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Natural resource management and conservation challenges

CHAIR —Welcome. We appreciate your making the effort to come all the way down here to address us and to allow us to ask you some questions. As time is tight this afternoon, I offer you the opportunity to make a very brief opening statement before we go to questions.

Mr Berwick —Thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to speak to you. I guess we see this program as having problems, and that observation is contained in our submission. I think one point in our submission has probably moved on since we wrote it, and that is where it states that there is no certainty that any region would get any money. That part seems to have changed, in as much as $630-odd million has been dedicated to regional groups; however, we are not sure of the exact allocation. But, in our view, the rest of it is still quite correct. Essentially, in our view, running a program like this on a competitive basis seems fundamentally wrong. There were certainly problems with the previous program, but they were getting ironed out. There were lots of reviews and there were good and bad things about them, but we were evolving. To have restarted this program without apparently learning from what had been right and wrong in the past seemed to us to be a silly way of going about it.

To us, the whole concept of funding a program like this through a competitive bid seems fundamentally wrong. We would rather see it run out in a top-down, bottom-up approach instead of just a top-down approach. That would enable programs to be worked out collaboratively across federal, states and regions, and then those programs could be funded. That is pretty much the way in which other joint federal-state programs work. You would never run a health or an education system by a competitive bid process; you would run them by working out programs, having budgets and funding them in collaboration with the people who run such programs at a state or regional level. I guess that is our fundamental problem.

However, I must say that we have found the bureaucrats pretty good to work with, in that they make the best of the system that they have to work within. My particular region will probably be a lot better off financially than it was before, but that does not alter the fact that we think there is that very fundamental problem with it. We have some ideas about how you could address that problem, but I guess fundamentally that is what we would see it being. Andrew, would you like to comment?

CHAIR —Just for the benefit of the committee, which regions is yours?

Mr Berwick —My region is Terrain, which is the wet tropics region of Far North Queensland.

CHAIR —Mr Drysdale, do you want to complement any of Mr Berwick’s comments?

Mr Drysdale —My comments are probably targeted not so much at any funding program but more at delivering natural resource management. I do not believe that any amount of legislation, regulation or government intervention will get the natural resource management outcomes that we require to meet the challenges that we face. I believe that it will be very much an engaged community and land managers who will deliver. It does not matter what the program is or what government runs it; it really needs to be about enhancing the engagement of communities and natural resource managers. At present, our research shows that land managers, farmers, graziers and local governments are contributing $3 for every dollar that comes in and is injected through various programs. That is more the issue that I think we need to face—‘we’ being governments, communities and organisations like ours. It is about how we keep our communities engaged and mobilised. It is in that context that I would make those comments to the committee.

CHAIR —Obviously, with depopulation of rural and remote areas, you must be finding it a lot harder. We heard clear evidence about that in Western Australia.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The chair’s comment invites a response from me. Correct me if I am wrong, but in Queensland private contributors to your NRMs are not falling in number, are they?

Mr Drysdale —The demise of regional Australia is probably no different in Queensland than it is in any other state. I grew up on a property outside Augathella and my father employed three families; now only my brother is there. We have to look at natural resource management in the context of the social fabric—and, in some cases, the declining social fabric—but I do not think Queensland would be any different from other states.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But there is still the same number of properties in the work that you do.

Mr Drysdale —That is correct.

CHAIR —I am sorry; I must clarify here. In speaking of ‘finding it a lot harder,’ I was talking about volunteers.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is that right? I know there is a wide range of spectrums in Queensland, but generally are your bodies suffering from a lack of volunteers? Has that been an issue?

Mr Drysdale —No, I do not think we are suffering from a lack of volunteers. We may suffer from people’s lack of capacity to participate to the level they wish to, and ‘participation’ may mean injection of funds. There are farmers and graziers out there who realise they should probably be adopting a certain practice but who are not in a position to do so, because in the first instance it is going to cost them money. That is where we come in and help with programs such as Caring for our Country, NHT, NAP or whatever. In the south-east corner, where there is a very large population, they have mobilised a pretty large number of volunteers to help them in certain programs—for example, counting seagrass. I think they are still very, very engaged.

Mr Berwick —However, lack of certainty is an issue for volunteers, just as it is for employees. Certainty, predictability and long-term planning are fundamental.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —We discovered this morning—I do not know whether this is good or bad news—that there is a pool of $127 million each year for the next four years, plus $10 million, for NRM bodies. That comes to about 60 per cent of what was going to all NRM bodies previously. We have been told by the department that some NRM bodies will be getting 80 per cent. If you can do the mathematics, that means that others will be getting 40 per cent, and it is guaranteed. Can you give me your understanding of this transition period? Have all your members been advised of their budgets to 30 June next year and have they been told that they have to spend that money by 30 June? Do you know whether that has occurred?

Mr Drysdale —No, we have not been advised of that. We are led to believe that we will hear at the end of this month or in the next month what our four-year allocation will be, so we have to progress on that ground.

Mr Berwick —This transition year is right, isn’t it?

Mr Drysdale —It is a transition year. But, as of 30 June 2009, at this stage we do not have any—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But have you been advised of this year’s?

Mr Drysdale —Yes. Hopefully, we will hear in the next month or so whether regions have been successful in sourcing some of the $25 million that was available in the open grant; so they may get a boost.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But, effectively, in round figures, talking average, it is about 40 per cent less than you—

Mr Drysdale —No, that is not necessarily the case. The first allocation made was 60 per cent of the historical average. Then we got a top-up, which they called ‘hardship money’. That was the $10 million that was put out on top of the $127 million. The state has contributed also. Some of the reef regions may actually get more. For us, it is not so much an issue of quantum of money, although it is or probably will be for some regions; it is more the issue of security of knowing and the break in funding.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —As a collective, do you have figures of the job position across Queensland?

Mr Drysdale —There are seven national action plan regions and they are looking to be the ones that will face the most significant cut. However, some of those are reef regions, so they will pick up there. Generally, there may be a small reduction in numbers across the state, but most regions, except for a couple, have sourced funds in one way or another to keep their numbers of staff relatively constant at this point.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That is good to hear. That is quite contrary to my understanding, but I am pleased to hear that. My question really is: do you have the statistics? That is the first question.

Mr Drysdale —No.

Mr Berwick —We did some survey work about that. Where did that come in at, Andrew?

Mr Drysdale —Most of the responses we got were that the numbers were going to remain about the same, except for a couple of regions which ramped up towards the end the NAP and NHT. Burdekin and Burnett-Mary numbers were fairly high; they would have looked at a significant staff cut. It is my understanding that at the end of any program, whether NAP or NHT, inevitably there is a readjustment of your staff numbers.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —You have answered my question, and that is that you do not have the statistics.

Mr Drysdale —No.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Your feeling comes from having been closely involved in all of it. It is quite contrary to what various NRM groups have told me, but then I hope that you are right and I am wrong.

Mr Berwick —I think it is something that we should clarify with you afterwards. It is not good to leave it hanging like that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Yes. I do not want to direct this all to the Great Barrier Reef, about which we had a comment earlier, but it has been suggested to me that some of the funding that NRM bodies along the Great Barrier Reef might have expected has been diverted to GBRMPA to do things that GBRMPA is no longer able to do financially. Does that accord with your understanding?

Mr Berwick —No, it does not. We have heard that and are a bit mystified about what it means. Certainly this year, out of $30 million for the reef regions, $7 million has gone into R&D, which we do not know about, and $4½ million I think has gone into monitoring, but it is continuing a reef ecosystem health monitoring program that was underway already. I do not hear a great deal of argument about that, so I am a bit mystified about where that has come from.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —You are right up there amongst it, but are you still ‘full steam ahead’ with all of your investment plans for coastal work for the reef? You have had no diminution in funding?

Mr Berwick —Yes. The reef regions will probably be better off than they were before; certainly in my case we will be better off. However, remember that the reef was, I guess, a bottom-up initiative. It certainly was not a top-down, outcomes and business plan driven thing. I think Reef Plan is interesting because it is treated as a model of how things should be done, and I do agree with that. However, it is certainly not a competitive bidding process; it is a bottom-up proposal which has been funded—and that is quite interesting. We have had to do a lot of second-guessing about how much money is coming—that has been part of the transition process—so we have taken risks with employing staff. We have had to do that; otherwise, we could not have done the proposals and all the preparatory work that was asked of us. So we took some risks in employing staff on the assumption that there would be some cash flowing before Christmas; assuming that works out, it will be fine.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But you do not know yet whether that will happen.

Mr Berwick —The bureaucrats assured us this morning that everything is on track to happen. However, no, we do not know.

Senator SIEWERT —It seems to me that you are in a fairly unique position there because the government had made the election promise of the $200 million.

Mr Berwick —Absolutely; quite unique.

Senator SIEWERT —So you in a unique position compared with all the other regional groups.

Mr Berwick —You are quite right. I do not want to speak for the reef regions, because I represent the RGC. I guess my concerns are broader than those of the reef regions, although they have done fairly well out of this.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Can I just clarify one thing? In this transition year, you have been allocated money that you have been told about.

Mr Berwick —Yes, that is correct.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Have you then been successful in bidding for and getting some of the competitive funding for the Great Barrier Reef?

Mr Berwick —This is a rather interesting point. CFRC is to be rolled out principally on a competitive basis and the reef process has been quite the opposite—and I think that is why it works.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I am just trying to find out what it is; that is all. Tell me what it is. How did you get the money?

Mr Berwick —Reef Plan worked like Reef Rescue. Reef Plan is a state government thing. Reef Rescue evolved from our having Reef Plan, which was the safe initiative and all very nice. It was about agencies all lining up and doing the right thing. There was no money behind it. The reef regions got together and approached both governments; in fact, I think your party and the other party were both coming up with about the same amount of money, and we were pretty happy about that. But it was really about, ‘Let’s get some buckets of money into implementing what is a good idea but has no resources behind it.’

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But I am asking whether you have received that.

Mr Berwick —We have been told that our indicative allocation for the reef region this year is $30 million for Reef Rescue, of which $7 million has gone to those two things I mentioned before—the GBRMPA monitoring and the R&D.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —So that does not come through you.

Mr Berwick —No, the balance does not.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —So the $14 million—

Mr Berwick —Twenty-three will go to regional bodies and industry groups.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But you do not know how much each individual group will get.

Mr Berwick —Roughly, we got an indicative allocation and it was either, say, four to six or five to seven. Our region was five to seven and we had that extra—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Excellent, and that is on top of your general funding.

Mr Berwick —That is correct. That is why the reef regions are in clover.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The Reef Rescue Plan is excellent—and I have already given credit for that where credit is due—but various people have complained to me that nothing is happening: no money is going to the cane farmers to pull back from the riparian zones; no money has been given to bananas growers to do whatever they do—get off marginal land. In the last 10 or 12 months or at any time, have you been conscious of actual things happening? I was very critical earlier this morning. In 2004 there was another reef water quality plan. It had beaut glossy brochures and the announcements for it were great, but nothing really happened on the ground, because the money never actually got to doing that. There were lots of plans, strategies and brochures for that. Now I am being told that nothing is happening this year either. Would you tell me I am wrong?

Mr Berwick —I do not think that is correct. We were not expecting money to flow until around about now. All the time lines and milestones that we have seen are pretty much on track; like I say, we have been working quite well with bureaucracy on this. If it does not flow in the next month it will be a major drama, but right now it is on track to flow about when we expect it to.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I know that you are here representing the collective but, just from the perspective of your own group, if you get a cheque on 1 November, when do you say that money is going to go to doing the things that we all know need to be done to rescue the reef?

Mr Berwick —I think that stuff will start to flow fairly well fairly and fairly quickly. The incentives money should go out the door pretty well straight away. The industries are pretty well organised; they are advertising their positions for their coordination now.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Can you give me an example of what might happen in your area? Will it go to the cane growers to give to their members to buy back land on the marginal areas or what?

Mr Berwick —It will go into cane growers for topping up purposes. We have said, ‘There’s this number of cane growers on level B and our target is to get so many up to A or from C to B or whatever.’ We have worked out those targets in collaboration with the industry, and that has been great. We have worked together on that. So we will work with industry to say, ‘Here’s a bunch of growers that need this much money to get themselves from here to here,’ and we will fund that. It will be buying equipment maybe for contractors to do minimum tillage, or for hooded sprays or for repairing riparian zones, if they fund us for that. It may be even for buying back land, but I doubt that there would be enough money to do that sort of thing. Then there will be some money that goes to coordination, because a lot of this is about capacity building and extension and about getting out there amongst the farmers and getting them on board. So there are bits of money for all of these sorts of things, but 90 per cent will be on ground.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Just using your Terrain NRM as an example, you are ready to go, you have all the plans there?

Mr Berwick —Absolutely. We have the staff on board and the plans are there, and we are all ready to go.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —So if you get the money on 1 December, you would expect it to roll out pretty quickly from there.

Mr Berwick —That is correct.

Mr Drysdale —Some of the 60 per cent that they have received plus some of the carryover from NHT, which we are allowed to carry through to the end of this year, is being used—this is right across the state—to just keep things moving while we are waiting for the allocation to come through. One of the things that the regional bodies take on board—and I think they do it relatively well—is trying to make it as seamless as possible for the land managers and the farmers so that we can continue to do work with them. We absorb a lot of the ups and downs that come with the funding. But then in Queensland, as in Western Australia, we are independent legal entities. We have issues with having to remain solvent, just like a company. We are usually companies limited by a guarantee or are incorporated associations. In other states they are statutory and have the state behind them supporting them. So funding—and, again, particularly continuity of funding—is a big issue for the regions in Queensland.

Senator HURLEY —I want to refer to your submission entitled ‘The way forward’. You say that you do not like the competitive basis for funding and refer to setting aside a portion for contestable innovation bids. Basically, you say that the entities, as such, should be funded and then, in order to drive innovation, there should be a separate bid. Is that what that is all about?

Mr Berwick —Yes. One thing is that we felt it should be the planning and the process that is funded rather than the regional body. That is a fairly important distinction because we are not in here to protect ourselves, but we think the process of community engagement in regional plans should be centre stage, I suppose. I guess we recognise that there is a role for contestable bids, but it should not be the dominant force. There is always a role. We do a bit of contestable stuff, but it fits within a framework and a plan. We do it with Landcare, for example. Different groups do different things. But, from the Commonwealth’s point of view—or the major funder’s point of view—having some contestable money is always a good thing because it flushes innovation out. But it should be only a little bit of it and not the majority of it; I guess that is what we would say.

Senator HURLEY —Would you see that contestable innovation process being on a regional level or as a pool of money for whatever?

Mr Berwick —I do not know. When we wrote this, I was just saying that we recognise that a little bit should be set aside for contestability, but it should not be the guts of the program.

Mr Drysdale —We have a region in Queensland at the moment, Fitzroy Basin Association, which has run a small process just to flush out some innovation within its own region. So it can be delivered at a regional level, but it probably could also be delivered at a state or even Commonwealth level.

Senator HURLEY —Your submission also says that there has not been effective monitoring and evaluation of the government programs, and this seems to be a bit of a theme. I really have not been able to pin down how people see that as working.

Mr Berwick —We would go back to what the Audit Office said. We all liked the Audit Office report. We thought it was great because it did not criticise the system but it said that you could not correlate the numbers with the outcomes—and we all agree with that. In the case of Queensland, the first and second bilaterals envisaged the Queensland government setting up a monitoring framework because they are the people whose primary responsibility it is, but that has never really happened. We agree with the Audit Office about the need to set up some kind of accountable and transparent system, and that is certainly not there. It is probably not surprising that it is not there, because it is a new scheme and we are all learning as we go. But the time has certainly come to get that right.

I guess we have gone a little further in here, in talking about the need to have some national approach to environmental measurement and monitoring, much like you do with the finance sector. You see indicators every night on the news and you have reserve banks and institutions, although I am not suggesting anything like that. There is also independent reporting to parliament, although has not done us much good with banks at the moment, has it? Unless you get that right, you are never going to have the confidence of government to continue investing in here.

We think that in the long term you are going to need some kind of approach at COAG. I think, regardless of who was following on from NHT2, you would be up against the same thing. I guess that is a forward-looking thing. But we are a bit mystified about how they are going to go about setting that up. One of the criticisms, I guess, we have had of Caring for our Country is that, unless you have a partnership with the states, it is not going to work. So you cannot develop it up here in isolation in Canberra and then expect the states to fall into line. There will have to be some collaborative design and there will have to be the same down with the regions; they are going to need this collaboration. But, as soon as you go to competitive funding, you are saying, ‘Because you are bidders for the money, we can’t talk to any of you.’ Therefore, you cannot design the thing nationally, state or local, so we are all cut out of the design picture. That is what makes it this top-down approach. That is really the part in it that we see as dysfunctional. If we could collaboratively work out how we are going to do all of these things, we would think there is a better chance of getting it right.

Senator HURLEY —When you bid for a program, do you not include outcomes and monitoring in that? You are saying that the overall outcome is not being properly—

Mr Berwick —Perhaps I can use Reef  Plan as an example because we are probably a bit more advanced there. With Reef  Plan we have said, ‘With this much money we can get this many farmers to change practice from this point to this point and we think that will achieve an outcome in terms of tonnes of sediment, tonnes of fertiliser, volumes of pesticide, condition of the reef et cetera.’ In order to monitor that, you have to monitor where the farmers are at at the moment—how many of them are on various practices, which is a big job in itself. You then have to understand how many of them have gone from this practice to that practice, so you have to monitor that. You then have to monitor what comes off the paddock: ‘Is that delivering the reduced sediment and fertilisers that we thought it would?’ Someone has to do that. Presumably the state government comes in at that point and it is their responsibility to monitor water quality in streams down as far as the estuary. There is a real knowledge gap about how the estuarine system and floodplains work in terms of stripping out nutrients and sediments. Then you need to go out to the reef and ask, ‘Well, is the reef water now cleaner than it used to be?’

You cannot design bits of this monitoring in isolation from one another. This is a really big complex job. It is something that has to be done with the Commonwealth, the states and the regions, and we have to get together to work it out. But if you put it in little silos it is not going to work.

Senator HURLEY —I see what you are saying. Bits get monitored but not comprehensively and it does not necessarily all get put together.

Mr Berwick —That is correct.

Senator HURLEY —Just from curiosity really, can I ask this question? You said that you paid farmers to do minimum tillage. Why would you need to do that?

Mr Berwick —I guess you are paying them an incentive to accelerate the uptake of good practice. You might say that a contractor might come and say, ‘Look, I’m going to buy a machine that replaces all of these machines and I would like some help in doing that.’ That is the sort of thing that we would consider funding. Farmers going from current tillage to zero tillage will save money when they get there—less tractors, less fuel and better health for the soil—but there is a cost to get there. It is that cost of refiguring all their machines to fit in with rows and GPSs. Our incentives are about accelerated uptake of good practice.

Senator SIEWERT —Coming from Western Australia, I find it hard to sit and listen to someone saying that we are still offering incentives—

Senator HURLEY —Yes, ditto, in that I come from South Australia.

Senator SIEWERT —We have been doing it for years, but—

Mr Berwick —Yes, different problems, different places.

Senator SIEWERT —Exactly.

CHAIR —It is just that some are much more advanced.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, that is exactly right. I would like to pick up where Senator Hurley left off, which is with the issue around competitive bids. However, first, I would like to look at your having said that it then makes it hard for you to be involved in the discussions about and the development of certain key elements of the program. I put this to a couple of people this morning. With Caring for our Country and the business plan, as I understand it, other than a brief discussion with the chairs in April, there does not seem to have been any discussion with the regional groups about the development of the outcomes. Is that a correct assumption or observation?

Mr Berwick —That is pretty correct. Our interaction has been one of briefings and not one of joint design. This is our whole problem: it is a very top-down approach. This is a fundamental problem: if you go to design something that needs community support you cannot just do it from the top down; you have to come up from here as well.

Senator SIEWERT —So the point there is: how then are the outcomes being accepted by the community? This document was launched, I believe, two weeks ago. How have those outcomes been accepted by the community?

Mr Berwick —We do not really know what those outcomes mean until we see the accompanying business plan, and we have not seen that yet. In Queensland we have deliberately decided to hold off until we have seen the business plan. We had a fair discussion about this—whether we were going to write a letter with our submission to the committee. However, we thought we would wait until the business plan comes out and then we will see the picture. But that on its own does not tell you how it is going to work.

Senator SIEWERT —I remember the amount of criticism there was for NAP when it came out, because the same thing had happened there. There was a top-down approach and there was a lot of criticism, particularly from my home state of Western Australia. A lot of the targets they were talking about were end of valley targets and we do not have such things in Western Australia, because we do not have ends of valleys.

Mr Berwick —Because you have no drainage out there.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, exactly. So Western Australia was slow to sign on for a number of reasons. One was that we were arguing over dollar-for-dollar matching and bean counting and all that palaver, but another reason was that it did not actually meet our needs. If there had been discussion before that decision was made, we could have said, ‘It does not meet our needs, because we are not the same as you lot in the East.’

Mr Berwick —That is right.

Senator SIEWERT —Are you worried that a similar sort of thing is likely to happen?

Mr Berwick —I think that is one of the real dangers of having a top-down approach without engagement. It comes back to a point that Andrew made: if you want to change the landscape, you have to have the community on board. They have to be with it, be supportive of it, understand it and be part of it. It cannot be, ‘Here’s a bunch of things that we want you to do.’ A good way to get a positive response from community is not to come down from the top and tell them what they have to meet.

We had the same sorts of issues with targets from a different perspective. We agreed with the need to have end of valley targets—and, in the wet parts of the world, we do have drainage systems that are pretty lively. However, we did not know whether they were correct; they were all based on CSIRO soils monitoring, which had pretty big margins for error. So there were huge amounts of suspicion among the farming sector about whether these targets were real, were over the top or were going to turn into regulations. That was the mistrust that we had to bear with when we first established our regional body. I think one of our greatest achievements is that we have built trust. We work together. We no longer have that attitude of ‘You’re the arm of the government that is going to come and regulate us.’ So we will get to end of valley targets and we will do it cooperatively, but it will be with good science and will take a little bit of time and we will bring people with us. That sort of trust is absolutely fundamental to getting good NRM outcomes and, if you come just from the top down, you are not likely to get it.

Senator SIEWERT —I am not trying to put words in your mouth, but are we going a little backwards with that trust or are we there at the moment and we will wait to see how the business plan goes?

Mr Berwick —From our constituents’ point of view, I think it depends on where you sit in the landscape. As Andrew has said, we iron out a lot of things. We take risks; assuming that money is coming, we keep people employed. So, from the viewpoint of community groups, conservation groups, Landcare groups, farming groups or whatever, the programs keep running. I do not know whether I have really answered your question.

Mr Drysdale —I think at this point it is very much a wait and see situation. I do not think anyone in any of our regions would have any problems or would disagree with the six priority areas; they are that general in their coverage. Then, when we bore down to the outcome statements in that document, we find that, again, they are still pretty general; they are a little more specific and may exclude some things, but generally you could still work within them. The concern will come with the delivery, and we just have not seen the detail of that. The risk with any new program, as in going from NHT1 to NHT2 or whatever, is that you have that transition gap, and the regions are definitely feeling some of the pain. We are and, as I have said, we are trying to insulate our landholders from that pain as best we can. We are waiting with bated breath to see what is going to come out with the business plan.

Senator SIEWERT —Competitive bids have come up as an issue a couple of times this morning. The department was pretty convinced that there would be a lot of collaboration in developing bids for the contestable funds, but other people have made the point that regions may be competing with each other and with states and state agencies. Some regional groups in some states do not have such a good relationship with their state agencies and there is quite a lot of competition amongst them. What sort of relationship do you have with your state agencies? Do you envisage that you will be able to work collaboratively with them, or will you be in competition with them?

Mr Berwick —It is a bit of an unknown and it goes right to the guts of the issue: NRM is about cooperation and not competition. The success in this is that we have got together. Competing bidding inevitably drives people to compete with each other; there is no way that it will not do that. We try to counteract that. When that $25 million came out, we were pretty horrified by the whole process. We brought together a forum of state agencies, NGOs, regional bodies, industry groups and so on and attempted a collaborative bid there, but there were still—how many bids came out of Queensland?

Mr Drysdale —About 170-odd.

Mr Berwick —About 170-odd bids came out of Queensland. By the time it came to doing that, one state agency had done 25 bids. They were all okay, there was nothing wrong with what they were at, but there was no way they could all be funded, and then someone else had done all these bid. So there is no way in which it will not drive people into competing with one another. Trying to create a collaborative framework out of that is a real battle, and I do not know whether it will work or not.

Mr Drysdale —The other things is that we were told there was $200 million worth of bids for $25 million, so obviously there are a great many more losers than winners. A lot of those losers become disengaged. They put a lot of effort into it and then think, ‘Well, why bother?’ and you lose them out of the system.

Mr Berwick —If you look Australia-wide or in Queensland—it doesn’t really matter where—you might find that, with all the costs associated with putting in the bids and doing the assessment, the transaction costs actually outweigh the amount of money being offered by government.

Senator SIEWERT —That leads me to my next series of questions. What happens with the smaller groups? The smaller groups are obviously at a disadvantage compared with the bigger groups and the state agencies. Even the bigger groups are at a disadvantage with the state agencies because the state agencies have far more staff. My other issue there is that it is the state agencies that sign the bilateral and not the regional groups. If what is happening in Queensland is the same as we have been told is happening in WA, the community is completely cut out of any discussions on the bilateral. So they are immediately at a disadvantage because they are not there negotiating. It is not a trilateral. I must put on the table that I have always advocated that bilaterals on this particular issue should be federal government, state government and the regional groups, because it is the region groups that are actually delivering the on-the-ground outcomes. Having put my prejudice on the table, how are you managing that dynamic where the state is the one negotiating but also will be competing against regional groups—against you—in some cases for funding?

Mr Berwick —I do not know how we are going to manage it, because we are all waiting with bated breath to see what is in this business plan and we are all very intrigued to see how they are going to roll it out. We cannot see how they will roll it out. They will come up with a business plan, a set of objectives and I do not know what else—you went to the last briefing; I did not. But translating that and getting all that out on the ground, you can have all these motherhood statements that we all agree with and it is nice that the investment is there, but I just cannot see yet how you are going to deliver that business plan through a competitive business process. I guess we are very interested to see how this will work.

I would say that it is not a strictly competitive bidding process; Reef Plan definitely has not been one. Reef Plan has been a collaboratively process and that is what has made it work, with the states being on both sides: on the one hand, a bidder; and, on the other hand, a designer. That is not how you run a competitive tendering process. I think the whole concept of saying that we are going to achieve our probity or accountability through competitive bidding is completely wrong—and you have given one reason and I have given another with Reef Plan.

Senator SIEWERT —How would you design the perfect program? If the government were to come to you and say, ‘We want to move on from an HT2’, in terms of the way forward, would there be anything in addition to what you have said here? I take it that modifies what the government has come up with. What would you have come up with?

Mr Berwick —I had a go at the Prime Minister a while ago. Our view was that, if you are going to criticise, you are obliged to offer something constructive as well. We gave this a great deal of thought, and it had been evolving. I suppose, in essence, we really think you must have a collaborative process. It has to involve the Commonwealth, the states, the regions and probably local government too. So you must have national targets, state targets and regional targets. You have to come up from the bottom as well as down from the top, and that requires a collaborative process in the first place. Then we would have to have a good monitoring system, which clearly we do not have, as was highlighted by the Audit Office report. With that, we think it is time to reach the point where you go to COAG so that you have a national program that is agreed to by the states. We think it is time to move on from bilaterals and go to COAG, in the same way that you run an education program, a health program or any other program. Why would you do them any differently? I keep coming back to this: imagine if you ran an education program through competing printing processes and you had one school competing with another? You do it through programs, targets, milestones and funding regimes. Do it through COAG, call it a national environmental accord or whatever and put NRM on the same footing as other mainstream programs. I think that is how they do them and I do not see why it should be any different here.

Senator SIEWERT —You have given me heaps of food for thought, thank you.

Mr Berwick —That is a very brief summary. The other thing that is absolutely fundamental is some kind of national environmental accounting system so that we can properly count and add things up.

Senator SIEWERT —That has just raised a very important point. Have you looked at the Wentworth Group’s proposal?

Mr Berwick —Yes. I support it totally and I think all of our groups will. I think you will find that NRM groups around Australia will probably support that.

CHAIR —Gentlemen, thank you very much for making the effort to come down from sunny Queensland today.

Mr Berwick —I hope we have been of value to you.

CHAIR —Put it this way: if we had another hour, you would still be sitting at the table.

Senator SIEWERT —What you have said has been very thought provoking.

Mr Berwick —Good. We will be happy if there is any follow-up on, I think, the question that Senator Macdonald raised about statistics. We will come back with something for you.

Senator SIEWERT —That would be useful, thank you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Send it to the secretariat.

Mr Berwick —I will. Thank you for your time.

[3.09 pm]