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Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts
12/10/2012
Australia's biodiversity in a changing climate

DEBUS, The Hon. Robert John (Bob), Chair, National Wildlife Corridors Plan Advisory Group

HENDERSON, Dr Judy Isabel, Co-Chair, Spatial, Climate Change and Biodiversity Analysis Expert Working Group, National Wildlife Corridors Plan Advisory Group

HOWLETT, Ms Claire, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Land and Coasts Division, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

[13:45]

CHAIR: I now welcome representatives of the National Wildlife Corridors Plan Advisory Group to today's hearing. For the benefit of Hansard, please tell the committee something about the capacity in which you appear before the committee that is not already evident by your title.

Mr Debus : I was appointed by the Minister for the Environment last March, 12 months. Dr Judy Henderson has recently retired as chair of the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority in New South Wales. Ms Claire Howlett is presently responsible for the work that is going on around the national corridors plan. It is a plan that is with the minister at the present time. Perhaps at some stage Claire could explain what might be going to happen with it. Something is going to happen, I fervently hope, in the near future.

CHAIR: Bob, you would be aware of what follows; it is for the benefit of your colleagues. The committee does not require you to give evidence under oath. I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the House. As I said earlier, the honourable Bob Debus is a former member of this House and would know the standing orders and procedures of this place as well as anybody here.

Thank you for coming along today, Bob, with your colleagues. We have not received a written submission from you in respect to your presentation today, but I would invite yourself or all three of you to briefly summarise what you have been doing. That might lead to some questions. From my observation, it would seem that the work you have been doing is very consistent with the work that this committee is doing as part of this inquiry. I think your work is going to prove to be very valuable to the work of the committee. If you would like to give us a brief outline of what you have been doing it would be appreciated.

Mr Debus : Of course, I agree with what you have just said. I quickly skimmed through the record of your previous hearings to find that quite a large proportion of the people you have received evidence from are people who have made a contribution at some level or other to our policy. We dealt less with those scientists you have been talking to about the detailed analysis of climate change itself, but at every moment you have been talking to people about biodiversity in the context of climate change you have been talking to someone we have been talking to as well.

I might mention that, as environment minister for New South Wales—some time ago now—I was closely engaged in the creation of what is called the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative, about which you received evidence last March from its CEO, Rob Dunn, and I think Dr Graeme Worboys as well and a little later from Dr Penny Figgis when you again had evidence about that program and, I would allege, its growing success.

It is true, I think, that ideas of connectivity, along with ideas of resilience of the environment, have been growing up in a kind of intuitive way—understood in slightly different ways by different people, depending upon their scientific expertise, but growing up over recent years in response partly to the perceived consequences of climate change and partly as a very useful way of beginning to think about how in practice you might go about the matter of conservation and restoration of the environment. I find myself often saying to people: 'We're only talking common sense. We're trying to find a way in which government can make a fulcrum by which conservation policy and conservation funding might sensibly be suspended.'

The final version of the corridor policy is still to emerge, but the minister believes that we need one because Australia, as you have already been told a number of times, is one of the 17 or 18 so-called mega-diverse nations on earth. It has high levels of threat to its species but enormous possibilities for conservation and restoration of our biodiversity if we go about it properly.

It will be said at the very beginning of our plan that you cannot work without the engagement of private landholders. If you are talking about connectivity, you begin to talk about corridors at a number of levels: at the local level, the regional level and the national level. If you are talking about connectivity and corridors, you are talking specifically about trying to find ways to improve the level of management for conservation in between areas that are formally reserved. We do not conceive our policy as being alternative to the national reserve system. We see it as being a complement. We see the national reserve system as being necessary to an effective program of conservation and restoration across the country but not sufficient. We see that you have to actually have connections between those areas where, to the degree possible, you manage for conservation and you manage to protect species and restore and maintain habitats so that wildlife, from the microscopic to the Kangaroo, can actually move through the landscape and survive and prosper.

As soon as you start thinking of conservation in those terms, you are also thinking about the way you can at a strategic level best deal with climate change. If you have the kind of flexibility that is implied when private landholders, who can carry out their productive activity but work also for environmental restoration, if you are able to engage people in that way then you have the best chance of insuring against changes at all levels that are the consequence of climate change. If plants and animals have to move, whatever adaptation may be necessary, it is easier for that to occur in this context of landscape scale conservation.

We had a number of attempts to define wildlife corridors—and I will let others speak in a moment. We said, using somewhat theoretical language, that wildlife corridors encompass all forms of natural connection and interaction across the landscape. They can support the diverse needs of plants and animals at multiple scales. They might include large expanses of intact landscape, river systems and floodplains, networks of habitat patches or scattered paddock trees as you go down the scale.

We have found at least four meanings of connectivity: connectivity of the landscape, referring to physical connections between habitat areas across the landscape; habitat connectivity, which refers to connections between patches of habitat that are suitable for a particular species; ecological connectivity, which is a much broader concept relating to the function of ecosystems across time as well as across space; and evolutionary connectivity, the biggest of all, in which you are thinking about populations of species that are actually sharing genes and adapting over time to environmental conditions. Generally speaking, good connectivity projects involve all those four separate kinds of meanings. I think I should let Judy talk a little to the objectives of the plan.

Dr Henderson : I want to go back to one thing that Bob mentioned at the beginning—that is, the whole aspect of resilience adaptation. I am sure other people have talked to you about this as this is gaining a lot more currency at the moment. We think of resilience in terms of three processes. We need to make biodiversity resilient so that it can withstand an impact, such as climate change or an invasive species. The second phase with resilience is where it is knocked around, change is imminent, but it rebounds back to the original state. The third concept of resilience, which I think is one of the most interesting because of what we might be facing with the impact of climate change, is where there is a transformation: the ecosystem is changed fundamentally and forms equilibrium in a new state. That is the tipping point where you tip over into a new state and that may be in many areas what we would be looking at with the impacts of climate change. We have to actually think of that adaptation in those three areas.

In terms of the objectives of the plan, thinking about how this might enable systems to withstand those sorts of impacts, the first part we looked at was the importance of protecting, maintaining and restoring native habitat and ecosystems and their physical processes and functions—it is pretty obvious that that is what we are wanting to do—so that healthy ecosystems can withstand those impacts. To integrate this into the aspect of protecting the natural stores of carbon, we want to minimise the greenhouse emissions as well as protect biodiversity against the impact of rising temperatures, so there is that process as well. Then, as I mentioned, there is enhancing the resilience of Australia's biodiversity and its adaptability to climate change. That is one of the aspects that I am very interested in and that is why I mentioned it first.

Then we talked about supporting the global and national movement of fauna. One of the aspects that the group looked at was the international flyways and the importance of areas within Australia for those migratory pathways where birds fly halfway across the world and areas of habitat within the Australian continent are extremely important in those pathways. We also looked at the management and protection of the iconic landscapes, and particularly we looked at the Indigenous and non-Indigenous culture and heritage. It was very interesting because when you look at the songlines and the Dreamtime stories of some of our Indigenous communities and peoples, they are often along the migration routes of birds and animals and also along watercourses. So we looked at those areas and recognised the importance of those songlines and Dreamtimes; as well as many of the stock routes which traditionally have gone along the pathways where animals and birds move.

The most important thing, which we spent a long time talking about, was that it is all very well to have all this theory about how we are going to protect this but it actually depends on people. It depends on your community's actually understanding and being committed to the whole concept of connectivity conservation. There is a lot of work that needs to be done with our communities. We have our farming communities as well as our urban communities and the environmental movement—the whole lot. It is important to ensure that we expand the community's understanding of the concept of connectivity and exactly what it means to maintaining the health of the local landscapes. That was a big area of our focus—on that education and information generation program with our communities. That is really where our objectives were.

Mr Debus : Claire, did you want to add anything to that?

Ms Howlett : I will not add very much because the department is appearing directly after this—I am here more to answer any questions that might be more appropriately answered by me—other than to say that this is a really important piece of policy work for the government. It was a 2010 election commitment. The advisory group has done a fantastic job of pulling together the plan and we are very much looking forward to that forming a framework that sits behind many of our programmatic interventions into the future. The Biodiversity Fund, under the Land Sector Package, is a very exciting opportunity as far as we are concerned in terms of investing in corridors and the connectivity approach.

Mr Debus : I think the department will probably want to talk to you about their strategy of converging existing environmental funding programs. They are looking for a much closer integration of a corridor plan, Caring for our Country and the Biodiversity Fund, and I can see that it is beginning to have a practical benefit. In that context I would like to mention that we have come to have a belief in the significance of NRM bodies. At the level of delivery of all these services, which we may talk about in abstract fashion, you have to have someone who has really got some dirt under their fingernails and is working at a scale small enough to be able to have a practical effect, creek catchment by creek catchment. That is why, with the corridor plan, we here all keep looking at a draft plan. We are not offering to give it to you because the final plan is somewhat different; but we have supported through the corridor-planning process an interaction with NRM bodies. That has been further reinforced in more recent times when the federal department has had a funding program, which I am sure you have heard about, to assist NRM bodies to plan for climate change. What I notice is, when they are planning for climate change, they are planning for habitat connectivity anyway. It is at that point you see a lot of the science and the more generalised policy considerations that we have been involved with come together on the ground, where there is a strong possibility.

Dr Henderson : If I could just add to the importance of that regional planning process? It is at a different stage of development across the country, but all of the 56 regions have at least first- or second-generation NRM plans. Because the regions are different you cannot have one plan that is going to fit all; they have to be customised at an individual regional level for what the issues are there.

The other aspect of those plans which is extremely important is that they have been developed with the regional communities. They are not the NRM bodies' plans, they are the regional plans that have been approved by and which have ownership by the regional communities. That includes your local government, your farming communities et cetera that have all been involved in the development of those regional plans. So the process of implementation through those plans already has ownership in the regional communities, which is extremely important when you are trying to deliver these programs.

CHAIR: That leads me perfectly into the question I will ask, perhaps relying on your expertise—particularly, Bob's, because he has been at different levels of government—given that we have the NRM bodies and given that I think that the committee generally understands the objectives of what we are trying to do, can you comment on the kinds of governance barriers that we also need to overcome, apart from the climate change barriers that we need to overcome, in order to develop these corridors? And looking at the Great Eastern Ranges corridor, which we did get a full briefing on and which is a terrific example of what can be achieved, what lessons can we learn from that particular model?

Mr Debus : I have avoided going through every single page of our draft corridor plan, but I should perhaps mention that one thing we do at the end of that plan is recommend that there is a process by which the federal minister can recognise corridor proposals of national significance. We say that there are a number that are already there and we say, 'Minister, we reckon you should recognise straight off the Great Eastern Ranges, but also the initiative that is called Gondwana Link'. No West Australian will let you get away with forgetting that!

The Gondwana Link is massively significant because of its pioneering status and its overwhelmingly private base. Habitat 141ยบ, an initiative in western Victoria, running up the 141st parallel of longitude on the South Australian-Victorian border has a similar status. The Great Eastern Ranges I have mentioned. The South Australian government has developed a program that they call NatureLinks in which they have proceeded rather in the way that the New South Wales government proceeded some time ago with the Great Eastern Ranges. They made the framework, they drew in lots of non-government organisations and private foundations and what have you and they are devolving more and more of the responsibility for conservation and natural resource management work within those corridors to local and non-government people. South Australia has a rather elaborate arrangement through out the state which is really worth looking at. They pick the areas of highest biodiversity and focus on them; one runs through Kangaroo Island and up the Mount Lofty Ranges for instance. We are saying that the Commonwealth should recognise those.

There is also a big project in the centre of Tasmania which is called Tasmanian Midlandscapes. You might have been introduced to that when you were down in Hobart. And there is the Trans-Australia Eco-Link, which I am sure you were talked to about by people in Adelaide and in Darwin; it is their biggest project since they built the Overland Telegraph. So those initiatives are under way. We know from their success that they can have all sorts of origins. They may be promoted by a government or they may be promoted by non-government organisations. However they start, they have to end substantial local ownership and commitment. It is an organising principle. With the Great Eastern Ranges you will have seen that there are Landcare groups, CMAs and local government together—everyone is in there. Some sections of the Great Eastern Ranges Initiatives, near Jill's electorate, have 57 separate organisations participating in them. The corridor is the organising arrangement but its own governance, though it must be carefully conceived, involves only a quite small secretariat.

If pressed I would say that the social aspect of corridors is the most important aspect. You have to have some biodiversity to work with but the whole idea depends upon high levels of commitment from groups and individuals within the area concerned. What we now know is that it can happen and it does happen. It is possible for government to provide funding to these ongoing organisations.

Dr Henderson : I think there were two aspects to your question on governance. As Bob said, when we looked at the current corridors in existence we found a variety of governance systems and they all worked well for the particular circumstances of how they had arisen and ongoing some were funded by states and some came out of the NGOs et cetera. We recognise there is again not a one size fits all. There is a variety of governance systems that would be appropriate for any ongoing corridors. I also heard in your question a question about governance of the regional bodies. That is what I thought you were also referring to.

CHAIR: Yes.

Dr Henderson : I would like to speak to that. I think the regional body framework that is in existence in Australia is an extremely valuable arrangement because it does have that local aspect at the regional level, which you cannot have overall, as I said before. Currently the regional bodies have arisen in different ways and some have been developed, as you know, with strong state backing and are statutory authorities. The NRM collective recognises that there needs to be not the same governance, but a uniform standard of governance across the various areas. We are not saying they all have to be statutory authorities, although in New South Wales that is what I am used to. There has to be standardisation or a standard of governance that is going to be appropriate for the region but also appropriate at the national level. For that there are various performance effectiveness programs in place that the NRM working groups are very supportive of. These performance effectiveness programs could actually assist in the governance arrangements of the NRM bodies. Certainly in the review of Caring for our Country we have been promoting that that should be something that the Commonwealth government should support so that we do have that good governance because good governance in all those areas is extremely important.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Dr WASHER: You mentioned stock routes. I was wondering if you could elaborate on them because we have the famous Canning Stock Route, as you know, in WA. I am not sure who owns it or how it works with stock routes but it certainly held up the building of my house for a couple of years because the stock route went through the property. We managed to get that shifted but with great difficulty. It seems pretty hard.

Dr Henderson : My experience is in New South Wales. As you know, in New South Wales there is a matrix of TSRs—travelling stock routes—around the state. What we find is that some of the most valuable biodiversity is actually within those areas because they have been left intact to a greater or lesser extent. So there is recognition of the importance, from a biodiversity conservation perspective, of those TSRs and the connectivity they provide. That is why we need to be mindful that they have a great value that we do not want to do lose. That is my experience in New South Wales.

Mr Debus : In some ways the argument about the usefulness of corridors is already won. When the Biodiversity Fund advertised for its first round it was almost overwhelmed by projects at a regional level which were cast in terms of connectivity and resilience. People at the level of CMAs, local government and NGOs knew what it was about. The Biodiversity Fund has already now provided a lot of money—it is kind of at NRM level—for programs that will improve connectivity in a particular river valley, across some particular network of stock routes. The organisation that actually controls stock routes between the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan rivers in New South Wales won a bid for a connectivity project in which they were involved in the restoration of, I think, thousands and thousands of hectares of stock route—some of it along riverbanks, too.

In fact, it would repay you to look at some of those projects. There is another one that I would like to urge upon the committee—not only because it came out of the organisation that Dr Henderson chaired—called the Jalagirr project, which is on the North Coast of New South Wales. It shows what the possibilities are for cooperation at a regional level, to draw together all the possible resources for the restoration of environment across all tenures. It is a textbook example of what we thought we had been talking about in the corridor project. It is already beginning to happen.

So I would say in response to the chairman's entirely sensible question that it is, on the one hand, really important for the Commonwealth to insist on appropriate levels and standards of governance for any corridor project. In fact, we have something to say about that in our plan—the proper levels of accountability and proper processes for monitoring and evaluation and this kind of thing. But I cannot go past the proposition that I made at the beginning of this hearing that NRM bodies are a fantastic mechanism for delivering environmental programs at a manageable level. I become very despondent when I see people attacking them one way or another, and it has been happening a bit again recently at the state government level. A lot of the activity by the state government's budget cutting and what have you is equivocal at some levels, but it is worrying to see that there is not what I think is a firm enough commitment to the maintenance of these bodies, which took a long while to evolve. It took a long while for people to gradually hit upon that idea. The NRM organisations themselves have now got a nationwide management framework that I am much less familiar with than Dr Henderson but which I think we will undermine at our peril.

Ms MARINO: I will just pick up on that. It has already been undermined. We saw changes in the NRM from the NHT, and that caused a significant change in how many and how engaged the local landowners were. You would know that 94 per cent of farmers have been or are involved with NRM groups. The sustainability of this lies with those who have the stewardship ongoing and are committed to that. We have already lost resources at an NRM level because of those changes. I just wonder whether in your report you looked at some of the gaps. I have had those same NRM groups in to visit me recently, and they are likely to fragment even more than they have because there is a gap in funding that will exist from next year. So there is likely to be a further bleed of some of the great resources that were there but have now gone, and we are at risk of losing even more.

Also, the connectivity to the local communities has been put under massive stress because of the changes. So I see it as another risk that I would be really pleased if you would talk to me about. There is also the rebuilding and reconnecting for those who have been lost who were wonderful local champions of this sort of work. I see that as a challenge from here, given how strong it was and how many were engaged and the fact that we have already lost some of them. I have had real concerns for some time about this.

Dr Henderson : Yes, we have lost some. I think the problem is that we are dealing with state based organisations. To a greater or lesser extent across the states, the states have been responsible—

Ms MARINO: It depends on where you are.

Dr Henderson : Yes, it depends on where you are. I know that the situation in Western Australia is quite different, as it is in Tasmania, from, say, Victoria and New South Wales. In New South Wales it is greatly under threat at the moment, probably in that there will be changes in terms of the budgetary constraints that are on the state budgets and, of course, they are looking for—

Ms MARINO: The regional changes there came from the federal budget—changes from NHT to NRM—in the very beginning.

Dr Henderson : What changes? Do you mean from NHT to Caring for our Country?

Ms MARINO: Yes.

Dr Henderson : There certainly were changes there. I went through those changes. We were struggling to regroup at the time, but I think in the years since Caring for our Country there has been a building up again of that expertise, maybe not in the areas that people have been talking to you about but generally across the NRM bodies. Also, they are coming together as a group rather than as individual state based organisations.

Ms MARINO: I am a farmer myself, and one of the things that I know is that we have to make it easy for people to be involved, even with your governance structures and others, not only for the NRM bodies but for those who are going to do the work on their own properties and who, in spite of whatever funding is there, are going to pick up the majority of the cost. It will only be sustainable with that level of engagement. I think making it simple and easy for people to be engaged in the longer term is a critical part.

I want to ask another question. One of the key issues that I have—and I do not know whether you have touched on it in your report because it is not out there—is the ongoing management of corridors. You touched on your local communities, and I imagine emergency services is part of that. If you are the adjoining landowner there are ongoing issues such as feral pests and weeds. Who is going to manage that and who is going to pay in the longer term? And for those who have bordering properties, how do they have to manage any mismanagement of those matters? We have seen what myrtle rust is doing, what dieback is doing and what increased numbers of ferals are doing out there. I imagine those sorts of issues are covered in your report. So I am going to be really interested to read about those—the fire in the works; the whole box and dice that is part of a connectivity corridor.

Mr Debus : I will just look for the specific thing that we wrote.

Dr Henderson : May I just, for clarification, confirm: are you meaning that the corridors might promote risks of fire or—

Ms MARINO: Well, we have had evidence about corridors that not only do you get the good things you want but you can also get an increase in numbers of feral pests and weeds. The connectivity works two ways, so managing that becomes an issue in the longer term. So there are two sides to the issue.

Mr Debus : Going one step back from that: obviously that is a concern. Don't forget that, when we are talking about corridors, we are talking about private landholders joining in voluntarily. The issue about what happens between one private property and the next will remain, whether people commit themselves to joining into a corridor promotion or not. My understanding is, as I see it from the part of the world that I live in, that weeds, for instance, do best in broken country. Weeds do not do very well at all in healthy bush. Foxes actually—

Ms MARINO: Dieback is doing a good job.

Mr Debus : Yes. So foxes actually do not care what the terrain is like; they like busted-up stuff better. But, especially in Western Australia, you have some phyto—

Ms MARINO: Phytophthora: that is the dieback.

Mr Debus : Phytophthora, dieback—which is going through the bush. So all we can say is that, if you are engaged, say, with Gondwana Link, you have to pay the closest attention to that particular problem. It has to be part of the deal, of course—but Gondwana Link is not causing the dieback, is it? It is a victim of it, like other parts of south-west Western Australia.

Ms MARINO: It may not be causing it, but the issue has to be paid for and managed within that corridor, and so it is an ongoing issue—

Mr Debus : That is true, but the corridor is not, as it were, taken out of all of the other arrangements that exist for organising the landscape. So whatever relevant state department is spraying this or that disease—is there spraying in Western Australia?

Ms MARINO: No, so—

Mr Debus : There is a disease for which people are spraying forests, and they have to do it in the corridor as well as everywhere else.

Dr WASHER: They do some—

Mr Debus : But they don't do as much as they should?

Dr WASHER: That's right.

Dr Henderson : But I think what you are getting at would be the funding for the dieback—

Ms MARINO: Well, in different parts of Australia, there will be different pest and feral challenges, fire risks—all of those management techniques. Some of the corridors may be managed by individual landowners; some will be managed in a broader sense. But I see that my colleague wants to ask a question, so I won't go on!

Ms HALL: No, I'm fine!

Mr Debus : Let us say, while not avoiding your point, the fact is that the control of invasive plants and animals ought to be an essential component of the design of any corridor.

Dr Henderson : If I could just add to that, as a practitioner who has been working on the ground: you are absolutely right that the maintenance of these works is extremely important, and it is no good having a two- or three-year program and then going off somewhere else if the maintenance is not recognised as needing to be funded and actually managed—

Ms MARINO: And consistently.

Dr Henderson : Consistently—I agree. That is why, getting back to the importance of the regional planning process, if we are saying that the funding processes such as the biodiversity fund and Caring for Our Country recognise that those regional plans are the important blueprints for those areas, then those plans should, and do, take into account the fact that there needs to be ongoing management of those areas. That underscores once again the importance of that regional planning process—because, obviously, you cannot just fund for three years and then go somewhere else. A strategy needs to be developed for the whole ongoing management, whether it is with funding, whether it is another local government or a farming organisation et cetera, they need to be integrated into that and involved in the ongoing management in different areas, but there has to be a strategy for that ongoing management. I totally agree with you.

Mr Debus : I heard someone say the other day that it is strange that everybody accepts that you should have maintenance for road funding, that you just need forever to provide money to fill in potholes, so why is it so hard to understand that you need substantial funding forever to deal with, for instance, invasive species?

Dr Henderson : I think this comes back to the issue that if you are asking a farmer to look after a patch of native vegetation that is a community resource then that actually needs to be recognised as an ecosystem service that that farmer is providing and that needs to be funded exactly the same way as the police, education and every other ongoing service. So we need an ongoing amount of funding for the ecosystem services that the farmers are providing. The farmer might say, 'Here I am running sheep, here I am growing wheat and here I am protecting biodiversity, and I get a funding stream from all those areas.' This is a hobbyhorse of mine.

CHAIR: We are running out of time but Jill has some questions.

Ms HALL: I have cut my questions back by three-quarters. There are two I want to ask. One is: when is the final report coming out?

Ms Howlett : The final report is being considered by government as we speak. We expect it will be released shortly.

Ms HALL: My most important question follows on from Bob's mention of states and cross-jurisdictional issues. I am wondering what your thoughts are on the possible changes to the EPBC Act and how it may impact on the National Wildlife Corridors Plan, given that the act is quite important in your strategic planning.

Mr Debus : A corridor represents an organising principle, it represents a level of commitment by private and public land managers, but it takes place in whatever policy and legislative context happens to be around at the time. I think that everybody concerned should be taking a really hard look at the proposed changes to the EPBC Act and everybody concerned ought to be thinking hard about what the implications actually are. It is obvious that I have some private views about the changes that have been suggested by COAG, but I need to emphasise from the point of view of corridor policy that the corridors can exist and be recognised at a national level in whatever legislative framework or regulatory environment happens to be around at any time. The essence of it is preserving biodiversity across the landscape by a whole bunch of different land managers across a whole bunch of different tenures by people who have committed themselves to a common idea, but it is not a legislated idea.

Ms HALL: All right. One other question, if I could. This has been explained to us when we have been out on site but I think it might be good to get it on the record, and that is, in the consultation process that you go through, how you manage to engage with various community players or groups?

Mr Debus : I think it might be better to let Dr Henderson answer that.

Dr Henderson : We certainly did go through a consultation process. We went around the whole country, as you have gone around the whole country—

Mr Debus : I am sorry, I might have misunderstood. Do you mean about our policy?

Ms HALL: No.

Mr Debus : You mean consultation about setting things up?

Ms HALL: Yes.

Dr Henderson : I am sorry, I misunderstood you as well.

Ms HALL: You can handle it whichever way you like.

Dr Henderson : Do you mean the consultation process of setting up corridors?

Ms HALL: Yes.

Dr Henderson : Certainly it has to come from the community. The process has to be generated from the community. Is that what—

Ms HALL: How did you engage with them?

Dr Henderson : We had a very broad consultation process, where we went all around the country and spoke to the important stakeholder groups around the country in the development of the process. And, in fact, we changed some of the parts of the plan as a result of that consultation process. You may be thinking of particular consultation.

Ms HALL: No, keep going.

Dr Henderson : We were certainly involved in the Northern Territory and in the Cape York area.

Mr Debus : In the preparation of our plan we followed a trajectory around the country rather like your own—remarkably similar, really—and talked to some of the exact same people and others of a similar sort. If you are asking about how consultation works in the real-life establishment of corridors, it can happen because a group of people within a community, possibly led by an NGO, decide they are going to commit. It might be a Landcare group. I think you might have seen some of the big connecting corridors within the Great Eastern Ranges Conservation Corridor Initiative. One running from Kosciusko down to around Holbrook is driven by a particularly active Landcare group.

At the head of the Hunter, the New South Wales government—the department of the environment—agreed to the employment of an NGO to do community organising. They worked with local councils and then with smaller conservation groups and what have you. They formed their own arrangements. So, either way, you need that commitment. But if you look at the website of the Great Eastern Ranges Conservation Corridor Initiative, which I know most about, you will see, there, individual landholders waving a flag and saying, 'This is a great idea; I'm going to commit to it.'

Ms HALL: So, basically, the creation of corridors comes from, in many cases, the farming communities, and they do not see that as an impost that will lead to invasive species and weeds; rather they see that as a unique opportunity and something that benefits the whole area—is that correct?

Dr Henderson : Let's emphasise that this is a completely voluntary process.

Ms HALL: Absolutely.

Dr Henderson : It is not imposed on farmers at all. So if farmers see that there is value in this or they see that this is a good idea, then they can be part of that process. But there is no compulsion at all. It is totally voluntary and I think that is one of the things that we had to emphasise when we were talking, particularly to some of the farming industry bodies. There is no compulsion; this is not the thin edge of the wedge. Some of them were worried that it would then be followed by regulation. In our minds there is no thought that this will become the thin edge of a regulatory process. It is absolutely voluntary, and hopefully the farming community will see the value for their own productivity.

Mr Debus : We are talking about expanding and enriching processes that are already underway all over the nation. You can go to many NRM organisations all around the country and find work of this sort going on. You can find a number of those big, national-level corridors that I mentioned previously underway. Nobody is compelling anybody; it is just happening.

Ms HALL: As you rightly said, in my own area I think it is something that everyone is very proud of.

Dr Henderson : In the consultation process one of the most important areas was the consultation with state governments because a lot of this is crossing state boundaries. That was an important part of our consultation process, and Bob really led that part.

CHAIR: That very last point you raised, Dr Henderson, about state governments, was the question I would have asked about the proposed wildlife corridors act just to get some clarification as to how you would propose to do that. I am sure we can get responses to that once your report is formally submitted through the minister's office and the like.

Thank you very much for appearing before the committee. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence here today. If you feel that there need to be any corrections made to it please advise the secretariat and that will be done.

Proceedings suspended from 14:41 to 14:46