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Environment and Communications References Committee
23/08/2019
Australia's faunal extinction crisis

CRAIK, Dr Wendy, Private capacity

CHAIR: Welcome. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. Could you please tell us about the capacity in which you appear today?

Dr Craik : Thank you. I did this work when I was working as a senior associate with the consulting firm Aither.

CHAIR: When you say you did this work, are you appearing today to discuss the report of the review of the interaction between agriculture and the EPBC Act?

Dr Craik : That's right, the interaction between the EPBC Act and farmers specifically.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for appearing before us. I now invite you to make a short opening statement, if you wish, and at the conclusion of your remarks we'll ask you some questions.

Dr Craik : The EPBC Act is perceived by many farmers as time-consuming, expensive and complex, and as a barrier to agricultural development. I was asked to test these perceptions and find out what was happening on the ground, and to try to recommend practical solutions. I met with something like 77 people, including individual farmers and peak bodies, from the National Farmers Federation, AgForce, Pastoralists and Graziers Association, and Tasmanian farmers and graziers. We had 78 submissions from a range of peak bodies, agribusinesses, family farming businesses and various others.

I think, in general, farmers do try to do the right thing. But they don't really understand what environmental laws mean for them, particularly when you have state and federal laws on environment and they often overlap or have gaps between them, and usually one jurisdiction doesn't understand how the other laws apply. So the farmer who consults a state person is usually very confused. As far as the EPBC Act, it's usually a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with it for a farmer. Although the number of agricultural referrals with a significant impact is actually small, out of the total number of referrals since 2000 under the act—it's only 2.7 per cent—the issue assumes a much greater importance in the farm sector than that percentage would lead you to believe.

It all starts with the species-listing process. Farmers see that as a black box—they feel they don't know it's happening, they don't get clear practical information on how to apply. There are what appear to be fairly arcane rules to protect species on their farms—for example, only spot spraying invasive weeds over large areas; or implementing a detailed survey for relatively obscure grass species; or being unable to harvest a planted, non-native crop—for example, something like pine trees that they've put in to sell later and make money—because a mobile endangered species like Carnaby's cockatoo has moved in. Under the EPBC Act, there is no on-ground support or local advice to help them. They feel that people in Canberra don't understand agriculture and don't speak their language, and people in Canberra tend to communicate by email or phone rather than what a farmer prefers, which is all face-to-face.

An environmental assessment for a farmer can be costly and take a long time. I have a couple of examples: one fellow had spent $70,000 and wasn't finished and that was over a four-year period, and another person had spent $500,000 and that's ongoing. They get handled between different people in Canberra during the process, and the case officer tends to vary. And so one farmer we spoke to said he used to put everybody's name that he'd dealt with on an email, and have a 'spray and pray' approach. Farmers often see the outcomes as unreasonable. One Western Australian horticulturalist had a 120-hectare farm: he was using 70 hectares and he wanted to clear another 30 to expand his operation. He was told he would need to acquire a 150-hectare offset, which would mean he'd have to go and buy another 150 hectares and pay for the management of it.

But I think it's interesting that not one farmer told me they wanted to get rid of the act, nor did they want it to stop applying to farmers. They actually wanted to try to do the right thing and to look after the environment, but navigating the act's complexity, I think, needs to be made easier for them—a bit more clear, a bit more practical. And they see opportunities forgone, both for them and for the environment, owing to a lack of strategic approaches and incentives. The review recommends a number of improvements to reduce the burden on farmers without watering down standards, which would deliver tangible benefits to farmers and the environment.

We suggested things like having locally based face-to-face officers, who could help farmers on the ground, and that they preferably be either state or natural resource management based, because farmers deal with them already and have a degree of trust in them. We suggested that the department get new agricultural expertise, so that farmers have people in Canberra who speak their language, and that they have a single case officer end to end, if that's possible, so they're only talking to one person. We recommended that the act's Threatened Species Scientific Committee have a member with farming expertise to ensure that species listings are supported by practical, clear information and that conservation advice is a ground truth with local farmers and the technical experts to ensure that it's practical. We also recommended that the minister get some concurrent advice on farming impacts at the time the threatened species committee provides a recommendation on species listing, so that the minister could get an independent indication of what the social and economic impacts might be.

Species listing needs to be a bit more transparent, with an earlier additional consultation phase for farmers and others to engage in before species are locked in for assessment. As well as just having a regulatory approach, we suggested that a market based financial incentive to help them manage biodiversity would be a sensible thing to consider. Such an approach would support the public benefits of setting aside areas for conservation on farmland, and it would lead to better environmental management. We suggested a $1 billion national fund—a bit like the New South Wales Biodiversity Conservation Trust—which is tied to the EPBC Act, for management agreements with farmers. The full report details these and various other practical recommendations to try and offer some short-, medium- and longer term operational reforms to make life easier for farmers.

CHAIR: Great, thanks, Dr Craik. I had a thorough read of your report and, indeed, I think it has been pretty well received. Obviously there are some concerns from various quarters about some of the recommendations, but overall people think that you came up with a lot of sensible recommendations. When were you first approached to do this review?

Dr Craik : It's a fair while ago. I think we finished it last year in about October and I think we started it in about April. I'd been asked, I think, a couple of months earlier, if I was interested, but I was doing something else at the time, another review—I can't remember what it was—and I was trying to finish that one off. I think I was approached a couple of months before we started doing it, and I think we started doing it in about April last year, but I can't quite—

CHAIR: It would have been around February, then?

Dr Craik : It might have been. I can't quite remember, but I know there was a gap between when I was first asked and when we got around to starting.

CHAIR: Right. What, at that stage, did you understand to be the rationale for undertaking a specific review into agriculture and the EPBC Act, particularly given that we know there's a 10-year review of the EPBC Act due this year?

Dr Craik : My understanding—and I don't know that I ever really asked anyone—was that the NFF and farmer organisations had been quite concerned about it and had been talking to the minister about it. I think that was my understanding of where it all came from.

CHAIR: Do you know what the basis of those concerns was?

Dr Craik : No, I don't.

CHAIR: Agriculture is a pretty wide frame.

Dr Craik : Agriculture is pretty wide, but I think some activities were going on in Queensland—up on the Cape York Peninsula—that were causing people in Queensland concern. I think that might have been part of the cause, but I'm really not sure.

CHAIR: You note in your report that only 2.7 per cent of referrals under the EPBC Act come from agriculture. Given there are only a small number of referrals, was there any discussion as to why there was a need to undertake a review into just agriculture?

Dr Craik : Well, I guess we don't know why there are only 2.7 per cent of referrals. We sort of speculated on it, but we don't—and I guess we got a variety of comments from the farm sector itself. Some people say it's because it's too hard, so they can't be bothered. Also, when we got some of the detailed breakdowns, we saw that some of the original applications lapsed for a variety of reasons. But I think there certainly was a sense that a lot of this is just too hard and too much effort. So when they hear stories from other people some of them just give up, I think.

CHAIR: Did you look into where those referrals come from—what type of agriculture? I note that your report doesn't detail that. Agriculture is pretty broad.

Dr Craik : It's pretty broad. No, I don't think we really did beyond the little table we have in there. I don't think it's terribly helpful, no. It took a while to get the numbers, because they had to be dug out by hand. It took quite a while before we got the numbers from the department.

CHAIR: Looking at the graph there, we're basically looking at fewer than 10 referrals a year.

Dr Craik : It's not a lot, I agree. It is small.

CHAIR: So you didn't—

Dr Craik : No, we didn't, other than deducing from what people told us, because we didn't have the numbers until late in the piece.

CHAIR: We might follow up on that with the department this afternoon. In the report, a number of times in your recommendations you note that there's significant capacity for improvement in the way the EPBC Act interacts with the agriculture sector, and that those improvements recommended in the review could be applied to interactions between the act and other sectors of the Australian economy. You mention there are things that could be improved across the board. How much do you think agriculture really needed to be pulled out and looked at as a special case prior to the overall EPBC Act review?

Dr Craik : I mean, mining companies, big mining companies, have a lot of staff. They're set up to do these sorts of activities—interact with the EPBC Act, undertake complex exercises—but a lot of farming operations these days, even quite valuable ones, are just one person or a small family. I think that, because they don't interact with the environment department on a regular basis, particularly the federal environment department—they do interact more frequently with their own state environment department or local equivalent of a catchment management authority or rural lands protection board—they just find it a real nightmare trying to navigate their way through.

It was obviously an issue in the past, because historically the National Farmers' Federation used I think to have someone posted in the NFF from the environment department. That lasted for a while, and then for some reason it lapsed. So it's obviously been an issue for some time. When I met with the NFF environment committee or sustainability committee it seemed to be quite an issue and something that they'd clearly been exercised about for some time.

CHAIR: So did the meeting with the NFF environment committee help set the framework for what you were going to focus on?

Dr Craik : They certainly explained the challenges that their farmers faced with the EPBC Act. Then other farmers and people in the farm sector, when we met with them, did too. We went out to a couple of places, actual farms on the ground, and had quite detailed explanations of the challenges they've had.

One fellow who had a big cattle operation up near Ayr wanted to clear another area to grow more cattle, and he'd had to undertake an ecological survey. Well, that was fine with him. He'd had one done, but the finding was uncertain as to whether a particular rare bat was there—it was a noise survey—so he had to undertake and fund another survey, which also turned out to be uncertain. He then had to fund a third survey. I have some sympathy with the notion of having to fund the same thing three times. Why can't the parameters for such a survey be set in the first place? If there is an acceptable person who does the work and meets the parameters of the survey, surely once is enough?

If it's uncertain it's uncertain, and you just deal with the end result.

CHAIR: Overall, did your review find that the EPBC Act imposes a significant burden on farmers?

Dr Craik : I think on some of the farmers that do interact with it, yes, it does. The person who'd spent $500,000 getting assessments done—I think it was a chap in Western Australia—was finding that the scientific advice that the department here was using conflicted with the scientific advice that the Western Australia department was using. The departments couldn't agree, so this poor person was left in limbo, having already spent half a million dollars on having things resolved. So it's occasions like that, and like the fellow in Queensland who had to fund three surveys, and this had been going on for several years.

It's also a hardship in the sense that they want to do something. There are certain times of year where it's better to do some farm activities than others. If you get permission to clear, it's better to do that at a certain time of year. If you don't get the approval in that time, you have to wait another year before you can do the clearing. So it isn't always but can be a significant financial imposition on farmers. That fellow would've had to have an offset of a 150-hectare property—go and buy a new property of 150 hectares and manage to look after that, one that's bigger than his own property. That would be a significant imposition.

CHAIR: Is that across the board, across the country, or is it particular areas that you think are most affected?

Dr Craik : I don't know that I'd be quite in a position to say, because we didn't talk to all the people who'd had referrals. We did get some quite positive feedback from some people, so obviously it's not universal. But, from the number of people we spoke to, there was a reasonable number of people who had had what I would regard as pretty significant impositions on them.

CHAIR: In the study, the review and the report, through the whole process, did you get good representation across the country of all of the various interactions between agriculture and the EPBC Act?

Dr Craik : We tried to. We did our best, going around the country. We went out to seven regional areas. We did quite a bit of on-ground activity, looking at places.

CHAIR: Where exactly did you go out on the ground?

Dr Craik : We went to a big property just south of Ayr. We went out to the Monaro here to look at the grasslands. We flew in to somewhere out near Moree, somewhere out that way, where the coolibah black box is. And then we drove from there to somewhere else where there's grassland. Sorry, I've forgotten the names.

Senator FAWCETT: Pilliga Scrub?

Dr Craik : No, it wasn't Pilliga. I can look it up; I just can't remember.

CHAIR: I'm not sure where exactly you had the on-ground site visits. It's in the report.

Dr Craik : I don't know that it is.

CHAIR: No. I think the report says that you undertook consultations in Townsville, Launceston, Walgett, Ilford, Cooma—

Dr Craik : Yes, we went to Walgett.

CHAIR: and Broome, in addition to major city consultations in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart, Canberra and Perth.

Dr Craik : Yes. I can get them for you. I can go and look at a map, talk to the others and find the places, if you'd like them.

CHAIR: Yes, it would be to know where you went. I was struck by that list—that you didn't cover the Northern Territory, South Australia or any regional Victorian centres. How did you choose where to go?

Dr Craik : We only had a limited amount of money and time, so we were trying to do as much as we could in the time available. We'd been advised that Queensland was a hotspot, so we went up to Brisbane and we went up to just south of Ayr. We drove to Cooma from here—to the Monaro. We flew out to Walgett and the place in New South Wales that I can't remember the name of, and some of the team went to Tasmania to see the irrigation stuff there.

CHAIR: That's not listed in the report.

Dr Craik : Isn't it?

CHAIR: It says Hobart. No, you're right—Hobart and Launceston.

Dr Craik : I'll check the actual field visits and send you a list.

CHAIR: You note in your report, on page 31:

… to better understand, and more effectively respond to, emerging tensions between agricultural development and environment protection objectives … it is important that DoEE has access to the best available information on future trends in the agriculture sector, such that geographic growth centres (e.g. potential expansion of agriculture in northern Australia) and likely high-growth sub-sectors can be identified.

How well do you think your review, in terms of where you did your consultation and where you visited, actually mapped onto those high-growth sectors?

Dr Craik : We certainly didn't visit the Northern Territory. We did try to visit up there, but we didn't get a big response from the cattlemen's union up there. I think we tried to contact another organisation there to see if they had anything to say, and the Northern Territory didn't have anything to say in the farm sector. Queensland did have a lot to say, so we went there, and Tasmania did as well, and the Monaro. We didn't think about areas that might end up being centres of activity; we really went where people had raised issues, and also where they were willing to have us on their property—that's the other issue.

CHAIR: Our focus today is on the grasslands, so I want to go to the issues that you explored on the Monaro. In fact, the Monaro grasslands seemed to be a pretty strong focus of the report. There was a case study there, and you've recommended that a pilot project for regional planning occur on the Monaro grasslands and in Walgett. Why the focus on the Monaro?

Dr Craik : It was raised with us. We got a number of submissions from the Monaro. It was within driving distance, so it was relatively easy to get to. There are some practicalities in all of this. So we went up there. The people there were very accommodating. They were prepared to spend a day with us, show us around and show us the issues. We met with half a dozen people there, I think—four to six people, both farmers and agronomists—and the department had been working there as well. Obviously, the listing of grasslands had been revisited. So I think they were the reasons. Also, New South Wales farmers were quite exercised about grasslands, not only there but at one of the places—of which I can't remember the name—that we went to, looking at grasslands elsewhere in New South Wales.

CHAIR: Is that why the grasslands were identified as a pilot project for regional planning? How did you choose those two areas? Again, agriculture in Australia is a massive area.

Dr Craik : Indeed it is. I suppose, for one, it's convenient to Canberra. There is already work going on there between the federal department and New South Wales Local Land Services. The people there are very good farmers and they are also very keen on trying to have a good balance between agriculture and the environment. As a group, they had put a lot of thought into how you might manage environmental things in that area so that you can identify the areas that are important for the environment and then leave everybody to get on with agriculture. They'd actually drawn up a few maps. We had some quite interesting discussions with them, not only about grasslands but more generally. So that was one reason. They were the reasons for that area, I guess.

Similarly with Walgett, the department and local land services had been working together there to try to see whether the state officers were able to work on behalf of the federal people in dealing with the local farmers on the ground, because the farmers obviously prefer to deal with the state people. As is detailed in the letter that accompanies the report, we'd subsequently had an offer from the then New South Wales minister to provide a number of his staff to work, at their expense, with the departmental staff to try to see if they could jointly work on an area, identify what was environmentally important and how you might manage that—either in a statutory way or in a non-statutory way—and then leave agriculture to get on with what it was doing. The letter itself suggested Walgett and Monaro. Our first suggestion was going to be Monaro, but the New South Wales department suggested Walgett as well.

CHAIR: So you chose Monaro for the reasons you've outlined. There was already activity happening there. It was close to Canberra.

Dr Craik : Correct.

CHAIR: There was a lot of interest, and the farming community there wanted to meet with you and talk with you.

Dr Craik : Yes.

CHAIR: So, basically, there was already a bit of noise.

Dr Craik : It's sort of easier if you've got a base that's actually interested in doing it, I suppose.

CHAIR: When you made your recommendations, were you aware that the department of the environment and the local land service were already developing guidance for farmers in the Monaro?

Dr Craik : Yes, we were. We knew they were working together, but it just seemed to us that, because some work had already been done, it was a good place to build on what was already happening.

CHAIR: As a pilot, then, how representative do you think that would be of other areas of Australia and the interaction of agriculture and the EPBC Act where there may be ecological issues even more or just as much at stake but there's not the same level of engagement and interest?

Dr Craik : That's very true. I think what we thought was that you might as well start where you've got a chance of succeeding, and it looked like it was something that was convenient. It was a process that we thought would be worthwhile testing, and, given that there was also an offer from New South Wales to contribute to it, it seemed to us like a really good opportunity to try to test something out and see if it actually had a chance of working.

CHAIR: In recommending this regional planning process, did you do any estimates of what resources are going to be required to do that?

Dr Craik : No, we didn't.

CHAIR: Okay. I will ask that question of the department this afternoon.

Dr Craik : I don't know that they did—well, not while we were working on it. I don't think they did.

CHAIR: While you were working on it, you suggested that you engaged with the department before you finalised the recommendation?

Dr Craik : Not in terms of asking what the resources would cost. No, we didn't ask that.

CHAIR: How about in terms of selecting the proposed area for the pilot program?

Dr Craik : No, that was our thought. They didn't object to it; put it that way. I can't remember. Yes, we did run through the draft recommendations, and I think they thought it wasn't a silly idea.

CHAIR: Did you undertake the consultations in person?

Dr Craik : Yes—not every one of them, but I was certainly involved in the majority. I'm a great believer that you pick a lot up from just listening to people.

CHAIR: In your list of consultations, you've got consultations listed in Cooma on 22 May with Stuart Burge, David Eddy, Luc Farago, Richard Taylor and John Murdoch. Were they separate consultations, or were they all done together?

Dr Craik : I think two of them came in at once, but I think otherwise they were separate. They came in one at a time, I think.

CHAIR: Who came together?

Dr Craik : I can't remember, but I just have a feeling that either they were all separate or maybe two of them came together. But I can't remember which ones came as a pair, if anyone did.

CHAIR: We had invited Richard Taylor to appear before the committee on this issue, and he declined to appear and the committee declined to summons him to appear, which I think is a pity because I think it would be very useful, as a case study of the pressures that grasslands are under, to have heard from him. In terms of what was put in those consultations about the Monaro grasslands and in their submissions, could you summarise what the views of those farmers were.

Dr Craik : I think they were concerned about the listing of the grasslands. I'm trying to remember the chronology now, but I think some of them weren't aware of the listing of the farmlands, or the relisting of the farmlands when the listing was revisited. They found the conservation advice on spot spraying until the weeds get to 50 per cent of the paddock area—and you're talking about three weeds: serrated tussock, Chilean needle grass and African lovegrass—to be impractical. They have quite large paddocks, so waiting till the weeds get to 50 per cent of your paddock—if you can spot spray up to 50 per cent of the size of your paddock, you'd be doing it all day, every day, and doing nothing else. It's just not really practical. And they had challenges, I think, in actually identifying the specific species, because you had to be able to distinguish between an annual, a perennial and the actual grasses themselves. I have to say I tried to follow the key through and found it pretty challenging, though I'm not a grass person.

I don't know how true this is, because mostly we heard it second hand, but the first that farmers hear of the EPBC Act is when they get dobbed in by a neighbour, and it's a compliance exercise. We did hear that a number of times. We heard a lot of information about what farmers were doing and that they were interested in protecting native grasslands, but, with the conservation advice that existed at the time and their lack of awareness—I'm not sure if it was about the relisting or the original listing or both—they felt they weren't in a position, or they didn't feel they'd been treated terribly well, in terms of trying to protect their grasslands.

CHAIR: One of the people that you met with, Stuart Burge, is an agronomist and a consultant. Do you think it's credible that somebody who's employed as an agronomist and a consultant to farmers wouldn't have that knowledge?

Dr Craik : Oh, he had that knowledge. Sorry; I don't mean Stuart. I mean the farmers.

CHAIR: But certainly our understanding is that the farmers of Jam Land, who are alleged to have done the poisoning—

Dr Craik : They're very good farmers.

CHAIR: But do you think that it's credible that they didn't know what they were doing?

Dr Craik : I'm sure they knew what they were doing, but whether they knew whether the provisions of the act applied exactly there I don't know. I just don't know. I really don't know. I'm not in a position to make a comment on that. I don't know enough about the detail of it.

CHAIR: Certainly Stuart Burge, as their consultant, would have known that there were native grasslands that they were spraying.

Dr Craik : I can't answer that.

CHAIR: I noted that there were a lot of confidential submissions that were made to your inquiry. What were the reasons as to why the farmers wanted confidentiality?

Dr Craik : Some of them had less than favourable comments about staff in the department. That was one major reason.

CHAIR: So it was essentially adverse comment rather than they themselves needing—

Dr Craik : I think also some of them were worried about retribution. I'm not saying that that was a likely outcome, but that's what some of them expressed.

Senator GALLAGHER: I just want to go back—it is a bit of time, I acknowledge that, and Senator Rice has touched on it a little bit—to the original engagement for this review. Do you recall whether you were approached directly to lead the review?

Dr Craik : No. I was asked by this consulting firm that I'm loosely tied up with: would I be interested in doing it?

Senator GALLAGHER: So the approach came from the consultancy to you rather than—

Dr Craik : Correct, and I'm tied up with that firm anyway.

Senator GALLAGHER: The AusTender extract shows that that consultancy received the contract in April, which is what you said earlier about commencing the work. The total cost of the review, I think, is outlined at just over $500,000. Is that your understanding?

Dr Craik : I wasn't involved in that side of it, to be perfectly honest.

Senator GALLAGHER: That's Aither that would—

Dr Craik : Yes. Aither does that.

Senator GALLAGHER: There was a small extension to the contract. Are you aware of why that occurred?

Dr Craik : I am vaguely aware of it, but I can't remember why we extended it. It was probably because we hadn't finished, but I can't remember. I would have been keen to have it finished sooner, put it that way.

Senator GALLAGHER: You would have been?

Dr Craik : Yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: We all know that feeling! So it went longer than you'd originally thought?

Dr Craik : I think that's right, yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: Was that from the interest that was shown?

Dr Craik : It could have been, but I really can't remember now why that was.

Senator GALLAGHER: You were busy, obviously, with a range of projects.

Dr Craik : Yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: In terms of conducting the review, did you or the review team meet with the environment minister or their office during the process of the review? I don't think it's listed.

Dr Craik : I think we just met with the minister when we'd finalised our recommendations.

Senator GALLAGHER: So not beforehand? Not while you were—

Dr Craik : No, not while we were doing it. I don't recall that, no.

Senator GALLAGHER: But you met with him and his office at the end?

Dr Craik : Yes, at the end, when we'd done the recommendations.

Senator GALLAGHER: So prior to finalising the report, but once you'd locked—

Dr Craik : Yes, once we had something to say.

Senator GALLAGHER: Did you meet with Minister Littleproud at all?

Dr Craik : No.

Senator GALLAGHER: Okay. Were there any other meetings or conversations with ministers about the report?

Dr Craik : No.

Senator GALLAGHER: So just—

Dr Craik : Sorry; when we met with the Minister for the Environment, we met with the Assistant Minister for the Environment at the same time.

Senator GALLAGHER: And who was that at the time?

Dr Craik : Melissa Price.

Senator GALLAGHER: So it was Minister Frydenberg and Minister Price at that meeting?

Dr Craik : Correct.

Senator GALLAGHER: Do you recall what date you provided the final review to the department?

Dr Craik : No, I'm afraid not. It was probably the date on the report. Is there one? I could find out, but I don't know. I can't remember.

Senator GALLAGHER: Did you provide it to the department and the minister's office at the same time? What's the process there?

Dr Craik : No. I think—well, I didn't actually provide it to anyone. It was the Aither office that provided it to the department, I assume.

Senator GALLAGHER: Okay; we can ask the department that later today. In relation to the meeting with the ministers, you said you met at the end of the process, so once recommendations had been finalised but prior to the actual handing over of the report. Did any of the recommendations change following that meeting?

Dr Craik : No.

Senator GALLAGHER: Was a draft review provided to those officers?

Dr Craik : I don't recall that it was, no.

CHAIR: Didn't you say before there was a draft given to the officers?

Dr Craik : I don't recall saying that, no.

CHAIR: A draft of the recommendations.

Senator GALLAGHER: Yes, a meeting on the recommendations.

Dr Craik : We met with them to talk to them. I can check, but I don't remember that we did. I can't be 100 per cent certain, but I don't remember that we did.

CHAIR: If you could take that on notice, that would be great.

Dr Craik : I'll try.

Senator GALLAGHER: Did you meet with any other MPs or senators in relation to the review?

Dr Craik : After it was finished, I met with some National Party members.

Senator GALLAGHER: So that was a meeting that was organised once you'd completed the review?

Dr Craik : Correct.

Senator GALLAGHER: Once it had been handed over?

Dr Craik : Correct.

Senator GALLAGHER: Who requested that and organised that?

Dr Craik : I couldn't tell you who requested it. It was organised through—again, I'm not sure who organised it, to be honest. I can see if I can find out.

Senator GALLAGHER: Presumably you were asked to attend a meeting?

Dr Craik : Yes, I was asked to attend a meeting.

Senator GALLAGHER: It had to come from somewhere.

Dr Craik : Usually the request came through the department, then to Aither and then to me. I wasn't—

Senator GALLAGHER: Do you recall when that was held? Was it the end of September?

Dr Craik : I think we handed in the report in October sometime, just judging by these dates here.

CHAIR: I think 28 September is on the bottom of the report.

Dr Craik : Was it? I sent in another letter in October. Look, I'll see if I can check, but—

Senator GALLAGHER: But it was after that?

Dr Craik : It was after we handed the report in, yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: If you could check it, that would be useful. Did you have any meetings with Mr Angus Taylor?

Dr Craik : No.

Senator GALLAGHER: Obviously, you've identified meetings with—

Dr Craik : I should say not in relation to—I don't think I had one at all, but don't forget he was the Minister for Energy. I chair the Climate Change Authority, so I may have met with him in that capacity, but not in relation to this—well, I don't think so, but I'm just covering my bases.

Senator GALLAGHER: Did you discuss this review with Minister Taylor?

Dr Craik : No, I didn't.

Senator GALLAGHER: Your report identifies Richard Taylor as a submitter and a witness or someone you visited in Cooma. Did you meet with any other members of the Taylor family or other business associates?

Dr Craik : Not that I'm—well, I don't know if those—

Senator GALLAGHER: John Murdoch is from Monaro Farming Systems.

Dr Craik : Oh well then, yes, we did. We met him.

Senator GALLAGHER: Was that a site visit?

Dr Craik : No, that was just in Cooma. We drove around, yes, and in Cooma as well. We drove around Cooma and saw some of the sites and we met in Cooma. We drove around with someone else, who showed us all the places, and then we met with all those other people. We drove around with Howard Charles, and we met with all those other people in Cooma.

Senator GALLAGHER: Did you visit the land that's been—

Dr Craik : Not on the ground. We were in the car and we got out of the car and had a look over the fence. That's about as close as we went.

Senator GALLAGHER: Okay, so it was identified as 'this is the area'?

Dr Craik : Not specifically, no. It was a 'this is his farm' sort of thing; that was as close as we got. We didn't look at the precise area, no.

Senator GALLAGHER: But you were aware that there was an investigation underway—

Dr Craik : We were vaguely aware there was an investigation underway, yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: Was the investigation discussed in the meetings you had in Cooma, that it was underway?

Dr Craik : Not the investigation, no.

Senator GALLAGHER: So you'd done a piece of work that was pretty comprehensive over a relatively short period of time. It took a long time for that report to be released by the government. Were you given any reason why?

Dr Craik : No.

Senator GALLAGHER: You didn't follow up or—

Dr Craik : No.

Senator GALLAGHER: So once you've done your work, that's that?

Dr Craik : I guess I take the view that if they're not going to release it, they're not going to release it. I did wonder. I did ask the department but they didn't seem to know, so I don't know. Nobody I spoke to was forthcoming with the reason, put it that way.

Senator GALLAGHER: Okay. We can again follow up with the department later today. How do you think the report you've done will fit in with the broader review that's required of the EPBC Act?

Dr Craik : I would imagine that the people who are doing the broader review of the EPBC Act will have a look at it and see whether these are things that they wish to pick up in it, because there are a few things that would apply more broadly across the board. If there's a view to looking at things sector by sector, there'll be stuff for agriculture there.

Senator GALLAGHER: Are you in a rush?

CHAIR: We're meant to be finishing at a quarter to, but we can push it out a little bit.

Senator GALLAGHER: Okay, I'll prioritise. Senator Rice touched on how the Monaro region is listed as a potential pilot in recommendation 19 of your review. Can you just quickly identify why you selected the Monaro region and why it was seen as a higher priority than Walgett, for example?

Dr Craik : Well, the Walgett one was a suggestion that came from New South Wales; we got a letter from the then agriculture minister there who also suggested Walgett. I think that's where Walgett came from. I guess because we'd spent a fair bit of time thinking about the Monaro—there were people working together there, New South Wales Local Land Services and the department were working together on the Monaro, it was close to Canberra, there'd been quite a bit of thought already put into it, and the people there were keen and enthusiastic—it seemed to us like a sensible place.

Senator GALLAGHER: You provided a short, two-paragraph addendum to the report on 17 October. Where did that come from and why did you provide it? What happened between finishing the report and two weeks later?

Dr Craik : Someone made a suggestion to me about—

Senator GALLAGHER: Who was that? Do you remember?

Dr Craik : Yes, I think it was one of the other fellows on the team who was doing this work with me.

Senator GALLAGHER: So you had finished the report, had handed it in and were talking about it—

Dr Craik : And he suggested getting an independent person to oversee it. Then someone else—I have no idea who it was—suggested an ombudsman-like person. It seemed to me that they were quite good ideas, so we might as well put them in the mix.

Senator GALLAGHER: But it hadn't come back to you from the department or the minister's office?

Dr Craik : No.

Senator GALLAGHER: Do you remember why that came up after the review had been finished?

Dr Craik : I guess Terry and I were talking about it—

Senator GALLAGHER: Who was on the team with you.

Dr Craik : Terry was on the team, yes—

Senator GALLAGHER: About a way forward?

Dr Craik : New South Wales had made an offer of quite a sizable number of staff, about 11, to work with these people at no cost to the Commonwealth. We thought it was quite generous. When Terry suggested an independent person, I thought that was a really good idea.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you for your report and the work that went into it. In your oral evidence you said there were overlaps and gaps between state and federal law. You didn't talk about conflicts, except for one incident where scientific advice from Western Australia conflicted with scientific advice from the Commonwealth, which resulted in an unresolved situation that affected the landholder. Are you aware of other conflicts?

Dr Craik : I don't know whether you'd quite call it a conflict, but I suppose one of the things that is different, which farmers find confusing, is the whole business of offsets. Every jurisdiction manages to calculate its offsets differently from everybody else. If you want to do something and you have to get state and federal approval for the same thing and you have two different offsets, what do you do? The other state-federal thing that comes to mind is the Tasmanian irrigation people. They said that conditions that were applied to their initial approval under the EPBC Act and weren't actually applied under the Tasmanian act subsequently were applied under the Tasmanian permit even though they weren't relevant. Then there was a difference as to who was actually enforcing these—was it the Commonwealth or Tasmania? It wasn't so much a conflict as a complete lack of clarity and an overlap of who was actually in charge here. They are the examples that come to mind.

Senator FAWCETT: The couple of examples you cited almost sounded like a lack of natural justice. I'm speaking particularly about the pine tree plantation. If I'd sown a cereal crop, paid for the seed, fertiliser and diesel, put the crop in, got multiperil insurance et cetera and species X had then decided to migrate and live in my field and I was told I couldn't reap and sell that crop, I would see that as a complete breach of natural justice. The time frame is different when you plant trees—they're long-life crops—but the principle is the same. Are there other examples where somebody was significantly harmed financially by something completely outside their control?

Dr Craik : Yes, fruit bats. Some bats that are threatened move into a fruit crop, like lychees, up north. I think there have been a couple of instances of those sorts of things.

Senator FAWCETT: People tend to think about natural vegetation with a native species, but if the vegetation is there only because a farmer has planted it, and if a species has moved in, do the farming community see that as completely unfair, because, if it weren't for their effort and investment, the species wouldn't be there anyway?

Dr Craik : Yes, exactly. The Western Australian case with the pine trees and Carnaby's cockatoo moving in—that pine had been planted with a view to being provided to the local sawmill, which generates employment. There are all the consequential financial penalties that fall from it, yes. It is a really difficult one. One of the things that we suggested when we recommended the billion-dollar biodiversity fund tied to the EPBC Act was that farmers who got themselves into that sort of situation ought to be entitled to some kind of compensation, because they're really giving up their income for a public-good reason, through no fault of their own.

Senator FAWCETT: You could argue they're not so much giving it up; it's being taken away from them. It's not exactly a voluntary effort on their part.

Dr Craik : No, that's true.

Senator FAWCETT: Land use is somewhat more problematic. But if you purchase 150 hectares and there is no impediment on your using that land as you see fit and you want to develop an extra 30 within it and then down the track somebody changes the law and says you can no longer do that, is there any evidence at state or federal level of grandfathering permissions or compensation, or is that now just a hazard of being in the ag sector in Australia?

Dr Craik : I can't think of any, but you have some of these funds in the states, like the New South Wales Biodiversity Conservation Trust, where they enter into long-term management agreements with farmers to look after, protect and manage a natural area alongside their operation to keep it natural, and it gives the farmer some return for doing that. As far as I could tell—and I haven't looked at it closely—when I wrote the report, that was working quite well. In another piece of work, we recommended to the New South Wales government that they put a lot more money into that fund, and they have put a lot more money into that fund. It seems to be working well.

Senator FAWCETT: I think the essence there is that there's an agreement, as opposed to a unilateral imposition of conditions that weren't in existence at the time that the investment into the property was made.

Dr Craik : That's very correct.

Senator FAWCETT: You gave of the ecological study done around noise of what I think you said was a bat. It was inconclusive, so the landholder has now had to do three inconclusive studies. I'm aware that with other regulators and departments there is often a time frame around which a decision has to be given back to an applicant for approval. Does that exist at either state or federal level in the environmental space?

Dr Craik : Yes, there are some time frames in the EPBC Act. I can't remember—

Senator FAWCETT: Was evidence given to you that those time frames are broadly respected and met? Those two examples you've cited appear to be gross breaches of that.

Dr Craik : I know; they're very long. I'm not sure whether the long period of time in that decision was breaching any specified time frame, but there certainly are time frames for some parts of the legislation. I'd have to go look; I honestly can't remember now.

Senator FAWCETT: That's fine, I can ask the department this afternoon.

Dr Craik : Yes, they would know much better than I do.

Senator FAWCETT: I was just interested to know, from your feedback, whether people were saying, 'Yes, they exist, and generally are met,' or—

Dr Craik : No, they just complain about the time frame. It's a number of years, and they get a bit fed up.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your evidence to us today. It has been very valuable.

Proceedings suspended from 11:59 to 12 : 33