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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
SUSTAINABILITY, ENVIRONMENT, WATER, POPULATION AND COMMUNITIES PORTFOLIO
Director of National Parks
- Committee Name
Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Birmingham, Sen Simon
Macdonald, Sen Ian
Boswell, Sen Ronald
Siewert, Sen Rachel
McKenzie, Sen Bridget
Singh, Sen Lisa
Fisher, Sen Mary Jo
Waters, Sen Larissa
Conroy, Sen Stephen
Bilyk, Sen Catryna
Ludlam, Sen Scott
Conroy, Sen Stephen
- Sub program
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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
(Senate-Monday, 13 February 2012)
CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY PORTFOLIO
Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator
Low Carbon Australia Limited
Senator Ian Macdonald
- Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
SUSTAINABILITY, ENVIRONMENT, WATER, POPULATION AND COMMUNITIES PORTFOLIO
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Bureau of Meteorology
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Director of National Parks
Senator IAN MACDONALD
- Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
- CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY PORTFOLIO
Content WindowEnvironment and Communications Legislation Committee - 13/02/2012 - Estimates - SUSTAINABILITY, ENVIRONMENT, WATER, POPULATION AND COMMUNITIES PORTFOLIO - Director of National Parks
Director of National Parks
CHAIR: Mr Cochrane, would you like to make an opening statement?
Mr Cochrane : No, thank you.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: The ANAO handed down a report into Indigenous protected areas recently, which I am sure you participated in and reviewed. The key finding of that review was that it is necessary to find alternative funding mechanisms for Indigenous protected areas in the future. Indeed, the sole recommendation was that SEWPaC needs to develop options for future funding, including options that would reduce over time the dependence of Indigenous protected areas on Australian government funding. What opportunities and avenues are there to do that?
Mr Cochrane : There is a range of options open to Indigenous protected areas. The primary one that is most actively being pursued at the moment is the establishment of trusts supported by philanthropic organisations. There is at least one trust that has been established for one of the Indigenous protected areas. There is considerable interest in the philanthropic area to support the government's initiative. There are also opportunities to derive commercial income from activities on Indigenous protected areas, notably tourism. We are working closely with IPA managers to help them identify some of those opportunities. Lastly, a number of Indigenous protected areas are adjacent to or close to significant mineral resources and mines. A number of companies are also supporting the land management activities of Indigenous protected areas.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: I note that there is more than 26 million hectares of IPAs declared in Australia. How many different areas do they relate to?
Mr Cochrane : There are 50 declared Indigenous protected areas at the moment.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: And they cover more than 26 million hectares. The annual cost of supporting those is now in the order of $7.6 million?
Mr Cochrane : Of that amount, yes.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Given the objectives to continue to increase that by many millions more hectares, is the cost of support essentially proportionate to the rate of increase? Does the budget provide sufficiently over the forward estimates for the expected rate of increase in IPAs?
Mr Cochrane : The current initiative is funded until June 2013. But the mid-term review of Caring for our Country is anticipated to deal with the forward estimates. As you know, the National Reserve System, which includes indigenous protected areas, is one of the priority areas for Caring for our Country.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Does the current budget, until June 2013, meet your requirements as expected for the continued growth of IPAs?
Mr Cochrane : Correct.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Beyond that, you are reliant upon the Caring for our Country review working out. Is it anticipated that this will provide specific funding for IPAs or will there have to be competitive application?
Mr Cochrane : That is not a question I could answer, because it is a government decision yet to be made. The future funding of IPAs depends also on the growth of those partnerships I talked about and we certainly are actively pursuing those as well.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You manage some World Heritage areas, do you not?
Mr Cochrane : Kakadu and Uluru, particularly.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Have you been consulted on proposals for World Heritage listing of Cape York?
Mr Cochrane : Not directly, no. In a sense, we are a property manager for two properties.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are you aware of this push for World Heritage listing of Cape York?
Mr Cochrane : Certainly. Where there are Indigenous owners in Cape York who are unsure of what that might mean, we have suggested they visit Kakadu or we would suggest that some of our traditional owners in Kakadu go and visit those traditional owners if they want to understand a little about what World Heritage property management means when you are working in conjunction with Indigenous people.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Has the department of the environment contacted you about the proposal, to seek your input, as someone who has a bit of an understanding—a very good understanding—of how to run World Heritage listed areas once they are listed?
Mr Cochrane : I guess our experience in managing Uluru and Kakadu, which goes back nearly 30 years, is well known in the department. Our views on how to manage World Heritage property in conjunction with traditional owners are sought by a number of people. We regularly have a wide range of visitors through both Uluru and Kakadu.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You have not been asked for advice on what it might cost to list—I am sure it is in the papers somewhere—but do you have, off the top of your head, an estimation of what it costs to separately manage Kakadu and Uluru?
Mr Cochrane : Kakadu is the largest park. In round numbers—it varies a little bit from year to year—the park costs around $20 million a year to run. That is 20 million hectares. Two million hectares, I should say. You are talking about $10 a hectare.
Senator BOSWELL: Is that two million or 20 million hectares?
Mr Cochrane : It is 20 million hectares or two million square kilometres.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: How much is that in dollars?
Mr Cochrane : It is $20 million. It is about $10 a hectare.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is it the same for Uluru?
Mr Cochrane : Uluru is a little more expensive to run. It is a smaller park but we have a much higher visitor load and the management intensity of the park is much higher. It is roughly about $13 million.
Senator SIEWERT: I want to talk about the oil spill and the shipwreck at Christmas Island. Could you tell me where we are up to with environmental impact assessment and how much money has been committed to the assessment process or any clean-up process?
Mr Cochrane : I can answer the first question but not the next two. So far, the environmental impact of the foundering of that ship has been minimal. However, that is qualified by the fact that only limited surveys have been done. It is a very preliminary assessment. It is only just until recently that the large swells in the Flying Fish Cove have started to abate. Scientists have been up there from a few days after the shipwreck and, as they can, they have undertaken surveys of the reef and the fish populations in Flying Fish Cove. Their preliminary reports suggest there has been no impact at this stage.
Senator SIEWERT: How many scientists have been up there and what work has been undertaken?
Mr Cochrane : I would have to take that on notice. We have had scientists from the WA Department of Fisheries and from at least one university that has been up there. One particular scientist has been working for years in conjunction with us on monitoring Flying Fish Cove, so he came up pretty quickly because he has quite an extensive baseline data set from which to make comparisons. However, he has only been able to do limited surveys at this point.
Senator SIEWERT: I did ask a question on this in the chamber the other day and I was told at that time that no-one had been in the water—that they could not get divers into Flying Fish Cove—which was what I had understood from some of the locals.
Mr Cochrane : I have this information: Dr Jean-Paul Hobbs from the University of Western Australia has resurveyed some of his sites in the last couple of weeks.
Senator SIEWERT: How many? I am trying to find out the extent of the monitoring that has been done and long-term monitoring.
Mr Cochrane : He has looked at Ethel Beach and Ryan's Ravine on the east coast. There was no obvious immediate impact on habitats or fish species there or at sites surveyed in Flying Fish Cove.
Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, all sites have been surveyed?
Mr Cochrane : Not all sites. They are the sites that he was able to get to.
Senator SIEWERT: Do we know how many that is?
Mr Cochrane : No. I would have to take that on notice.
Senator SIEWERT: The east coast is quite a long way from the wreck, isn't it?
Mr Cochrane : Yes, but there was some concern that there were wider impacts than Flying Fish Cove.
Senator SIEWERT: So it has not had an impact on the east coast but we do not know the impact on Flying Fish Cove. When is that likely to be done?
Mr Cochrane : I understand the swells have now abated and there is a team of WA fisheries scientists on the island for monitoring from the 7th to the 17th of this month. They are there at the moment.
Senator SIEWERT: And that is WA fisheries.
Mr Cochrane : It is WA fisheries, yes.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. In terms of any analysis done, at the time it was reported that baby red crabs were coming out of the water. I have had it reported to me that robber crabs were as well. I have just had that reported to me by a local. Has there been any testing done of the baby crabs?
Mr Cochrane : No, we have not had to test the baby crabs. The populations that came ashore in Flying Fish Cove seem to have come ashore quite successfully and avoided any of the direct impacts from the ship. I think we were quite lucky in the way that the swells operated. The oil was dispersed and the baby crabs came ashore. So we believe we were very lucky.
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the ship still being there, have you been in any discussions about the salvage of the ship and any possible containment action? What is the ongoing leakage of oil and phosphate? Now that the swell has dropped, is it still leaking and has any thought been given to containment if it is necessary?
Mr Cochrane : A number of those questions are actually properly the responsibility of the—
Senator SIEWERT: I am going to chase them. They are due to be here Wednesday and Thursday. I am asking various agencies what is going on from there in their portfolios. I am interested in the coordination.
Mr Cochrane : We have been part of the coordination group that has been monitoring and actively coordinating activity for this. However, we have been playing a supportive role. We have assisted with the development of an environmental monitoring program. Our staff have been volunteers in the clean-up and have also assisted in some of the recovery of the handful of birds that have been affected. But Flying Fish Cove is not in the park and the park has not been affected by the disaster there, so we are playing a supportive role.
Mr Thompson : As I understand it, the coordination has been happening both on the island itself and back here in Canberra. Mr Cochrane's staff, I think, have been involved in discussions with other agencies, in particular AMSA.
Senator SIEWERT: I am particularly interested in following up the new processes that were supposed to have been put in place after Montara and coordination across the agency. I realise this is not the best place to ask this, but I am interested in your perspective on how effective that has been and whether you have been participating in that.
Mr Cochrane : From my perspective it has worked well. Reports from my staff, both on the island and here in Canberra, are that there has been very active coordination and a very positive working relationship between all the agencies involved.
Senator SIEWERT: Mr Cochrane, you said you could not answer my second and third questions around allocation of funding. I want to go back to them and ask why you cannot answer them.
Mr Cochrane : Primarily because the issues of insurance have not yet been sorted out. From our perspective, we have been accounting for all our activities and expenditure. We anticipate that they will be claimable against an insurer when that is sorted. But that is a question for AMSA.
Senator SIEWERT: How much have you spent to date, or do you need to take that on notice?
Mr Cochrane : I would have to take that on notice. A lot of that is staff time rather than any other sort of expenditure.
Senator SIEWERT: And on the ongoing monitoring program?
Mr Cochrane : There is an environmental monitoring program which I believe is still under development. I think we need to get a better handle on the impacts to help design a longer-term program. But there is a very strong commitment to do that. I know a lot of work has been undertaken already exploring what that might be, but it has not been put to bed yet.
Senator SIEWERT: Who is responsible for developing that?
Mr Cochrane : I believe AMSA is responsible overall. But we are playing a very active role in that, because I expect we will have an ongoing role in it.
Senator SIEWERT: If they do end up moving the wreck, will you be involved in planning for how that is handled? It has been suggested to me by people who are aware of these issues, when you move it if there is still oil and phosphate left on the ship—and they do not know how much is left—there needs to be proper planning for the processes to be put in place for dealing with that if the ship is salvaged or moved.
Mr Cochrane : You would have to ask AMSA about that, because they are in charge of that operation. We would only provide advice to them.
Senator SIEWERT: I appreciate that. I am asking whether you have been involved in any of those discussions yet.
Mr Cochrane : We are part of the regular coordinating group that, over the first weeks, met at least weekly.
CHAIR: Thank you. I now call officers from the department in relation to program 1.1, sustainable management of natural resources and the environment.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are you aware of a survey of land managers done by ABARES for which case studies were conducted to increase understanding of the drivers of and barriers to native vegetation management on private land?
Mr Sullivan : I am not aware of that. Given that I am very new to the position, one of my colleagues may be aware of it.
Mr Flanigan : Not that particular reference. It may well be one of the pieces of work that have been commissioned through the Australian Government Land and Coasts Division as part of our monitoring and evaluation work. But I am not personally familiar with that particular piece of work or its current findings.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is there anyone here who would be familiar with the area of the department that you just mentioned might be involved?
Mr Flanigan : That is us. It potentially comes under our monitoring, evaluation and review work, but I am not au fait with that particular report at this point in time. So I would have to take any questions about it on notice.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will be very short then. I cannot take that much further.
Senator McKENZIE: What work is done by the department in managing pests in national parks?
Mr Sullivan : Thank you for the question. We have a number of programs that work within the Caring for our Country portfolio of projects that deal with pests, but, with respect to pests in national parks, I am not aware of any specific projects, unless one of my colleagues is. In part, management of pests in that context is a primary responsibility, I think, of the agriculture portfolio, but I can take that on notice and look at any of the specific projects that have been funded under Caring for our Country that deal with pest management with respect to national parks.
Senator McKENZIE: My question specifically goes to Sambar deer, in the Alpine National Park.
Mr Flanigan : Sorry, we would have to take that on notice. There may well have been a particular project under Caring for our Country that has looked at that species, but I am not aware of one. As my colleague was just outlining, normally national parks and all the management issues within them are the responsibility of the states. We tend to get involved where it is a Commonwealth park—in Kakadu, for example, we would have our own threatened species and invasive species management arrangements. Otherwise, Caring for our Country has tended to focus on particular pests of national significance—things like pigs in Cape York, camels in inland Australia, crazy ants and those sorts of things. I am not particularly aware of any specific project on Sambar deer.
CHAIR: What about the national park with the MPs bogging their four-wheel drives?
Mr Flanigan : In a previous life, Senator!
Senator BOSWELL: Are you asking about camels?
Senator McKENZIE: That is going to the camel question, thank you, Bozzy! My other question in this area concerns the programs around research into sustainable management systems and what research the department has done around the impact of pests like deer, brumby, pigs and ants on our national park system.
Mr Flanigan : In that regard, if it is a general question about national park systems, it is probably better directed at my colleague the Director of National Parks. If it is a particular question about a particular park, it may come up with the environmental assessment people later.
Senator McKENZIE: Thank you. I look forward to getting your answers to my questions.
Senator BOSWELL: Is the Snowy River National Park a state park or a federal park?
Mr Cochrane : If we are talking about alpine national parks, they are run by Parks Victoria and the government of Victoria.
Senator BOSWELL: What head of power is Mr Burke using to prevent cattle going up into the high country?
Dr Grimes : I believe these questions are better directed to the officers who will be here tomorrow. Outcome 5 will be the appropriate place to ask those questions tomorrow morning. We will have the relevant officers. The officers here tonight will not be able to answer your questions, I do not think.
Senator BOSWELL: Thank you.
Senator SINGH: Would you be able to update the committee on any changes to the Environmental Stewardship Program?
Dr Zammit : The Environmental Stewardship Program kicked off in 2007-08, and the first four years of funding progressed through a model which involved competitive tenders for 15-year payments for the successful tenderers to protect matters of national environmental significance—in particular, nationally endangered ecological communities. For the first three years the program focused on a single very large endangered community, the box gum grassy woodlands in western New South Wales and southern Queensland. That program delivered about 27,000 hectares of protected woodland through about 200 contracts. In 2010-11 we expanded the program to do more than one community; we expanded it to do multiple ecological communities in South Australia and, again, western New South Wales. That has now run for about 18 months, and we have protected another 20,000 hectares through another 70 contracts.
In the funding last year, the program was renewed for four years. We are revising the program model. We are continuing to use competitive tenders in the market, but rather than focusing on single or multiple communities we are now focusing on habitat that supports many matters of NES. By that I mean endangered species, endangered communities, migratory species, Ramsar wetlands and the like. By broadening the program in this way we can target more parts of the country, engage more landowners and effectively make the program more efficient by not constraining it to one, two or three particular community types but choosing habitats that target multiple sorts of areas that might be threatened.
Senator SINGH: How was that change brought about? What has been the take-up since the new changes occurred?
Dr Zammit : We have been consistently oversubscribed. My recollection is that, over the seven auction rounds we have run, we have had in the order of 800 or so expressions of interest. We have contracted 270 landowners over the life of the program so far, so we are well subscribed.
Senator SINGH: Are you able to provide the committee with a state-by-state breakdown? I am obviously interested in Tasmania, so that state would be a good start if you have that on you. It is just out of interest, because obviously the biodiversity is different across the country, so I presume the applications would be vastly different as part of that tender process.
Dr Zammit : I can give you the breakdown. We have run auction rounds only in New South Wales and South Australia—no, in fact also in Queensland. I can give you numbers of contracts and areas if you would like. For Queensland we have had a total of only nine contracts, for a total of about 2,000 hectares. For New South Wales we have had a total of 201 contracts, for a total of 46,000 hectares. For South Australia we have had 27 contracts, for a total of 4,900 hectares. Those are the competitive grants. In relation to discretionary funded projects, I do not have the most recent allocations for the announcements just of last week, but I can give them to you on notice.
Senator SINGH: All right, that would be fine. Thank you. I also wanted to ask whether the department can explain landscape-scale approaches to natural resource management and how the government's wildlife corridors program fits with that approach, and also who is engaged in the development of the corridors program.
Dr Zammit : I can go ahead with that. The landscape-scale approach really arises because there has been growing scientific evidence for a couple of decades now that major threats to biodiversity occur at larger scales than we typically invest, for example, invasive species, weed invasions, habitat clearing and more recently climate impacts. The momentum for thinking about landscape scales comes from the science in part, and it has been picked up through a series of policy commitments over the last couple of years and more. In particular, the most recently completed biodiversity strategy, Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010 to 2030, focuses in particular on landscape-scale processes, ecosystem function and the like. It sets the policy language for thinking about landscapes. That has then been translated through priorities and funding programs. In the Caring for our Country program that biodiversity five-year outcome is very much a landscape scale. More recently the Biodiversity Fund under the land sector package also focuses on landscape-scale restoration works. So that sets the policy framework and the investment priorities.
In relation to the National Wildlife Corridors Plan, that provides a mechanism to describe corridors in particular as a vehicle for delivering landscape-scale conservation. It is a three-year, $10 million election commitment, and the draft corridors plan is being prepared by an independent committee chaired by Bob Debus. That work has been going on for about a year now. The committee is in the final stages of its draft plan. That is coming forward to the minister in the next couple of months, and the minister will take it from there.
Senator SINGH: Thank you very much.
Senator SIEWERT: I would like to pick up where we left off with the Biodiversity Fund and how it crosses over Caring for our Country in terms of continuing with the assessment process. You explained the assessment process for the Biodiversity Fund. Am I correct in understanding that the assessment process for Caring for our Country is essentially the same as last time? They hinted at that next door when I was asking questions there.
Mr Sullivan : Yes, it is the same as last time.
Senator SIEWERT: Is there any crossover between the assessors for the Biodiversity Fund and Caring for our Country?
Mr Flanigan : Yes, there is some crossover. We have been through a process of reinvigorating the community assessors, which I can explain in a moment if you are interested in that area.
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I am.
Mr Flanigan : Suffice it to say that in both programs we try to get a good mix of people from the community with good understanding—from the Landcare community, from our own community, from the scientific community. We try to get people who have a good understanding of the NRM space, and then use that accumulated wisdom and expertise in our assessment processes. There is a particular crossover in that we have appointed Mr Gerard Early to be both the chair of the National Assessment Panel in the Caring for our Country process and chair of the moderating panel under the Biodiversity Fund. That is quite deliberate to make sure we bring knowledge of both processes to each other.
Senator SIEWERT: He is the independent chair, and then you have two community reps and two departmental reps—
Mr Flanigan : At least two for the Biodiversity Fund—we may have more.
Senator SIEWERT: Have you selected them yet?
Mr Flanigan : No, we will select those members once we are a little more progressed through the assessment process.
Senator SIEWERT: Once you have done the initial counting.
Mr Flanigan : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: Who is the community assessor?
Mr Flanigan : Last year we advertised through capital city dailies and regional newspapers seeking expressions of interest from community members who might be interested in performing roles as community assessors in a range of our processes—the open call processes under Caring for our Country, the community action grants process and the Biodiversity Fund. That elicited some 494 expressions of interest. We then looked at the various skill sets of those people and we ended up with a pool of about 380—actually we put 386 into the potential pool.
Senator SIEWERT: Who selected those—the department, or did you get some advice outside as well?
Mr Flanigan : We used departmental staff to review their applications and pick the ones that were higher. That group then became our pool from which we choose community assessors. In choosing community assessors we look for a range of things to get, in particular, age and gender balance, state representation—so to get people from around the country—and to get a range of expertise. So we have some people with Landcare backgrounds, some with regional body/NRM backgrounds, we have people with scientific backgrounds. There are retired state NRM bureaucrats in the pool as well. They are people who know and understand this space and can bring something to the process.
Senator SIEWERT: If I understood what you said earlier around the Biodiversity Fund, you have a department person and a community person. Who is the community person?
Mr Flanigan : There are 43 community people, not one.
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I beg your pardon, you said that.
Mr Flanigan : There is a pool of 86 assessors. Each assessor gets around 25 projects to assess over a two-week period.
Senator SIEWERT: Over a set of criteria?
Mr Flanigan : Yes, over a set of criteria.
Senator SIEWERT: Are those criteria different from those that have been advertised?
Mr Flanigan : Most definitely not. We are assessing against the criteria that have been advertised. What we have produced is an assessment tool that helps guide the assessors in scoring projects against those criteria that were in the guidelines.
Senator SIEWERT: Moving on now to Caring for our Country, I have already had a preliminary discussion in RRAT and we talked about the review process and the fact that you have now evaluated the review process. I have read the eight dot points that you have come up with in terms of where to from here for Caring for our Country. The very bottom line is 'Administration of Caring for our Country'. What have you pulled out of all the review process as being how you would see administration of Caring for our Country, or whatever takes its place, being improved? I can throw mine in.
Mr Sullivan : I am happy to hear it. With respect to administration, I was listening in to the question in the other committee. I think it is part of the overall review process to say what can we do better. Looking at efficiencies and effective administration was one of the salient points that came out of the consultation phase of the review. And that is natural in what is, I think, a fairly mature community—having been through NHT1 to Caring for our Country in terms of what can we do better. I think going to that will also be a future opportunity that comes with a wider range of programs in terms of the Biodiversity Fund as well as the other land sector programs and how we make them complementary and deliver those in an effective manner across regional Australia.
Senator SIEWERT: I am not going to traverse the ground I traversed next door, where we talked about how you work the three of them. I was interested, though, in how you think you can improve Caring for our Country or what you have picked up from the submissions. Have you progressed your thinking on that? You have identified it as one of the issues. It sounds like you have not significantly progressed that yet.
Mr Sullivan : I have only had my feet under the desk in this area for a week or so, so I have lots of ideas about what I can do but that is probably for the next estimates committee.
CHAIR: We still have 20 minutes to go!
Mr Sullivan : I can give you my one-week review, then.
CHAIR: If you want to offer information.
Mr Sullivan : But I think that is part of the whole package of what the next iteration of Caring for our Country looks like, so I do not want to make this sound like the tail is going to wag the dog to some degree. It is clear through the consultation process and the comments that I have heard that people have some clear ideas about how we can do better with the delivery of the program. I think in the advice we are providing to ministers we are incorporating ways to look at that in terms of improved delivery arrangements.
Mr Flanigan : Here is some flavour of things that have come through. Of course the future is still being deliberated on by government, so this is more what we have heard from our stakeholders. There are things like finding better ways to engage with the states through delivery of the programs.
Senator SIEWERT: Going back to bilaterals.
Mr Flanigan : Views have certainly been expressed from significant parts of the community groups that they are concerned that there has been a drifting apart of the Commonwealth and the states in that regard. There are also issues about how we engage local government. While there has been a general support for the components that make up the program—the community grants, the open call grants and the regional funding—there has been some commentary on needing to improve the arrangements with the regions to connect with their communities. That is certainly a message we have heard. When we have gone to the communities and surveyed them about whether they feel they are getting support from the regional bodies, we actually get quite a high figure—something like 87 per cent positive—in the report about the regions. But they are patchy around the country, so there is a need for improving the governance in that space.
Senator SIEWERT: Part of that in Western Australia—I can speak more about Western Australia than elsewhere because I obviously have more contact in WA—is that, as a result of moving to the much more competitive process under Caring for our Country, it stopped cooperation because community organisations were competing against each other and were competing against the regional organisation. That is something that continues to come out strongly. I was talking to a group two weeks ago, and the same message came through again.
Mr Flanigan : In our estimation that was particularly a problem in the early days of the shift to Caring for our Country. Some of the feedback we received through the review was that, over the course of Caring for our Country, that had been corrected a little bit by the way the regional bodies were starting to work with their communities on pulling together projects and the community groups themselves were working together on putting in competitive tenders. The value of the competitive process, of course, is that it is a much better mechanism for getting value for money. There is a bit of a risk when you just have big partnership arrangements that you get a lot of movement and not a lot of action sometimes. So we are looking for ways in which we can capture the benefit of more collaboration. In some senses the work we are doing through the Biodiversity Fund to improve the spatial planning that is inherent within the regional plans we hope will go some way to doing that within the guidelines that we are setting for that particular part of the land sector package. One of the criteria we are going to test performance on is the way the regional bodies engage with their communities in developing those plans. It is those types of things that we think can be improved in the administration of the program activities. Keeping the main elements of the architecture but improving how the bits work together is sort of the message.
Senator SIEWERT: I have one last question. Somebody mentioned to me that they thought there had been a review undertaken into extension practices. Are you aware of such a review?
Mr Flanigan : Of extension practices?
Senator SIEWERT: Of NRM extension practices.
Mr Flanigan : It is not ringing any particular bells. We did commission from a consultant an examination of community skills, knowledge and engagement and how people were getting their information and participating in programs. That is the report that I mentioned before. But, again, it may be one of the projects embedded within our work plan. I would have to check that, but I am not familiar with that particular project.
Senator SIEWERT: Could you take that on notice to see if it is part of the process?
Mr Flanigan : It is a project about reviewing extension services?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Mr Flanigan : We will take it on notice. It is not ringing any bells.
Senator SIEWERT: I had not heard of it before, so I thought I would see if you knew anything about it.
Mr Flanigan : There is a project that our colleagues in DAFF are running as part of the Clean Energy Future package and the implementation around the carbon farming initiative that goes to extension.
Senator SIEWERT: I do not think they were relating it to that, but I will double-check there as well.
Senator FISHER: Could you, presumably on notice, provide us with a one-pager of all budgeted future Caring for our Country programs and moneys on a year-by-year basis?
Mr Sullivan : Hopefully I can answer that without having to provide the one page. In the 2012-13 business plan there is a notional budget that is out there in terms of the open call which has just closed. That is for next year. It is a smaller amount of money because the money has been diminishing because of multi-year funding projects taking up a large chunk of the money early in the program cycle. So the amount of money has been decreasing. The forward estimates for Caring for our Country are really subject to the review process and decisions for government about what that tranche of funding will look like. So there is forward estimates because Caring for our Country is an ongoing program. We can give you a quick breakdown, but it will really replicate what is in the budget papers in terms of the breakdown across the program items: what is in the environmental stewardship program, what comes from the special account—
Senator FISHER: It will essentially pull it all together, though, and that is what we would appreciate.
Mr Sullivan : Okay.
Senator FISHER: Thank you. My actual question—
CHAIR: So you have one question and an actual question?
Senator FISHER: That's right; I'm getting to use your language! The Biodiversity Fund commitment ramps up significantly—some eightfold—between 2012-13 and 2013-14. Why?
Mr Flanigan : That goes to the design that we originally put in place. This year's funding and next year's funding, at approximately $30 million each, were designed to give us the ability to work with the groups that might be participating in the program. It is timed to come in around the time of the introduction of the Carbon Farming Initiative and the commencement of the trading in carbon credits. We have the first two years of the program allow us to focus on design and establishment, and then we have an increase which rises, from memory to $245 million. Then it comes back a little bit in the next two years. That is really just a recognition of the sort of scale at which the government wants to run the program in the long term. Like Care for our Country, the Biodiversity Fund is an ongoing program.
Senator FISHER: Is it linked with or coincidental to the winding down of the current Caring for our Country.
Mr Flanigan : Some have looked at the transitions and made some sort of view that there is a picking up of one and a dropping off of another. That is serendipity.
Senator FISHER: Or not.
Mr Flanigan : As my colleague was just saying, Caring for our Country is an ongoing program as is the Biodiversity Fund. They have been designed to be complementary of each other. That is where things sit.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Firstly, in relation to the National Wildlife Corridors Plan, I have a press release from Minister Burke of April last year that indicates the Gillard government made a commitment at the 2010 election to invest $10 million to build the resilience of Australia's environment—blah, blah, blah—to develop a National Wildlife Corridors Plan. It strikes me that there is about $5 million in the budget that I can see. Is that the total budget?
Dr Zammit : The total budget is $10 million over three years. We can go through the department and administered proportions if you would like for each of the years.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: We probably do not need to go through too much of that detail save that I can obviously see the administered expenses in here, which are a shave over $5 million or thereabouts.
Dr Zammit : That is right.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Are you telling me the remainder of the $10 million is all departmental?
Dr Zammit : That is right. It is a brand new program. The departmental expenses are the tool-up within the department staff.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Perhaps you could then talk me through exactly what you expect to get out of the administered expenses and the concept of how that is going to work on the scope of the departmental expenses.
Dr Zammit : The administrative expenses are broken up over the three financial years. The current year is a modest $0.1 million. We are still wrapping up the draft plan so we are not anticipating any large investment in on-ground works. That will essentially be paying for some consultancies to help with the design. From 2012-13 to 2013-14 it is $1.6 million and then $3.8 million. Both of those quantum of money will go towards supporting pilot programs in regions. When this program was designed we did not have any other funding for corridors and, since then, we have had the Biodiversity Fund come to life. We are intending to use the Biodiversity Fund's first, open call, to help us identify potential regional pilots. We will use some of those resources as well as the $1.6 million and $3.8 million we have for the two out years of this election commitment to fund some initial pilots to test the viability of the plan. That is the intention.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Dr Zammit.
Mr Thompson : Senator, I think it is worth pointing out from the departmental side, just to cover that off, that money is being used to support the advisory and expert working groups and also to commission other expert works. I would not want you to be left with the impression that it is just going to bureaucrats. It is being used to frame-up the program and develop the plans.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Mr Thompson. The plan itself is expected to be finalised and published, when?
Dr Zammit : We are in the final stages of receiving the draft plan from the advisory group. I would hope that within the next couple of months the minister will receive it and will make the draft available to the public.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Obviously the funding is there for pilot programs under this.
Dr Zammit : That is right.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Is it envisaged beyond that that the plan provides a framework for private, NGO and philanthropic investment in wildlife corridors? How does the government foresee this plan having benefit in the longer term?
Dr Zammit : As I mentioned a moment ago, it will provide the policy logic, if you like, for investments through the Biodiversity Fund for some of the biodiversity fund's commitments to large-scale restoration works, for example. It will align with some of the spatial prioritisation work which is also part of the land sector package. We hope that the plan also invites funding through philanthropics, through state governments and through NGO bodies.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: So in essence the Biodiversity Fund has come along just at the right time potentially to provide significant impetus for the last year of the forward estimates at present, when there was no funding left for wildlife corridors.
Dr Zammit : The election commitment was never for a substantial funding program; it was to build the plan and to pilot it over three years.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Sure, but without something to make that worthwhile afterwards it could have been a nice $10 million well spent to have a nice plan. The Biodiversity Fund provides an opportunity to leave something more meaningful after that.
Dr Zammit : The Biodiversity Fund provides an opportunity for delivering against a whole bunch of priorities, including the Wildlife Corridors Plan. There are also other policy priorities for government which the biodiversity fund could support.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Dr Zammit. I am going to move quickly to the new areas around Tasmanian forests. This is not usually my forte. There are usually enough senators happy to do Tasmanian forests, but I will just quickly cover off on that.
Senator Conroy: Where are they all?
Senator BIRMINGHAM: I am not sure you want to ask that question, Minister; I am sure you do not, in fact! It strikes me that this is a bit of a surprise addition to the department of environment's responsibilities. Usually these things seem to have been handled by DAFF in the past. Has environment itself had particular responsibility for these types of forestry programs previously?
Mr Shevlin : I have responsibility for the Tasmanian forests taskforce. The Tasmanian forests taskforce is a whole-of-government initiative which includes a number of portfolios—including us and DAFF—because the outcomes being sought are both to ensure a sustainable forestry industry and to obtain a conservation outcome. So this department absolutely does have a role in that; in fact, we are sort of coordinating the whole-of-government efforts on it.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Mr Shevlin. That did not quite answer the question. I do not dispute that the department has a role, and I would hope that the government would bring a whole-of-government approach to something like this. I am just surprised to see this department as what essentially seems to be the lead agency in this area and was asking whether historically there are precedents for that or whether usually these types of verification works and otherwise have been led by DAFF rather than SEWPaC and its many acronym based predecessors.
Dr Grimes : I think, as Mr Shevlin has indicated, that there is a specific focus here on conservation outcomes under the process which is underway. That explains the role we are playing overall in the Tasmanian forests process.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: If this were question time, after those two answers I would surmise that, no, there is no precedent. But seeing as neither of you—
Dr Grimes : I am not sure whether there is a completely direct analog in the past.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: In terms of the independent verification group report, is that on track to be finished next month?
Mr Shevlin : The independent verification process is proceeding. The chair still believes and expects that he will provide the report by the end of the month, which is what he is contracted to do.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: That should then lead to the signing of the conservation agreement et cetera within the anticipated timeframe of April this year.
Mr Shevlin : That report will feed into a process with all of the signatories. It basically provides them with a factual base which assesses the various claims about conservation values and wood supply requirements, and it provides information to enable the signatories to work with the governments to come up with an outcome that achieves the optimum balancing of the conservation outcomes desired and guaranteeing the wood supply requirements for industry.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Usually when I ask this department about buyback programs it is about a more liquid variety than about saw millers. Is the $300,000 in the budget for administered expenses entirely for buyback support?
Mr Shevlin : I am not sure exactly. There was $300,000 that was in for the statement of principles, which was actually funding to support the signatories to engage in discussions with each other that resulted in the statement of principles and then to support their further work. That is the $300,000 I can see, but you might be referring to something different.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: What is funding the buyback?
Mr Shevlin : If you mean the sawlog buyback program, that is $15 million, which is provided as part of the $43 million that the Commonwealth government already provided to Tasmania. There is a facilitation payment that is part of the Tasmanian Forest Intergovernmental Agreement. That was provided to Tasmania on 7 October. The intergovernmental agreement requires the Tasmanian government to establish that sawlog program in consultation with the Commonwealth. That is a process currently under way.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: So it is not actually a buyback run by SEWPaC?
Mr Shevlin : No, it will be run ultimately by the Tasmanian government. The Commonwealth government and both the agriculture department and the environment department have an interest in it because it is trying to achieve both a wood supply and a conservation outcome.
Senator WATERS: My question goes to the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, so I am not sure who is the best person to answer that. One of the targets is that by 2015 we will have a national increase of 600,000 square kilometres of native habitat managed primarily for biodiversity conservation, which is wonderful. How is that progressing? How much of that target have we got to go and how much have we achieved to date?
Dr Zammit : The national Biodiversity Conservation Strategy is a cross-government strategy. It is agreed by the ministers from all the jurisdictions in the country, so it is not a Commonwealth commitment; it is a national commitment. With the formation of the new ministerial council, we have established an implementation working group to take forward how we might collectively, across jurisdictions, implement all the targets in that strategy. We have just started work on that group in the last month, so I cannot give you any more advice except to say that there is a body of work in place for governments to work together and to take back to the ministerial council by the end of this year an implementation framework which will allow us to report against the targets across governments.
Senator WATERS: I will watch that space. What proportion of existing native habitat is on a tenure or under an arrangement that protects it from coal seam gas or mining exploration?
Mr Sullivan : No, I cannot.
Senator WATERS: Could you take that on notice, please?
Mr Sullivan : I will do my best to take that on notice and see what we can do.
Senator WATERS: Thank you. I would be very interested in that. Obviously it goes to the effectiveness of the scheme. Are you the right folk to ask about protection measures for migratory species?
Ms Howlett : That would be the Marine Division.
CHAIR: Thank you. That concludes this part of the hearing.
Pr oceedings suspended from 21:14 to 21:32
CHAIR: I understand that there is a response to Senator Fisher's question in program 1.1. We will take that now.
Dr Grimes : We will be happy to provide a little more information on the Renewable Energy Atlas. Senator Fisher had some questions before, and Mr Thompson has information to provide on that.
Mr Thompson : On the Renewable Energy Atlas, your recollection is correct, in that the department in a former guise did develop that product. Originally it was developed by the Environmental Research and Information Network which is a geospatial unit within the department. As was announced by Minister Garrett in October 2008, as you will recall, the energy efficiency functions of the department moved to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency in March 2010. At that point the department had no ongoing portfolio responsibility for the atlas although we did, as a courtesy, continue to host the atlas on the department's website until late 2010. It was decommissioned at that point. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency website currently indicates that information which was provided to underpin the atlas is now available from four different providers of information: CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia and Windlab Systems Pty Ltd.
Senator FISHER: That is what Mr Comley confirmed to me in the break when I indicated to him that his department's website still had a link to the Renewable Energy Atlas. His response, albeit during the break, was that they often provide information that people might be looking for. He maintained that his department had never had responsibility for the program—so thanks, Mr Thompson. In March 2010, you are saying—
CHAIR: We are not going to any more questions on it. We are going to outcome 1.2.
Senator FISHER: Where can I ask questions about it, please?
CHAIR: You can put it on notice, but we are going to 1.2 now.
Senator FISHER: The whole reason that I raised the issue was to ascertain when I could ask questions about it.
CHAIR: That is fine but we are going to 1.2 now.
Senator FISHER: Where does the Renewable Energy Atlas properly belong?
CHAIR: You have been very well behaved over the last few moments.
Senator FISHER: Yes, because I have asked nothing. Where does the Renewable Energy Atlas belong? That is what I would like to know.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Senator Fisher is raising a question—
CHAIR: Do not start now. We are on 1.2 and if there are any questions arising—
Senator FISHER: It may well belong in 1.2.
CHAIR: they will be on notice.
Senator FISHER: Is the department able to inform us where it belongs?
CHAIR: Welcome to 1.2. Do you have any opening statements to make?
Senator FISHER: You are kidding!
Ms Dripps : No, we do not.
CHAIR: Are there any questions of Ms Dripps?
Senator FISHER: If the Renewable Energy Atlas belongs in 1.2 then I do have.
CHAIR: Senator Waters you have the call.
Senator WATERS: I have some questions about the State of the Environment report. Do I have the appropriate personnel here?
Dr Grimes : This is the appropriate area.
Senator WATERS: I am obviously referring to the most recent State of the Environment report from December last year. The very first headline statement says that the environment is a national issue requiring national leadership. In that case can we assume that the department has advised the minister against the government's current plan to delegate key powers down to the states as part of the EPBC reform package expected shortly?
Ms Dripps : I think that question relates to officers who will be in attendance tomorrow morning. The officers that I have here are officers who were involved in the preparation of the State of the environment report.
Dr Grimes : You are asking us to comment specifically on a policy matter.
Senator WATERS: I am merely trying to get to the incongruity of the State of the environment report recommending a course of action and I am querying whether departmental staff have raised that with the minister.
Dr Grimes : I do not believe that there is any inconsistency in the material in the State of the environment report and the government's approach to reform of the EPBC Act.
Senator WATERS: How does national leadership equate with delegating powers down to the states?
Dr Grimes : You are drawing me into a question that requires me to express an opinion on matters of policy.
Senator WATERS: I was simply asking whether the department had advised the minister as to the advisability of delegation, despite the State of the environment report's recommendation for strong national leadership.
Dr Grimes : As Ms Dripps has indicated to you, those matters around the EPBC Act would be handled tomorrow. In any case, I am not sure how helpful we are going to be able to be with you on that question.
Senator WATERS: Okay. I will raise it again tomorrow. Another headline statement in the SOE report is that unique biodiversity is in decline. Obviously it has been in decline for many decades now. Again, direct me elsewhere if you will. Has the department advised the minister that the government is either doing or not doing enough to help the decline of biodiversity?
Dr Grimes : Mr Thompson will be able to make a few further observations.
Mr Thompson : It may not satisfy the specific question that you asked but, as you know, the State of the environment report produced every five years is a comprehensive assessment. It is a major piece of work with many, many facets. The department is in the process of digesting that. The department helps in the development of it so it is already informing our policy advice and our policy development for the government. But we are also in the process of digesting the outcomes of the report and mapping that, I suppose, against the current policy settings and possible future and prospective policy settings. I understand that that is a very general answer, and I am not trying to obfuscate, but we are serious about using the State of the environment report as an input to policy development within the department and advice to the government on a range of things, including biodiversity.
Senator WATERS: Perhaps you could table anything that has flowed from those particular findings of the SOE report into biodiversity that is now shaping your advice to the minister.
Mr Thompson : You are asking me to table advice to the minister. I would have to take that on advice.
Senator Conroy: They cannot table material that goes to advice to a minister.
Senator WATERS: Can I ask you to divulge the substance of the advice?
Senator Conroy: No.
Senator WATERS: I asked; I was worth a try!
Senator Conroy: You can ask nicely—that is true—but the answer is still no.
Senator WATERS: The next question is about growth rate in corals—again, the State of the environment report says that growth rates have decreased by about 10 per cent, which is obviously a major indicator of stress and one wonders whether the port developments and shipping accidents are feeding into that. Has the department advised the government to do more to protect the reef, especially in light of the 112 million cubic metres of dredging proposed in the reef?
Dr Grimes : And department provides a range of advices, as you know, in relation to the reef and related matters. Again, I think you are asking us to comment on a policy positions that may be put forward by the department.
Senator CONROY: They are on to you!
Senator WATERS: Is there anything you can share with me on that front?
Dr Grimes : I am not sure there is anything, unless you have a more specific question.
Senator WATERS: I will move to a more specific one. This is a procedural one. Obviously the report takes a long time to write and to finalise. Can you provide an estimate of how many versions the State of the environment report went through?
Dr Grimes : We may well have to take that on notice. I will to see if any officers here have that information to hand. We would have to take that on notice. I suspect it may be difficult for us to answer because segments of the report tend to be done as individual chapters before the report itself gets brought together.
Senator WATERS: Sure. If you need to take that on a chapter-by-chapter basis, that would be fine, too.
Dr Grimes : We can take that on notice and see what information we may be able to provide to you.
Senator WATERS: I am interested also in how many of those versions incorporated feedback or comments from the minister's office?
Dr Grimes : We will be able to take that on notice and see if there is anything we can provide you at all.
Senator WATERS: Can you tell you what point the executive summary gets drafted and by whom?
Dr Grimes : I personally cannot tell you the point at which it was drafted, but the officers here may be able to assist you.
Ms Wiley-Smith : We will have to take that on notice. As you are aware, this is an independent report, so we will have actually have to liaise with the chapter authors to find out that type of information. We are happy to take it on notice.
Senator WATERS: Thank you. Yes, it goes to independence—that is precisely my point. Thank you, I will look forward to that. Lastly, are you able to provide original drafts of the State of the environment report before any comments or alterations were made in the course of those versions?
Dr Grimes : The best we can do at this stage is taken that on notice.
Senator WATERS: Thank you very much. I have some questions about marine issues. Shall I move to those now?
Senator BOSWELL: I have questions on marine issues as well.
CHAIR: I am happy to move to marine issues and we will come back to Senator Boswell.
Senator WATERS: Thank you, Chair. I have a few questions about the snubfin dolphin, which is a listed migratory species that has been discovered just north of Gladstone at Balaclava Island where there is slated to be coal terminals and concomitant increases in shipping in those areas. What analysis has the department done and what advice have you provided to the minister, if you are able to answer me on that, on the impacts on the snubfin dolphin from these new proposed coal export facilities and the associated shipping?
Ms Dripps : All the information about assessment of prospective or potential developments is done by the Environment Assessment and Compliance Division. They will be here first up in the morning for 5.2.
Senator WATERS: And they would be the relevant section of the department to advise on the expected impacts on snubfin dolphin?
Ms Dripps : Yes.
Senator WATERS: As well is just assessing the project? They would not seek any advice from any of the folk at the table here?
Ms Dripps : They will take advice from a range of different parties in undertaking that assessment, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and sometimes the Marine Division, but I do not have the specifics of whether that project is having advice sought from the Marine Division with me.
Senator WATERS: If there is anything you could table that is from the Marine Division, that would be helpful. Thank you.
I have a few quick questions on the Coral Sea. Do I have the right folk here? Lovely.
Ms Dripps : We will see what we can do.
Senator WATERS: How many submissions have been received to date?
Mr Routh : I do not have with me a running tally, given that the submissions are still open for another week, I think it is. Once the submission period has closed we would then know.
Senator WATERS: Do you have a ballpark estimate?
Mr Routh : No, I am sorry, I don't.
Senator WATERS: Have you done an initial assessment of what the key issues are in the submissions?
Ms Dripps : We have just said that we do not know how many submissions there are, so I think that goes to answering that question.
Senator WATERS: I just wanted to make sure that it does, in fact. Is that the same answer? There may well have been some key submissions that you have looked at, and I am interested in the major issues raised in any of those, if you have, indeed, eye-balled any of them.
Mr Routh : There could have been some preliminary work done on looking at submissions, but I think we would do that once all the submissions are there. We would look through all of the submissions.
Senator WATERS: So in that preliminary work there is nothing magic cropping up in terms of themes that the community is concerned about?
Mr Routh : It is just a bit premature to say. One of the things that sometimes happens when you have a deadline for public submissions is you get a spike at the end.
Senator WATERS: Sure. Do you have any further consultations planned once the public consultation period finishes on the 24th of this month?
Ms Musgrave : The socioeconomic impact assessment work that ABARES is conducting for us on the proposal, some of that work—and they have their own reference groups—may actually still continue post the close of the public submissions in follow-up and testing of draft reports and things like that that they doing with them. There are no scheduled formal public meetings like there are with the current open houses and scheduled central meetings—that sort of formal meeting set. But that is not to say that there might not be something that arises that the department then decides actually there is a core group of people we need to have some discussions with.
Senator WATERS: Just finally, when can we expect to see the finalised bioregional plan for the Coral Sea?
Ms Musgrave : The government's intention is still the same—to have them all done in 2012. So at some point this year.
Senator WATERS: Are you on track for that?
Ms Musgrave : Yes.
Senator WATERS: Great. Keep up the good work. Thank you, Chair.
Senator BOSWELL: I want to refer you to a report called Resilient people, resilient planet. It is a UN report praising Australia 's management of the Great Barrier Reef. Who would be familiar with that—all of you?
Mr Routh : I am not immediately familiar, but the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority may well be.
Senator BOSWELL: Where is the gentleman who usually handles this?
Dr Grimes : Matters relating to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority were handled a little earlier in the program.
Senator BOSWELL: I am well aware of that. This question refers to the accolades that the UN are putting on the management of the Great Barrier Reef and how it is being managed as a multipurpose park. My question is to someone there—to the officer in charge: if the UN report applauds the management of the Great Barrier Reef, where trawling is permitted, why is trawling excluded in the Coral Sea and other bioregions?
Mr Routh : As you are probably aware, the stage that we are up to at the moment with the Coral Sea—and indeed with the other areas—is the public consultation phase. There is still some time to go on that for the Coral Sea. It is a proposal out there for public feedback and input.
Senator BOSWELL: But your department has excluded all trawling in the green zones and the two blue zones—the multipurpose zone and the other one. So the three zones have had trawling abolished, yet the UN says, 'The Barrier Reef is managed well. Congratulations.' It is multipurpose. You have a fishing industry that supports 10 major ports, and 10 commercial fisheries operate, contributing $140 million a year. Explain to me how it can be right to trawl in the Barrier Reef but exclude trawling for the rest of Australia.
Mr Routh : Nothing has been prohibited or banned, because it is a proposal. The consultation period for the proposal on the Coral Sea shuts on 24 February. So you are correct that the proposal would not allow demersal trawling in those four zones on the Coral Sea map that is out for public discussion, but I just repeat that it is at the proposal stage.
Senator BOSWELL: So I can go out and tell the trawling industry that they have a chance of trawling in the two blue zones, including the multipurpose zone. They will be overjoyed to know that, since the maps have all come out with keys to appropriate uses, saying that, in multipurpose zones and special zones as well as green zones, trawling is banned.
Ms Dripps : What you can tell them is that we are very keen to receive their feedback on the proposed management arrangements in the Coral Sea, that we are very interested in their views and that the government has not yet made any decisions in this area.
Senator BOSWELL: With due respect, that is not a very truthful answer.
Senator Conroy: That is a bit rough. I do not think you can cast an aspersion just because you do not get the answer you want.
Senator BOSWELL: No, I do not cast aspersions because I do not get the answer I want, but your government has put out maps excluding trawling in special zones. There are three zones: a green zone, a special-purpose zone and another zone—a light blue and a dark blue zone. You are telling me—but go out and tell the fishermen—that they have to make a submission and, if their submission is successful, you will remove those prospective trawling bans from those two zones. Is that what you are telling me?
Senator Conroy: Firstly, I think you should withdraw your earlier comment about the officials. If you want to accuse the government of being dishonest—
Senator BOSWELL: I did not say 'dishonest'.
Senator Conroy: I think you went close.
Senator BOSWELL: But it was not a very good answer.
Senator Conroy: I am inviting you to reconsider your remarks. If you want to make the attack on the minister at the table—
Senator BOSWELL: No, I do not want to make the attack on you. I will withdraw 'untruthful'.
Senator Conroy: Thank you, Senator Boswell.
Senator BOSWELL: But it was irresponsible. I do not know whether you take exception to that. You have to put yourself in those people's position. Their jobs are on the line. Their boats are worth nothing. Their licences are gone. You go out and tell them, 'You make a submission and we'll change it all.' I do not know whether you want to stand by that or whether you want to withdraw.
Senator Conroy: I am happy to take it on notice. If there is any further information the officers at the table think they can add, they can do so. Otherwise I am happy to take some further information for you, Senator Boswell.
Ms Musgrave : For the fishers up off the Queensland coast, it is quite a confronting prospect because it is such a contrast between the GBR and what people are used to. The thing with this program that we are running currently to do the national representative system under the marine bioregional program is that the premise of how we have gone about identifying the gear types that may or may not be permitted—the way the zoning has been proposed—is a different premise to the way the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was set up. It is under its own purpose and legislation and is dealt with in a different way. I know that does not help the people that are out there fishing this side of the line and then fishing that side of the line, and it is part of the challenge for us in the communication stuff to try to explain to people in sufficient detail the differences in the two approaches to decrease some of that ambiguity. But they are done under two different processes.
Senator BOSWELL: I understand there are two different acts. But what they cannot understand is that they can fish on one side of the line; even if they move one centimetre over the line, they cannot fish. If it is right to fish or to trawl in the Great Barrier Reef, which is one of Australia's icons, why is it wrong to fish in an area of lesser significance across the line? What is the rationale—what is the science?
Dr Grimes : As the officers have indicated, there is a process underway. It is in the consultation phase at this stage. Following the consultation stage, the government will be making its final decisions on these matters. It is the very nature of a marine protected area, of course, that there is a boundary at some point and, when you cross that boundary, there are different management arrangements in place, depending on the level of protection that is being provided and on the sort of protection that needs to be provided in that area. That is the nature of marine protected areas themselves. As the officers have indicated, we are in a process of consultation at this stage, with an opportunity for all interested sides to participate, both on the conservation side—we may be interested in a more ambitious conservation outcome—and on the fishing side, where you, Senator have drawn attention to the impacts it will have on fishing industries.
Senator BOSWELL: My interpretation of what you are saying is: 'You've got a chance. Ignore the maps—ignore the blue zones and the keys on the maps that tell you where you can fish. Go and make a submission and the government will listen to you.' If you believe that, you believe in the tooth fairy. That is wrong. It is wrong to build up false hope when these people are out on their feet, to say, 'Make another submission and we'll listen to you,' when you well know they have no chance at all. You know that, I know that and the minister knows it. You know it, Minister. You are an honest man and you will not—
Senator Conroy: I think you are being a little unfair in terms of your characterisation of the process. I think you are being a little harsh.
Senator BOSWELL: No, I will give a great donation to any charity you nominate if—
Senator Conroy: If any of the boundaries change.
CHAIR: The honest man charity!
Senator Conroy: I have a good charity for him—how much?
Senator BOSWELL: I am not going to put it on the record. You and I will go and shake hands on a deal. My proposition is that—
Senator Conroy: I am not taking payment in fish!
Senator BOSWELL: if you are saying to these people, 'Don't really worry about what we've done, don't worry about the maps and the hundreds of millions of dollars'—or whatever has been spent'—on producing the maps—
CHAIR: Senator Boswell, we have a couple of minutes. So if you have a question, you should put it.
Senator BOSWELL: I do want to make my point. Even Senator Waters, who is diametrically opposed to me on most issues, believes that the fishermen are not getting a fair go. I have heard her say it. She would argue for her particular point of view, but we agree that fishermen are not getting a fair go when you are saying that they have a chance when you know they do not have a chance. Let us leave that there, Minister.
Senator Conroy: I will send you the name of the charity.
Senator BOSWELL: Well, I am sorry you going to lose your shirt, Mate! Let us look at the marine bioregional planning process. Could you advise on the total cost to patrol, police and administer the Coral Sea marine park once it has been declared?
Ms Dripps : We have indicated that government is yet to make decisions on the scale and levels of protection within the Coral Sea marine reserve, so the department is at an early stage of planning such matters, and we are not able to give a definitive answer at this time.
Senator BOSWELL: You said the maps could be altered—by how much?
Ms Dripps : I do not know. I am going to have a look at the public consultation—
Senator BOSWELL: In other words, have you done any research, planning or costing on this question?
Ms Dripps : We have done preliminary work on that question, and Mr Routh might wish to add to my answer.
Senator BOSWELL: Could you assist me, Mr Routh, by telling me how much it will cost?
Mr Routh : The fundamental reason we do not have a final proposal is that we are still in the consultation phase. When there is a decision on a final proposal, we would then do the costings around management.
Senator BOSWELL: On the maps that are put out at the moment, what would the costing be?
Dr Grimes : I do not think anyone has done one.
Senator BOSWELL: They have. There are maps and there are changed maps there.
Senator Conroy: Are you asking for a future costing based on uncertain parameters?
Senator BOSWELL: I am asking for a costing on the maps. 'On the 24th we will declare it. No-one has any idea of how much it's going to cost.'
Dr Grimes : As the officers have indicated, it is still an ongoing process of active policy consideration by the government. I am not sure what we can provide for you at the moment. We can take the question on notice.
Senator BOSWELL: Which government agencies will be responsible for monitoring illegal fishing methods such as driftnets, super seiners and long liners?
Ms Musgrave : The actual arrangements we might put in place when we have the entire network will be resolved once we have them. Because of the nature of our work with our current marine estate, we have arrangements with various organisations to conduct some of the work for us, whether they are state agencies, AFMA or Customs and Border Protection. There is a range of arrangements in place for doing that. We are changing to such an extensive network, whatever the specifics might end up being. It suggests to us that the nature of those arrangements will have to change. So it is not a simple matter of just taking what we currently do and scaling it up in that sense.
Senator BOSWELL: Has the government had any preliminary discussions with any state government regarding the management of the marine parks?
Ms Musgrave : Not in terms of specifics, only in that a number of state agencies have said they want to be involved as we develop those arrangements, once we know what our network is.
Senator BOSWELL: Is there a possibility they will administer it?
Ms Musgrave : Not the entire network, but we might expand the current arrangements we have with some states to increase the activities we would have them do for us.
Senator BOSWELL: Has any state government agreed to pick up any financial responsibility for the management of the marine parks?
Mr Routh : We are not at that stage of negotiation yet.
Ms Musgrave : It is not obvious to me why a state government would pick up management costs in a Commonwealth marine park.
Senator BOSWELL: Are they prepared to do it for you and charge?
Ms Musgrave : I think some of them would be, but it has been preliminary agency discussion, not with the government. I would assume some would, as they currently do.
Senator BOSWELL: Has the department assessed the number of boats that trawl in the highly protected green zones, the multiple-use general-purpose zones and the special-purpose zones? What amount of fishing effort will have to be reduced? How many licences will have to be removed to allow the remaining boats to fish in areas that are not zoned? How is this determined?
Ms Musgrave : We had some older data that we were using to make estimates of the displaced GVP, how many people are operating and what the licensing arrangements are. Once the actual proposal for consultation went out, we engaged the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences to do the actual specifics of this proposal—who is operating there and what is the GVP—do the analysis on the most recent data, get the data from the relevant fisheries agencies and ground-truth that with those operating in the sector currently.
Senator BOSWELL: Before these marine parks are declared, a socioeconomic impact statement has to be produced. Is that correct?
Ms Musgrave : Before they are proclaimed, yes. They will be made public. At what point they are made public, I am not certain. But they will definitely be made public long before any reserve is actually proclaimed by the Governor General.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: I will quickly cover some International Whaling Commission issues. The commission reports that it has high hopes of finally in 2012 agreeing on the abundance estimates for minkes. Do you share that confidence after the numerous delays?
Ms Petrachenko : I am hopeful that we will, through the scientific committee this June at the annual meeting in Panama City, be given the information on abundance estimates for Southern Ocean minke whales. As you remarked it has been delayed. We have raised that numerous times through the scientific committee. Our scientists have been in discussions on various methods to determine abundance and that is where the scientific disagreement is. If that can be resolved at the scientific committee, then we will receive that at the commission.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Have Australia's representatives on the scientific committee previously been generally satisfied with the estimates that have been undertaken, or have we been part of the disputes and therefore the delays?
Ms Petrachenko : As in any scientific process various views are put forward. The scientists discuss amongst themselves and try to reach consensus or bring forward different types of advice. It is really one of population and structure, and Australian scientists have been fully involved in those discussions.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: I am not sure that quite nailed it but I do not have all night to go through everything with everybody. The South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary was probably the most controversial topic of the last commission. Is that fair to say?
Ms Petrachenko : It was probably the agenda item that took up the most time both in terms of not really insubstantive debate but led to a discussion on rules of procedure.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: What is Australia's position in relation to the proposed sanctuary?
Ms Petrachenko : Australia is very supportive of the establishment of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: In terms of the agreement that there will at least be some decision reached ultimately by some means at the next IWC, what work is Australia doing to try to secure the much sought after consensus of the IWC?
Ms Petrachenko : There is consensus at the IWC but there are also decisions that can be made without consensus. Australia is participating now in discussions on resolving the rules of procedure. One of the hats that I wear for the whaling commission for Australia is that I have the pleasure of being the chair of the finance and administration committee which oversees the rules of procedure. We have established a group of commissioners that is being chaired by the commissioner from New Zealand to work through this issue on how we determine a quorum for the purposes of decision making and whether votes should be taken. That is ongoing as we speak.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Basically spending a year working out how to take a vote at the next meeting to see whether we can get a decision.
Ms Petrachenko : One of the difficulties is that the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling is circa 1946. Its rules of procedure are not up to modern-day standards. That is one of the difficulties we are dealing with. To get those changes in place is a decision that the commission needs to make with more than 50 per cent of the members voting in support.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Ms Petrachenko. There are a few other issues I would like to explore but we do not have a lot of time so that will do.
Senator SIEWERT: I go to the issue of oil and gas acreage and how much involvement you have had in providing advice on the release of the acreage. I am particularly interested at this stage because of the marine biodiversity planning process and the latest release of areas for potential take-up covering areas proposed for marine sanctuaries in the north-west. One also covers, as I am sure you are aware, one of the three known potential breeding sites for blue whales. I wonder if you were asked for any input to develop that.
Ms Dripps : I am sorry to disappoint you, but it is officers from output 5.2 and the Environment Assessment and Compliance Division who will be able to answer that question.
Senator SIEWERT: That is fine. I will do that tomorrow. I do have other bioregional marine planning questions, which it may shock you to know. Has the department funded any organisation from the WA fishing industry as part of the marine planning process for the south-west marine region?
Ms Musgrave : The department has provided funding to commercial fishing representative bodies to facilitate thorough and good engagement with ABARES to ensure they can identify who the right people are that ABARES need to be talking to, which are the fishers who actually need to receive the survey because they are operating in the areas of interest and things of that nature.
Senator SIEWERT: Can you tell me how much they were funded and what the specific guidelines and activities are for?
Ms Musgrave : I can tell you how much. I do not have a copy of the contract terms here to tell you which activities, so I can take that on notice.
Senator SIEWERT: If you could.
Ms Musgrave : Is it specifically for a region?
Senator SIEWERT: It is for the south-west, but it would be helpful if you could provide it for any funding that has been made available for any of the other regions for the fishing industry to participate in that manner.
Ms Musgrave : Okay. Do you want me to give you the bits I know or do you want it just as one whole lot?
Senator SIEWERT: Could you tell me how much for the south-west one now and then take the rest on notice?
Senator BOSWELL: Can I get that on notice as well?
Senator SIEWERT: You will get it if I get it. Everyone's answers are public.
Senator BOSWELL: All right.
Ms Musgrave : For the south-west reserve proposal the contract was up to a total value of $181,500, which was GST inclusive. The expenditure to date has actually been—this is a very precise number—$141,270.92.
Senator SIEWERT: Has that been acquitted? Is that just reported back as how much they have spent to date?
Ms Musgrave : It is reported. It would be paid on invoices, but at the end, when the total contracts are then signed off, is the formal acquittal step. But it is paid on the premise of invoices, and a component of it is for reimbursement of officers' time if they were engaged in it or then subcontracted to a liaison officer or something like that. But it is on the basis of invoices.
Senator SIEWERT: Was any other sector paid to be part of the process as well?
Ms Musgrave : No. ABARES's work is targeted at the commercial fishing charter sector, so these forms of funding were provided to ensure and facilitate getting the best outcome out of that process.
Senator SIEWERT: To recap, it was to find out how much each are fishing in the south-west proposed area?
Ms Musgrave : It is not just to find how much they are fishing, because some of the state fisheries data can give us some level of that, but they will provide it by value. ABARES's work engages with the individuals in terms not only of the value—because we can get the value from the state fisheries data—but also in how they are operating, what methods they are using, whether or not they are multiply endorsed, where they land their product so we can do the flow-on economic regional modelling and what their intentions are. There is a social survey aspect to it. There are a lot of other things than just what we can get out of them crunching data from a state fisheries agency.
Senator SIEWERT: Has that information subsequently been provided to you?
Ms Musgrave : We have had a draft report for the south-west and we either just have had or are about to have a draft report for the north and north-west. The Coral sea and the east are a way off yet because they have just done it.
Senator SIEWERT: So the $181,500 that was approved was purely for the south-west?
Ms Musgrave : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: So there are different amounts for each of the others?
Ms Musgrave : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
CHAIR: This will have to be your least question
Senator SIEWERT: That is a hard choice. Was any of this funding used to develop industry submissions or consolidated positions to the south-west process or for any of the other regions?
Ms Musgrave : I cannot imagine so if it was not the purpose of the contract; but, without actually having asked anyone to account for every single hour—I do not think so. It is not the purpose of the contract. I cannot imagine.
Senator SIEWERT: I have been in the other estimates hearing and found out some other things about a grant proposal being reported differently from what it potentially was supposed to be for, so could you take it on notice to check for me please?
Ms Musgrave : Certainly.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
Senator FISHER: This outcome is about environmental information and research, program 1.2. Is information about wind directions and speeds environmental information?
Dr Grimes : Is this in relation to the Renewable Energy Atlas issue or a different matter?
Senator FISHER: All I want to know is what program it fits. If it is not this program, I will ask questions on notice of the appropriate part, but I would like to know where it fits, because that is what the Renewable Energy Atlas did.
Mr Thompson : That is right. It exists for renewable energy purposes. The issues covered in the Renewable Energy Atlas, as I explained before, are no longer the responsibility of this portfolio. In terms of wind speed and calculation, the data and information that underpinned that element of the Renewable Energy Atlas was provided by an external provider which is now identified in the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency website. That is Windlab Systems Pty Ltd. I am not aware of any other data collection modelling or analysis that the department does in relation to wind issues The Bureau of Meteorology obviously would have some interest and some functions that relate to those matters.
Senator FISHER: Who can answer questions about why the atlas was decommissioned and that sort of stuff?
Mr Thompson : I can address that, but it is based on fading corporate memory.
Senator FISHER: Ditto!
Mr Thompson : There are really two reasons why it was decommissioned. One is that, as I said before, the department no longer had a portfolio or department responsibility for the issue of renewable energy. That passed to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency in March 2010. Second is that there were no longer departmental resources available to maintain the atlas.
Senator FISHER: So the website was decommissioned. When did the program stop?
Mr Thompson : I do not know what the reference to the program is. There was a product, which was the Renewable Energy Atlas. As I said before, that was announced in October 2008. It was decommissioned in late 2010.
Senator FISHER: What changed between the minister announcing the program in October 2008, saying, 'The atlas is an important step in making renewable energy a more viable and practical choice for the future' and the subsequent expenditure of $560,000 on the atlas? What changed between then and October 2010 when the atlas vanished?
Mr Thompson : I cannot comment on the policy intent or the government's intent because I honestly do not know. What did change fundamentally was that the department no longer had a responsibility for it. I do understand that there was some correspondence between the Department of the Environment, as it was then, and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency about the issue. That is all I know.
CHAIR: We will now move to program 2.1, Management of hazardous wastes, substances and pollutants. Mr Thompson, do you wish to make an opening statement?
Mr Thompson : No, Senator.
Senator BILYK: I want to ask about the Packaging Impacts Consultation Regulation Impact Statement. I note that on Friday, 17 February in Hobart—my home state of Tassie—there is to be a public forum on that. I am wondering what the purpose of that forum is. Can you also tell me how many other public forums are taking place nationally, if any?
Dr Wright : The forum that you refer to is part of the formal public consultation process that is a requirement of the COAG regulation impact statement process. There are a series of public forums that commenced today; there was one in Brisbane today. They are being held in every major capital city and also Bunbury, Albury and Townsville regional centres.
Senator BILYK: That is 11—is that right?
Dr Wright : Yes. Those regional centres were nominated by the jurisdictions as the ones that they wanted included.
Senator BILYK: What is the purpose of the meeting?
Dr Wright : The purpose of the public fora is to gain stakeholder views on the consultation RIS, which ranges from their views on data, the analysis, the assumptions and the viability or workability of options. It is a requirement of the regulation impact statement process that, before going to a decision RIS, there is a formal consultation process and stakeholder views are recorded and taken account of in the final decision RIS.
Senator BILYK: Is a cost-benefit analysis part of the RIS?
Dr Wright : That is correct.
Senator BILYK: What is the scope of the consultation RIS? What is covered in the discussions?
Dr Wright : Under this RIS there are four options that are looked at, and these are assessed against the base case, which is business as usual where jurisdictions already have measures in place and plans to improve those, and that forms the base case. Then there are four main options, and I can run through what they are.
Senator BILYK: If you could.
Dr Wright : The first is a national waste strategy, which is essentially improving the existing approach through national standards such as a standard on bins and colours, standards on what is recycled, more information to the public on what can be recycled and where and so forth. That is a small initiative. Option 2 has three suboptions. The first one is essentially to bring the Australian packaging covenant under the new product stewardship framework that came in to place in 2011. The second option is an industry proposal which is to do a number of the initiatives similar to the Australian packaging covenant but to do more, particularly in the away-from-home sector. The third option is an even stronger version of the industry approach, where more is done and more money is made available for a broad range of initiatives to improve recycling of packaging.
Option 3 is what is called an advance disposal fee, which is a fee charged on different types of packaging and which can form a pool of funds to be allocated for different purposes. That also provides flexibility to do things differently in different jurisdictions, where infrastructure may be needed to invest in that, collection services and so forth. That is a mandatory approach.
The fourth option is an assessment of two versions of container deposit legislation. To assess CDL, as we call it, was a requirement of the ministerial council. The first option under this option is one put forward by Boomerang Alliance, and it has been analysed in detail. The second option was put forward by officials and it is based on international experience. It is basically a hybrid of the South Australian CDL scheme and the one that operates in British Columbia in Canada, so it has been tailored. You have two different approaches to CDL that have been looked at.
CHAIR: Senator Bilyk, if you have further questions please put them on notice.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: I turn to the department's role in synthetic greenhouse gases and ozone depleting substances under the Clean Energy Future package in terms of collecting the equivalent of carbon prices for these gases which will start next financial year with $190 million in revenue. How many businesses does the department expect to have to deal with to collect this revenue?
Dr Wright : I cannot give you businesses, but I can tell you the number of licence holders that we expect. Currently there are some 1,500 importers under the existing scheme and about 900 of those are regular bulk importers of ozone-depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases. We do not expect that to change. Basically it would be in the order of 900 importers that would be subject to the levy.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Purely importers, because MYEFO talks about producers of such gases as well.
Dr Wright : There are no domestic manufacturers of the gases at present.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: For those 900 bulk importers that will be paying, we are basically talking about gases used in refrigeration and those sorts of things, aren't we?
Dr Wright : With synthetic greenhouse gases it is not only refrigeration and air-conditioning but what are called specialty solvents, fire suppression equipment and electrical switches used in electricity transmission not in the house.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: There are 900 bulk importers. Obviously the department has to put some arrangements in place to collect those fees, and you have been funded to commence doing so in this financial year. What arrangements are you putting in place to contact those importers and collect the fees?
Dr Wright : Basically the levy comes into force from 1 July, so we have between now and 1 July to develop arrangements and make sure that there is an effective administration system and compliance. There would not be many additional ones to the current ones because both hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons—if I have it right—are ozone-depleting substances as well, and they are already subject to the existing scheme. It is really only sulphur hexafluoride which has not been covered by any of the existing legislation. So we already have some infrastructure but, clearly, we have to put in place arrangements to collect the levy to identify the gases, to know the quantities, to assess the charge and to appropriately invoice people. There is further reimbursement if, within 12 months, any of those gases are exported. There also needs to be a system put in place for that.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Your section of this department was presumably chosen to undertake this work because of your prior relationship through the—
Dr Wright : Basically, the equivalent carbon price is being applied through the ozone legislation, and now there is the responsibility for this department. There is a large degree of overlap with those providers and it sits with this department.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Dr Wright.
Senator LUDLAM: While we are on refrigeration, since it seems to be a bit of a theme, I have a couple of questions as well, specifically on the subject of auditing. I understand that the department is tendering out an audit for the Australian Refrigeration Council licensing program. So far so good?
Dr Wright : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you tell us, first of all, which organisation is conducting the audit? Has that tender been let yet?
Dr Wright : I can tell you about the existing arrangements. If you want me to provide information on any tender, then I would need to take that on notice. It may be possible to get back within this session, but I do not have that information to hand. I can talk to you about the way the existing audit program runs.
Senator LUDLAM: Let's start there.
Dr Wright : The Australian Refrigeration Council runs the audit program of compliance with the regulations on behalf of the industry board, which runs the program for the department. If you wish to know how the program runs, audits of about 6,000 licence holders are undertaken each year. If someone is not compliant, if there is serious non-compliance, the Australian Refrigeration Council writes to the business and seeks to rectify. If that problem is not rectified, then the matter is handed over to the department who further writes to the organisation and follows up to check compliance. If there continues to be non-compliance, then the licence—and there are two types of licences: a handling licence or a trading authorisation—can be either suspended or cancelled.
Senator LUDLAM: How often does that happen? Because we are a bit short of time, could you provide us on notice with some data? If this is in an annual report, just tell me where I can find it—the number of prosecutions and the number of licence revocations that have occurred.
Dr Wright : I can advise that it is easier for licence holders and more desirable for them to comply, so I would not expect that number to be high, but I can take it on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: Is the number zero?
Dr Wright : I do not have that information. I would need to check.
Senator LUDLAM: That would be appreciated. Is there a fall-back where people can be prosecuted? What is the biggest stick that can be waved? Is a revocation?
Dr Wright : Their licence can be cancelled.
Senator LUDLAM: Perhaps you could provide some statistics on compliance. You have made it sound as though you have to be pretty badly behaved before anybody will wave a stick at you.
Dr Wright : Clearly there is engagement between those who run the audit program and the individual. My experience is that rectification is usually pretty quick, but I really need to get the statistics. I cannot talk any further at this stage.
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. You may need to take these questions on notice, because I am aware this is fairly specific. I am interested to know about the tender for the compliance audit. Has the tender been let? Is there an organisation or an independent consultant or another organisation that has been brought on board to do that?
Dr Wright : I will take this on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Let's rack up a few. Maybe you could tell us how and where the findings of the current auditor are reported so that we know how to find those things. Who does the auditor report to? What steps have been taken to assess their auditing performance?
And if you could, perhaps, when did the Audit Office, if ever, take a look at overall performance?
Dr Wright : We will take that on notice. I was just asking if we had knowledge of whether some of the details you are asking for were in the annual report. I think it is easier if we do not take up time now so we will take it on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: All right, that is appreciated. I will turn to the subject of e-waste. I put a couple of questions to you last time we were here about dumping of shipping containers full of Australian televisions and computers and white goods and surplus electronic trash in Ghana where it was burnt near an open-air market. This was reported on two consecutive Dateline broadcasts. Can you give us any update on the investigation?
Dr Wright : We have been in contact with the Ghanaian authorities to seek further information on that particular case, both with a view to trying to identify the particular container and its origin, but also from the point of view of information that could be put into the compliance system and profiling for future cases. We have not had information from the Ghanaian authorities that has allowed us to progress that particular case further because the e-waste that was subject to that program had been let out on bond, basically. So we need to be able to track the container to progress the issue, but we are still in contact. However I can say that, as a result of our interactions and working with Customs, we detained a container headed for Ghana in Australia in January, and that is currently subject to investigation as to whether it constitutes working equipment or contravenes the Hazardous Waste Act.
Senator LUDLAM: Whose container was it?
Dr Wright : I cannot provide that information. The investigation is happening as we speak.
Senator LUDLAM: We discussed this a little bit last time. Was there a fine line about working equipment? To me, it sounds like that is a loophole big enough to drive shipping containers through: if it is notionally working equipment, then it is not waste and it can be burned in a market. Can you find for us where, or in what act or regulation, is the term 'working equipment' defined?
Dr Wright : It is not defined in the legislation, but reputable recyclers in Australia will provide certificates with any equipment that is for export to certify that it is in working order. If that is not available and a container is detained, investigators would work with the owner or the exporter to get evidence to that effect. So reputable recyclers will provide certificates on equipment that is in working order. It can be tested and it is not difficult to do so.
Senator LUDLAM: When was that container intercepted?
Dr Wright : In January. I do not have the specific date with me.
Senator LUDLAM: What has become of the 15 containers of waste that you detained or impounded as a result of questions I put to you in October?
CHAIR: That has to be your last question.
Senator LUDLAM: That is a shame. In that case, I am going to ask a different one, and I will put the other one on notice, if I can.
Dr Wright : I do not think that it was 15 containers.
Senator LUDLAM: Dateline alleged that 15 containers of e-waste had been stopped from leaving Australian ports.
Dr Wright : I do have details from 2009 to 2011 on all containers that have been detained in Australia and their fate, so I can provide that.
Senator LUDLAM: I much appreciate that. While the digital switchover is underway, for example, a lot of TVs are going to be going out onto roadsides and into landfill, just the regular run-of-the-mill turnover of computer equipment. The government has got an e-waste scheme. It was the first cab off the rank through product stewardship and it is getting set up but is still 10 years away from being completely implemented. What plans do we have in the meantime to impound, stockpile or store e-waste until the scheme is actually up and running and properly on its feet so that we are not having to come back and pursue these kinds of cases?
Dr Wright : The target for the first full year of operation of the scheme is 30 per cent of e-waste that needs to be recycled, so the scheme will be up and running year 1. There is a ramp rate to 80 per cent by year 10 but 30 per cent in year 1 is a significant component. In terms of managing the fate of end of life, in addition to the scheme there are a number of businesses and state and local governments that are responsible for day-to-day management of waste, so any e-waste that is not collected by the scheme that is industry-run is the responsibility of the state jurisdictions. However, we are working with jurisdictions on demand management to encourage individuals and businesses to use all recycling facilities that are available. So it does not have to be the scheme; there are many that are available. We have a communication and demand management program that is working with jurisdictions at present. In addition, we have a number of capabilities within the scheme to encourage both early implementation and overachievement of initial targets. Firstly, any e-waste that is collected and recycled this financial year, which we are calling year 0, can be counted against your first year target. This is to encourage the industry to get going early. Secondly, in any one year 25 per cent of e-waste collected that is over the target can be held and counted against the future year.
CHAIR: Dr Wright, we have gone over time. Thanks for your time. I now call officers from the department in relation to program 2.3: sustainable communities.
CHAIR: Senator Ludlam.
Senator LUDLAM: Thanks, Chair. I do not have too many questions. Do we have the right folk here tonight for sustainability indicators, or did they leave already?
Ms Wiley-Smith : We are here, Senator.
Senator LUDLAM: Excellent. What about suburban jobs?
Ms Wiley-Smith : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: Let's start with that one. That has got a bit of a kick of guts, I think, since last time we were here. It appears to have been cut from $100 million to $45 million over four years. Can we start with the rationale for that program being cut by more than half.
Mr Thompson : Government policy was that two savings exercises related to the Suburban Jobs Program. Ten million dollars has been contributed to the Illawarra Region Innovation and Investment Fund, so some of the savings from suburban jobs were redirected to partially offset that program. The remaining savings were taken as part of a budget decision of the government.
Senator LUDLAM: That doesn't really tell me anything. Did the government or a minister put anything on the record at the time that those cuts were announced?
Mr Thompson : I am not aware that the minister did but certainly the government announced those savings in the portfolio additional estimates context.
Senator LUDLAM: It is a very efficient way of making announcements that you announce a $100 million program and then quietly only spend $45 million. Then you can announce a $55 million program somewhere else. It is a really interesting way of doing policy initiative. I got the sense that the program was to ostensibly help rebalance the two-speed economy and also reverse some planning decisions that had been made and benefit people in suburbs and regions with no employment hubs. Is it still government policy to pursue those objectives?
Ms Wiley-Smith : The objectives of the program are still exactly as they were announced, which are really to assist local and state governments to plan for and provide for employment opportunities in major capital city locations that are subject to pressures as a result of recent or rapid growth.
Senator LUDLAM: All right, but you have to do it with half as much of what was a relatively small amount of money anyhow. Can you just tell us where the program is up to right now, with a bit of a focus on whether any of that money has been or will be spent in Western Australia.
Ms Wiley-Smith : The guidelines for the program were approved, and they were released in early December—7 December. Currently the application round is open, and it closes on 17 February. We then go into an assessment process that will be undertaken, and we are aiming for the grants to be announced before midyear. That enables us to ensure that funding agreements are signed with the successful applicants for when the funding becomes available next financial year.
Senator LUDLAM: So you are getting a pipeline set up, so if you do not make the first round then you are at the front of the queue for the following year.
Ms Wiley-Smith : No, there is only one round, and it will be a competitive open round. But what we are aiming for is that our funding for this program now flows through; it commences next financial year. So the assessment, the process and the announcement of the successful applicants will happen this year. We will then be able to sign funding agreements in time for the release of funds next financial year.
Senator LUDLAM: Is anybody keeping track of programs like this—sustainability programs like the urban water one and this one—that have been cut or severely diminished over the last couple of years? I am presuming that, if I asked you for a list of programs that have been announced, you could probably provide that with a bit of spadework, but what happens is that they are announced with fanfare and then quietly killed a year or two later.
Dr Grimes : The government's decisions around budget measures are quite transparent through either the budget papers or the mid-year review papers.
Senator LUDLAM: I would not go overboard and describe the budget papers as 'transparent'.
Dr Grimes : All policy measures that affect the forward estimates—both spending and expenditure—are reported in those statements.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. I will shift to the question of indicators. I have spent a bit of time working through these in the past, so I will not go back over old ground, but can you give us an update as to that project and where that is up to.
Ms Wiley-Smith : Yes. Since the last time we appeared before the committee, we have undertaken further analysis and also further consultation both with experts and with stakeholders in the field, and also with our colleagues across Commonwealth agencies. As part of that, the minister held a roundtable with experts in November, and we have also held a more recent workshop which really looked at some of the design issues on the sustainability indicators, including the indicators themselves. That was held on 31 January.
Senator LUDLAM: What were the outcomes of that? Is there anything you can provide to the committee?
Mr Thompson : I think that last workshop that Ms Wiley-Smith was referring to was really around the intellectual framework—what is the framework for sustainability indicators—as well as testing some of the indicator themes and the indicators themselves. There is not material that we are making available in the public domain at this stage. It is material that will be used by us to help develop and advise the government.
Senator LUDLAM: When would you expect that there would be something produced that would actually be of public use or public value?
Mr Thompson : We are expecting that in the coming months.
Senator LUDLAM: 'The coming months'—that is one of those phrases.
Mr Thompson : I would like to be more specific, but really it is a matter for the government's decision.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. And what will we actually see when you publish something? Are we just going to see a draft or are you just going to announce the new set of headline indicators?
Mr Thompson : Again, that will be subject to the government's consideration about what is actually produced.
Senator LUDLAM: So there is not really much that you are able to tell me at this stage, is there?
Mr Thompson : In detail, unfortunately, no.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you provide us with a list of the stakeholders? Actually, you did provide us with a list of stakeholders last year; can you tell us how those groups were nominated or chosen?
Mr Thompson : I think we were drawing on experience from a couple of areas—our experience in developing sustainable population strategy: groups that indicated an interest in that context in a broad-based approach to sustainability; groups that had an interest not only in economic but also in social and environmental issues; and also some of the stakeholders who have participated in other activities of the government in recent times, including the National Urban Policy and those sorts of things.
Senator LUDLAM: There seems to be a real gap: for example, ecology, urban bushland, biodiversity, water—it looks like there is a lot of planning expertise there but not a lot of environmental science or ecological expertise. How do those people feed in? If you are doing sustainability indicators you would want to be a bit worried about leaving the environmental people out.
Mr Thompson : Absolutely. I think there is a judgement that a reasonable amount of that expertise is provided inside the department and so you can draw on that in that context.
Senator LUDLAM: I guess we will wait for coming months until something gets put into the public domain. Thanks for your time.
CHAIR: That concludes today's program. The committee will continue its examination of this portfolio at nine o'clock tomorrow morning. Is it the wish of the committee that any documents be accepted as evidence? There being no objection, it is so ordered.
I thank the minister and the officers for their attendance. Thank you Hansard and broadcasting. Senators are reminded that written questions on notice should be provided to the secretariat by close of business Monday next week, 20 February.
Committee adjourned at 22:51