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Rural Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
17/10/2011
Estimates
AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY
Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority

[20:20]

Senator COLBECK: First, I would just like to express my bemusement to the answer to question on notice No. 28. We talked last time about interaction with FSANZ and AQIS in relation to chemicals. I asked, 'Does FSANZ seek advice from the APVMA in respect of the make-up of the list?' Your answer is, no, FSANZ does not seek advice from you in relation to the make-up of the chemical list that it provides back to AQIS for its chemical testing of incoming chemicals.

Dr Bhula : That is correct. We do not have any interaction with FSANZ in relation to the testing of analytes and imported product.

Senator COLBECK: Could you characterise what interaction you might have with FSANZ. Is there any interaction? Obviously that would be a fairly sensible place for FSANZ to go to. You are the organisation that assesses and holds information on ag and vet chemicals. Yet they do not come to you to talk to you about what they might be putting on their incoming testing list.

Dr Bhula : Could you clarify the question for me, please? Is it in relation to domestic produce or imported produce?

Senator COLBECK: It is in relation to imported. It is about testing products at the border. I would have thought they still would have spoken to you because you have a broad international network in relation to ag and vet chemicals. I have had discussions with Dr Bennet-Jenkins, over time, about interactions internationally in relation to chemicals, sharing of information and trying to move down that track to speed up the process of approvals or accessing information. That is probably not a question; it is just an expression of complete bemusement, because you would be the first place I would have expected they would have gone to.

Dr Bhula : Not for determining which analytes should be selected for testing. We do have regular interactions with FSANZ in relation to the Australian Total Diet Survey and the analytes that are included there. That is a regular interaction because the survey is every two years. We do have discussions with them when they are developing that survey but not in relation to imported food.

Senator COLBECK: So you are not even providing advice in relation to properties and potential issues around any chemicals?

Dr Bhula : We may have informal discussions around residue definition, which forms a component of which analyte should be selected for testing. But it really stops there and is not around identifying what those chemicals should be.

Senator COLBECK: I will now go to a report that was in the Sunday Examinerin Tasmania on 19 June in relation to glyphosate based herbicides, suggesting that they should be banned because they pose a significant risk for humans. Are you aware of that report and any suggestion that glyphosate based herbicides pose a significant health risk to humans and can cause birth defects in humans and animals?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : We are aware that there have been a number of studies that have been done in vitro—test tube studies—that have suggested that glyphosate can have some effects on the cells. We keep an eye on those reports that are coming out and we ask the Department of Health and Ageing to provide feedback to us on whether those reports and studies that are published have any impact on the risk assessment that they have already done on that chemical. At this stage, we have not received advice back that glyphosate needs to be urgently the subject of a new review. These are just reports that we keep an eye on. We believe that there is no particular issue that we need to follow up at this time, but it is the sort of research that we keep a close eye on with chemicals that have been around for a long time where there is a lot more information in terms of scientific research.

Senator COLBECK: So is the report that was sponsored by Earth Open Source a new report or an old report?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : I know the report that you are talking about, but I am not sure whether I know when it was actually published, so I will take that on notice. We can certainly get back to you in terms of what parts of that report we have examined. It has not had any impact in terms of the regulatory status of glyphosate from our perspective at this stage.

Senator COLBECK: Are you aware of allegations that certain chemicals are coming in through Customs, circumventing the levy process and registration of chemicals?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : Yes, we are aware that some concerns have been raised by CropLife Australia in terms of the threat to Australia of illegal import of unregistered and unapproved pesticides. We have no evidence that that is actually occurring on a large scale. Where we have been given examples of potential illegal imports we have investigated those but our investigations have always led us down the path to finding that the import was legitimate. We have been working very closely with Customs. We have a memorandum of understanding with Customs. In the past year, with these reports of concerns about the threat to Australia, we have actually stepped up the type of information exchange we have with Customs. So they are able to actually give us access to the sorts of import records they have, and then we can follow those through. We have been in contact with Customs almost on a regular weekly basis to look at the sorts of imports. We have concentrated this year very much on glyphosate imports because that was the pesticide of concern to the industry. But at this stage, while it might be a potential threat, we have not identified that there is actually a large amount of illegal imported product flooding into the market.

Senator COLBECK: So you are getting documentation and records out of Customs. Are there any physical inspections of shipments that might be coming in as a part of the process?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : The jurisdiction for the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority is once it has crossed the border. Those are the sorts of areas where we have not at this stage identified anything, but we could identify and ask Customs to inspect containers. That is part of our ongoing dialogue with Customs, to get more intelligence about where the threats might be coming from and where you might have to target that sort of activity. Indeed, I think they would be able to assist us in that matter. So we are actually in constant dialogue with them.

Senator COLBECK: I might be safe to mention it, with Senator Heffernan not in the room, but there is the question of the containers of superphosphate that allegedly appeared in the bush, and so the question of the records versus what is actually in the containers is, I think, a fair one to ask given that fairly graphic recent example that we have that we are still trying to sort out. So we are not doing any physical inspections?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : Indeed. It is something that we are actually now having a look at. We have looked at what would be legitimate imports under the proper tariff codes, and now we are expanding our work with Customs to look at all the other areas in order to determine where you could best target to find such illegal import.

Senator SIEWERT: CropLife, as you said, put out some media on this not long ago. I will ask you firstly: are you aware of an event that sparked their renewed interest in this issue?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : There has been evidence internationally that illegal products are coming into other markets and there have been investigations in other countries. That is one example. Another example is looking at the types of sales the companies are experiencing in Australia in a good season and then finding that their sales are perhaps not as high as they expected and thinking 'Where are the farmers getting the products from?'

Senator SIEWERT: You then talk to Customs. Do you do any other monitoring? Do you look at sales and things like that to do that assessment?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : The purpose of the sales data that we collect is for levy collection but we can look for trends in that. But it is actually quite difficult because, from season to season, the user pattern goes up and down, so that has been very difficult. We have not picked up any trends there but we have looked at that as well. We also get intelligence ourselves from our compliance officers in the field. Those are the sorts of cases we have also followed up with our own investigations.

Senator SIEWERT: I have two more questions there. The other area they have been talking about, for example, is fake pesticides. When you have your compliance officers in the field, do you do any testing? A supplementary question to that is: has anybody raised with you concerns that the pesticides they have got through, supposedly, legitimate sources have in fact not been effective or might be fake?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : What you are talking about is counterfeit pesticides. That is a big problem in other countries. We have not actually seen any evidence of that in Australia, nor had any reports of counterfeit pesticides. But that is a problem in other countries and it is one that we are also keeping a close eye on.

Senator SIEWERT: In answer to Senator Colbeck's question, you were talking about glyphosate. Why have you targeted that particular chemical?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : That was first raised with us by CropLife as being a particular chemical of concern. That was at the beginning of this year, and so we stepped up our surveillance of that, as well as our intelligence with our compliance officers in the field.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I get an update on where we are at with the agvet reform process.

Mr Williamson : There are two reform processes running at this point.

Senator SIEWERT: Can we do both in whatever time I have left?

CHAIR: Four minutes.

Mr Williamson : We call the process running at the Commonwealth level the better regulation partnership initiative. It is well advanced. We are in the process of drafting legislation that at some point in the near future will be released for exposure.

Senator SIEWERT: Is the near future before Christmas?

Mr Williamson : We expect so but, at the end of the day, when legislation is released is a matter for the minister.

Senator SIEWERT: Will it be sometime between now and Christmas? I am not trying to be cheeky about that. I am just trying to get an idea.

Senator Ludwig: We will not commit to that. There is a broad expectation.

Mr Williamson : We are looking to have that legislation developed and released for a lengthy exposure draft period. We have a requirement with the states to have a minimum level of exposure of three months, and so we would look to do at least that or possibly longer. That will provide the basis for a major change to the operations of the APVMA, so that is well advanced. In terms of the reforms that are happening through the COAG process there are ongoing discussions with the states and also policy development. We are working through a range of issues to come to a position with the states on how to progress that reform going forward.

Senator SIEWERT: I would have more, but I will hand over to Senator Waters.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Siewert. Senator Waters, you colleague has kindly donated some of her time, then Senator Back has a couple of quick questions.

Senator WATERS: I note that APVMA commenced its review of diuron about nine years ago and then in 2005 there was an initial review report finding that diuron was likely to have an unacceptable environmental impact; however, no action was taken at that stage. That is now six years ago. You have recently announced a proposed suspension. What measures are available to you as a result of a suspension? I get the sense that a suspension is not really a suspension.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : Yes, a suspension can mean all manners of things. You suspend a registration or an approval of a label and then that suspension can mean total cessation of use or it can mean that there are some acceptable uses that are allowed to continue. The normal process when you propose a suspension is that you look to suspend the registration and possibly the label approvals and then you look to see what instructions apply in terms of the product that is either in the field or in the supply chain or for continued supply. That is the sort of aspect that we are looking at with diuron, because not all uses of diuron have actually been identified as being of risk. So if we were to suspend diuron, you would list out and vary those uses where you want to mitigate the risks, but you can still allow those uses where the risks are acceptable to continue. That is how a suspension process can work.

Senator WATERS: Thank you for that. I am interested in your reaction to the SEWPaC diuron environmental assessment report which was released recently, which found that the only safe application rate of diuron was 160 grams per hectare; yet I believe that APVMA has allowed up to 75 kilos per hectare, which is 468 times the amount deemed safe by SEWPaC. Can you walk me through what brought you to that conclusion?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : Diuron is a chemical that has been registered for a number of years. I do not believe the current use patterns are as high as 75 kilos.

Senator WATERS: I certainly hope not.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : I am not quite sure. We can take on notice what the highest use rate is if you would like to know what that is.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. And also the highest rate that you have approved, as well as the actual current rate.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : What is approved is what is currently registered as being in place. When Environment does their assessment they look at the highest use rate and then they look at whether there is any possibility of mitigating the risks by reducing the amount of chemical that you are using into the environment. That is what the suspension does. It looks at mitigating those risks—or the final review decision may do that. So you have to lower your use rate or just stop use altogether.

Senator WATERS: When can we expect that final decision on diuron?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : There will be two stages to that decision. We have got over 70 submissions into that environment report. Quite a lot of new information has been given to us. It will take us some time to work through that. The idea is that we will take an interim step and actually suspend these registrations and issue some new instructions that at least, while we are assessing it, will mitigate the risks before we make our final decision on what long-term use may be permitted.

Senator WATERS: What is the time frame on that decision?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : We anticipate to make this interim decision by about mid-November.

Senator WATERS: And the final decision?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : I would say it would probably take another year. A lot of new information has been provided to us.

Senator WATERS: I have one final question. There is a recent paper published by Davis et al in the Marine Pollution Bulletin as part of the Reef Rescue/Paddock to Reef water quality monitoring, which found 18 different pesticides at 11 sites along the Great Barrier Reef, including three pesticides—atrazine, diuron and metachlor—at toxic levels at eight sites. That study concluded that there is a widespread problem of pesticide contamination in catchments draining into the reef, including high concentrations of some of those pesticides for more than 30 consecutive days. So clearly there is a big problem here. Are you examining that issue of combined toxicity of pesticides—their cumulative impact rather than their effect in isolation from each other? Do you as regulators share any responsibility for that outcome?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : When it comes to reviewing pesticides and managing the risks of a particular pesticide, the way the system works is that you look at them one at a time. However, when you have common pesticides that cause a problem then those pesticides are reviewed either one after the other or, commonly, together. The diuron review just looks at diuron and we will make decisions on that chemical in isolation. The assessments do not look at the mixtures that might have been detected in the environment. Sorry—what was the second part of the question?

Senator WATERS: Given the very, very high levels of diuron and other chemicals in reef catchments, do you as the regulator share responsibility for that fact?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : There are two parts to it, because the national registration scheme is a partnership with ag-vet chemical management in Australia as a whole. Our responsibility relates to the regulation of the products to the point of supply, including retail sale. The states and territories control the use. So the first step in something like detections is that you have an investigation done by the control of use agencies to find out why there has been off-target movement of a chemical. If it is off-target movement that occurs because our label instructions are poor or there is inherent risk in the way that the chemical is being used, that then becomes a responsibility. So the overall ag-vet chemical management system in Australia is a shared responsibility between the regulator, which looks after the products, and the states and territories, which control and do the compliance on the proper use of those products.

Senator BACK: Can you give me an update on where you are with dimethoate and fenthion for fruit fly, please.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : We recently took a decision to suspend some uses of dimethoate, and this is again an example of where we issued quite extensive instructions that now need to be followed during the period of suspension. Some uses are no longer allowed; other uses continue to be allowed. That suspension is in place for 12 months while we finish the other component assessments, which are the occupational health assessments for that chemical, and go out for a full public comment on the entire assessment for it before we make our final decision.

Senator BACK: When you say that some uses are still allowed, I am trying to understand where the limitations might now be—for example, on apple producers using dimethoate for fruit fly control.

Dr Bhula : There is no longer any approved use in apples at all.

Senator BACK: Then what are they using to control fruit fly?

Dr Bhula : We have issued a number of permits for alternative chemicals. We have issued nine altogether, so those industries that have made requests to us for emergency permits will have been issued permits. I think as of last week all of those requests have been met.

Senator BACK: Are these chemicals that are known to be effective in fruit fly control?

Dr Bhula : They are approved for fruit fly control, but they may not be approved for the vast range of products that dimethoate was approved for.

Senator BACK: And fenthion?

Dr Bhula : We are currently assessing the rest of the residues data which was provided to us by Horticulture Australia Ltd. They provided data for both dimethoate and fenthion. Once we have completed that—and we expect to have the residues and food and dietary exposure assessment completed within the next nine months or so—there is also an updated occupational health and safety report that goes with that before we can finalise the fenthion review. So again we would expect it in the next 12 months.

Senator BACK: On an unrelated matter, I did want to ask you some questions about the adverse event reporting program, but I do not think the chairman is going to give me that privilege, so I will put those on notice. They relate to some communication between Dr Matt Landos and your Dr Taseer Bashir towards the end of September—28 and 29 September—regarding what was reported as premature deaths in queen bees related to canola crops, the concern being that the matter never found its way into being logged in the adverse event reporting program. If it is going to take longer than a few seconds to respond to that, I will have to put those on notice.

CHAIR: He's not joking either!

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : So will we leave it on notice?

CHAIR: Unless you can answer it in a couple of seconds.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins : These were media reports. The apiarists themselves have not submitted a report. We have very little information other than what is in the newspapers, so we cannot log it as a report. But these matters are very important to us. We keep a close watching brief and work with our state and territory colleagues on it.

Senator BACK: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you and thank you to your team.

[20:46]

CHAIR: I welcome officers from Agricultural Productivity, which includes commodities, water, research and development, food ag, vet chemicals and animal welfare.

Senator COLBECK: Farm Institute studies released by the NFF recently highlight the flow-on impacts of the carbon tax on a range of farming enterprises. Has the Agricultural Productivity division undertaken any similar research?

Mr Glyde : As far as I am aware, the Agricultural Productivity division has not done any work in relation to carbon tax issues.

Senator COLBECK: The Farm Institute studies report shows nothing but negative bottom lines for producers due to the flow-on effects of the carbon tax on things like electricity and fertiliser. So on what basis do we say that the carbon tax is good for farmers?

Mr Glyde : These questions would probably have been best addressed to the Climate Change division.

Senator COLBECK: The minister has made these statements, so perhaps you might like to respond to them.

Mr Glyde : The general view is that agricultural production and the value of exports continue to rise under a carbon tax, and the differences that have been pointed to by modelling and the like and by the Australian Farm Institute studies are that the increases in agricultural production are not as great as they would have been in the absence of a carbon tax, in the short term.

Senator COLBECK: If you are talking about agricultural production versus returns to farmers, I think they would see that as two different things.

Mr Glyde : True.

Senator COLBECK: That is how I see them and that is the context in which I ask the question. I understand your point in respect of productivity—

Mr Glyde : Yes, production.

Senator COLBECK: but I am talking specifically in relation to returns.

Mr Glyde : I think the general point would still apply to returns, and there is also the potential, on the positive side, for farmers to participate in sequestration activities and the like.

Senator COLBECK: I am aware of that side of it.

Dr O'Connell : There is the $1.7 billion land package as well, which provides opportunities to—

Senator COLBECK: You have got the $1.7 billion package. The losses are characterised in the order of 5.4 per cent, according to the Farm Institute studies.

Senator Ludwig: I think if you spoke to the Farm Institute you would find that events have overtaken some of that work they did—

Senator COLBECK: 'Events have overtaken some of that work'—we have heard that several times today, Minister.

Senator Ludwig: They have not taken into account, as I understand it—and I am happy for them to update their records—the $1.7 billion package that the secretary mentioned. I am not sure they have factored that into their—

Senator COLBECK: That was going to be my next question. How do farmers access the package?

Dr O'Connell : Just to be clear, though, the Farm Institute modelling does not take into account the Carbon Farming Initiative or the assistance packages. So those opportunities are not there.

Senator COLBECK: My question is: how do farmers access the package? I am not talking about the CFI. I understand that relatively well.

Dr O'Connell : If I could just go to the overall issue of the Farm Institute modelling just so we are clear about that.

Senator COLBECK: I am not arguing about that. I am asking how they access the package.

Senator Ludwig: The challenge is that you put a statement that is incorrect on the record and I think the secretary is trying his hardest to make sure that it is not left hanging.

Senator COLBECK: I said that I was not arguing about what the secretary was saying.

Dr O'Connell : If I could just finish, it is a simple point to make. The Farm Institute modelling does not give any consideration to the dynamic changes and decisions by fund managers and farm businesses on processes in the face of cost changes. In other words, it does not give any sense of what adjustments industry would make in order to manage this. So on those sorts of margins it is talking about it is probably very difficult to say that that is a useful model.

Senator COLBECK: You can put your interpretation on it, that is fine. My question is: how do farmers access the package? You have talked about a $1.7 billion package; I want to know how farmers access it and how it is going to assist them.

Dr O'Connell : The specifics of the package we should have dealt with under the climate change division when the people who were dealing with that were here. We can take those questions on notice, if that helps, on the specifics of accessing the package.

Senator COLBECK: Okay. Are you aware of the report released on Friday by the Food and Grocery Council that talked about the impact on the food and grocery sector and the impact of the carbon tax on food and grocery manufacturing? Is that something that you would have done any work on in ag productivity?

Mr Glyde : No. We are aware of the release of the report and the claims that have been made in the media. Generally speaking, neither ABARES nor the department tend to focus their research on the food-processing sector. That tends to be the responsibility of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

Senator COLBECK: How does that relate to the work you are doing on the national food plan?

Mr Glyde : That is a good question. We are bringing together, as I said earlier on, the work of all of the departments that are involved into the food plan. So they will bring the work that they are doing in relation to the food-processing sector and the impacts to the table. We are pulling that together in the food plan.

Senator COLBECK: So the work of the Food and Grocery Council would go through the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science and Research and then come back into the national food plan via that process?

Mr Glyde : Yes. We would also have an interest in looking at the AFGC report as well. It is just that we have not had a chance to look at it and see if there is any other relevant information that might inform our own thinking.

Dr O'Connell : As you said, it was only out on Friday. We will be looking at that.

Senator COLBECK: In relation to the national food plan, you had a webcast on 18 August. How many people participated in that process, do you know?

Mr Glyde : I know I was involved—that is one! I might ask Mr Souness to answer. He might be able to provide the details of the number of people who participated and the number of people who joined in the discussion.

Mr Souness : We were advised that there were about 180 to 200 people online at any one point in time during that webcast.

Senator COLBECK: Was there a registration process or did people just log in?

Mr Souness : People were asked to register. They could do that online through the department's website.

Senator COLBECK: How many did register?

Mr Souness : I do not know. The people that provided the online connection monitored those that were online. That is where we got the figure of 180 to 200.

Senator COLBECK: So you do not know whether more registered than came on?

Mr Souness : No, we did not seek that information.

Senator COLBECK: But you gave them the opportunity to register.

Mr Souness : Yes.

Senator COLBECK: So you can check it.

Mr Souness : Yes, we can take that on notice.

Senator COLBECK: Was there any categorisation? Did they have to indicate whether or not they were involved in food production?

Mr Souness : They could nominate a category but it was not mandatory.

Senator COLBECK: Did you monitor that?

Mr Souness : We had an indication when people came online. Sometimes they would indicate whether they were an academic or a member of an industry association. Other times it would just be a private person who would not indicate, did not indicate or did not want to indicate any affiliations.

Senator COLBECK: So you did not keep any analysis of who was in there, what their perceptions were and what perspective they came from?

Mr Souness : We have a record of those that were online and their comments. We can go back and look at their affiliations where they are known. In some cases people came online with some sort of login pseudonym that did not make it entirely clear who they were affiliated with.

Senator COLBECK: Has there been any analysis of the questions and the comments registered?

Mr Souness : There was some analysis. Because we could not get to all the issues that were raised in the time, we indicated to participants that all their questions would be taken into consideration during that public consultation phase of the development of the plan.

Senator COLBECK: How will the issues or questions that were submitted but not considered as part of the webcast be dealt with?

Mr Souness : All the questions were captured and the department has a record of those.

Senator COLBECK: Is there any capacity to deal with them or intention to deal with them, or are they just captured?

Mr Souness : They are captured and they are taken into consideration insofar as there would have been X number of questions about production systems or about food security—all the various issues. Some of the questions were quite brief. Others were more comments or opinions as well. It is part of the that broad context in the development of the plan along with all the other consultations that occurred.

Senator COLBECK: How did you select the ones that did get up as part of the webcast?

Mr Souness : As the questions came in, we fed them to the panel. We had a facilitator who attempted to go through them. It was run a little bit like the ABC's Q&A program. The questions were put up and the facilitator and the panel had those questions on a screen in front of them and they could pick from them. It was process of trying to cover as broad a range of issues as possible without getting bogged down in any one particular issue. It was a combination of a number of departmental staff who looked at questions that came in, fed them to the panel and the panel then responding to those questions along with the facilitator to try to get through as broad a range of issues as possible.

Mr Glyde : You are probably aware, Senator, that there were also other ways in which we tried to get views from the community and stakeholder groups. The webcast was one of them, but we also had a call for public submissions and a series of roundtable meetings. I assume you are familiar with those, but I just wanted to check that you are aware of those other ways in which we have tried to get views from the Australian community.

Senator COLBECK: My final question was to be, and I think I am providing a reasonable segue to Senator Siewert again: can I have an update on the progress, on what the key issues coming to the fore might be and on what actions are planned?

Mr Worrell : As we have just discussed, a range of submissions have been received in response to the issues paper that was distributed—278 submissions have been received to date, as well as the comments and the questions that were asked as part of the webcast. Given that the submissions were from a broad variety of different stakeholders, a variety of different issues have been raised. This is consistent with the issues paper, in which a broad range of issues are covered within the spectrum of the development of the food plan. As can be expected, there a variety of different views were expressed on the issues, including on things to do with food security: the concept of better integrating food policy, land use planning, measurement and monitoring, education, labelling, safe and nutritious food supply, emergency food supply and food chain resilience. So there was a broad variety of issues. The department is currently analysing the submissions and the other input that is being received and will take that on board in the further development of the food plan.

Senator SIEWERT: Why was it decided that you would have roundtables for which you picked who got to go, with no public meetings per se, other than the webcast? And how were people chosen for the roundtables?

Mr Souness : The department contracted a communications organisation to assist with the consultation process, especially for the roundtables. We took advice from them in terms of the nature of the consultation , and the roundtables were part of our planning process with that communications consultancy. The roundtables were designed as a focus group exercise to try to gather qualitative information about the broad range of issues that were also being identified through the submission process that Mr Worrell talked about. During the consultation with the communications consultants it was determined that running a system of focus group exercises by invitation only under a Chatham House rules type of environment would probably garner the best level and quality of information that we were seeking in that process.

Senator SIEWERT: Because I am going to run short of time, can you take on notice who attended those meetings? I would like to know the representation of those who attended the meetings, and whether there was anybody there representing a different opinion. For example, on GM food, were organic farmers there? Were permaculture and biodynamic farmers there? Were people from the Landcare movement there, et cetera? Could you take that on notice and give me a list of the groups that were there?

Mr Souness : I can say now that the list of organisations that were invited to the roundtables is available on the department's website.

Senator SIEWERT: Who made the call, finally, on who was invited?

Mr Souness : The department would have made the final call, but we also took advice from the communications consultants. They put together a list. We also put together our own list. But ultimately it would be the decision of the department.

Senator SIEWERT: I have a final question on this one. I understand that there are going to be some broader public consultations in this process, besides the submissions. Is that correct? If so, when?

Mr Worrell : Yes, the government has flagged that there will be some further consultation processes in the development of the food plan.

Senator SIEWERT: When? What is the process from here?

Mr Worrell : There has not been any public announcement about the exact timing of the consultation processes.

Dr O'Connell : The precise timing and nature of it has not yet been finalised.

Senator SIEWERT: Who will that be finalised by—the advisory committee or the minister?

Dr O'Connell : The minister, I think.

Senator SIEWERT: I have limited time, so I am going to jump back across to the questions that I was asking earlier this morning when it was flagged that I needed to ask them of you. First off, I would like to have some of the answers to the questions that I asked this morning when I mistakenly asked ABARES about the collection of statistics similar to that for the food atlas. I am sure that you heard the question and know what I was asking. I was asking about the collection of statistics across Australia disaggregated by various categories similar to the way that they have produced the food atlas in America. I understand that you are not doing that. Is that correct?

Mr Glyde : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you considered doing it? If not, why not?

Mr Glyde : As I have said before, we are aware of the food atlas and the value of that production in the US. It looks at a variety of different information around food. We are also aware of the cost that is involved in doing that from scratch. The simple answer to your question is that we have considered it and it is something that may well emerge as an idea out of the food plan. We do not have the resources to go to the level that the food atlas in the US that you referred to goes to. We tend to do what we can to bring together the statistics in an annual publication called Food Statistics. That is based on what is collected by the ABS and ABARES, and that is about as far as it goes. The level of information that you were referring to earlier on today, going down to the community level or the local government area level, would be information that state governments would hold. So it would be a fairly significant undertaking to bring it all together. That is not to say that it would not be a worthwhile thing to do, but it would be a costly exercise in the Australian context.

Senator SIEWERT: As part of this food plan process have you spoken to the states or do you intend to collect as much information as the states have?

Mr Glyde : I am not quite sure exactly what the discussions have been with the states and whether or not we have approached them in relation to statistics. I was really just saying that others might come forward in the context of the food plan with the suggestion that that is something that we should be doing in the future. I am not aware if we have had any discussions as yet with the states and territories about the specifics of something like what you have mentioned.

Senator SIEWERT: I will skip back to the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. Did we manage to track down whether the agency has done any work on that.

Mr Glyde : We are still in the process of tracking down exactly what DAFF's involvement in that has been. I understand that it is a World Bank project.

Senator SIEWERT: There is a collection of international agencies that have been working on it. Australia was one of the countries that did not sign up to the report, as I understand it.

Mr Glyde : AusAID are part of it and they are probably the best place to go to get an answer to the question of what our level of involvement is. In the time that we have had, we have not been able to determine what they do. But they would be the best people to go to. They could explain the participation in that.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Could you take on notice what involvement DAFF has had as part of the Australian involvement.

Mr Glyde : Sure. As you are probably aware, we have an officer based in Rome who participates in FAO work. The extent that they might have participated, we need to consult with him as well.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Thank you.

Senator RHIANNON: DAFF's budget includes an amount for the implementation of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy. I want to ask about the body that is going to be set up. Is the AAWS advisory committee and the National Consultative Committee on Animal Welfare will be phased out and this new body formed?

Mr Glyde : I will ask Mr Murnane to answer that question.

Senator RHIANNON: I have a few questions about the body if that is the case.

Mr Murnane : The review of the Animal Welfare Strategy in 2009 recommended that the advisory committee for the Animal Welfare Strategy and the National Consultative Committee on Animal Welfare should be merged into a single committee. To cut to the chase, the minister appointed the members of the new amalgamated committee in September and the new amalgamated committee met for the first time last Thursday and Friday.

Senator RHIANNON: I am particularly interested in the selection process, because I understand that, unlike how it has often been done in the past—but that is no reason to continue doing it—you are no longer selecting members on the basis of representing certain groupings but on the basis of their skills. Could you tell me who the members are and how they were selected? And, if it was on the basis of skills, what are the skills that you attempted to identify in those people?

Mr Murnane : I have here, and can table, the list of the membership and the terms of reference of the committee. They are on our website, but I am happy to table them as well. The members of the new committee are a combination of representatives of particular sectors and people with broad skills that could be of benefit to the committee. Particular sectors that are represented are the states and territories; the farming sector; and the animal welfare sector. Our department is also a member of the committee. On the committee there are also three members, who were on the previous Animal Welfare Strategy Advisory Committee, to provide continuity. The other members of the committee are people who, through a process of consultation with the former advisory committee and a departmental assessment process, were judged to bring particular skills to the committee to contribute to the work of the committee.

Senator RHIANNON: Did you set out the skills you were looking for when you determined the people you were selecting? Can you provide that to the committee, please?

Mr Murnane : Yes, Senator. I will have to provide that to you on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: How often will this body report to the parliament and what measures are being taken to ensure that it retains an independence?

Mr Murnane : The reporting process for the committee is to the Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and also through the minister to the forum of Commonwealth and state ministers for agriculture. In terms of reporting to the parliament, activities of the committee and progress with the animal welfare strategy will be reported on through the department's annual report.

Senator RHIANNON: From the way you have expressed it I still have a concern that this committee will be able to ensure its independence from the productivity and industry development brief that DAFF operates under.

Mr Murnane : My view is that the committee's terms of reference are very much focused on animal welfare. The principal responsibility of the committee will be to work within the new iteration of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy to identify priorities for action under that strategy and then to report back on progress made in achieving the strategy's objectives. There is a very clear set of parameters for it to work within and these are focused on the animal welfare strategy rather than on the department's other responsibilities.

Mr Glyde : I might add a point that the same relationship is indicative of this committee's structure in that it is administered by the department. With its productivity and production focus it was able to deliver the earlier versions of the strategy and the earlier committees using the method that Mr Murnane has talked about in making sure the terms of reference in its strategy relate to animal welfare in the broad.

Senator MILNE: I have a philosophical question and you will have 30 seconds to answer it. If last century's productivity was based on more land area cleared for agriculture, greater volumes and intensity of water use for agriculture, greater volumes of inputs like oil and chemicals, then this century's productivity cannot be dependent on an expansion of all those factors. So, if we producing more with less, it has to be a productivity challenge. How is that reflected in the way that you organise your work? And how is it reflected in the food plan, given that to date I have not heard any emphasis on the notion of ecological sustainability?

Mr Glyde : It is a very good point. Ultimately, the future of agriculture, the future of food production around the world, is exactly as you say: we have to produce more with less, with a smaller environmental footprint, no matter how you define that, with a smaller impact on a whole lot of things. I guess the way the department handles that is by having productivity as a focus. Our role is to try and make sure that we put in place policies, programs et cetera that will encourage productivity and not discourage it. The sorts of things that we do, and where probably the most significant investment the department makes, is in relation to research and development through the administered funds that go to the research and development corporations. Productivity will come from the research into the sources of innovation, the sources of low-water, low-fertilizer, low-land-using technologies. That would be one factor.

The fact that we are also conducting a review at the moment of the response of the Productivity Commission on R&D—that is happening roughly at the same time as the food plan is being developed—also provides a mechanism for making sure that that sort of thinking about the importance of driving productivity, about the importance of developing new technologies features in the food plan.

CHAIR: I am sorry, Senator Milne, but the time is—

Senator MILNE: We will continue the conversation another day.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Murnane, for that list of 14 people. I see 13 are all experts except you, Mr Glyde!

Mr Glyde : Yes, sadly there was room for an inexpert on there!

CHAIR: Right. That's what your paper says, anyway.

Proceedings suspended from 21:16 to 21:29

CHAIR: I call officers from Trade and Market Access Division. Senator Nash, we have 15 minutes for questions from you and Senator Milne.

Senator NASH: Today there was a media report that the minister Craig Emerson has declared that the Doha round of global talks has hit a dead end. Can you give the committee a bit of background as to what is meant by that? It is reasonably explanatory from the media that the committee has seen, but it would be interesting for the committee to get a bit of background and any awareness that the department has had on that and what it is intending to do.

Ms Evans : You are referring to a couple of media articles this morning by Dr Emerson.

Senator NASH: I am sure you are well aware of them.

Ms Evans : Yes, I am, thanks. Concluding the Doha Round in this year has proved really difficult, and we have had a couple of conversations at the last couple of Senate estimates hearings about where the round has been at as the year has progressed. There was a bit of optimism, I guess, in the earlier part of the year that some momentum had been injected into the WTO negotiations through the G20 and other forums that had expressed the view that this was the year to try to push through an outcome. So everyone was very much focused on that and tried very hard to resolve the issues across the board. But, as the year has progressed, it has become clear that things are really at an impasse, and there have been discussions on that.

The statements by the Minister for Trade in the press this morning are not the first time that he has made observations along those lines. He attended the Cairns Group ministerial meeting on 11 September, and when he came back and issued a press release after that meeting he was already flagging the concerns around the state of the WTO negotiations. I think the question you are asking is why and how it has ended up where it has. It is just that the issues that remain to be resolved, in a forum where you are negotiating with a large number of countries, are very difficult, essentially.

Senator NASH: I think my question was more about how this is actually going to work. I would be happy if you would take it on notice, if you do not mind, to give us a more detailed briefing on how this new world will look. Simplistically, is it a case that those countries who did not want to play the game have still got their tariffs in place and it is just going to be: 'Okay, we'll forget about Doha; we'll leave those to one side. We will collect all the countries who are happy to free trade in its purest form and somehow work within just those countries'? I am interested in how that is going to work if there are still tariffs in place, particularly when it comes to agriculture. Will we have a different regime for those countries who will not play ball in terms of their imports into Australia? It is hard to get a sense of how this will actually work.

Ms Evans : The detail around this are really matters for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to answer. However, to give you a sense of it, the kinds of things we are working towards are a WTO ministerial-level pledge for antiprotectionism and a package of measures for the least developed countries. This is where you try to create the tariff reductions that support the products that the least developed countries are working on.

Senator NASH: Didn't we do that 10 years ago?

Ms Evans : These negotiations are incredibly difficult. One of the things I should stress is that, even though there is a recognition that it has reached this impasse, there is no diminution of the importance that we place on getting an outcome through it. It is still incredibly significant for Australia if we can get an outcome from the WTO Doha Round.

Senator NASH: So are we talking about bilateral free trade agreements?

Ms Evans : In terms of the alternatives?

Senator NASH: Yes.

Ms Evans : The idea they are working with is that you can keep negotiating the Doha issues and implement as many of them as soon as you can, where that is possible, and in parallel with that you would work with select agreements within the round. That may be bilateral arrangements, or it might be that you get some plurilateral agreements emerging that support the general direction of the round or any combination of agreements that can push forward the work.

Senator NASH: Would you mind taking that on notice for us. I do accept that, obviously, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has the lead on this but potentially it does have a specific impact, particularly for agriculture. If you would not mind, in so far as you are able, can you take on notice to get some detail about, from your perspective, what work is being done on those things you mentioned and, if there are any, other things as well, how the framework would look and any particular impact on agriculture that we would see as a result of this change to a new environment.

Ms Evans : I can take that on notice.

Senator MILNE: I want to begin by asking some questions about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. I understand it is being negotiated between the United States, Australia and seven other countries and that the ninth round of the negotiations is set to start in Peru on 19 October. I also understand that nobody has seen any draft text of the proposed agreement and it has been alleged that there is a document which restricts access to negotiating documents for four years after the conclusion of the negotiations. Can you tell me when the Australian people and community are going to get access to see what exactly is being negotiated and can you tell me what input you have had to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the primary industry proposals or impacts that may come out of this agreement because, of course, there are many other issues being negotiated apart from agriculture? I am just interested in your perspective and your input to date.

Mr Ross : As you pointed out, the ninth round of the TPP negotiations is to take place in Peru, starting on 19 October—that is, in a couple of days time. DAFF has been involved in each round of the negotiations as part of the Australian delegation led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In terms of our engagement, we have been particularly involved in discussions around the text of the sanitary and phytosanitary chapter of the agreement. We have also taken an interest, obviously, in the market access discussions and also the environment working group and rules of origin. They are the main areas of the agreement that we have particularly participated in actively.

In terms of documentation around the agreement, I am not aware of that requirement you mentioned in terms of a restriction on access to documents. Obviously it is an ongoing negotiation, so I guess the amount of public information that can be made available is limited because it remains within governments until the negotiations are concluded.

There is a process of engagement with industry stakeholders, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade maintains information on its website about progress in the negotiations. After each round they put up on their website an update on where the negotiations stand. As part of each negotiating round, there is a stakeholder forum which is managed by the country that hosted that round of negotiations so that stakeholders have an opportunity to present their views and receive information from the negotiators.

Senator MILNE: Who are the stakeholders in terms of the primary industry sector that you would identify would be at those roundtables or have an opportunity to be at them?

Mr Ross : I believe there is an open invitation to industry and other stakeholders to participate. I do not have a list of who may have participated from Australian industry in the stakeholder forums that have been held. Domestically there has been an opportunity for industry to submit submissions to the process. A number of agricultural industry associations have made submissions to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As well, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has regular face-to-face updates to industry. I think there was one last week where they took the opportunity to brief industry representatives on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations as well as the current negotiations taking place.

Senator MILNE: I want to go to some of the issues you mentioned in the list of things that you are negotiating on. One is the phytosanitary chapter. Another is the country of origin labelling, which is something that this committee has been engaged in quite serious discussion about for some time. There are also environmental issues. I am aware that Monsanto did not get what it wanted in the first round of the US free trade agreement and will be coming back through this process to see what it can get. I am alarmed by a number of those issues and where this is coming from in the United States. Can you tell me: what is the discussion around country of origin labelling and phytosanitary issues? What are the points at issue here?

Mr Ross : If I can just clarify, it is rules of origin, not country of origin labelling specifically. It is around rules associated with the origin of products and how they qualify for certain concessions that might be available under the agreement. The main one that I am familiar with is the work that is going on in the SPS working group, the sanitary and phytosanitary working group. The progress to date has been around developing the text of the chapter that would make up that part of the agreement. There have been a series of proposals on the table as to what that text might look like. At the most recent round in Chicago, progress was made towards bringing all the various texts together into a consolidated text. That now exists, and the expectation is that this next round of negotiations will continue on the basis of that consolidated text to try and reach agreement on the wording of that material.

Senator MILNE: The stakeholders for something like that include the environment groups, of course. Are any of those involved in these stakeholder meetings?

Mr Ross : I am sorry—I do not have that detail. I do not know who may have participated.

Senator MILNE: Could you take notice for me whether any environment groups or even unions or social justice groups have had any consultation about the text? I am aware that they have written to ask for access to the text and have not been granted it to date. On the issue of market access, a number of claims were made by the minister for agriculture of the day, Mark Vaile, and presumably supported by DAFF at the time, about the thousands of jobs and massive improvement for primary industry that would come from the US free trade agreement, and none of it came to pass. It came nowhere near what was claimed would occur. What is the reality check that is happening this time on market access?

Mr Ross : Again, it is an ongoing negotiation, so the outcome on market access is not known yet. When you say a reality check, I am not sure what you mean. In terms of our negotiating objectives, our hope is to achieve meaningful commercial outcomes that achieve gains for our industries over and above what they have under existing agreements.

Senator MILNE: Which industries do you think would benefit from this? There is also a big downside in terms of the level of access that is going to be given to all these other countries. Which products do you think are going to benefit from a trans-Pacific partnership of this nature?

Mr Ross : Again, as I say, the outcome has not been achieved yet. But our aim is to pursue gains. For instance, in the case of the US, our hope is for better access, particularly around sugar. I do not have other specifics to hand, but I can take it on notice and provide a bit more information.

Senator MILNE: I am asking about the cost-benefit. Whilst you may be able to get a better outcome for sugar, what are the losing sectors in primary industry as a result of this agreement?

Mr Ross : I do not think that is something we can provide at this stage. As I say, this is an ongoing negotiation. It is not our expectation there would be losers through the process.

Senator MILNE: It was not your expectation there would be losers from the process of the US free trade agreement either, but the Productivity Commission took more of a reality check on that than the department at the time. Anyway, I would like to know from the minister when we can expect to see a draft text so that a broader community than just agricultural stakeholders can have input into some of these matters.

Senator Ludwig: I would have thought the logical progression would be that the agreement would at least need to get to an agreement point before you then start talking about a finalised text. Regarding the timeline, we can take it on notice and see whether indicative timelines can be produced. But one of the questions should go to DFAT if they have a better view of what the timeline may or may not be.

Senator MILNE: Mr Ross might be able to tell us when it is expected that this may be negotiated.

Mr Ross : No, I am not in a position to advise that. After this next round there is to be a presentation to leaders at the APEC leaders meeting in November, at which point there will be some public advice around the status of the negotiations.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: There was mention of sugar. Can you tell me what you are talking about. Are you close to some sort of breakthrough with sugar?

Mr Ross : No, as I indicated, this is still a process of negotiation, but in terms of objectives we would like to see through the negotiations for agricultural industry, I was offering sugar access as one of the potential gains from this process.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But there is nothing happening at the moment that is materialising those gains for sugar?

Mr Ross : No.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is there still a tariff on imported sugar into the United States?

Ms Evans : There is, and if I can use that as an opportunity to make one point about this idea of winners and losers in agricultural markets. Australia's own tariffs are incredibly low, and verging on non-existent for agricultural products, so any arrangement, even a bilateral or in this case a plurilateral forum, that gives us the opportunity to lower tariffs in other countries is almost certainly going to be a gain across the board. The kind of research done under the Productivity Commission report also pointed in the same direction. So these kinds of forums really are a forum for Australia to be able to gain market access opportunities, compared with where our own levels of protection are already so low. The US and sugar is one example where, although our own bilateral agreement with the US does not have the kind of outcomes that had been hoped for, this is another opportunity for us to pursue that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Didn't the free-trade agreement with the United States have in place some sort of long-term wind down of tariffs on American imports of other people's sugar?

Ms Evans : I would have to take that on notice. I do not believe so, but I will confirm it.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Have we progressed on imports of beef and dairy?

Mr Ross : Is this specifically in terms of access to the US?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes.

Mr Ross : Through the US FTA we did achieve improved access for beef and dairy products.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: On a long-term run-down basis?

Mr Ross : Yes, there is a long-term run down with regard to beef. At the moment the beef quota access we have with the US is manageable. In terms of the decisions that our exporters are taking we are not fully filling that opportunity with the US, because I understand there are higher value opportunities in north Asia, for instance.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can you put on notice a case study on, say, strawberries, which I understand we export to America but import in the off season?

Mr Ross : To clarify what you are asking, are you saying a case study on strawberries in terms of the trade that is occurring between the two countries?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, and any tariffs on either end.

Mr Ross : Okay.

[21:49]

CHAIR: I thank officers from Trade and Market Access and now call officers from Sustainable Resource Management. We will start off with Sustainable Resource Management and then go to fisheries.

Senator NASH: I have some questions relating to Caring for our Country, the RM Williams purchase of Henbury station.

Mr Thompson : The purchase of Henbury station was undertaken using Caring for our Country funds, but it is part of the national reserves system component of Caring for our Country in which the decision is made by Minister Burke, and the detailed arrangements for implementing those measures are undertaken by SEWPaC. It would be best to ask questions of that department.

Senator NASH: In the minister's release when this all happened in July he very early on notes that 'while the Gillard government supports through Caring for our Country, the company has purchased Henbury station'—blah blah. And you saying you cannot answer any questions? I understand it is environment, but I thought it was more a dual role rather than specifically just an environment issue.

Mr Thompson : Not when it comes to that component of Caring for our Country, which is the purchase of national reserves. That is virtually solely SEWPaC. The only decision made jointly in that one is the allocation of the total amount of money that would go to the national reserves component.

Senator NASH: Okay. So how much money actually came out of Caring for our Country for it?

Mr Thompson : I do not have that figure to hand.

Senator NASH: So what is the Gillard government's support though Caring for our Country that the minister is referring to?

Mr Thompson : That would be the money that was provided through the national reserves system for the purchase of Henbury station. That program has bought a range of stations and properties from vendors over the years.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It is in fact the Director of National Parks who is in charge of it.

Senator NASH: Yes, I get all that. So, in terms of the funding, you do not have that with you?

Mr Thompson : I do not have that detail.

Senator NASH: At all, or can you supply it for me on notice?

Mr Thompson : We can supply it on notice but we would have to get it from SEWPaC.

Senator NASH: I don't care where you get it from! But if you could, that would be great. All right, I will leave it there.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I did ask in the other committee about feral animals and weeds, and I was told the experts were in this committee, so they have repaid you for that.

CHAIR: The experts are on this committee.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: On this committee and in this committee as well—you are quite right. But I was after any programs, apart from Caring for our Country, that might support funding for research, control or mitigation of feral animals and weeds. I recall in the previous government there was a $40 million weed program, which I think has lapsed. I am just wondering whether there are any other programs that would deal with things like rabbits, feral pigs, other feral animals and then the weed pests. I am conscious that CRCs are not your department or science, but a lot of research was done then and I am wondering if you have any input into that CRC as well. It is a broad question.

Mr Thompson : There is a range of programs. Caring for our Country provides significant assistance for weed and pest animal management, including for works on the ground and for supporting the Weeds of National Significance exercise. The Invasive Animals CRC receives funding through the CRC program at present and the department works closely with them on a range of their projects. We also have had since 2007 a $15.3 million National Weeds Productivity and Research Program which is being administered through Rural Industries R&D Corporation, and within ABARES there is a small research program into methods for the control of invasive animals.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So you are saying the Weeds of National Significance program is continuing but is funded out of the Caring for our Country program?

Mr Thompson : The support for coordinators and the operations of some of the Weeds of National Significance coordination arrangements is funded through Caring for our Country at present.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But through local NRM groups?

Mr Thompson : No, the NRM groups fund activities on the ground. In many cases they may fund coordinated control programs within their region but under the Weeds of National Significance program there are coordinators for a range of related Weeds of National Significance activities which the Commonwealth provides funding for, and we also support the National Weeds Coordinator to coordinate action on Weeds of National Significance.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Out of Caring for our Country funding?

Mr Thompson : Out of Caring for our Country funding. It is a project that operates at the national level as opposed to the regional level.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I was told in the other committee that there was $71 million going to Caring for our Country. Could you collaborate with them and make sure that the ones you have talked about are included with those 71 projects in the answer to the question I put on notice.

Mr Thompson : Yes, we can do that. That is the number of competitive grants that included projects aimed at weed and pest control.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: If they were competitive grants, then you are saying there were other grants outside—

Mr Thompson : There were other grants through regional base level funding which also went towards managing weeds and pests. Many of those projects often have mixed objectives, but that would be in addition to the $71 million.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Perhaps on notice you can give me details of those programs.

Mr Thompson : Yes, we can do that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is there anything specifically for rabbits?

Mr Thompson : There are, again, a range of funding sources that go to rabbit control. Caring for our Country is providing support for a project in the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre for extending work on rabbit haemorrhagic viral disease. That gets $1.5 million from Caring for our Country. Then, through the pest animal program within ABARES, there are some smaller projects relating to PestSmart, which is a toolkit for information on best practice management for rabbit control. We contribute through that same program to FeralScan, which is a web-based tool for monitoring the occurrence of rabbits, and there is a project where we are working with land managers looking at the resurgence of rabbits that has occurred following the rains to bring to the forefront information about the best methods and cost-effective methods for rabbit control. Caring for our Country has something in the order of $1.5 million, as I understand it, for focused rabbit management on the ground, plus other projects have rabbits as part of their control—for example, a project might be about fox and rabbit control but the aim of the project is really about protecting bird breeding habitat and rabbit control is a tool they are using to protect the habitat.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is the $1.5 million program a separate program?

Mr Thompson : The $1.51 million is a number of projects within Caring for our Country grants. The biggest component is a single $993,000 project in Western Australia.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Could you give me some details of those on notice if there is anything more to add. You have mentioned the CRC for invasive species a couple of times. As I understand it, they are winding down now. I know this is not your department involved but I am interested to know if any element of your department is a partner in that CRC and whether this department is supporting the reapplication for funding. I hear around the traps there is a lot of concern as to whether the CRC will be re-funded.

Mr Thompson : I could not say whether it will be re-funded or not. It has got through one round of competitive applications. All those CRCs go through a process in the science department for funding. It is a quite competitive process. We have worked, as I said before, with the CRC on a number of projects and we have been a partner in past years but the rebid is being handled by the industry department in the normal manner.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: No, my question was: is either your department or any agency funded by your department a partner in the CRC currently and are they supporting the rebid?

Mr Thompson : I am not aware that any part of DAFF is currently a partner in that invasive animals CRC at the present time.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I suppose this is hypothetical, but if they were not to be re-funded who is going to do all the research work? Will that go down to ABARES as to what the CRC currently does?

Mr Thompson : That is a hypothetical question at the present time. ABARES does do some work in that area and, as I said, Caring for our Country has also supported some extension and coordination activities relating to invasive animals. I think that would be something that the government would have to look at in the event that the invasive animals CRC was not funded and they would have to look at it in terms of competing priorities.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I do not want to ask anything improper here and perhaps the minister could take this one. Does your department or you, minister, support the application of CRCs that really are in your area of responsibility such as those concerning invasive weeds and feral animals, which have a big impact on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry?

Senator Ludwig: I went to a breakfast not long ago supporting the agricultural CRCs and so, yes, generally speaking, to the extent that I can, I broadly support them because they do contribute significantly to a broad range of agricultural research that is so necessary. I am not sure—and perhaps someone could remind me—whether they have written to me and asked me to indicate my support. I think in some instances where they do I certainly undertake that task.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Good. Thank you, minister.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go to the review.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I have been there in another way, but go ahead.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to find out where to from here with the review. Let us see if they match up with what you heard next door. I have the review document. Can you tell me what is your plan for the process from here?

Mr Thompson : At the present time we have received most of the submissions. Of course, people are still providing comment from time to time about the shape of the program. We have put up on the Web a summary of the comments received with a broad indication of those. Some of the material that has also been produced for the review was placed on the Web recently in addition, which you may have seen. The word from here is we will be considering all of that. We expect the government to be able to consider the review of Care for our Country in the shape of future programs in the new year.

Senator SIEWERT: Because 2013 is the last budget year of the current—

Mr Thompson : The last budget year of the current version of Caring for our Country is 2012-13.

Senator SIEWERT: I know you cannot pre-empt government decisions, so I want a process point here. The government is going to have to make a new decision about allocation of funding. Caring for our Country is not an ongoing program; it was announced as a discrete funding program.

Mr Thompson : In budget parlance, Caring for our Country is an ongoing program. The last year of the current program is 2012-13, so the shape and nature of the future program would have to be made in the 2013 budget. But our aim was to do it next year so we would be able to have a transition year while the program in its current form was continuing to make it easy for groups to adapt to any changes. But in the budget parlance it is an ongoing program.

Senator SIEWERT: You talked about a transition process. Do you envisage that there will be as large a change as there was from NHT1 to NHT2 to Caring for our Country? Do you think there will be that sort of big change or do you think there will be a more refined process?

Mr Thompson : I cannot pre-empt the government's decision on that, but whether it is a small change or a large change there is always someone in the community who is affected by it. Our experience has been that the better notice you can give them of that change the more readily they can cope with it. But if any changes can be foreshadowed then if you have a transition year you have got time to work through some of those changes with the community so those changes do not end up being a dramatic change—they come along for the journey.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the Carbon Farming Initiative and the Biodiversity Fund, have you given any thought as to how the three processes will then work together?

Mr Thompson : Yes. That is being worked on as the guidelines for those programs are developed. As you are aware, the Biodiversity Fund, the Action on the Ground agriculture component and the research and extension components of the land sector package are new and additional to Caring for our Country. As we develop that package and the details of it, we are very mindful of trying to avoid overlaps or duplication and make processes as simple as possible. One of the key elements for helping with that is that funding is available for regional bodies to do carbon planning. Hopefully, that can help align the program processes.

Senator SIEWERT: That is where I was going with that question. I was looking at going back to NRM groups and then doing some more beefing up of their overall strategic planning processes, because under Caring for our Country they have had to focus on the priority areas and move away from where NHT2 is going to focus on a smaller bit of their strategic plan.

Mr Thompson : The land sector package does provide funding for regional bodies to improve their natural resource management plans, particularly for the work they will be doing on vegetation management. But, if they are improving their plans for vegetation management and vegetation linkages, some of that same process information will be equally important for helping inform where action on the ground might occur for agriculture as well. So, in the work we are doing in developing the details of those programs, we are very mindful of trying to coordinate the various program elements across Australia.

Senator SIEWERT: The program that I did not mention is Landcare, which is separate again. Will that be brought into that process as well or is that going to stay outside?

Mr Thompson : At the present time, Landcare funding goes through the same processes as the competitive components of Caring for our Country. There are community action grants—which are small grants—which are basically designed for people to fund local priorities. It is not a separate process, but they could all gain from being informed by the same sort of planning information about where priorities and things are on the ground.

Senator SIEWERT: With all due respect, Mr Thompson, Landcare does seem to be an outlier: sometimes it is in and sometimes it is out depending on whose announcement and the timing. Do I read the answer to that as being that it will be treated the same as it is being treated now?

Senator COLBECK: I hope not.

Senator SIEWERT: I am just trying to find out.

Mr Thompson : Broadly speaking, until changes to the program are made, in processes and applications Landcare is treated very much as it is treated now. We have done a couple of things to enhance the Landcare community's capacity to participate—for example, the additional Landcare facilitators to help them make applications and the work we are doing to support Landcare conferences so they can come together to share information. Capacity building support for the Landcare community to participate in the single process has been enhanced.

Senator SIEWERT: I am aware of the time, so should I put on notice for SEWPaC questions about Working on Country and the Caring for our Country projects?

Mr Thompson : Working on Country is largely SEWPaC appropriations and managed by SEWPaC, with single decisions on that one by Minister Burke. It is appropriated a bit differently to all the others.

Senator SIEWERT: Isn't there some funding that comes out of that, though, and a bit that comes out of Caring for our Country?

Mr Thompson : There was a little bit that was funded out of Caring for our Country until now, but one of the decisions the government made in the last budget was to consolidate Working on Country money into one appropriation. Previously it was funded from five or six appropriations. It has all been put into one and put through SEWPaC, which is for ease of administration.

Senator SIEWERT: And it runs out next year anyway. We were talking about Caring for our Country now being ongoing. Is Working on Country the same?

Mr Thompson : It is a SEWPaC appropriation, but my understanding is it is an ongoing program.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I have a list of questions for that but I missed the hearing next door because I was here, so I will put them on notice.

Senator BACK: Last estimates I asked a series of questions about the feral camel eradication program. A lot of the funds had been spent but because of seasonal conditions the camels were out in the bush and were not accumulating around water points. Can you give us some idea of the progress of the scheme, whether or not funding has been held over as a result of the animals not being accessible and whether or not the scheme will continue till the funds are exhausted.

Ms Lauder : You are correct; the camels did disperse with the wet weather. At this stage, with the fires in Northern Australia and the reduced amount of rain, they are starting to group again. We held over some of the funds from the last financial year because the plan is to ramp up the activity and, as long as there are not substantial rains in that area, the expectation is that we will continue to meet the target of the overall four-year program.

Senator BACK: What was the target?

Ms Lauder : The target was 350,000 camels.

Senator BACK: What is the overall budget for the program? How much is left unexpended?

Ms Lauder : The overall budget was $19 million over four years. I might have to take on notice how much is yet to be expended.

Senator BACK: If you would. Could you also tell me whether the funding is due to expire at the end of this financial year or in 2012-13?

Ms Lauder : It is the end of 2012-13.

Senator BACK: You mentioned fires. My only other question is about the west Arnhem Land fire abatement scheme. Is the scheme finished for this year now, it being an early dry season program? Can you tell us what the success or otherwise of it was for this year?

Ms Lauder : Of the fire management program?

Mr Thompson : We do not have that information. We will have to take it on notice.

Senator BACK: Perhaps it is not within this portfolio.

Mr Thompson : There is an Indigenous fire management program that is part of Caring for our Country that is run in conjunction with the Working on Country program by SEWPaC.

Senator BACK: So you are or you are not able to answer?

Mr Thompson : I am not able to answer it here but it is something we could take on notice.

Senator BACK: I would also ask that in taking it on notice you extend the courtesy, please, by advising me of anything you know of a proposed East Kimberley fire abatement scheme which is in development, based I think on the west Arnhem Land program. The west Arnhem Land program, as I remember, over the last few years has successfully been able to document I think it is 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas equivalent saved as a result of controlled early-season burning. In return for that I think Conoco-Philips has paid to the managers of that program a million dollars each year.

CHAIR: A very good program.

Senator BACK: An excellent program. I understand it is to be extended or it least there is an objective to extend it into the East Kimberley region. Could you take that on notice and advise any information you might have on that as well.

Mr Thompson : Yes, Senator.

Senator COLBECK: I want to follow on from Senator Siewert. Just going back to the Caring for our Country review process, having had a look through the submissions and received some feedback from some community groups myself, the majority of community and Landcare group submissions said the regional process had ignored then or they felt they were not part of the process or they felt they were disengaged. Why does the overview written by the department not accommodate those views?

Mr Thompson : I thought the overview did pick up those views. The very strong message came through from some people that the overall priority setting process did not take regional priorities sufficiently into account. But another large group of people also thought local community priorities were not being taken into account by regions or by the Commonwealth. So there are two groups out there: some like regions, some like community scale activity. Neither of them says the other is wrong, they just like different things.

Senator COLBECK: Or both do not like where they are at, I suppose. What specific outcomes from the expenditure of the Caring for our Country program will be able to be included in the next State of the environment report, bearing in mind that the last report said they could not make an accurate assessment of Australia's environmental performance because of a lack of data?

Mr Thompson : Detailed questions about what would be in the State of the environment report, given that program is run by SEWPaC, would have to be asked of them. But Caring for our Country does put out an annual report card which contains information about what our programs have been delivering. It does not purport to provide a total statement about the state of Australia's environment or the state of all the natural resources but some information of that ilk is relevant. For example, the report card or the program can report on the uptake of sustainable agriculture practices or the extent of new measures for the land cover change in agricultural land which may well be able to be picked up in land management components of reports like State of the environment.

Senator COLBECK: So have you been gathering background information in planning for the new program?

Mr Thompson : Yes, Senator.

Senator COLBECK: Can you give us a sense of what sort of information you have been gathering?

Mr Thompson : We have been gathering the normal sorts of information about environmental and natural resource management issues in Australia, we have been gathering information about how the states and other countries are running natural resource management programs and we have got the comments from people in the states and elsewhere about it. There is information on the web now about some work that was done by ANU, there is a work on the governance performance of regional bodies across Australia—a range of activities of that sort.

Senator COLBECK: Can you give us a sense of what the new Weeds of National Significance program will look like? Will it have a similar structure?

Mr Thompson : While the Weeds of National Significance program is funded through Caring for our Country as a Commonwealth-state initiative that is worked on through the ministerial council, a review of that was done last year which resulted in some changes to the program and no doubt the Australian Weeds Committee, which is working on that, may want to make some more. At the present time no decision has been made about changing Weeds of National Significance. It is one of the issues that will be looked at.

Senator COLBECK: Isn't there a new Weeds of National Significance list being prepared?

Mr Thompson : There is a new list of weeds being prepared, yes.

Senator COLBECK: When is that supposed to be finished?

Mr Thompson : My understanding is that it has been through a scientific and Commonwealth-state process to identify the new weeds and it is now proceeding through the ministerial council process. Final sign-off has not yet been achieved but it is very close.

Senator COLBECK: Why then are the coordinators now developing papers on the weeds when we have not decided what they are?

Mr Thompson : I am not aware of what papers the coordinators are actually—

Senator COLBECK: I was at a conference on the Sunday before last and they were telling me that they were developing papers on the weeds of national significance but then saying that the process had not been completed to decide what the weeds were.

Mr Thompson : It has been a protracted process to get agreement between the Commonwealth and the states on what new weeds should be there. I think it is no secret which weeds the states or others have been putting forward. My understanding is that the coordinators could well be working on fact sheets on the candidate weeds for committee information, because in relation to the existing list of weeds of national significance, there were some weeds that each of the states and the Commonwealth put forward as weeds that they thought needed to be considered. I think the coordinators are working on those. Any of those candidate weeds would be weeds that would be of some significance. Whether they finally get signed off as WoNS or not is one thing, but they are weeds of sufficient significance that it would be entirely appropriate for a coordinator to put together some fact sheets on them. That is what I believe they are doing.

Senator COLBECK: I will leave it there.

Mr Thompson : Can we make some corrections to some answers we gave earlier. I am informed, Senator Macdonald, that ABARES is a partner in the Invasive Animals CRC and is a partner in the rebid for the Invasive Animals CRC.

Ms Lauder : In relation to the question on camels, $7 million has been spent to date. There is a budget of $5 million for this financial year of 2011-12 and a budget of $7 million for 2012-13.