Jacobs did New South Wales and South Australia.
Senator JOYCE: How did RMCG report back? Do you know of any towns that they actually went to or where they could say, 'I was in Saint George and I did this work' or 'I was in Dirranbandi' or 'I was in Surat' or 'I was in Mildura' or 'I was in Shepparton'?
Ms Foster : We could provide you with where they went and, yes, they did go to those places and talk to people.
Senator JOYCE: Just because I know the area, did they go to St George?
Ms Foster : I believe they did.
Senator JOYCE: What did they do when they got there?
Ms Foster : We actually had some particular challenges in St George in the Condamine-Balonne more generally in identifying specific projects. They were trying to talk with local governments, RDAs and other community groups that they could identify about what kinds of opportunities there might be. Again, this is now a year or so old, so forgive me if it is not precise, but where we got to in the St George area was what they were most wanting at the end of the day was funding for a kind of economic development officer to help work up projects, whereas we were actually trying to jump one step ahead of that.
Senator JOYCE: To actually develop it and get the projects going. I agree with that.
Ms Foster : Not do more studies but just target some real action.
Senator JOYCE: Because once the studies are over there is nothing there.
Ms Foster : That is right. Having had the RDA and some very competent consultants not able, with the community, to identify things, we were not sure what good it would do putting yet another person in to look at it.
Senator JOYCE: So, they did not get other industries that are still in irrigation but less intensive in irrigation; there was no discussion there or about getting the feedlotting industry going or getting the seed investment to a feedlot or seed investment into a new kangaroo works? These are all big employers and their industries are on the ground already.
Ms Foster : I am afraid it is just a bit too long since I have looked at these things. We would have to take on notice the detail.
Senator JOYCE: Is it possible for people in the area to apply and say, 'I've got an industry that I think will work in this area. It will employ a lot of people'? Let us say that someone says, 'Instead of growing the grain out here and then putting it on a truck and sending it off, why don't we grow the grain out here, build a flour mill out here and send the flour off?' Is that possible under these sorts of grants?
Ms Foster : It is possible. One of the constraints that we have is the one around competitive neutrality. We are always looking for things that will have some public good. If it is just advantaging one company, even though they may be a big employer—
Senator JOYCE: Have a cooperative build a flour mill?
Ms Foster : That is right.
Senator JOYCE: Or a cooperative building an abattoir or roo works?
Ms Foster : Yes. Because we were having trouble I went out to St George myself.
Senator JOYCE: You went to St George. Good stuff. You should have dropped in to my office.
Ms Foster : I actually drove past your house.
Senator JOYCE: You drove past my house and you did not drop in?
Senator Lundy: You did not call in for a cup of tea?
Senator JOYCE: You should have popped in and mowed the lawn.
Ms Foster : In fact, I was not able, talking with the local government folks, to get to any greater level of specificity. But as I said we will take on notice if there were any specific projects identified.
Senator JOYCE: That is the crucial thing. How much of this $100 million has now been spent?
Ms Foster : None of it.
Senator JOYCE: Who paid for the consultants?
Ms Foster : We funded the consultants from within the department.
Senator JOYCE: So, they are not paid out of the $100 million?
Ms Foster : No, the $100,000 was for projects and all of that is contingent on this intergovernmental agreement being signed.
Senator JOYCE: When do we think that might actually come about?
Ms Foster : Again, not trying to be unhelpful, but you would have to ask the Water Department that, because they are the ones running those negotiations.
Senator JOYCE: When will the program be open for applications? You do not know? When will the guidelines be released? You do not know? Who will be eligible to apply for the funding? You are not quite sure at this stage?
Ms Foster : That is all being worked through at the moment.
Senator JOYCE: So, communities available for this funding would be anybody in the Murray-Darling Basin that has been affected by water removals?
Ms Foster : Again, the details of that are still being finalised.
Senator JOYCE: The minister's media release from 22 November last year stated that the federal government would consult the basin governance on the finer details of the program with the plan to make program funding open for application in early 2013. That has just been held up because we do not have the intergovernmental agreement parked away?
Ms Foster : That is right.
Senator JOYCE: The maximum amount of grants—and I am answering a lot of my own questions here—is $100 million? Or the maximum amount of the grants we do not know at this stage?
Ms Foster : We do not know.
Senator JOYCE: Therefore, we do not know how many grants would be available. Who will be assessing and approving the applications?
Ms Foster : Again, that will all be caught up in how the program is actually constructed.
Senator JOYCE: So, we do not know when they will be successfully advised. Now, when communities go to apply for the grants will they have to do that through their local government authorities or could community groups or individuals do it?
Ms Foster : All of that detail will be in the structure of the program.
Senator JOYCE: Does it have a website or anything to go with it?
Ms Foster : We cannot do that until we have a going concern.
Senator JOYCE: This is a great program. It has just got to get going. Seriously, we need it to roll out. There are not many more questions that I can ask on that, so I think I might go to the myregion website.
Ms Fleming : Can I answer Senator Edward's question on Unity Housing?
Senator JOYCE: Yes.
Mr McCormick : You asked about the number of dwellings by location that are going to be accommodated with the funding. In Coober Pedy it is 6; Roxsby Downs, 8; Port Augusta, 15; Melrose, 2; Uluru Centre, 6; Peterborough, 6; Whyalla, 13; Port Pirie, 2; Laura, 7; Eudunda, 5; Saddleworth, 4; and Balaclava, 10—for 84.
Senator EDWARDS: No word on disability?
Ms Fleming : We are not aware of disability issues.
CHAIR: Time is moving along so if we can continue with Senator Joyce.
Senator JOYCE: Can you please provide an update of the myregion website?
Mr Clout : The myregion websites are continuing to be used with fairly high volumes of traffic.
Senator JOYCE: Can you confirm what you mean by 'high volumes of traffic'?
Mr Clout : Monthly visits for April, for instance, was 27,545, and average time spent on the site continues to be high, in fact increasing to around 6 minutes 30 for each visit.
Senator JOYCE: What is the area of the website that is most visited? What is the area of most interest?
Ms Foster : I am not sure we have that data available here.
Mr Clout : That is correct. I do not have the detail of the breakdown of the pages on the site.
Senator JOYCE: Does it tie into other things like other regional city groups or enviro cities or invo cities or any other like regional-type promotion ideas?
Ms Foster : There are links on various parts of the website to related websites.
Senator JOYCE: What other websites does it link into?
Mr Bennett : Some of the things on there are that by each region you have a profile that gives you direct links into things like the RDA.
Senator JOYCE: Funding?
Mr Bennett : No. It is to the RDA itself. Each RDA has its own website, so it has those types of links.
Ms Foster : You can also go in, for example, and choose your region and then you can click on grants for education facilities and it will take you to the various places where you can find information about those grants.
Senator JOYCE: Are those 27,000 visits individual visits?
Mr Clout : Yes.
Senator JOYCE: How many staff are working on the program?
Mr Clout : The staff that work on it have other duties as well. There are one or two staff involved in the technical area in my division, in the IT area, that provides support to my region. I believe Mr Bennett may have one or two members of staff in his area as well that spend some time coordinating and assisting with the content for the site.
Senator JOYCE: Does that mean four all up?
Mr Atkinson : No, it is less than that. Those staff have other duties.
Senator JOYCE: What other duties?
Ms Foster : For example, the folks who support some of the content are part of our economic analysis team. They will be doing economic profiling and all that sort of work in addition to putting information up on the website.
Senator JOYCE: Are there any permanent staff on it?
Mr Clout : From my point of view, the two technical staff that are involved in supporting the website are both permanent staff.
Senator JOYCE: What are the main aspects of the website—blogs?
Mr Clout : The main aspects are data sets. I think there 13 data sets now, which can be overlaid on maps at state and RDA boundary level.
Ms Foster : Also, information on grant funding to each region. You can click on your region and activate what programs you want to see. You can click on a thing and get all the RLCIP projects or all the Education Investment Fund projects. So it gives you that. There are also profiles of local people.
Senator JOYCE: Such as who?
Mr Atkinson : We also have data that supports economic development and understanding what is happening in regions. There is population data, employment data, income data, economic data, education and skill attainment data, housing and things like internet access and those sorts of things.
Senator JOYCE: Can you give me a profile of one of the people that you have a profile on?
Ms Beauchamp : I am weighing up how risky it is to give you a St George example.
Senator JOYCE: Give me a profile of somebody.
Ms Foster : Julie Kirby.
Senator JOYCE: Is Julie Kirby at Bollon?
Ms Foster : She lives in a small rural town of St George in Balonne Shire, 500 kilometres from Brisbane and close to the New South Wales border. She talks about the industries there. She is the coordinator of the South West Healthy Ageing program, funded by Queensland Department of Communities, auspiced by Churches of Christ. It organises the Senior Games in St George each year on the first Tuesday in June.
Senator JOYCE: Excellent. What are the main issues raised on the website? In your summary, what are the main issues that people approach you about on the website? What are the main things they bring up?
Ms Beauchamp : I think a lot of people go there to find out what grants are available. We have a grants link as part of the website. If people want to know about services, support and programs that are operating in particular regions they will go to this website. I think we also have a social media facility, Twitter, at myregiontwitter. It can also be interactive around particular issues, when we do that. It really is a good planning tool for RDAs, local governments and people like ourselves in looking at what is actually happening in regions. As Mr Clout mentioned, there are about 13 data sets that can be sliced and diced in any way you like on a regional basis.
Senator JOYCE: What is the annual cost of the website?
Mr Clout : From our hosting point of view, the website is around about $290,000 per annum. That includes funding for the two technical staff.
Senator JOYCE: How much of that was wages of the $290,000?
Mr Clout : I do not have that with me, but it is two APS6 staff. The estimate would be around about $150,000.
Senator JOYCE: So, the difference is roughly $140,000. What would those costs have been? Would it be getting people around the countryside with motels?
Mr Clout : There would be a range of costs. One of the large components of the remaining part would be the hosting costs. I do not have that precise figure with me. Also, if we are doing additional development of the capability of the site we might buy in some additional IT support to do that. It is a ballpark figure. We have not spent that much this year. It is mainly around salary and hosting.
Senator JOYCE: Do you have any other websites or addendum things that are run through your department similar to the myregion website?
Mr Clout : I do not have all of the data with me. I think we have about 15 or so.
Senator JOYCE: Fifteen or so websites like myregion?
Mr Atkinson : Not like myregion. It is similar to my region.
Mr Clout : That are attached to the department or portfolio in some way.
Senator JOYCE: Can you give me an example of some of the other ones?
Mr Clout : Office for the Arts. arts.gov.au is a very popular website.
Senator JOYCE: Office for the Arts?
Mr Clout : Yes, arts.gov.au.
Senator JOYCE: How much does that cost?
Mr Clout : I do not have that information.
Senator JOYCE: Do have any other ones? There is Office for the Arts. What is another one?
Mr Clout : Another one would be the RDA—rda.gov.au.
Senator JOYCE: How many people employed on that one?
Mr Clout : I do not have that information.
Senator JOYCE: Can you give me another one?
Mr Clout : Constitutional Recognition Taskforce for local government.
Senator JOYCE: You must know how many people are employed on that one?
Mr Clout : I am sorry, I do not have that information with me.
Senator EDWARDS: Broadbrush?
Senator JOYCE: Broadbrush?
Mr Clout : I would not want to hazard a guess on that.
Ms Foster : I think we would not necessarily say this person is allocated to that website and only that. I am assuming it will be a team of technical people who support all of our websites.
Mr Clout : I do not want to give the impression that I have a large web team sitting in my division. I do not at all. It is a very small group.
Senator WILLIAMS: You are not giving us any impression.
Mr Clout : It is a small team that we augment with additional resources from time to time that we buy in from our third-party IT provider.
Senator JOYCE: Chair, does anybody else want to ask questions?
CHAIR: We all want to go home.
Senator JOYCE: I am happy to go in to local government.
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Joyce. In that case I thank the officers from Regional Development. Let us move to Local Government. We have 15 minutes so we may as well start early. We have two hours and 30 minutes put aside for Local Government.
CHAIR: Dr Back is on the list, Senator Joyce. You can open the batting.
Senator JOYCE: Does Mr Back want to go to six o'clock.
Senator BACK: Between Senator Edwards and myself.
Senator JOYCE: In that case I will go down and come back afterwards.
CHAIR: Senator Edwards, do you have questions, too? I am just here convening. I would like to use the time that we have got if we could. Senator Nash, do you have anything for Local Government?
Senator NASH: I do not.
Senator JOYCE: I do have questions.
Senator WILLIAMS: Senator Ryan will be in after the dinner break.
CHAIR: Let us not waste 15 minutes.
Senator BACK: We will get started and then perhaps go to dinner when it is finished. My point is that I will not go for 15 minutes.
Senator GALLACHER: Do you want me to fill in a couple of minutes?
CHAIR: You can ask some questions. Let us kick off. It is all the same players.
Ms Beauchamp : Can I just mention that I think we were scheduled to do Local Government after the dinner break. The other officers are not here, but we are happy to take questions as they come up.
CHAIR: Let us take the opportunity. Rather than waste 15 minutes, let us go. Senator Back.
Senator BACK: My main point of interest is in the press releases of the two ministers in terms of announcing the referendum, if I may. Section 96 currently states:
During a period of 10 years after the establishment of the Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any state on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
Then according to the releases from the ministers, Minister Albanese and Attorney-General Dreyfus, the words will read as to be put to the Australian people 'Financial assistance to states and local government bodies', which would then read:
During a period of 10 years and after the establishment of the Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any state or to any local government formed by a law of the state.
Is that the wording that is to go forward to the Australian public in the event that it is approved by the Parliament over the next period of time in June?
Ms Beauchamp : Yes. The bill with the exact words has been introduced into the House this week.
Senator BACK: Has been with those words?
Ms Beauchamp : That is correct.
Senator BACK: So, all of the states would then be overjoyed by this particular new clause?
Ms Foster : We have written to each of the states seeking their feedback on the draft bill and we are yet to receive all of those responses.
Senator BACK: So the words 'on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit' are not to be included in the amended words to section 96 of the Constitution?
Ms Foster : No. The words that you read out are the words that are proposed to be included.
Senator BACK: Senator Ryan, just you are aware of this, it is the fact that those words currently in section 96 'on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit' are to be deleted in the proposed changes to the Constitution which the community will be asked to vote upon during the referendum?
Ms Foster : I do not believe those words are being deleted. We do not have the taskforce with us yet.
Senator BACK: It is critically important because in Minister Albanese's press release in the middle of May and that of the Attorney-General they have not included—rather than deleted—those final words 'on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit', and in fact when Minister Albanese printed an opinion piece in the Australian the day after his release he also went on to leave off the critical words that the grants shall be 'on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit'. So, there has either been a deliberate intention on the part of the government to leave those words off or two press releases from two of the most senior ministers and an opinion piece in a national newspaper have in fact omitted those words 'on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit'.
Ms Foster : We are just getting the bill to make sure that we give you an accurate answer. Perhaps we could go on to the next question and we will come back to you on that.
Senator BACK: The second point that I want to make—and I would be very keen to understand what the actual words are—is that it is the case, is it not, that under the Constitution local governments are effectively the instrument or they are owned by state governments?
Ms Foster : As they are not currently formally recognised in the Constitution, they are not instruments of the state government under the Construction. They are—
Senator BACK: Silent?
Ms Foster : Yes.
Senator BACK: They do not exist?
Ms Foster : In the Constitution, but as you say they are the responsibility of state governments.
Senator BACK: Yes. So, recognising local government under the Constitution must have the impact of—use the word 'tilt' if you like—of placing local governments more under the auspices of the Commonwealth rather than the states, would they not, because the Commonwealth directly would then have the capacity to fund local government activities, whereas the Constitution at the moment, of course, does not allow the Commonwealth Parliament that constitutional right?
Ms Foster : There are two separate issues.
Senator BACK: The Constitution at the moment of course does not allow the Commonwealth government that constitutional right.
Ms Foster : There are two separate issues. One is the capacity to fund and the other is the responsibility for accountability. The explanatory memorandum that goes with the draft bill that has been introduced into the House makes it absolutely clear that the proposed amendment to the Constitution in no way impacts on the states' responsibility and accountability to regulate and manage local governments. It is not introducing any element of control by the Commonwealth.
Senator BACK: Can I put to you that currently in the relationship between the Commonwealth and states that there are many circumstances in which those words 'such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit' do indeed apply to grants from the Commonwealth to the states. One that I can think of when I was associated with the Western Australian state government was grant funding for roads in Western Australia and I think the Northern Territory contingent on the Western Australian government agreeing to reduce the permissible area of alcohol from 0.08 to 0.05 in the bloodstream.
So, to say that it has no impact on the likely relationship between the Commonwealth and local government for the purposes of grants, are you saying that it does not automatically do that or that the Commonwealth would not have the capacity to actually tie grants to conditions? That is exactly what the Commonwealth does now with the states. We do not need to go through all the battles that we have had over the last few years with health funding and at the moment with education funding, NDIS funding, et cetera.
Ms Foster : At the moment the Commonwealth can put any conditions in a funding agreement with a local government that both it and the local government are happy to sign and that would not change with this amendment to the Constitution.
Senator BACK: But at the moment there is no constitutional provision to do that. There is a relationship between the Commonwealth, the state and local government and in the proposed changes the state or states would not need to be party to any arrangement between the Commonwealth. Even with Roads to Recovery, which is an excellent funding program, for example, whilst the states in that particular case, I think by agreement, take no administrative or other fees out of the allocation from the Commonwealth, it notionally still is funding through the state, is it not?
Mr Doherty : No. My understanding is that Roads to Recovery is a program where the payment is made directly to local government. It is the development of that sort of program and the continuation of that sort of program which is at the heart of this issue.
Senator BACK: I agree with you that the payments are made, but it is with the agreement of the states, effectively, that that is the case and there are no funds excluded or taken away on the way through. Have we been waiting for Mr Doherty?
Ms Foster : We have and in fact he has just provided us with a copy of the draft bill, and there are no words being deleted. So the proposal is to include in section 96 in the heading the words 'and local government bodies' and then in section 96 itself after the words 'any state' we are inserting 'or to any local government body formed by a law of a state'.
Senator BACK: Am I the only person who thinks it is remarkable that the minister and the Attorney-General would not have checked their releases and left out those vital words 'on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit', and then a day afterwards for the minister with carriage of the legislation, in an opinion piece in the newspaper to again, rather than delete, fail to include those critical words that the 'grants shall be on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit'? Who failed?
Mr Doherty : I think it is important that attached to the media release there was the exposure draft of the bill and the exposure draft of the explanatory memorandum, and both of those would make it clear that the expression about terms and conditions which already existed in section 96 would continue to stay there. So, if the package was read in full it was clear that there was no change proposed to the terms and conditions.
Senator BACK: And yet it was not picked up in the minister's opinion piece in a national newspaper?
Ms Beauchamp : I think the minister spoke about and referred to the actual words that will change.
Senator BACK: In that article he wrote?
Ms Beauchamp : Yes.
Ms Foster : Those words that you are quoting will not change. If they currently exist, they will remain.
Senator BACK: In the article in the Australian newspaper he left off those words 'on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit'. They did not find their way into his opinion piece or at least they were not published.
Mr Doherty : As the secretary has indicated, the minister's words were focused on what was going to change and because there was no change intended to the terms and conditions I see that as something that was not important to mention.
Senator BACK: I would have thought it was probably about the most critical thing of all, that reference to terms and conditions, because is it not the case that that is what causes the tension currently? I speak from my own state's point of view, as indeed I should. That is what causes the tension between Western Australia and the Commonwealth now; those very words 'on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit'.
Ms Foster : The point we are trying to make is that what the minister was focusing on in his press release and in his comments was on the changes to the Constitution. The terms and condition is not a change being proposed. It is simply that that phrase remains in the Constitution as it currently is.
Senator BACK: Can I suggest that all of the preliminary words in the sentence form part of the actual clause 96, which themselves are irrelevant now given the fact that we are 200 years beyond the 10 years? They have found their way into the release and into the opinion piece. I understand what you are saying, but it just seems to me to be incredibly sloppy that in a proposed change to the Constitution, which is to go through the Parliament and then be sold to the Australian people, it would not be complete in the way in which it has been worded in those releases and in the newspaper article.
CHAIR: We will have to make that the last question, Senator Back. It is six o'clock. I will let Ms Beauchamp answer.
Ms Beauchamp : I was just going to say that the bill is currently before the House with the explanatory memorandum and I think it is very clear what the intent of government is and what is going to change. It does not refer in the bill to the words that are currently there. It talks about the actual changes or the actual addition of words proposed to be included in the Constitution. As the ministers have said, it is to recognise the role of local government as the third tier of government in Australia.
Senator BACK: We will resume after dinner.
CHAIR: It is six o'clock. Let us take an hour break and we will be back at seven. Thank you.
Committee suspended from 18:01 to 19:00
Mr Eccles : Earlier today Senator Edwards asked a question about the financial sanctions that have applied to the AIS scholarship holders who have committed an anti-doping rule violation, and the Sports Commission undertook to get back this evening, if possible, with the information. Dr David Hughes, the AIS chief medical officer, responded that there have been six athletes with violations since 2006, when ASADA was created. To clarify this statement: just one AIS scholarship holder has recorded a violation since 2006. The other five athletes referred to were not AIS scholarship holders but rather were athletes who had received funding from the Australian Sports Commission through the direct athlete support program. Any athlete who enters into an AIS scholarship agreement or a direct athlete support agreement is bound by the Australian Sports Commission's anti-doping policy during the term of their agreement. If an athlete commits an anti-doping rule violation during the term of their agreement, the Sports Commission has the right to recover the funds provided under that agreement. The decision about whether to recover funds depends on the circumstances of the violation. The final decision is made by the ASC's senior executive responsible for the funding program, either a general manager or the AIS director. In the case of the AIS scholarship holders' violation in 2009, a decision was taken not to recover any funds in the particular circumstances. Four of the five direct athlete support recipients were required to repay some or all of the funds they received from the Sports Commission under their respective agreements. In total, the Sports Commission sought to recoup $49,953 from the four athletes.
CHAIR: Very good.
Senator RYAN: I would just like to continue talking about the referendum issue. The final report from the Spiegelman expert panel had the following statement:
The majority of panel members support a referendum in 2013 subject to two conditions: first, that the Commonwealth negotiate with the States to achieve their support for the financial recognition option—
Now, it is fair to say that that condition has not been met. Is that true?
Ms Foster : The government is in ongoing negotiations with the states around the question of constitutional recognition, as I said before. They have recently forwarded a copy of the bill to the states for their input and comment. We have held a meeting with senior officials about 10 days or two weeks ago to discuss the actual wording of the bill with them. So, those discussions are continuing.
Senator RYAN: But the support of the states has not been achieved, has it?
Ms Foster : It is still an ongoing debate.
Senator RYAN: Well, I am aware of at least two states that have publicly stated their opposition on multiple occasions. Are you aware of those states?
Ms Foster : Yes. I think one of the things we are finding is that many of the states have wanted to look at the exact wording before making a final decision.
Senator RYAN: So, are you of the opinion that the state of Western Australia has not made up its mind yet? Or would you consider Western Australia to have made its position clear?
Ms Foster : I have certainly read the statements by the Western Australian government, but that is not stopping us from continuing to work with them on the exact wording of the bill to see if we can come to some accommodation.
Senator RYAN: But it is fair to say that the support of the states has not yet been achieved.
Ms Foster : That is an ongoing issue, Senator.
Senator RYAN: You seem to be going to a great deal of trouble, Ms Foster, to avoid the obvious, given that two state governments have publicly stated their opposition and another two premiers have stated their extreme reservations. I would like you to support the same football team I do with the level of optimism that you seem to have!—at least in those two cases.
Senator Lundy: Senator Ryan, providing commentary on the answers by officials is not appropriate. I think they are answering the questions perfectly adequately, and that kind of commentary is not fair.
Senator RYAN: With all due respect, I do not think the officials were answering the questions perfectly adequately. There was not an attempt to not answer questions directly.
Senator Lundy: That is certainly not how I heard it, and I do not think you should pass those kinds of reflections on the evidence you are hearing in such a thoughtless way. I think you ought to consider what you just said.
Senator RYAN: I will restate it. There are public statements on the record from two state governments. I was asking about the conditions set by the Spiegelman review. And Ms Foster would not even concede that the support of the states had not yet been—
Senator Lundy: It is not her job to concede to your political statement; it is her job to describe the work she is doing.
Senator RYAN: It was a fact. We are actually trying to talk about facts. In the consideration of this proposed wording, one of the justifications for the referendum is that the Williams decision has put the funding power the Commonwealth has direct to local government not using section 96 in doubt, and we had that discussion before with respect to Roads to Recovery funding, which does not go via the section 96 route, as Mr Doherty outlined.
Ms Foster : That is not the government's position.
Senator RYAN: Well, that is one of the justifications, the way I read it. I am happy to be corrected.
Senator Lundy: I am happy to correct you: no, it is not one of our justifications at all.
Senator RYAN: Well, it is one of the justifications I have read by some of the proponents. I am sorry if I have assigned them to the government. As I said, I am happy to be corrected, and I apologise. Perhaps I could turn now to the advertising campaign, or what is in the budget measure as $11.6 million to undertake a national civics education campaign to provide information to the general public on the referendum and reform process. Can you provide any more information on what that $11.6 million is? That is the only description we have for it at the moment.
Mr Doherty : There are two components of that: $1.6 million is for the departmental funding to support the referendum task force, and $10 million is for the civics education campaign.
Senator RYAN: So, turning to the civics education campaign, do we have any more information available about that?
Senator Lundy: Sorry to interrupt, but we did traverse this for well over 40 minutes this morning with Senator Joyce in the corporate are.
Senator RYAN: Well, I am sorry, but I was told to come here.
Senator Lundy: You are in the right place, but we covered exactly this issue in the corporate area of the department this morning for some length of time, just so you are aware. We are happy to do it all again if that is how you would like to use your time.
Senator RYAN: The snide remark is not necessary. I think you have a few senators who have come here precisely for this reason.
CHAIR: I have to come in here. What actually happened this morning, Senator Ryan, is that we said to Senator Joyce that he was in the wrong area but that if there were no further questions he could carry on, with the hope of avoiding duplicating this afternoon—my words. So, if you find that the officers at the table seem a little bit frustrated, they have been over all this. So, it is not a personal dig at you.
Senator Lundy: I will put my hand up for that too. It has been a long day, and we started with this issue.
Senator RYAN: I think Senator Rhiannon is here for a similar reason, and I know Senator Smith is.
CHAIR: It is not a personal dig, but it is all in Hansard. But anyway—
Senator RYAN: If the question has been answered, I am happy for you to say, 'Refer to Hansard' and avoid duplication.
CHAIR: I think that is fair.
Senator RYAN: So, with respect to the $10 million for the civics education campaign, do we have further information about the content of it, who is determining what goes in it and whether it will be advocating a position on the referendum itself?
Mr Doherty : The intention of the civics campaign is clearly not to advocate a position one way or another. The intention is to provide the necessary background information to allow people to cast an informed vote.
Senator RYAN: Do you have an expert panel to prepare that material, or educators? Or is it going to be done from within the referendum task force?
Ms Foster : We are still working through exactly how we will do that. But the program will be managed by us, with expert support as we need it.
Senator RYAN: As part of this helping people cast an informed vote—I do not want to verbal you, but I think that is the phrase you used, Mr Doherty—will you be drawing upon people who have a perspective different to that of the government? An informed vote would need the arguments for and against. So, while you are not going to advocate, there is contention, for example, around whether or not local government funding by the Commonwealth is actually at risk. That has not been the government's argument but one argument—used by ALGA, for example. Are you going to involve those who are not advocates of it in preparation of these materials for an informed vote?
Ms Foster : I think the awareness campaign will not go to the issues of that sort of specificity.
Mr Doherty : We need to resolve a range of details about the content and what level of detail it will go to. Apart from discussing the arguments for and against, there is a whole range of basic information that we understand people are likely to require around the Constitution, the process for change, the role of local government and its establishment.
Senator RYAN: Will it include the role of the states?
Mr Doherty : I am sure that would need to fit in.
Senator RYAN: I remember when Stuart Macintyre was head of the civics group 20 years ago. This is an incredibly contentious issue, and the way in which certain historical facts and even our system of government is presented has not been one on which to reach easy agreement among people who otherwise might have a lot in common. You mentioned the role of local government. That in itself, I would imagine, will be a highly contentious issue in the coming referendum. The way in which levels of government are funded will be a very contentious element, I would imagine, at the coming referendum. And I draw that conclusion by looking at what happened in 1988 and 1974. So, when you say it is not going to go to the level of specificity about for and against—and I appreciate that; it is more about education—what historical parallels should we look for in terms of an education campaign that is similar to this? What are you modelling it on?
Mr Doherty : I should say firstly that I am very familiar with the work Stuart Macintyre did with the civics experts group, and I also have some experience with the 1999 campaign. But this issue is obviously quite different. There will be some similarities in the basic understanding. We are starting off the program with some research to try to understand levels of interest and levels of engagement of people to understand more about the issues and the process in terms of content will be driven from there. I take your point about the issues about what needs to be covered, and balance, and that people will have different views on the balance. They are the issues we need to talk through, and some of that will be affected by how much detail the information goes into.
Senator RYAN: To give you an example of one of the concerns I have long had—because I used to teach a bit of this at university—it is often put, in a derogatory way, that so few referenda have succeeded. It is usually written up as a failure of our system, or an overwhelming conservatism of the electorate not seeing the wisdom of what we might choose to redraft in our Constitution. The other view is that it is actually the greatest strength. And that is an easy habit; most textbooks slip into that. If you look at a sample of constitutional law textbooks or constitutional theory and political science textbooks, you would find that written up in a negative light. But I think it is fair to say that there is another argument. So, it is a matter of how you frame an issue like that. For example, this proposal, but not in the same terms, was put in 1974, and in vaguely similar terms in 1988. So, how you frame the last two referenda on this broad topic is also something that would be very sensitive. Are you cognisant of the degree of sensitivity around those between people who have different views?
Mr Doherty : I am, and the previous referenda were summarised in the expert panel report.
Senator RYAN: I do not think the summary covered the field, to be honest, in terms of my understanding of history. That in itself was an example of how when something is summarised to make it digestible it can become contentious. So, in relation to the $10 million, will any of the campaign be run externally from the department? Or will it be all in the way you have described it?
Mr Doherty : That is an issue we are giving consideration to.
Senator RYAN: Will you be making public announcements about this in terms of this being a sensitive issue? We are 17 weeks from a referendum and there is $10 million in the Commonwealth kitty.
Ms Foster : It will be a matter for the minister to determine when and what he announces.
Senator RYAN: Has the department given the Australian Local Government Association any grants in the last 12 months or in this current financial year? I do not think I have seen in the budget that there is any for the coming financial year.
Ms Foster : Not to my knowledge.
Senator RYAN: If that is different, could you take it on notice and correct it?
Ms Foster : Absolutely.
Senator RYAN: And, if so, I would like to know whether there are any conditions attached. There is no plan, is there, to give any of this $10 million to ALGA to run a campaign?
Ms Foster : No, this is to run the factual civics awareness campaign.
Senator RYAN: ALGA is a proponent; they are running their own campaign. I just wanted to make sure that there are no plans to give it to someone external who might be an advocate. And, as far as I can tell, there is no intention or measure, is there, to fund yes cases and no cases in this referendum?
Ms Foster : That is an issue that is still under consideration by government. As you know, the bill has just been introduced into the House. So, over the next period the positions of the members of the House will play out, and that will inform government's consideration about issues like yes and no campaigns. As you know well, I am sure, the Australian Electoral Commission runs—
Senator RYAN: They do the booklet.
Ms Foster : They do the booklet. So, if there are senators who oppose the bill, then they will do both a yes and a no booklet.
Senator RYAN: Yes, and it is expected and they are preparing to do the yes and the no booklet. Is there a time line on the decision being made on whether there will be funding for yes and no campaigns? Obviously there is nothing in the budget. Is there a time line for that?
Ms Foster : We do not have a fixed time line. As I said, it will depend a little on how the debate plays out in the House.
Senator RYAN: Is it the view of the government that the funding for those campaigns would be equal?
Ms Foster : All of those things are still under consideration.
Senator RYAN: So that is not an assumption that people should make—that there will be equal funding for yes and no?
Ms Foster : I am not trying to be unhelpful, but it would be premature for me to speculate on that while it is still under consideration.
Senator RYAN: We do not have much time. In 1999, when the money was given to the yes and no campaigns, there was a long lead time. This is an extraordinarily short period of time to have a referendum. The last time one was successful on a polling day was 1946. They do not have a great record anyway. It would seem that the delaying of these decisions, or the government's lack of decision making about these matters, is putting it at greater risk, given that they are hard to start with.
Ms Foster : We are very conscious of the time between now and the election and we are working as hard as we can to bring all of those things together. As I said, we are expecting that this will become clearer as the debate plays out in the House over the next week or two.
Senator RYAN: Are these matters awaiting decision or are they awaiting recommendations from the department.
Ms Foster : There is no—
Senator RYAN: You have not made any recommendations to the minister about these questions as yet?
Ms Foster : I am not trying to prevaricate, I am just trying to frame it appropriately. The whole issue is still under consideration.
Senator RYAN: The whole issue of funding?
Ms Foster : The issue of yes and no campaigns and the yes and no pamphlets of the AEC, as I said.
Senator RYAN: They are determined purely by the members of parliament—the yes and no—
Ms Foster : Yes—
Senator RYAN: even with the commissioner overseeing it. I am more interested here in other public resources. We have ALGA collecting money from councils, as is their right to do so, to run a campaign. And the fact that in the Senate debate over the machinery amendment bill a couple of weeks ago—subsequently, there has been a distinct lack of willingness for the government to commit to equal funding, if there is to be any campaign at all. In 1988 there was no funding for either side of the campaign. So the fact that the government is holding open the option of funding and at the same time not saying that if it happens it will be equal funding is, I would respectfully suggest, causing more damage to the proponents of this than it is angst to the opponents.
Ms Foster : And we are hoping to be able to resolve that really soon.
Senator RYAN: Should we not expect an answer on this before it passes through the House, or before it passes through the Senate or before it passes through both houses?
Ms Foster : I am afraid we just do not know the answer to that.
Senator RHIANNON: I have some question on the points covered, so that I understand a little bit more about the process. I understand, from what I have read about, the yes and no cases are formulated by politicians in here, and overseen by the AEC. Will that definitely happen or is that dependent on the minister, if that goes ahead?
Mr Doherty : That process is required by the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act. The only reason there would not be a 'no' case is if there were no parliamentarians who chose to provide a 'no' case. But the right for those who vote yes or no to subscribe to a case in a particular form that is put to the Electoral Commission is set out in the legislation.
Senator RHIANNON: You said there was no fixed time line. Considering that time is getting short, and it is possible to book provisional advertising, has any advertising space been booked? Have you commissioned any agencies or any buyers to assist with this to ensure that this can happen if that decision is made?
Ms Foster : We have certainly been looking at what the options are, but I think we are yet to book any space.
Senator RHIANNON: So you have not booked. Do you have agencies who are looking after it for you? Do you have buyers? Have you already commissioned the consultants or the agencies and private companies to assist with this?
Ms Foster : We have initiated the research that Mr Doherty spoke about earlier to inform the awareness campaign.
Mr Doherty : I will add that the Commonwealth does have a media booking agency, and there is a communications multiuser list, administered, I think, by the Department of Finance and Deregulation, which has a range of companies that can be engaged in the communications area through a truncated process, an expedited process.
Senator SMITH: I observed the questions and answers this morning, so some of my questions might traverse similar territory, but I will try to steer away from the same questions. Anything you can do to add to your contribution this morning would be appreciated. Going to the $11.6 million and breaking it into the $1.6 million, which you talked about. Can you elaborate on what that $1.6 million is to be used for. You said it is to be used for the referendum task force. What does that actually mean? Is it additional staffing resources? Is it office space? Could you expand upon that.
Mr Doherty : The vast majority of that is for the staff resources.
Senator SMITH: What staff resources does $1.6 million get you?
Mr Doherty : We are anticipating to staff up to about 17 for the short period—a period of something like four to five months.
Senator SMITH: Will they be drawn from existing public servants or will you recruit new people for the role or will you advertise for those roles?
Mr Doherty : The main recruitment was handled by a request for expressions of interest, which was distributed within the department. We have a range of people coming in from the department. We have also brought in some people, specifically in the communications area, from other departments, and a couple externally from agencies.
Senator SMITH: Would you have a list of roles or functions for people in the referendum taskforce unit?
Mr Doherty : The nature of the exercise is that it will be very fluid over a period of time, as the task moves. In broad terms we are divided into three streams.
Senator SMITH: They are?
Mr Doherty : One dealing with the specific campaigns—the managed campaign, which is to do with the civics education exercise. The next one concerns engagement more broadly with key stakeholders, and responding to community and other representations. The third is to do with the work with other agencies on legislation, coordination and the overall project management and planning.
Senator SMITH: Could you explain streams two and three: key stakeholders, responding to community requests and the legislation coordination role. So: how the key stakeholders stream would work and then what this legislation coordination role involves.
Mr Doherty : In any exercise like this obviously there is an outward phase. People come looking for additional information. We support the minister in the office in terms of the presentations they make and the briefing for approaches to them. The engagement side is largely around that. In terms of legislation, while the major carriage of legislation rests with the Attorney-General's portfolio, there is a deal of coordination with the other elements of the program. We are engaged with that. We support, for example, a deputy secretaries group from the agencies involved, who come together and make sure that what is happening in one area fits with the coordinated strategy.
Senator SMITH: What sort of particular functions would the 17 people be doing: writing speeches, writing media releases or putting information up on a web site? What sorts of activities are envisaged in the referendum taskforce unit?
Mr Doherty : That sort of activity would be part of it, for sure. But where we are engaging contractors to help with the market research or the design of advertisements we would have people who were involved in the tender processes, the assessment of bids, the management of those contracts, the financial accounting, reporting payments side, and those sorts of activities. There is a range of administrative work that goes on to support this.
Senator SMITH: Is this the model that was used in the 1999 referendum approach?
Mr Doherty : Only to the extent that there was a taskforce established there. But, essentially, the taskforce on this occasion has been structured to the particular task rather than on the basis of a model used elsewhere.
Senator SMITH: Can you make available to the committee on notice the details of the specific roles and functions of the referendum unit. Also, what are the roles and functions of those 17 people? You have gone to an expression of interest process, so you probably have in your own minds been able to develop a sense of what those roles might include. Are you able to provide that information on notice, unless you are able to provide it now?
Ms Foster : I am not sure that there is an awful lot more that we can provide you. We are happy to talk more about it now and we are happy to take anything on notice. I just do not want to disappoint you when the response comes in, because in part we will not have a job description for each person that they stick rigidly to. When there is a lot of activity happening in the media space we will be swinging over to that. At different points of the process we will be trying to achieve different things. So the kind of description that—
Senator SMITH: So you have asked for 17 generalists to express an interest in coming into the referendum taskforce unit?
Ms Foster : We talked about the nature of the task, and we said that we would need people with skills in stakeholder management—
Senator SMITH: Excellent, then I would like to see the expression of interest that was circulated. I accept that people's roles might change, but I would like to know what those roles might look like at the beginning and what they might look like where you except those roles to change at the middle and at the end.
Ms Foster : Certainly.
Senator SMITH: Going back to your earlier comment about the second stream—dealing with stakeholders—could you be a bit more specific about what you will provide to the minister, because the minister has a very clear view. The minister is a proponent for change, so what is it that you envisage providing to the minister and to other community stakeholders.
Mr Doherty : We would be providing the normal support to the minster on a range of tasks.
Senator SMITH: But you are the referendum taskforce unit. To an outside observer it could look like you are becoming an advocate for the referendum proposal. Is that true? So is $1.6 million being allocated to advocate for the referendum?
Ms Foster : The taskforce is there to provide support to the government to deliver the referendum.
Senator SMITH: Deliver the outcome? Deliver the process?
Ms Foster : Deliver the process. We will provide advice to government on what it needs to do to meet the requirements of running a referendum.
Senator SMITH: How is it different from the role of the Electoral Commissioner?
Ms Foster : The Electoral Commission has specific responsibilities, which are outlined—
Senator SMITH: Which are very clear.
Ms Foster : Which are very clear. But there is more to the delivery of a referendum than what the AEC does—for example, the running of a civics awareness campaign.
Senator SMITH: I will come to that shortly. Will the unit do any media monitoring activities specifically associated with the referendum?
Mr Doherty : Yes, that would be part of the normal activity.
Senator SMITH: Will that be made available to all parliamentarians? Will it be made available to those parliamentarians who might choose to vote no? Will it be available only to the government?
Ms Foster : The taskforce is a unit of the department. It operates like the rest of the department, so with the media monitoring we do the question of whether or not that is shared with other members of parliament is typically a question for the minister.
Senator SMITH: How can I be satisfied that the $1.6 million is not being used to advocate for change, for the proposal, for the yes campaign? What sort of assurance can you give me that the $1.6 million of taxpayers money—because there will be taxpayers voting yes and those who are voting no—will be used to service taxpayers interests—full stop—and not delve into advocating for change to the Constitution? What assurance can you give me? What protections have you in place to protect the integrity of the referendum unit and to protect the integrity of the public service more generally and the department? Has any consideration been given to that?
Ms Foster : The taskforce, as I said, is a part of the department, so in the same way as the department is established to serve the requirements of the government, so is the referendum taskforce. We in the taskforce will implement government policy, which is to facilitate the running of a referendum. There are elements that are required of government to make that happen that are set out in legislation, and we will fulfil those requirements.
Senator SMITH: How do you guarantee that the conduct of the referendum and the expenditure of taxpayers money will be done fairly? Where does fairness fit into the government's consideration? Perhaps Senator Lundy might like to think about this. Where does fairness sit as a key criteria of success in the execution of the referendum campaign, because it sounds to me like $1.6 million could easily drift into becoming $1.6 million for a 'yes' campaign. Some Australians will not have a problem with that. Some Australian taxpayers might find that quite unfair.
CHAIR: There are two in the room here who are spooked!
Senator SMITH: My position is on the public record.
Senator Lundy: What is your position?
Senator SMITH: I am opposed to constitutional reform. I was in 1988. I was not around in 1974.
Ms Foster : I think all I can do is repeat that we have been given a task to ensure the delivery of the referendum. For example, a large number of our staff will actually work on the civics campaign. That is a factually based campaign that advocates neither yes nor no. If the government makes a decision to run a yes or no campaign, they will—
Senator SMITH: Some will be. I think that point is clear. But some may not be.
Senator Lundy: Perhaps I can offer you an assurance the government will be doing everything to make sure it is a fair process.
Senator SMITH: Okay—
Senator Lundy: It is certainly our intention to have a fair process. I cannot be any more specific than the officers, but we will do what we can and make it as fair a process as possible.
Senator SMITH: Great, so fairness means that you will guarantee that the activities of the referendum taskforce—
Senator Lundy: No, I will not say anything specific, but I am telling you it is the intention of the government to make this a fair process.
Senator SMITH: So you cannot specifically—
Senator Lundy: No.
Senator SMITH: You cannot specifically guarantee fairness?
Senator Lundy: I am happy to take on notice the subtle nuances in your question for the minister to try to answer. I suspect he will not be able to. But it is fair to say absolutely that it is the genuine intention to make this a fair, open and transparent process. I think the officers at the table have done their utmost to explain that to you with the detail they have available to them at this point in time.
Senator SMITH: Minister, would you be prepared to take on notice a response to my question about how the government will guarantee fairness in the conduct of this particular referendum?
Senator Lundy: I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator SMITH: Moving on to the civics education campaign, which is $10 million. Have any representations been made to you or the government more generally by people who might be interested in conducting the civics education campaign? Any general inquiries, or have any meetings been held?
Ms Foster : Not to my knowledge, but I will ask my team if they are aware of anything.
Senator SMITH: Thank you.
Mr Doherty : While the team are conferring on that, we have had an approach from an organisation that is involved in the broad area of education activities to be involved.
Senator SMITH: Around constitutional reform?
Mr Doherty : Yes. We are currently giving consideration to that. It is around constitutional issues and civics issues more generally.
Senator SMITH: In the earlier evidence I think you said that the civics education campaign would be executed in part by resources in the taskforce reform unit as well as contracting out particular functions to other people. Can you step me through what that looks like? Will it be tendered? Will it be taken from an existing government panel? How will that work?
Mr Doherty : Senator, there are established arrangements within the Commonwealth for advertising campaigns, so the normal process would be market research to identify the objectives, to then obtain consultancies for work such as public relations or creative work on design of the potential content of advertisements, a process of selection of the preferred approach, purchase of media time or other resources through existing contractors, and then monitoring of that program, again, with use of research and with the central coordination processes.
Senator SMITH: Right, just bear with me, I am going to the minister's media statement:
The civics education campaign is to promote information to the general public on the referendum and reform process.
That is page 246 of budget paper No. 2. What is the difference? How is providing information on the referendum different to providing information on the reform process? It is in the minister's media statement so I am sure great care was taken around each word.
Mr Doherty : Senator, I understand that to mean the process of changing the constitution: how the constitution is changed.
Senator SMITH: So requiring the double majority provisions, et cetera.
Mr Doherty : Passage by parliament and vote by the people.
Senator SMITH: So the civics education campaign is about informing people how we change our constitution.
Mr Doherty : Senator, as I said in my previous evidence, I think the thrust of it is probably slightly broader than that. It is really to provide the body of information that should help people cast their vote properly.
Senator SMITH: And how again do you guarantee that that $10 million is allocated in such a way that it informs people about how to cast their vote in a neutral way so it does not traverse the issue of advocating for or against. Or that is not a consideration?
Senator LUNDY: Look, before you answer, I should say this is the third coalition senator who has asked this line of questioning. It is certainly your prerogative—
Senator SMITH: Absolutely.
Senator LUNDY: But at least you can all be at the table at the same time when you do it so we are not cycling through the same. I think Senator Smith was not here this morning from memory, but it is cycling through the same series of questions asked in slightly different ways. I do not think it is particularly fair on the officials. I just had another thought. I think it would be fair that, if we have all of these questions from senators who oppose the referendum, that we should have equal time for senators asking questions who support it.
Senator SMITH: I think that is a fantastic precedent for how the parliament should use the parliament's time, the parliament's money and taxpayers money. I agree with that. That is a great precedent.
Senator LUNDY: It crossed my mind that that would be a fair approach.
CHAIR: I am just trying to think how I can put it in the language that will not get all the hate mail and the emails when I refer to 'stiff' something. I will think of a word to use, because it just—
Senator SMITH: To be fair, Chair. Time is, to use senator Rhiannon's words 'running out'. I think it is right that the parliament, in this process, have some transparency around time lines, around activities. It is going to be hard to get that with one more sitting of the estimates week and two sittings of parliament.
CHAIR: I am going to help you out, Senator Smith.
Senator SMITH: If I could move on.
CHAIR: I am giving you a look.
Senator SMITH: Yes, okay, mate.
CHAIR: Because we have been through a lot of this this morning.
Senator SMITH: Three more questions, please Chair.
Senator SMITH: In the West Australian on 8 May, Mr Albanese talked about the merits of the referendum. You can take this on notice. Was that opinion piece prepared in his office or in the department? My next question goes to the department. The article says that it was in the economic interest of these communities—the communities that had been mentioned—to have the constitutional reform issue resolved. Has the department undertaken any economic modelling about the benefit that constitutional reform will bring to local communities?
Ms Foster : Not to my knowledge.
Senator SMITH: Can the department advise me which new projects will occur as a result of recognising local government in the Constitution? Can the department provide me with any advice about any concrete examples of projects across Australia that will occur as a result of recognising local government in the Constitution?
Ms Foster : I will have to take that on notice.
Senator SMITH: Can you provide details of three projects that are currently unable to proceed because local government is not recognised in the Constitution?
Ms Foster : I will take those questions on notice. I would like to have the West Australian article in front of me.
Senator SMITH: I have one more question, and then I want to go to a general issue about responses to questions on notice. We are being told by the government that we need local government recognition in the Constitution because local government plays an important role in our system of government. Are there any plans that you are aware of—Minister, you might like to pay attention—to recognise the Prime Minister in our Constitution because of the significant role the Prime Minister plays in managing our country? Are there any plans to introduce the cabinet into our Constitution because of the significant role that the cabinet plays?
Senator Lundy: Is that your suggestion? Senator Smith, are you asking these questions seriously, or are you being sarcastic?
Senator SMITH: Yes, I am asking this very seriously. Are you prepared to take that on notice, Minister?
Ms Foster : As far as I am aware, there is only one current proposal for an amendment to the Constitution.
Senator SMITH: I could go on, but out of fairness to others I will not, except for one last point. If I understand it correctly, questions on notice to this committee are due—
Senator Lundy: Yes, we have discussed that as well.
Senator SMITH: I did not hear that. So what is the answer to my question?
Senator Lundy: I presume, with respect to questions on notice, this committee has an exemplary record.
CHAIR: I will help you out there. They are due on 14 June.
Senator JOYCE: As you know, the coalition is a conservative party that believes in the liberty of thought, and the liberty of thought means that I am actually a supporter of constitutional recognition of local government, and certainly of financial recognition of local government. If this thing is going to fly, I do not want to waste my time on an issue that failed not because it was wrong but because it was badly planned. The budget papers say that the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport will receive $11.6 million to undertake a national civics campaign to provide information to the general public on the referendum and reform process. I have raised some of these issues before. Can you break down the spending in that for me?
Ms Foster : We have just run through that for the other senators.
Senator JOYCE: Any of these questions that you have answered, will you just say: 'I have covered that with the good Senator Dean Smith' or 'the good Senator Scott Ryan', and I will move on.
Ms Foster : But, in short, it is $10 million for the campaign itself, and $1.6 million for the departmental funding to manage the process.
Senator JOYCE: You are putting tenders out. The tenders are going to come back. It looks as if it is going to be towards the end of the month before those tenders come back.
Mr Doherty : If I could just update that information that was available to the secretary this morning. We do have the research contractor already signed up. That process has been completed and they have commenced work. We expect to get some initial results from that quite quickly. We are in the process of engaging another consultant. There are a range of consultants, including the media buyer, who are available to us quite quickly through the communications multi-use list in the department of finance. We know the timing is a challenge, but there are processes to help us expedite the process.
Senator JOYCE: Believing now that we do not have much knowledge in the public about what this is about—we all do, we tend to engage, but I would say that it is about three per cent of the Australian community; I reckon the other 97 per cent have not got a clue what it is about—is there any campaign of a similar nature that has managed to cover a wide suite of the Australian people in that period of time and succeed?
Mr Doherty : I am not sure how it is possible to identify a comparable campaign. We will be looking at the research evidence to know what we need to deal with and what is the best approach to handle it.
Senator JOYCE: Obviously you would have preferred more time. I will not even bother asking that question. Are there any similar campaigns that have had an immediate effect on a global or national scale with the resources that you have at your disposal?
Ms Foster : I think Mr Doherty is saying that we cannot readily put a finger on something comparable. What we do know is that we have been equipped with the funding and the people to enable us to deliver this over the next few months.
Senator JOYCE: I will be completely frank, because I do not care. Maybe I will not be here in a few months, so I can be completely up-front about this.
CHAIR: What do you mean 'maybe'? I thought you were going.
Senator JOYCE: I will not be in the Senate, but I might be in the parliament.
Senator Lundy: So this is potentially your last Senate estimates?
CHAIR: Yes. It could be.
Senator JOYCE: Have you got the local government people? Where are they? Are they out? Are they fighting?
Mr Eccles : We're back here!
Senator JOYCE: Hello down there! You're welcome to come to the microphone; we provide them for people!
Ms Foster : Perhaps we are not paying enough attention to Mr Eccles! We are in very regular contact with the Australian Local Government Association, and they are very committed to the role that they need to play over the next few months to make this a success.
Senator JOYCE: I know they are committed, but they just seem to be disorganised. They seem to be trying to do it by media releases or ringing me up. They do not have to convince me; they need to get out on their bike convincing everybody else. If they are, who?
Ms Foster : Some of my team might have a bit more detail on where ALGA is at at the moment, but I can repeat that they are absolutely committed to throwing the resources at this. Like us, they have been a little hamstrung in terms of needing a decision about whether we were going forward or not before they could launch the campaign.
Senator JOYCE: So they were ambivalent. They did not know whether you were going forward or not.
Ms Foster : I think the bill was only introduced into parliament this week.
Senator JOYCE: We must have told them.
Ms Foster : I was not saying they were ambivalent, simply that we are now in a position where we have a bill, we have a question, that ALGA can actually campaign on.
Senator JOYCE: There is no ambivalence about it. This is one thing that I will agree on with my colleagues who have a different view on this to me: there are no second ideas about what the referendum question is. This is about three words in section 96, with a caveat, a number of words after that, saying, 'under the authority of state governments'.
Ms Foster : There is no question about it. The only point I was trying to make was that ALGA is now in a position where we have agreed on the form of words for the bill.
Senator JOYCE: Can you read out that form of words so there is absolutely no question at all about what we are talking about. Otherwise you might even lose me.
Mr Doherty : The amendment is to add, 'and local government bodies' to the heading of section 96 and to add the words 'or local government body formed by a law of a State' into section 96. Section 96 would then read:
During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State or local government body formed by a law of a State, on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
Senator JOYCE: Can state governments still get rid of local councils?
Ms Foster : Yes, they can.
Senator JOYCE: Can state governments still make councils merge?
Ms Foster : Yes, they can.
Senator JOYCE: If a local government body came up with a new idea that they had just dreamed up themselves, could they get finance for it, even if the federal government was on side, if the state governments did not approve?
Ms Foster : The various states have different ways of regulating what kind of access to finance their local government bodies can get, but this amendment does not change anything to do with the level of control that the state has to regulate its local government bodies.
Senator JOYCE: Let us say that a local government body has just come into the hospital business. They are going to open up a hospital in, say, Tasmania, and the federal government—which wants to create mischief—says, 'We will fund that local government body to run a hospital.'
Senator Lundy: For which state is your hypothetical scenario?
Senator JOYCE: Tasmania. Does the state have the right to say: 'No way. You can't do that. Stop it or watch out'?
Mr Doherty : Yes. The simple answer is that it could not be accepted if it were to involve doing something contrary to state law, and the state could alter its laws as they relate to the powers of local government.
Senator JOYCE: If there was a dispute, would the state government still retain the power to just get rid of a local government completely?
Ms Foster : It would, subject to its own legal requirements.
Senator JOYCE: Have you had any advice whatsoever from any competent, or incompetent, solicitor which states that this would grant an extension to local governments beyond what is stated?
Mr Doherty : I think the best we can do is probably to refer to the explanatory memorandum, which tries at some length to explain the limitations on this power and why it would not interfere with the powers of the states.
Senator JOYCE: What is the power of explanatory memorandums in any piece of legislation?
Mr Doherty : If there is an ambiguity which requires reference to material external to the actual words, the explanatory memorandum can be referred to to explain the intention.
Senator JOYCE: Have there been any local government bodies that have clearly gone on the record saying that they do not agree with this referendum?
Ms Foster : Not to my knowledge.
Senator EGGLESTON: Western Australia.
Senator JOYCE: I will take the interjection. Has the local government association of Western Australia not agreed with this referendum?
Senator EGGLESTON: These are councils, not the association.
Senator JOYCE: I just want to know.
Ms Foster : I do not believe that the association has voiced objection.
Senator JOYCE: There was a poll put out the other day by The Financial Review,or somebody, with regard to people's attitude towards local government. Are you aware of that?
Ms Foster : Yes, I think I know the one you are referring to. It had an initial response that was fairly positive towards this proposal.
Senator JOYCE: Have you done any studies into that poll? Have you seen what the numbers were, what the test groups were or what the stringencies of that poll were? It is vitally important. If the poll said it was not going to happen, we do not want to waste money. If it is not going to succeed then we do not want to go down the path.
Mr Doherty : We have not done any research into that.
Senator JOYCE: What groups will be receiving some of the $11.6 million?
Ms Foster : I am sorry?
Senator JOYCE: The $11.6 million. It is $10 million in advertising and $1.6 million in other costs. Is that right?
Mr Doherty : It is $1.6 million to run the task force and the department and $10 million for the civics campaign.
Senator JOYCE: Can that civics campaign be used on TV ads and paying wages—all that sort of stuff?
Mr Doherty : It can be used on TV ads or buying media, but we envisage it to be range of media involved. It involves the research, the creation and the delivery of the campaign.
Ms Foster : In terms of paying wages, Senator, if that implies employing people on a salary basis, that is done within the $1.6 million.
Senator JOYCE: Are local governments expected to contribute to the campaign or the case?
Senator EGGLESTON: It is their campaign, not the department's.
Ms Foster : ALGA, I understand, is bringing together funding from its state organisations which are, as you know, member funded bodies.
Mr Doherty : That is for whatever it wants to do but for the civics campaign we are anticipating that is funded from the $10 million.
Senator JOYCE: Are you aware if a director has been appointed to coordinate either the yes or no case?
Ms Foster : Not by the government.
Senator JOYCE: The Australian Electoral Commission will receive $44 million to conduct the referendum. What will the money be spent on?
Ms Foster : Sorry, Senator, that is a matter for AEC. We do not have details of their spend.
Senator JOYCE: Has the minister met with any of the states in regard to this referendum?
Ms Foster : Yes, there was a meeting of regional development and local government ministers with Minister Albanese in Hobart about a month ago.
Senator JOYCE: That was with all local government ministers?
Ms Foster : It was with those who were able to attend, not all were there.
Senator JOYCE: Who was able to attend? More to the point, who was not able to attend? Whichever one is quicker, can you tell me that?
Ms Foster : I do not have that detail to hand, I am sorry. I will have to get that for you on notice.
Senator JOYCE: How did the meeting go?
Ms Foster : It was a useful discussion.
Senator JOYCE: I do not quite know what 'a useful discussion' means.
Ms Foster : From memory, the jurisdictions were for the most part raising issues of clarification and seeking an understanding or assurances about what the implications of an amendment would be. At that stage we did not have the formal words agreed so Minister Albanese undertook that officials would meet to provide that clarification and we held that meeting about two weeks ago.
Senator JOYCE: What are the main concerns of the states?
Ms Foster : There has been one group of concerns, which has been discussed in the committee tonight, around whether or not the proposed amendment would impact on the states' capacity to administer and regulate local governments. In response to that we made the explanatory memorandum even stronger in explaining why that was not the case.
Senator JOYCE: So in conjunction with the states, you have reinforced the states' primacy over local government, which is fair enough. Has anybody brought up any nefarious process that the local governments could get a greater extension of their rights?
Ms Foster : No, not to my knowledge. I am not quite sure what you mean by 'nefarious process'.
Senator JOYCE: I will go about it another way. Are you aware of any constitutional committees, groups, lawyers or anything who have, in conditions subsequent to the Williams case, said that these programs are now outside the remit of the federal government to fund? Are there programs that we have currently in place that are basically unconstitutional right now?
Ms Foster : The government's position is that that is not the case.
Senator JOYCE: If no programs are unconstitutional, why are we doing this?
Ms Foster : I think the wording of the title assists us in that respect.
Senator JOYCE: My belief is that that is the case—such as roads recovery, future bridges recovery, black spots recovery. In fact there was a constitutional lawyers conference that came up with almost a unanimous view on approximately 230 streams of current funding that would all be ruled unconstitutional if they were challenged. The only reason they are constitutional at the moment is that they have not been challenged. If they were challenged they would be ruled out.
Ms Foster : The questions about the constitutionality of funding are really for the Attorney-General's Department. They are the ones who advise government on that issue. My understanding is that their advice to government and the government's position is that they are not—
Senator JOYCE: We are not doing this for the fun of it; we are doing it for a purpose and the purpose is to secure funding.
Senator EGGLESTON: Which is not under threat.
Ms Foster : The purpose is to alter the Constitution to recognise local government by stating that the Commonwealth can grant financial assistance, so it is a clarification of what we are doing.
Senator JOYCE: Has the department received advice from the Australian Government Solicitor about the proposed change?
Mr Doherty : The proposed change comes with the authority of the Attorney-General, so it is the Attorney-General and his department who have provided the wording in the bill.
Senator JOYCE: I am not quite sure what the answer to that question is. Has the department received advice from the Australian Government Solicitor?
Ms Foster : In matters relating to the bill the Attorney-General's Department has primacy, so they work directly with the Solicitor-General on the legal questions surrounding the bill. We would not seek advice directly from the government solicitor.
Senator JOYCE: Has the legal advice looked at whether the proposed change to the Constitution is likely to limit the powers of the state?
Mr Doherty : The bill has certainly been prepared to the best constitutional advice available in the Commonwealth and it has been prepared specifically with that objective.
Ms Foster : Both the bill and the explanatory memorandum, which states clearly that this does not change the states' powers, have been prepared by Attorney-General's with advice from the Australian Government Solicitor.
Senator JOYCE: The big root issue for me is: when did the decision to proceed with this referendum come about?
Ms Foster : The government announced its intention to proceed on 9 May.
Senator JOYCE: Was there any reason why 9 May? There is 9 June, 9 July, 9 August and then we can forget about it from then because we are in an election—three months. Is there any reason why, as hard and as contentious as referendums are, we have been given three months to try to get a constitutional change up? Is it part of a deal with the Independents just so we could tick the box with Mr Windsor to say that we have done this. I fully support it, but I support success; I do not support failure. I am not big on failure. Is it just a case that we are ticking a box with Mr Windsor to get this thing through and that is really the only reason we are having it now?
Ms Foster : We are putting all of our effort in, and I think the government has demonstrated its commitment with the amount of funding it has provided to make this a success.
Senator JOYCE: Why didn't they start earlier?
Mr Doherty : It is probably fair to point out that there was a serious process leading to this, including the expert panel and the joint committee report, and what has come out in the proposal since May is really a confirmation of the directions that came out of those rather than anything new.
Ms Foster : In fact, Senator, we have been doing significant work over that period so there has been significant consultation, et cetera, through that period. So it is not like we are starting from scratch now.
Senator JOYCE: Can you please refer me to one opinion editorial, an op-ed bit, that has been written by the minister in favour of this since he made the decision on 9 May to go forward with it?
Ms Foster : We are just getting some details for you, Senator.
Senator JOYCE: Are you aware of one?
Senator SMITH: Yours, Senator.
Senator JOYCE: My one?
Senator EGGLESTON: He wrote a very good one in TheCanberra Times!
Senator JOYCE: Thank you very much.
Senator EGGLESTON: I've got a copy of it in my office.
Senator JOYCE: You should have it pinned to your wall!
Senator SMITH: With darts!
Senator JOYCE: With darts!
Senator SMITH: I circulated it.
Senator JOYCE: I knew I could rely on you, Senator Dean Smith. I knew that I could always rely on you to send my material viral!
Senator SMITH: You're well known in Western Australia!
Ms Foster : There was an op-ed immediately before the announcement.
Senator JOYCE: No, since. I did not ask the question about before; I am talking about since. Is this man pedalling for the issue?
Ms Foster : Sorry?
Senator JOYCE: Is he pedalling? Has he got out and actually done something?
Ms Foster : Well, I think the transcript of the press conference—
Senator JOYCE: Oh, golly gosh, I can give you a transcript of a whole heap of my press conferences!
Senator Lundy: Senator Joyce!
Senator JOYCE: Seriously, I am trying to ask if the minister—
CHAIR: Let's get some decorum in here.
Senator JOYCE: I am sorry; excuse me.
Senator EGGLESTON: Yes, you lack decorum, Senator.
Senator JOYCE: Excuse me. I am sorry, Senator the Hon. Kate Lundy.
CHAIR: I just reckon you should put every question on notice and get the hell out of here, because I am bored.
Senator JOYCE: Has the minister written an opinion editorial or anything since he made the decision on 9 May that shows his conviction about this process?
Mr Doherty : My understanding is that there have been a couple, but we will take that on notice.
Senator JOYCE: One I wrote, but has he written one?
Mr Doherty : No, sorry, a couple that he wrote.
Senator JOYCE: Where?
Mr Doherty : I will check that. We will take that on notice. But he has been active in the space from the original announcement with the Prime Minister and then the subsequent announcement with the Attorney-General on release of the exposure draft.
Senator JOYCE: Give me the last piece he wrote. You are the department; you would be aware of it. Give me the last piece he wrote on it.
Mr Doherty : We will take that on notice, Senator.
Senator JOYCE: You are not aware of any, are you?
Mr Doherty : As I say, I think there are two, from rough recollection, but I do not recall the detail.
Senator JOYCE: Well, I am not recollecting any of them. Has he got any plan going from this point forward where he is going to mount some sort of campaign in person, where he actually gets involved?
Ms Foster : I am sure he does, Senator, and we are working with his office on the plan between now and the election.
Senator JOYCE: He is not just hanging it out to dry there, is he, like he hung local government out to dry, so this thing falls over and then it is off the agenda?
Ms Foster : Not at all. In fact, he called us in this week to—
Senator JOYCE: To wish you all the best.
Ms Foster : to take us through our thinking around where we were going and how to progress this as successfully as possible.
Senator JOYCE: He rang you up. That is very good of him.
Ms Foster : He actually called us into the office.
Senator JOYCE: Well, that is even better. So what is he doing—is he out campaigning for it? Where was the last place he went campaigning for it?
Ms Foster : I will have to take that on notice. I do not have that detail.
Senator JOYCE: Not aware of it?
Ms Foster : I have been out of the country for a week and a half, so—
Senator JOYCE: What about the President of the Australian Local Government Association—or the Australian Local Government Association? What is the last thing he did?
Ms Foster : I do not have that information to hand. I am just seeing if anyone in the team does.
Senator JOYCE: Does anybody behind you know of any opinion editorial ever written by the minister on this? You might have one there.
Senator SMITH: I quoted one, Senator.
Senator JOYCE: Written by the minister?
CHAIR: With the greatest of respect, I do not interfere in your line of questioning, but does it really matter a fat rat's backside?
Senator JOYCE: Well, apparently not. That is the point: he doesn't care about it.
CHAIR: You know, there are probably a host of other questions you may want to ask in relation to the budget. I do not want to tell you what to do!
Senator EGGLESTON: Oh God no, it's only estimates!
CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Eggleston, how silly of me! I don't know what came over me!
Senator JOYCE: Don't you know this is just an—
CHAIR: Senator Joyce, three hours ago I was saying we are going to miss you at times. That is really going to start changing my thoughts.
Senator Lundy: It has faded fast, hasn't it.
CHAIR: I might have to join the Liberal campaign, so the sooner you're gone, the easier it will be for all of us.
Senator JOYCE: Come on, don't be like that.
Ms Foster : Senator, the team is telling me that there are a number of press releases, for example from ALGA, which we will get for you, and we will also get you information on any other activity.
Senator JOYCE: Yes, but apart from press releases—you have all your department officials there. I mean, we drop two or three press releases out of our office a day. Most of them end up on the cutting room floor.
Senator EGGLESTON: For very good reason!
Senator Lundy interjecting—
Senator JOYCE: Well, I have had slightly more success than you, Minister—
CHAIR: All right, all right—
Senator JOYCE: Have a good look in that space, because that's going nowhere.
Senator EGGLESTON: Very funny.
Senator Lundy: Oh, charming!
Senator JOYCE: Tell me: is there anything that you are aware of that has gone out—a decisive piece to basically inform the Australian people and move opinion?
Ms Foster : You are choosing to start from 9 May but in fact the editorial that Senator Albanese did just before that was exactly that kind of rallying call.
Senator JOYCE: So the answer to the question is since 9 May is nothing of any consequence.
Ms Foster : I have taken that on notice.
Senator JOYCE: You do not have to because we have the answer. Have you received any discussions with the Australian Local Government Association that they want to pull out of the referendum?
Ms Foster : Not at all and, in fact, I should note that in the middle of next month the Australia Local Government Association is having its national conference which will have a very strong focus on the referendum and the minister and the Prime Minister are hosting an Australian Council of Local Government meeting, inviting all the mayors to Canberra which will be another forum in which to push this.
Senator JOYCE: So there is no ambivalence. To be honest, I am getting a sense of ambivalence from some of them because they do not want to lose. Senator Eggleston wants them to lose but they do not want to lose.
Senator EGGLESTON: I want to win.
Ms Foster : ALGA put out a statement yesterday. I will read you the relevant bits.
Senator JOYCE: That shows they are right behind the cause.
Ms Foster : That is right.
Senator JOYCE: Have they got any program in the high echelons of media to try and push their cause? Who is their spokesperson? Who is their No. 1 spokesperson in the Australian Local Government Association who is leading the charge?
Mr Doherty : When the Prime Minister and the minister released the exposure draft they were accompanied by the president who is Ian Lewis.
Senator JOYCE: Oh great, a door stop. But who is their major spokesperson? It is 9th May.
Ms Foster : The statement that ALGA put out yesterday, I believe, was urging federal members of parliament to support the legislation, saying in the strongest possible terms how much they support it.
Senator JOYCE: And how much coverage did that statement get? Did it run in any paper? Did it run on any news?
Ms Foster : I do not have that information.
Senator JOYCE: So they put out a statement and they just miraculously think that they will somehow do the job.
Ms Foster : As I said, they have a major conference coming up in about two weeks in which they will have a wide range of both local government and broader stakeholders which will be a forum that will be very much focused on promoting this referendum.
Senator JOYCE: And you are helping them promote it so they can get their message out as to why it is a good thing for our nation?
Ms Foster : We are talking very regularly with them about how to make the referendum a success. As I said, the minister is hosting a forum for all mayors at which this will also be the focus.
Senator JOYCE: If this fails, is it off the agenda? That is it. Just forget about it, like the republic, for a couple of decades.
Ms Foster : All I can say is: ALGA has decided to throw its weight behind this and we are all working to make sure it succeeds.
Senator JOYCE: But they clearly understand that, if this things fails, that is it. Because the ultimate thing is, if you are going to fail, don't do it. It seems absurd that the opposition shadow for local government has written more op eds on constitutional recognition of local government than the minister has.
I refer you to the comments made by the Australian Electoral Commission that there are significant risks associated with the campaign development in such a short time frame. For example, the period for the market testing included is too short to provide assurances that the advertising materials are fit for purpose consistent with government campaign advertising guidelines for mainstream and a range of special audiences, the truncated time line includes supply, working across weekends and public holidays and estimated cost will increase the result. Can you reassure the committee that any advertising materials will be consistent with the government campaign advertising guidelines?
Mr Doherty : Yes.
Ms Foster : We have support from the relevant committees to fast-track all the processes for us so that we are mapping out a program which will see us maximise the benefit of the time we have got.
Senator JOYCE: How will you achieve this? It is very unusual for the Australian Electoral Commission to be so adamant, to be so forthright, about their concerns as they have been on this one.
Ms Foster : Is it the Australian Electoral Commission you are quoting?
Senator JOYCE: Chair, it is—the Australian Electoral Commission. How do you achieve that given the Australian Electoral Commission are highly sceptical about whether this is going to fly?
Ms Foster : We have acknowledged that this is a challenge but we think we have in place the funding, the people and the processes to make it work.
Senator JOYCE: How much extra cost has the AEC quoted the department due to the short time frame before the referendum?
Mr Doherty : The AEC runs its campaign, they do not—
Ms Foster : We are not funding the AEC. The government is funding the AEC, so that is not funding that comes through us. They are not quoting us.
Senator JOYCE: I want to go through the republic referendum, which also failed. The AEC was provided in that instance—and that was quite some time ago—with $63.7 million. Why is the government giving the AEC substantially less money for this campaign? The republic campaign was main frame, high presence, everybody engaged and everybody knew what it was about. How on earth do you think, if that one failed—and, mind you, I am a monarchist—that this one is going to fly?
Mr Doherty : The funding provided to the AEC covers the cost of actually running the election and their necessary activities, which include advertising—how people cast valid votes. The question around campaigns is what is funded in this case to us here for the civics campaign. In the republic case it was funded through, I think, the Prime Minister's department at that stage. The figure you quote of $63 million is the figure for the Electoral Commission which would not relate to the amount spent on campaigning.
Senator JOYCE: What support is the department providing ALGA and the local councils across Australia to build their case?
Ms Foster : Some time ago we provided them with $250,000—
Senator JOYCE: How much? Two hundred and fifty?
Ms Foster : $250,000.
Senator JOYCE: $250,000! Holey moley! It is almost as much as the myregion website.
Ms Foster : As we discussed before, there have not yet been the issues around funding Yes and No campaigns. They are still under consideration by government.
Senator JOYCE: Right. When do you think that consideration might come to a conclusion and result in an outcome?
Senator Lundy: Senator Joyce, sorry to interrupt. I think you have asked this exact question this morning.
Senator JOYCE: That would be an awfully good trick.
Senator Lundy: Yes. I think you should read the Hansard from this morning.
Senator JOYCE: Exactly this question?
Senator Lundy: Yes, I am pretty sure.
Senator JOYCE: Are you sure.
Senator Lundy: I am pretty sure.
Senator JOYCE: I am pretty sure you are not sure.
Senator Lundy: No, I am pretty sure.
Senator JOYCE: I am pretty sure you are wrong.
Senator Lundy: No, I have a good memory for it.
CHAIR: I think you should be out door-knocking somewhere else.
Senator JOYCE: Because I am absolutely certain I have not, because I have not ticked it on my sheet. When I ask the questions I tick them.
Senator Lundy: Have you got two briefs in your folder, Senator Joyce?
Senator JOYCE: Yes. I have a folder even for you.
Senator Lundy: Is it the same one you used this morning?
Senator JOYCE: No, no.
Senator Lundy: It is the same brief at the back of the folder.
Senator JOYCE: Absolutely. It is all done from my office. We write out our questions. You take a brief for everything.
Senator Lundy: Because that is what I really think you are doing.
Senator JOYCE: You probably were never able to avail yourself of that experience as you are writing your own questions. I can tell that by the answers you give in the chamber.
CHAIR: Senator Joyce, I think you do not need to stoop to that level.
Senator JOYCE: How does the department meet with ALGA on the issues?
Ms Foster : We typically engage with the Chief Executive Officer, Adrian Beresford-Wylie. We speak more on the phone or we get together in person.
Senator JOYCE: You talk to him on the phone.
Ms Foster : Or we meet with him, as we have been doing really regularly.
Senator JOYCE: When was the last time you had a meeting with him?
Ms Foster : My staff spoke with him today.
Senator JOYCE: You spoke to him on the phone.
Ms Foster : And met about a week ago.
Senator JOYCE: When was the last time you met face to face?
Mr Doherty : About a week ago.
Senator JOYCE: How many staff does the department have working on the referendum?
Mr Doherty : We have just built the task force up to about 17.
Senator JOYCE: What is the cost to the department of running the campaign? Is it just the $11.6 million? Is that it?
Mr Doherty : That is right. The cost of the task force will be $1.6 million and then that $10 million is available for expenditure on the campaign.
Senator JOYCE: Well, I will support you. I wish you all the best of British luck. I think that unless you get moving you do not have a snowflake's chance of getting this thing to fly.
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Joyce. Senator Eggleston, I believe you have a couple of questions.
Senator EGGLESTON: What scenarios are there under which the referendum proposal would not proceed? What could happen that would preclude the referendum from proceeding?
Mr Doherty : Senator, that is a speculative question and I do not think we can answer that.
Senator EGGLESTON: It is not really, because there must be legal situations that could occur.
Ms Foster : Clearly, the constitutional alteration bill must get passed through the House and the Senate.
Senator EGGLESTON: So, if it is rejected by the Senate it will not proceed. That is the case, isn't it?
Mr Doherty : There is a provision for it to be submitted if it passes the House twice, but timing may make that impossible.
Senator EGGLESTON: That is what I wanted to know. If it passes the House twice it can still proceed. If it is passed by the House once and rejected by the Senate it can go back to the House again and proceed as a House of Representatives initiated referendum.
Mr Doherty : I am not the expert on that. That would be something that others would need to advise on. My understanding is that there is that mechanism and I think it has been used in the past.
Ms Foster : Those question might be addressed to the Attorney-General's Department.
Senator EGGLESTON: I suppose that is true, but you are the department of local government. Who then in this case is actually initiating the referendum? Is it the government or is it your department?
Mr Doherty : It is the government.
Senator Lundy: It a government policy, Senator Eggleston.
Senator EGGLESTON: Yes, thank you very much. I just wondered who was formally responsible for it.
Mr Doherty : The constitutional alteration bill, which is the initiator for the change, which ultimately goes to referendum, was introduced with the authority of the Attorney-General.
Senator EGGLESTON: You have said that the department is in regular contact with the Australian Local Government Association. Are you also in contact with the opponents of this referendum?
Senator Lundy: Yes, with Senator Smith.
Senator BACK: And Senator Back.
Senator EGGLESTON: I was not here then, so I am interested in the answer right now.
Ms Foster : The Australian Local Government Association has come out publicly as a proponent for a yes in the referendum. To my knowledge there has not been an entity come forward to say that they would like to be the no case with whom we could engage.
Senator EGGLESTON: Right, I understand that. Suppose an entity did come out and say that. Suppose, for example, an entity like the Western Australian government said it was opposed to this constitutional referendum or proposal, would you deal with them on that basis.
Ms Foster : We are dealing with the states regularly. I was saying to senators before that Minister Albanese had a meeting with his jurisdictional counterparts roughly a month ago. We had a meeting with our senior official counterparts a couple of weeks ago and that included WA.
Senator EGGLESTON: I am not talking about dealing with the states as entities as part of government, but in this case the states as an opponent, specifically, of this referendum. Would you deal with them as an opponent body?
Ms Foster : The way in which yes and no campaigns would be managed is still under consideration by the government, so it would be speculative of me to say that we would deal with this entity or that.
Senator EGGLESTON: But you would deal with an entity which was opposed if such an entity advised you of their opposition?
Ms Foster : I think I would be speculating, and I am not in a position to do that.
Senator EGGLESTON: You might like to take on notice: what kind of status would an entity, which was opposed to the referendum proposal, have to have? What kind of legal status?
Ms Foster : I will take that on notice
Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you very much.
Senator BACK: What would the time line be in which you would be able to supply that information?
Ms Foster : The questions are due on 14 June. Should we have information before then and be in a position to do so then we would attempt to do that.
Senator EGGLESTON: Who is writing the case against constitutional recognition and the referendum proposal being carried? Is that coming from within your department? Do you have two sections—one writing the yes case and one writing the no case? Or are you just writing the yes case?
Ms Foster : At the moment we have been funded only to run a civics awareness campaign which is neither a yes nor a no case. It is an information campaign to equip the public to understand the issues before them and to inform their vote but not to advocate for a position on either side. The question of whether or not yes and no cases are funded is still under consideration by the government. That is separate to the yes and no pamphlets that the Australian Electoral Commission will produce, assuming that there are members who vote against it in the House.
Mr Doherty : For that no case it would be the parliamentarians voting no who would nominate who did the writing of the case.
Senator EGGLESTON: I understand that. In this public information pamphlet you are writing, will you, for example, include some paragraphs referring to the fact that this is not a legally clear-cut issue, that there are legal opinions on both sides. There are people in quite eminent legal positions, like the Crown Law department and the Attorney-General of Western Australia, who do not accept the legal justification for this proposal.
Ms Foster : We were explaining before that we have just commenced a process of commissioning research to inform us on what should be in that civics awareness campaign. We expect some headline results from that very shortly. Then we will start making decisions about what will be in that awareness campaign. So I am not in a position yet to tell you what issues it will cover. It will depend on what the research tells us people need to hear and understand.
Senator EGGLESTON: Are you prepared to give an undertaking that the material put in the pamphlet, if that is what it is, will be even-handed and will put both cases?
Ms Foster : That is certainly the focus and the intention of the public awareness campaign. It is not to advocate for or against.
Senator EGGLESTON: That is not quite the same thing. There is a yes case and a no case. It is very hard to sit on the fence when it is a matter of yes or no.
Ms Foster : Except that this is not a vehicle to advocate a position. The government may decide to fund other campaigns as advocates of yes or no cases.
Senator EGGLESTON: I wonder if there is any point in writing such a pamphlet then.
Senator SMITH: In the 1999 campaign, there was a publicly funded officially neutral campaign. There was also a taxpayer funded no campaign and a taxpayer funded yes campaign, and no and yes committees were established around that money. It sounds to me that the government has not yet ruled that out as a possible way forward.
Ms Foster : That is correct.
Senator SMITH: How does that then work, given that we are considering the budget now and there is no allocation for that? How does that work? How does the government get an appropriation for that?
Ms Foster : Should the government decides to allocate money, there are processes outside the budget process through which it can allocate that.
Senator SMITH: So the government has not yet closed off the prospect of using taxpayers' money to fund an independent no campaign and an independent yes campaign?
Ms Foster : That is correct.
CHAIR: Thanks very much. Let us move on to services to territories.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I have questions for the department in relation to Norfolk Island. First of all, I will refrain from making several points that were made earlier in the day, but there is one I have to repeat here. Why were the answers to questions on notice only available very, very late in this estimates process?
Mr Eccles : The answers are pretty well the same as the reasons the secretary took the committee through in relation to the questions on notice for other outcomes.
Senator HUMPHRIES: The usual answers—okay.
Mr Eccles : No. The answers were that there were delays due to the volume of work. This portfolio does have a proud and strong track record in this regard.
Senator THORP: Exemplary.
Mr Eccles : Thank you, Senator. Unfortunately, they were delayed this time.
Senator HUMPHRIES: In an answer, I think answer 96, given to a question I put on notice at the last round of estimates—again, it was a very late answer—in relation to the contract with Air New Zealand and the provision of air services to the island, what is the basis for the department's claim that information on the amount of taxpayers' funds being provided to Air New Zealand under the air services agreement cannot be disclosed to parliament for commercial reasons? This is a monopoly, in effect, that is being granted. There are not any other airlines which are competing with Air New Zealand on the routes to and from the island. Why can't we know how much of public money is being expended on the provision of those air services?
Ms Fleming : You are probably aware that we have two underwriting services—one for the Indian Ocean territories and one for Norfolk. Both airlines will go to retender shortly. Therefore, we did not want to signal to the market the level of subsidy in those areas. That is why they are commercial-in-confidence at this stage.
Mr Eccles : We would be able to provide that to you confidentially. We just do not want to signal to the market what our tolerances may be for the renewal. We are trying to get the best price possible.
Senator HUMPHRIES: That is a helpful offer. Thank you very much, Mr Eccles. I will consider whether to take that up because obviously there is interest on the island in the amount of subsidy that has gone into the air services and the extent to which that has led to value-for-money services on the island. There are different points of view about that. I will ponder that possibility.
On another issue, in answer to the same question on notice, I note that the Commonwealth does not provide resources for marketing and promotion of Norfolk Island as a tourist destination. Funding was provided, I understand, previously under the Howard government to Norfolk Island for some measure of promotion of the island as a tourist destination. Is there a particular reason why funding has not been made available in the past five or six years for that purpose?
Ms Fleming : The government has provided considerable funding support to Norfolk Island through underwriting, through the buyout of the Air Nauru contract, through a series of microprogram reforms. But in respect of tourism development, we consider that to be a responsibility of the Norfolk Island government.
Senator HUMPHRIES: The Commonwealth funding has all been essentially reactive funding—sorry, that is not true. A large part of it has been funding to basically bridge the gap between what the island's revenues are and what its expenditure is. It has been in the nature of emergency funding really for the most part—not entirely, but for the most part.
Ms Fleming : Yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES: The problem is that we are chasing our tail with that, aren't we, because the island really needs to put its tourist industry back on its feet to not need Commonwealth intervention all the time. So if we do not make an investment in fixing the problem, we are going to be condemned, to some extent, to repeating these emergency funding allocations, aren't we?
Ms Fleming : We would agree with you that we need to be leveraging a lot more microeconomic reform within the Norfolk Island government. In the most recent agreement and in the funding agreement that is signalled in the budget, we have done that. We have opened up the immigration act, we are opening up land tenure, we are opening up a range of issues together with the Norfolk Island government to encourage new investment in the island and in the accommodation sector. We would agree that we need to work with them through means that we have available to us to assist them to make their economy more open such that they can attract new investment and realise new opportunities.
Senator HUMPHRIES: It is a bit of a vicious circle, but okay. There was an allegation made in the legislative assembly for Norfolk Island in March last year by the then minister for health, Mr Sheridan, that this department—that is, your department—earlier that year had refused to allow the Norfolk Island government to enter into a memorandum of understanding with New South Wales for the provision of health services on Norfolk Island. Is that allegation true?
Ms Fleming : Senator, I would have to take that on notice. We certainly have a new hospital board arrangement, and on that board we have Mr Terry Clout, who is the director of south-east New South Wales health services, and me. We are working with the Norfolk Island health board to strengthen their health services and move them towards accreditation. I am not familiar with the particular contract that Norfolk Island might have sought, but I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Is there any reason why it would not be possible for Norfolk Island to enter into a contract for provision of services with the New South Wales government?
Ms Fleming : Not to my knowledge, technically. They certainly have New South Wales education provide education services on the island. That is my understanding.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I will read you what Mr Sheridan said in Hansard. This is 7 March, and he was the health minister at the time. He said:
"The Department would need to receive this information within a reasonable timeframe to consider the proposal and provide approval before any arrangements are entered into." Also the Department stated that—
he is quoting here apparently from a communication from the department—
“Until such a time as these matters are rectified—
I will come back to what those matters are—
the Commonwealth cannot consider approving the proposal to execute the Memorandum of Understanding.” It was frustrating when this advice was received, as the whole intent of the MOU was to facilitate access to improved medical services of which were not available on [Norfolk Island].
Ms Fleming : It is certainly true that expenditure above $50,000 has to be approved by me, and that goes to the heart of the issue of the solvency of the Norfolk Island government. I would have to take that on notice and come back to you. I am not specifically familiar with that particular incident, but I will—
Mr Eccles : It could well have been a point in time. We will look into it, but at the moment the contract with New South Wales health is running well and services are being purchased through New South Wales. As Ms Fleming said, it is working fine. We will take that on notice and come back to you.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Were you in that role, Ms Fleming, in March 2012?
Ms Fleming : Yes, I was in the role from about January, but I was also responsible for a range of other matters and my focus on Norfolk is not complete in my memory at that time. I would have to take it on notice.
Senator Lundy: Senator Humphries, I am really sorry to interrupt, but I have two documents I would like to table in response to earlier questions in the local government section. They are two ministerial opinion pieces: one dated 10 May 2013 titled 'Let's embrace constitutional change—Opinion' in the Adelaide Advertiser and on 17 May 'Facts Not Fear, Please, in Referendum Debate' in the Australian. I would like to table those.
Unidentified speaker: What a shame Senator Joyce is not here.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Since the chair is otherwise engaged, I happily receive those documents on his behalf.
Senator Lundy: Sorry to interrupt, Senator Humphries.
Senator HUMPHRIES: No pressure on me, I assume, Chair.
CHAIR: Not at all.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Good. If there was a decision by the department to refuse to approve a MoU with New South Wales for the provision of health services, as the Norfolk minister suggested, why did the department not refer to this decision in its response to question on notice No. 95 from the February 2013 additional estimates? Obviously if there was such a decision, it would be nice to know why that was not referred to in the answer to question No. 95.
Ms Fleming : I am happy to take that on notice. I just do not recall the incident.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Did the Commonwealth to make that decision in 2012 because it did not consider that improving access to medical treatment off island represented value for money? Take that on notice as well please, if the answer is that there was such a decision by the Commonwealth. Do Commonwealth procurement guidelines exempt measures intended to protect lives or health from value-for-money considerations?
Ms Fleming : If we were looking at a contract for service, we would want to assure ourselves that the best value for money was being received within the island, but noting that there are always issues like humanitarian principles that have to be looked at within the health service.
Mr Eccles : There would be no blind adherence to a simple value-for-money formula when it comes to health, protection and a range of other things when it involves Norfolk Island. But the very premise of your question, we will need to go away and have a look at it. It does not ring any bells for us. As I said, it might have just been a point in time and hopefully it is all resolved. I am not sure if the views are still those of the individual that you are quoting.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Whatever rules apply to general Commonwealth procurement though in such areas would apply equally to Commonwealth policy with respect to Norfolk Island—there would be no difference in approach?
Mr Eccles : No, but our overriding priority for Norfolk Island is to work with them to ensure that the services are provided provide an appropriate level of service and quality; and when comes to health, provide an appropriate level of care. The procurement guidelines would not get in the way from us supporting an appropriate level of health care on the island.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Again, premised on there being such a decision, could you tell me on notice to what extent did that decision have regard to the fact that the MOU would have reduced costs to the Norfolk Island government and residents and thereby its need to rely on the Commonwealth for financial assistance? Could you take those questions on notice please? Are Air New Zealand tickets purchased on the Australian mainland for travel to and from Norfolk Island subject to Australian GST?
Mr Eccles : I would imagine so. Obviously, if the question has been asked, there might be some quirk, so we will take that on notice. My assumption is yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES: It begs the question: if Air New Zealand tickets are purchased online in New Zealand, are they subject to Australian GST? Presumably the answer is no.
Mr Eccles : I think that is the same. Any material we purchase online from the UK is not subject to our GST. We will look into that, but my assumption again is that Australian GST is not applicable on purchases made outside Australia.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Are you aware of whether any investigation has been made as to the benefits and costs of flights to Norfolk Island departing from domestic terminals as opposed to the international terminals at Sydney and Brisbane?
Ms Fleming : This is in fact the basis of why we have commissioned the pest and diseases survey through AQIS. The government in the last budget funded an AQIS pest and diseases survey. Before you can look at flights out of domestic terminals, you have to actually understand the quarantine issues that might be associated with that. The first step to looking at whether we could remove Norfolk Island from an international terminal is to actually do a pest and diseases survey. That commenced last year through AQIS and funding continues into next financial year, 2013-14. I think we will have those results in about 12 months time. Sampling work and engagement with the community is already underway, but until we have such data and an assessment of the quarantine risks we cannot remove the service from an international terminal.
Senator HUMPHRIES: It was widely reported that there was a cabinet submission prepared in relation to Commonwealth support for Norfolk Island. It was also widely reported that, following Minister King's visit to the island, or at least contemporaneous with that visit, that submission was withdrawn. I am not asking what was in the submission, but I understand it related to Norfolk Island. Is it true that a submission at that time was withdrawn from processing towards the cabinet?
Mr Eccles : I genuinely do not know the answer, but, even if I did, I am not sure whether it is something that is discoverable. So if you are happy—
Senator HUMPHRIES: It is discoverable. Whether it is answerable is—
Mr Eccles : Answerable in this forum. So I would prefer to take that on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES: My understanding is that we can ask questions about the processing and timing of cabinet matters but not the content of them. If you can take that on notice, please do. Is it the intention of the department to put forward a further submission, or any submission from this point onwards, to the federal cabinet in relation to Norfolk Island, before the election in September?
Mr Eccles : We cannot speculate on that.
Senator HUMPHRIES: If your department is planning such a submission, then you can. It does not mean that the cabinet has to agree to it, or even consider it, but you can tell us whether you are planning to put a submission to the cabinet.
Mr Eccles : I think that falls into a similar category to the earlier discussion—it is most unusual for departments. Departments do not bring forward cabinet submissions; ministers do.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Really?
Mr Eccles : Yes, Senator.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Ministers sign the submissions, but we know that the departments bring forward the cabinet submissions, Mr Eccles, don't we?
Mr Eccles : Technically, the submissions sent to cabinet are—
Senator HUMPHRIES: Yes, technically they come from the minister.
Mr Eccles : That is a matter for the government.
Senator HUMPHRIES: When is the last time that you saw a minister write a cabinet submission?
Mr Eccles : I have certainly been involved when ministers have commented on drafts.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Oh yes, they will comment on drafts, but they never write them. The department has written every single cabinet submission since about 1902. I think that was the last time.
Mr Eccles : I am sure there is an exception.
Senator HUMPHRIES: The Administrator of Norfolk Island stated in a media interview that the Commonwealth's decision not to proceed with the draft Norfolk Island cabinet submission was, and I quote, 'unfortunate', and had left him 'crushed'. Presumably, many residents felt just as bad as he did. What was the department's reaction to this decision?
Ms Fleming : The department and the government continue to be committed to long-term reform for Norfolk Island. We need to work out what shape, scale and scope that reform needs to take, and we are still working our way through those issues.
Mr Eccles : We are in ongoing discussions with the Norfolk Island community and leadership team, and the government is considering the options for longer term funding.
Senator HUMPHRIES: If you are not considering it between now and the September election, it will be a long time before real decisions can be made about the future of the island. Your know, as well as I do, that this island is in a very parlous state, and it needs action in respect of that.
Mr Eccles : Yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Minister King met with the Norfolk Island government on 15 April. Did Minister King advise, or suggest to, Norfolk Island ministers at that initial meeting that the cabinet submission would not be submitted to cabinet? I am not asking you what has happened with the cabinet submission. I am asking you what Minister King said to the Norfolk Island ministers about the handling of that submission.
Ms Fleming : I was on the island with Minister King on that visit, but I cannot specifically recall what Minister King advised the government. I would have to take that on notice so that I can give you an accurate response.
Mr Eccles : We would have to ask Minister King.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Ms Fleming was actually at the meeting. I assume you attended the meeting between Minister King and the Norfolk Island cabinet.
Ms Fleming : I was present.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I assume a discussion happened about the cabinet submission.
Ms Fleming : The discussions were wide ranging around reforms and processes. If I am quoting the minister, I would want to give you an accurate answer. I need to take that on notice so that I do not misquote the minister.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Bear in mind that the administrator himself was talking about the cabinet submission.
Ms Fleming : I understand that, but I do not want to misquote the minister.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I assume that Minister King was as well, so let's have a full disclosure if we can, please. The administrator also stated, in a recent radio interview, that the cabinet submission required various departments in Canberra to find cost offsets to pay for reform on Norfolk Island and that Commonwealth ministers had real issues with these cost offsets. Are those accurate statements and did they in fact have a bearing on the decision not to proceed with the cabinet submission?
Ms Fleming : As you would be aware, matters of cabinet are not meant to be spoken—
Senator HUMPHRIES: I am not asking you what was in a cabinet submission. I am asking: did the administrator say those things and did they have a bearing on the process of dealing with the cabinet submission, not what the cabinet submission said.
Senator Lundy: That is not an appropriate question either, because you are asking the officer to reflect on conversations in relation to cabinet considerations.
Senator HUMPHRIES: It was not a conversation—it was a broadcast. The administrator said these things in a broadcast to the population of the island.
Mr Eccles : I am not aware of the broadcast, but we will certainly have a look into it. On this general line of questioning, if you are comfortable, my preference would be to take on notice and provide you with the information to the full extent we are able around the government's consideration of these issues and their intentions when it comes to continuing the discussions we are having with the Norfolk Island people and the leadership team.
Ms Fleming : Can I recall the conversation you had around the airlines and clarify the record, noting that airline fares to Norfolk Island are GST-free.
Senator HUMPHRIES: So a fare purchased in Australia—
Ms Fleming : Has no GST applied.
Senator HUMPHRIES: That is very interesting. What is the status at this stage of the roadmap?
Ms Fleming : The government remains committed to long-term reforms and we are continuing to work through a range of initiatives with the Norfolk Island government. Some of these are longer term than others; some of them are more aspirational than others. But we are making progress in opening up the economy together with the Norfolk Island government, in looking at reforms of the public service, in opening up land reforms, and in looking at government business enterprises. We are collaboratively working with Norfolk; it is a work in progress. We have made some good early gains, but we need to continue to work with Norfolk Island. The government announced a further $4.4 million in funding as a result of the budgetary situation, and we will continue those reforms through those budget negotiations with Norfolk Island.
Senator HUMPHRIES: So the departure of Minister Crean has made no change to the position of the government as a whole with respect to implementation of the roadmap? Is the government still fully committed to its part of the roadmap?
Ms Fleming : It is committed to long-term reform. I think ministers are still considering whether they are committed to each and every aspect of the roadmap, but I can say that on the island Minister King said she remained committed to reform and to supporting Norfolk Island in that reform process. She said she would continue to work with and for the island on those reforms, but that it was a joint, co-produced outcome between Norfolk Island and the Commonwealth, and she was looking for support from them in these processes and their ongoing commitment, which they gave, to those reform processes. I think it would be wrong to say that each and every specific element of the roadmap had been agreed to; ministers are still considering each and every element. But as to the general process of reform: yes, there is still a commitment.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Can you tell the committee what the government considers to be the position of the Norfolk Island government with respect to the roadmap? Do you believe that the Norfolk Island government is as committed to the roadmap as it was before Minister Crean's departure and before the Norfolk Island election in March?
Ms Fleming : The Norfolk Island government have written, I believe, stating that they remain committed to the roadmap and the reforms.
Senator HUMPHRIES: And you accept that statement in good faith?
Ms Fleming : I accept that statement in good faith.
Senator HUMPHRIES: What is the next step in the federal government's view? What needs to happen now to progress the next stage of the road map?
Ms Fleming : Mr Taloni and I will be going to Norfolk Island on 10 June. We will be talking to the Norfolk Island government about the next funding agreement. As part of that funding agreement, we will be negotiating with them some further ongoing reforms and changes to the structure of their economy where we can look at things. We were also provided with a further million dollars in the budget for the 2013-14 year to cover a range of support activities for the government around enhancements in governance. That might include performance audits and financial statement audits, support in family and child services, support for apprenticeship schemes—areas in which we can assist the economy and the productivity of Norfolk Island.
Senator HUMPHRIES: All right. What precisely is it at this point in time that prevents—and there are a number of milestones for the Norfolk Island government to meet to honour is obligations under the road map and I assume that to date the Norfolk Island government has met each of those milestones—
Ms Fleming : To date, we have made several payments against the plan. We are still assessing the most recent one. But, yes, there has been progress on those programs. The latest one was the introduction of their immigration bill into the House.
Senator HUMPHRIES: So the answer to the question is yes, they have met their obligations.
Ms Fleming : Yes. I am just being cautious here, Senator, because I have not finally assessed the last one. In principle—
Senator HUMPHRIES: Up until the last time, which you are still assessing, they have met all of their milestones to date.
Ms Fleming : Correct.
Senator HUMPHRIES: What precisely is it that prevents the Commonwealth government immediately rolling out Commonwealth like social security payments and Medicare and pharmaceutical benefits style benefits to the population of the island?
Ms Fleming : Tax and social security reform are complex processes. We have had some discussions with agencies about what might be involved in such a reform. A wide range of legislation would need to change on the island before such schemes were introduced. It is a package of measures. If we think about the changes around introducing the GST in Australia and how complex and nuanced that was and the committees that were set up at the time to work through those issues with industries, we would have to have a whole range of conversations about how legislation might need to change. The Norfolk government would have to cede and rescind some of its powers, because they have some nation powers, some state powers and some local government powers. It would have to work through all of that legislation in quite some detail. It is not a simple process.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I understand that. In a sense, have drafting instructions been issued for the changes to the Norfolk Island legislation necessary to make that happen?
Ms Fleming : Not to my understanding. We would have to work through with them the actual implications of such a thing so that they and their citizens understand them. One of the things that Minister King said was that you and your citizens need to better understand what this might mean for you and have the conversations that you need to have to make sure that the community understands what it would be buying if it agreed to such changes. And the Commonwealth would have to work through at a level of detail what the implications would be for it to incorporate such a measure into the budget.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Are you aware of the Norfolk Island community survey last September in which 52 per cent of respondents stated that 'financial pressure is severely affecting our family'?
Ms Fleming : I am aware of the state of the economy on Norfolk Island and the pressure that that places on families and communities, yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Are you aware that a community food bank is being organised using local donations that is reportedly assisting around 70 people every month on Norfolk Island who cannot make ends meet?
Ms Fleming : We have such services here in Australia as well.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Yes, indeed. The point that I am making here is that there is arguably a great urgency needed in putting these things in place. The impression that I brought back from my visit to the island last month is that if there was a piece of paper that the island government could sign tomorrow or a set of laws that they could pass tomorrow to change their system to accommodate the Commonwealth's requirements for social security payments, Medicare and the GST and so on, they would sign it or pass them; they would rush forward to sign it or to pass them. Realistically, how long is it going to take to pass through the necessary steps to get the island community incorporated into the Commonwealth social security and welfare system, which is the objective outlined in the road map?
Ms Fleming : I do not have an easy answer to that question. We are still working through issues. The decision to make transitions is a decision of government and government are still considering their position in respect of these matters.
Mr Eccles : As Ms Fleming said, the government is still considering the options. There was obviously a series of meetings that took place when Minister King went out there. The budget provided the ongoing emergency bailout funding, for want of a better term—
Senator HUMPHRIES: It provided emergency bailout funding for the Norfolk Island government services—
Mr Eccles : Exactly.
Senator HUMPHRIES: not for the social security services of which I have just spoken.
Mr Eccles : There was half-a-million dollars provided for short-term social and employment services and other things. But a key part of that was, if you like, to buy time so that the conversations can continue. The government has made it clear, and our job is to give effect to their commitment, that they are continuing to push for lasting reform on the island.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I accept that. I accept that there is some goodwill there towards this. But I am also concerned that there is no particular light at the end of this tunnel. We do not really know when this is going to culminate in decisions that actually provide those services. There are people right now who are struggling on the island to provide a quality of life that no other Australian needs to worry about, because for all other Australians there are social security payments if you get sick or you are unemployed. There is the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to cover the cost of your medicines. I spoke to one family on the island that is spending $150 a month on medications that would basically be free on the mainland.
Mr Eccles : But they would pay tax.
Senator HUMPHRIES: They say that they are willing to do that.
Mr Eccles : These are the discussions that we continue to have with the island. You are absolutely no doubt very aware that these are complex matters. It is accepted that well over $30 million has been provided over the past few years. The means by which it is being provided is considered not to be a sustainable way to do that. It is not a sustainable partnership. Hence the ongoing discussions about reform.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Who is communicating with the island community about the progress of this process? I know that there are officials on the island. You have a—
Ms Fleming : A community liaison officer.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Is this person or other Commonwealth agencies giving progress reports or are you leaving that to the island government?
Ms Fleming : It is our view that the Norfolk Island government should lead the discussions about the scope and scale of its commitment and negotiations with the government in this process. But I have been twice to the island, and I will go again in June and I will have discussions with the Norfolk Island government while I am there about these issues once again.
Senator HUMPHRIES: What is the likely cost to the Commonwealth of extending those services, such as Medicare, the PBS and the social security safety net, to Norfolk Island?
Ms Fleming : I cannot answer that question. That would be a matter of content of briefing to government at this stage.
Senator Lundy: It is potentially a question to ask the separate portfolios. I think that you are well aware that these questions traverse a number of major portfolios—
Senator HUMPHRIES: True, but I am—
Senator Lundy: Those cost centres would be calculated by those other portfolios.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I am also equally sure that a cabinet submission, had one been prepared to put forward support for the island, would have canvassed all of those issues, having consulted with the other relevant agencies.
Senator Lundy: In that case, we would not be able to discuss it with you anyway, because it would be the subject of a cabinet submission, Senator Humphries.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I am not asking you to tell me what is in the cabinet submission. I am saying that the work would have been done by this department already to answer those questions. I am simply—
Senator Lundy: I fully understand your intent to try and get as much information on the public record about the support that we as a government are providing Norfolk Island in what has been a very long and complicated series of negotiations with a very active government on Norfolk Island, and often a government that holds a range of views about these matters. It is not going to be possible to traverse these matters as deeply as you would like this evening, because they are whole-of-government matters. They traverse issues relating to cabinet. I would like to take this opportunity to note your intent and the attention that you have paid to the citizens of Norfolk Island and their concerns.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Thank you, Minister. I am mightily tempted to put some of these on notice.
Senator BACK: I do not if you can answer these questions now. If you cannot, please be kind enough to take them on notice. The information that I would like to know is, for the five calendar years—and five years would appear to be a reasonable length of time—from 2008 to 2012: the resident population divided into those under 18 years of age and those equal to and above 18 years of age for each of those five years; the number of visitors to Norfolk Island in each of those five years; and what the revenue of the Norfolk Island government has been in each of those five years, with you including and highlighting one figure, the Australian government support that makes up part of that revenue, and the expenditure.
Senator Lundy: Some of those questions will be able to be answered and some of them will not. But I am sure that they will be able to take on notice the ones that are able to be answered.
Senator BACK: Thank you, Minister. I am anxious also to try and get a handle on the status of Norfolk Island and what its future challenges are. I am sure that there is a lot more information that would inform us of that, but answers to what I have asked would at least assist me from a macro point of view to gain some understanding of where the island is going.
Senator Lundy: With due respect, Senator Back, I am very happy to refer you to a series of joint standing committee inquiry reports on Norfolk Island over the last decade and a half.
CHAIR: You see, Senator Back, they cannot all have a brilliant administrator like Rottnest when you were there.
Senator BACK: There you go. The place has never made a dollar since I left, Senator Sterle, and it never made a dollar before I went there.
CHAIR: They do not know that.
Senator Lundy: Senator Back, Norfolk Island is an extraordinary place. As I am sure you are aware, it is completely unique in its administration, its economy and its society. In that sense, having an understanding of its history and even its recent economic history forms, I think, a critical part of understanding its future challenges. They have, as an administration and, I think, as a community, tried really hard to come to terms with how they move forward as a united community on many of these challenges.
I have had direct involvement as a member of the joint standing committee for many years in opposition and as chair in government between 2007 and 2010. Senator Humphries and I both share the responsibility of being the senators for those Australian citizens on Norfolk Island, hence my comments earlier about understanding absolutely Senator Humphries's goodwill and intent in his line of questioning tonight.
Senator BACK: I am just anxious to get a snapshot to inform myself as to what lies ahead. I would be very interested to have a look at: that 15-year window, particularly the last five years; the communications I have had with people on Norfolk Island; the advice they are giving; the questions that we have discussed in the last two or three estimates when Senator Humphries has been unable to be here; and, obviously—with a very keen interest—the economic well-being of islands. If you are able to give me that information, and any other information that you can give me that would help me to inform my understanding, I would be appreciative.
Ms Fleming : I will have to take these detailed questions on notice, but I can say certainly that the population of Norfolk Island over those five years has declined and that there is a concern, I think, on the island that they are losing their working population—not necessarily those under 18, but the 18 to 35 cohort—to economic opportunities elsewhere be they in New Zealand or mainland Australia. That is an ongoing concern around employment opportunities, hence the desire to create some apprenticeships and some other support on the island.
In terms of visitors, again, I would have to take on notice the specifics, but I can tell you that, along with the timing of the global financial crisis, visitor numbers have about halved and they have remained stable at that rate. So they have not dropped further than that, but they have about halved what they were in the early days. Airline numbers are definitely under pressure and air services are under pressure, so that creates a difficulty.
Senator BACK: Also in agreement with you, Ms Fleming, I have had some long discussions in the last few weeks with people who operate cruise vessels and, as would appear to be obvious, the main participants in cruises on vessels seem to be older people. From what I understand, older people are most reluctant to go down steps or gangways down the side of the ship, which, of course, is the only way in which people can actually get on to Norfolk Island as there is no land-backed facility.
Ms Fleming : Yes.
Senator Lundy: It is just one of many challenges the island faces. We are aware of all of those things.
Senator BACK: When you do have more than a passing interest, then you also do want to try and canvas where all the opportunities lie.
Ms Fleming : We did work with Norfolk Island last year to look at what the Norfolk Island government might need to do to increase its jetty and some planning to see what it would need to do to be able to encourage cruise ships as a viable alternative to the airline industry. We continue to work with Norfolk Island.
Senator Lundy: I think we are happy to take the rest on notice, Senator Back.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I have a few more questions. Has the Commonwealth funded review of Norfolk Island's child and family health services been completed?
Ms Fleming : I think it has been completed and is under consideration by the government.
Senator HUMPHRIES: By the Commonwealth government?
Senator Lundy: Yes.
Ms Fleming : Yes, it is with ministers for consideration. The report has been completed but not yet released.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Is there an expectation that it will be released? Is it just a matter of consideration before release?
Ms Fleming : That is my understanding.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I understand that the next reseal of the island's airport runways is due. Will the Commonwealth fund this reseal as it has in the past?
Ms Fleming : We would have to consider that in our process.
Senator Lundy: We will take that one on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I have dealt with some people on island about the question of freeholding of the Crown leases on the island. This is a process that was begun under the previous government, but there are still lots of people who want that to happen. Is there a reason why there seems to be no further action on freeholding of Crown leases on the island?
Ms Fleming : I have to take that on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES: If there is a policy, I would like to know what the basis for the policy is, because there are a number of freehold leases on the island and it would be nice to know why we cannot have more, if that is the policy of the Commonwealth. I will put the rest of my questions on notice.
CHAIR: There are no further questions, so I take this opportunity on behalf of the committee to pass on our very best to you, Senator Humphries. I believe this will be one of your last estimates. You have been an absolute pleasure to have along, because you are one of the grown-ups—I can say that. You do actually take a vested interest in your shadow portfolio. So well done to you. Good luck for the future.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Thank you, Mr Chair.
CHAIR: On behalf of my committee members, I also take the opportunity to thank you, Minister Lundy, and, of course, Mrs Beauchamp and the crew—Mr Eccles and everyone else. What a lot of people do not know is the hard work that is put in behind the scenes, by Stephen, the secretariat and Kirsty. We know all the reasons for the lateness of questions coming back, but what a lot of people do not know is that Kirsty had to work until late Friday night and all of her Saturday was spent here assisting senators to compile that information. So well done, Kirsty, you have done a fantastic job. To Hansardand Broadcasting, as per usual: well done and congratulations. That concludes today's hearing.
Committee adjourned at 21 : 28