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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6442

Mr HUNT (Flinders) (18:31): I wish, in the same spirit of brevity as the minister, to place a number of questions on the record. I will let the minister either answer them now or respond on notice. For his assistance and the assistance of his department, we have had some of them prepared in writing and we will table those. Let me begin with a question in relation to the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC. My understanding is that the department, through the Antarctic Division, makes a contribution. I also understand that the CRC is due to expire and is not able to apply for a formal replenishment in 2014. Our view is that this is a highly effective body, that it is well respected and that it is critically linked into the world of the Antarctic Division. The first question is whether the government has any plans to help assist and maintain the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC, whether it has a migratory path for it to exist in the long term or whether it is the government's intention that this CRC will simply stop dead in 2014?

The second question is in relation to the Caring for our Country budget. In particular, we ask the minister to enumerate all of the different subprograms which have had allocations within the Caring for our Country budget. We understand the three strategic areas which are identified and which have been given separate allocations within the budget. But, within the general division and the other two specific divisions of agriculture and landcare, and Indigenous support for Caring for our Country, we seek a list of all subprograms for which commitments have been made or allocated. I think that would provide great transparency to the budget. I would put it in the context that there are many community groups that have expressed concern that they have not had access to Caring for our Country the way they did under the Natural Heritage Trust and then the Envirofund. That may take some time, but full and complete Caring for our Country budget subprogram descriptions, with actual allocations in the forward estimates against each of those areas for which allocations have been identified, would be much appreciated.

The third area is in relation to the Heritage Division and the treatment of heritage by the department. I have a series of brief questions, which I will hand to the minister so he and the department can work together on those. First, how many staff members work exclusively on cultural heritage? Second, has this figure gone up or down over the past three years and by exactly how much? Third, are there any plans to increase or reduce heritage staff numbers over the forward estimates period? Fourth, page 68 of the portfolio budget statement appears to show a reduction in funding for heritage grants from $8.42 million in 2012-13 to $4.42 million in the forward estimates period. Is this correct and what is the explanation?

Fifth, we understand that the budget cuts last year to the heritage division mean that staff are now struggling to fulfil their statutory obligations, such as assessments and listings. Has there been an increase in the time taken to perform these duties? Sixth, we understand that the Australian Heritage Council has no separate budget and is struggling to fulfil its responsibilities. Are there any plans to address this issue? Seventh, we understand that low staff numbers in the division mean that it is well behind on such assessment matters as the processing and announcement of the York community history grants and assessments and servicing of the Australian Heritage Council. Is the division appropriately funded to enable it to complete the development of the Australian Heritage Strategy?

Eighth, the Voluntary Environment, Sustainability and Heritage Organisations grant given to the Federation of Australian Historical Societies has been cut from $30,000 a year for three years to $23½ thousand for one year—that is, from triennial to annual. Why? Ninth, there appears to have been a move away from supporting heritage to supporting environmental organisations. Is this a new policy? Tenth, has there been a change of policy from supporting national peak bodies to supporting small local groups? Eleventh, will the department undertake a review of the grants to look into these matters?