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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Bureau of Meteorology

Bureau of Meteorology

CHAIR: Good morning, Dr Vertessy. Would you like to make an opening statement before we move to questions?

Dr Vertessy : No, thank you, Chair.

Senator SINGH: Dr Vertessy, how is the morale at the Bureau of Meteorology?

Dr Vertessy : Pretty good as far as I can tell.

Senator SINGH: What do you base that on?

Dr Vertessy : People I talk to around the organisation, my immediate colleagues. Naturally I am not talking to everyone in the organisation. I hark back to our recent census statistics. They indicated a pretty high level of engagement and positivity about the work of the bureau.

Senator SINGH: I would like to refer to a story that was published last Friday in Crikey! In which claims were aired that there is pressure to play down the role of climate change in weather events. Are you aware of that story?

Dr Vertessy : I am aware of the article, yes.

Senator SINGH: In that story you will notice it says that a BoM staffer said, and I quote, 'It's strange that facts about climate science are considered to be political.' Would you regard claims about climate science to be political?

Dr Vertessy : No, not when they deal with factors of science.

Senator SINGH: Is there pressure being brought to play in the bureau to play down the role of climate change?

Dr Vertessy : No.

Senator SINGH: The comments that have been made in that Crikey! article directly relate to playing down the role of climate change in weather events. What are you saying in response to that? You are saying that that is not correct?

Dr Vertessy : Yes. I reject that.

Senator Birmingham: Unattributed comments, I assume, Senator Singh?

Senator SINGH: They are comments from a Bureau of Meteorology staffer, so they are quite—

Senator Birmingham: Unattributed.

Dr Vertessy : I would add that that someone would have violated the code of conduct, if indeed they were talking to the media.

Senator SINGH: So if they are doing that they are not doing it lightly, are they? We know, obviously, that there is currently a government in play whose leader said that climate science is absolute crap. Since the last election there has been a change in the bureau's agency structure. If I go to your annual report of 2012-13, page 11 of that report clearly shows the climate and water division is a division that no longer exists. That division has climate information services branch, climate and water information technology services branch, climate and water data branch. If I then go to your current structure, as of 9 January, it looks very similar to that previous annual report, albeit with the exclusion of a climate and water division. There is no longer any climate and water data branch, no longer any climate and water division, no longer any climate and water information branch, although I think there may be one that has been left.

Regardless of the staffer providing that comment to Crikey! last Friday, on the face of it anyone looking at the current structure of the BoM would not be wrong in making those conclusions, considering the lack of identification of climate change areas of priority in your current structure. I acknowledge your state of the climate report, which was incredibly scientifically based, had a lot of information that related to climate in that.

Senator Birmingham: Senator Singh, can Dr Vertessy respond at least to the points you have made in relation to the structure of the Bureau of Meteorology and the changes that have been made to the structure, please?

Senator SINGH: Yes.

Dr Vertessy : Perhaps I could—

Senator Birmingham: Can he address the question?

Dr Vertessy : Perhaps I could address two things for you, Senator, firstly to dispel any notion that we are trying to bury climate work in the bureau. Yes, the restructure did result in a name change from what was formerly known as the climate and water division to the environment and research division so that at the division level, which is our top tier structure, there was that name change. That was partly because of the fact that that division, although the amount of climate and water activity within it did not change as a result of the restructure in any significant way, also inherited a very significant research component, which was hitherto in another division. In fact we brought climate research alongside climate services in that one division, which we think makes very good sense.

When you look below the division structure at the names of the branches there is still a branch called climate information, there is still a branch called water Information and there is still an R&D branch that has a significant amount of climate activity within it. So there is really no material change at all in the architecture of climate in the bureau.

Senator SINGH: How many staff in the bureau worked on climate issues as at 30 June 2013?

Dr Vertessy : One hundred and seventeen.

Senator SINGH: How many staff at the bureau currently work on climate change issues?

Dr Vertessy : On climate change issues at the time being there are nine on climate change.

Senator SINGH: Nine? From 117 to nine?

Senator Birmingham: Senator Singh, Dr Vertessy had not finished speaking. Please let him finish his statement.

Senator SINGH: He is shouting.

CHAIR: I do think, out of courtesy to the doctor, that you might let him finish his answer before you interrupt.

Senator SINGH: Thank you, Chair. I just do not think it requires a shouting minister.

CHAIR: Please continue with the answer, Dr Vertessy.

Dr Vertessy : Senator, if I could refer you to our answer to a question on notice which was provided to you, on which date I am not sure. I trust you have it. It was a question pertaining to our last hearing. We provided you with a comprehensive table comparing staffing levels for all climate-related functions. That is not just climate change but all climate-related functions. There are two columns in that table, one for 30 June 2013 and another for 23 February 2015, as requested. You can see down the bottom there the entry for climate change research on 30 June 2013 was 15.5. The entry for 23 February is nine. That is a net reduction of 6.5 staff.

Senator SINGH: Sorry, Dr Vertessy. I understand that answer is relating to a question on notice. Your previous answer to me just now when I asked about how many staff at the bureau worked on—

Senator Birmingham: It was not a previous answer, it was an answer that you interrupted and Dr Vertessy just gave the comprehensive answer.

Senator SINGH: Excuse me, Chair, the minister is interrupting. I am trying to finish asking the question.

CHAIR: The minister is actually entitled to put context around anything he chooses. Please continue.

Senator SINGH: I do not deny that. But he actually interrupted before I had finished putting the question.

Senator Birmingham: I was just correcting the context of your question.

CHAIR: Senator Singh, if this is going to be the way—

Senator Birmingham: I thought it was easier to do that along the way.

CHAIR: We are not going to end up with a happy day. The minister has put context around your comment. Can you please continue with your question.

Senator SINGH: Dr Vertessy, when I asked before about how many staff at the bureau worked on climate issues as at 30 June 2013, you told me it was 117.

Dr Vertessy : Yes, that is right; on climate issues it was 117. That is the totality of our climate effort. It is different from climate change.

Senator SINGH: If I were to put the question about how many staff at the bureau currently work on climate issues, could you answer that?

Dr Vertessy : Yes, 101.5.

Senator SINGH: Why did the bureau so drastically de-emphasise its climate analysis capabilities after the September 2013 election?

Dr Vertessy : I would not say that we have decreased our climate analysis capability at all. As you can see in the table, if you look at the 10 different functions that we take in climate information, in seven of them there is no change; in three of them there are some reductions. They are in the area of climate change research, climate variability research and the development of climate models.

What is distinctive about those areas is that they are quite heavily dependent on external funding, and there has been a reduction in external funding that has come from various government contracts. That is not unusual. It is lumpy. Contracts come and go over time. There is certainly no strategic intent to diminish the amount of work in these areas; quite the contrary. We see it as important and we continue to invest very significantly across our whole climate information spectrum.

Senator SINGH: If there is no strategic intent, what intent is there?

Dr Vertessy : To continue the good quality work that we do in the area of climate information.

Senator SINGH: I did not quite understand your answer. You said there was no strategic intent. I presume that meant to de-emphasise climate change.

Dr Vertessy : That is correct, yes.

Senator SINGH: So what intent is there?

Dr Vertessy : I gather from your questioning, Senator, that you are concerned that we are purposefully diminishing our efforts in climate change research. That is not the case.

Senator SINGH: That is the level of my questioning—not through your own decision making but more the decision making of the government. What I am trying to find out from the bureau, if that is in fact the case, is whether, since the 2013 election, there has been a de-emphasising of climate change within the bureau's work.

Dr Vertessy : No. In fact many of those—

Senator SINGH: I base that, obviously, on some evidence from the article from Crikey last Friday. I can also refer to some evidence in June last year in relation to the rewriting to remove climate change from extreme weather advice. Do you remember that document? It was the extreme weather watering-down advice that was placed on the department's website and then taken away.

Dr Vertessy : It is nothing to do with the bureau. I am not aware of that, Senator.

Senator SINGH: It is not specific to the bureau—

Dr Vertessy : I am not familiar with that.

Senator SINGH: but it is similar as it relates to weather.

Dr Vertessy : Yes, sure.

Senator SINGH: That is why I am trying to understand from you, based on, obviously, some of the evidence that I have researched, whether the BoM is de-emphasising climate change.

Dr Vertessy : No, we are not. As I explained earlier, the modest—I would emphasise that it is modest—reduction in staffing levels in these areas is attributable to changes in external earnings in that area. In fact, those changes were set in train well before the change of government. They are not a consequence of any redirection by this government.

Senator SINGH: I want to refer now to the PBS. On page 105 it says that the bureau will update its strategic plan to guide the work of the organisation over the coming five years. How do you expect a change in climate will influence the BoM's direction over the coming five years?

Dr Vertessy : I think changes in climate will bear out over a longer period than five years. Already I think you see the organisation adjusting itself in response to climate changes that have been occurring and will further occur. One of the best adaptation strategies for climate change is a very reliable and accurate early warning system of pending extreme weather events. We know that under climate change there is likely to be more extreme weather. Having a good monitoring and forecasting system that can provide early warning of that, in our view, is a critical adaptation strategy. That is what we are focusing on. We are trying to improve the capability of our forecasting systems and our monitoring systems, for that matter.

Senator SINGH: The PBS then gives four dot points which outline the four key strategies that will maintain and build the bureau's world-class services. In none of those four dot points—as important as I am sure they all are—do I see any kind of focus on this adaptation strategy, this focus on adjusting itself to climate change when we are likely to have extreme weather events, as you just said. Where does the answer you just gave to my last question fit into any of those four dot points? Why wouldn't you, if, as you have just outlined, it is such an important focus, have climate change listed in some way, shape or form in any of those four dot points?

Dr Vertessy : Let me give you a bit of context. The four dot points there constitute the pillars of our new strategic plan which we are in the final processes of drafting. We expect that to be available early in the next financial year. We consciously choose not to take a thematic focus and to say that we are going to be doing this on water, this on climate, this on oceans, this on space weather and so on. These four things are what you might characterise as generic directions in the way that we do business in the bureau. I would expect that if we fulfil these aims that are listed here, that will enhance our ability to provide better services of the kind which I articulated earlier.

Senator SINGH: We will look forward to the new strategic plan. I noticed there were no budget measures relating to the bureau in 2015-16. It seems at least you have escaped the government wielding its axe this year. We will get to that perhaps in more detail—

Senator Birmingham: I thought you were just trying to tell us, Senator Singh, how we were out to cripple the bureau.

Senator SINGH: As I said, Minister, we will get to some more detail on that in a minute.

Senator Birmingham: The bureau is being very well resourced, indeed with additional capabilities coming online through the supercomputer that I am sure Dr Vertessy will happily talk to you about.

Senator SINGH: What is often in black and white in the PBS is not always the complete truth.

Senator Birmingham: Now you are seeing a conspiracy, Senator Singh.

Senator SINGH: We need to dig a bit further. Dr Vertessy, did you submit any budget portfolio proposals this year?

Senator Birmingham: Senator Singh, as you would know, governments do not go through the iterative processes of every matter that was considered or bidded for by agencies during the budget process. If that is the track you are headed down, I am sorry to say that those sorts of budget processes have never been disclosed by governments, and for good reason, because they go to the heart of the budget-making process.

Senator SINGH: I did not ask for detail. I just asked for a yes or no answer as to whether you had submitted proposals or not.

Dr Vertessy : For funding, no.

Senator SINGH: I see that there is also a reduction in staffing. I think the maths equals 102 in this year. This is on page 109 of the PBS. Is this in addition to last year's staffing cut?

Dr Vertessy : I will pass over to our chief operating officer on that.

Ms Middleton : Yes, we do have our average affordable staffing level dropping by 102 over this financial year; that is correct. It is on page 109 of our portfolio budget statement. What that number does not demonstrate is the staff that we have actually employed under our capital program as well, which can fluctuate by somewhere between 110 and 170 staff. So, yes, we do have a reduction to achieve over the forward estimates, but our expectation is that given we have in the order of 150 staff separate through the bureau through natural attrition, we will continue to manage our staffing levels down, as we have in previous years, through natural attrition and being very selective about where we fill vacancies.

Senator SINGH: So 102 staff have been cut from the bureau and you are saying that there is some capital program that has a kind of fluctuation of staff within it.

Ms Middleton : Yes.

Senator SINGH: What is this capital program?

Ms Middleton : With the capital program, the bureau manages about half a billion dollars worth of assets. That includes our radar network, our rain gauge network, our automatic weather stations, our new supercomputer, and, depending on what is due for replacement, renewal and maintenance through that capital program through the year, the staff that are actually employed and funded through the capital program are separate to the employee expenses shown in our appropriation. Anywhere between 110 and 170 staff are funded through that capital program each year.

Senator SINGH: You are saying that the 102 staff that have been axed in this budget are all from the capital program?

Ms Middleton : No, they will not all necessarily be from the capital program.

Senator SINGH: Could you provide a breakdown of how many are from the capital program and how many are from the existing bureau?

Ms Middleton : Our current headcount in the bureau is around 1,669. That includes a combination of part-time, contracting staff and staff funded off the capital program. From time to time the number that we have in the headcount fluctuates. That 102 figure is an average affordable staffing level over the year, and it fluctuates. It does not ever accurately reflect our full-time equivalents on deck. While that is a target, and it means our trajectory is to reduce our staffing levels through the year, we manage that by moving staff to where our highest priorities are and where our funding is.

You would also be aware through the PBS that a significant amount of funding comes into the bureau through what we call section 74 externally generated revenue. These are services that we deliver to the aviation industry, to Defence, to the offshore oil and gas industry, and it allows us to move staff to where we have funded activity through those programs as well. Because of the nature of our workforce and because we are an operational organisation, we do have quite a bit of flexibility to move staff around the bureau based on where our priorities are operationally and where we have external revenue coming in to pay for services.

Senator SINGH: Is the 102 staff reduction a target or is it actual?

Ms Middleton : It is an affordable staffing level. It is basically saying that we anticipate—it is an estimate—based on our appropriation that we will reduce over the course of the year by 102 staff.

Senator SINGH: Okay, it is an estimate, and it is on top of the staff reductions from last year?

Ms Middleton : Yes, that is correct.

Senator SINGH: These are an extra 102 staff that will be lost. You are saying you prioritise and so forth. Where will these staffing reductions come from?

Ms Middleton : It will depend on where we have natural attrition from. As I have mentioned before—

Senator SINGH: You are going through a natural attrition process.

Ms Middleton : We are relying on natural attrition, yes.

Senator SINGH: VRs?

Ms Middleton : No, we will not be using voluntary redundancies. Because the amount we need to reduce by is within our normal natural attrition rate, there will not be any need for voluntary redundancies.

Dr Vertessy : We should qualify that. We do not expect to use voluntary redundancy. If we have to, we will, of course, to manage the number. But our experience, borne out over the last couple of years, is that natural attrition lets us manage our affordable staffing levels quite fine. In the last year we only had two voluntary redundancies.

Senator SINGH: How many staff did you lose last year?

Ms Middleton : 154 staff separated from the bureau. In terms of the staff that we replaced, we reduced our net headcount by 68, or the equivalent of 54 full-time equivalents.

Senator SINGH: That is a lot less than 102.

Ms Middleton : Yes, it is. That is because we were continuing to manage down towards the staffing levels we needed to achieve at the end of the financial year based on this financial year's estimate.

Dr Vertessy : Could I add one other thing, Senator. The figure of 102 reflects our affordable staffing level from appropriation, but that does not necessarily mean that we are going to reduce our staffing level in aggregate across the bureau by 102. We have an active program under way to increase external revenue from the organisation. Our external revenue has been growing significantly year upon year. We have redoubled our efforts in that area. We have established a lot of new business development capability. We have a business development pipeline that is full of new projects and we are hopeful and expect that will provide for alternative positions for many of the staff that would otherwise have been affected if we were not active in that area.

Senator SINGH: How do you come up with this 102 figure then?

Ms Middleton : The figure is actually just a calculation based on a formula from the Department of Finance that they put in as part of the portfolio budget statement.

Senator SINGH: Okay. I know that you are saying it is an estimate and it is a target, but clearly if that is the formula and that is the number then there is the potential to reach that reduction in your staffing numbers.

Ms Middleton : Yes.

Senator SINGH: You cannot tell me where these staffing reductions will come from because you are going through a natural attrition process, but clearly the BoM have certain areas of expertise and I am sure that there are certain staff that you will not want to lose. Is there no process at all in identifying and safeguarding certain areas of the bureau, certain job losses that you simply cannot afford to lose?

Dr Vertessy : There is, yes, absolutely.

Senator SINGH: Can you provide—

Dr Vertessy : We have an internal budgeting process. Every year we go through a process, a disciplined process, of assessing our priorities and identifying areas where we can make savings. We do that every year and we are doing it again this year. The thing is it is only—

Senator SINGH: Can you provide that, the actual agency breakdown?

Dr Vertessy : The process is in flight at the moment. The budget was only handed down two weeks ago, so what follows now is a set of deliberations about how we will adjust. It will take into consideration our expected external earnings growth. It will give regard to what we plan to do in the capital program this year. There are a lot of variables in it that will actually dictate what will happen. We are not in a position yet to give you an indication of where staffing levels will be reduced in particular functions. We would probably be in a better place to do that next time we meet.

Senator SINGH: Okay. Has the Department of Finance really put this 102 figure on the bureau rather than the bureau coming up with the 102 figure?

Ms Middleton : No, Senator. It is just a calculation that comes from our departmental expense line in the budget papers.

Senator SINGH: That is fine. I understand, Dr Vertessy, you have work to do in this area of where 102 staff will be cut. But surely in putting forward the figure to the Department of Finance or to the Department of the Environment—wherever you put the figure—that is now outlined in the PBS you must look at your agency and go, Where is this 102 going to come from? We can take 20 here, we can take 30 there.' There must be some preliminary work done within the bureau to look at that and work that out. I understand it is not finalised and you are going through natural attrition and you cannot give us a lot of detail today, but you must have some kind of draft outline of the breakdown of your agency as to some of the areas that will be lost and some hat will not. I am just trying, on the basis of transparency, to get some understanding of where these 102 jobs are going to come from in the bureau.

Ms Middleton : We undertake quite vigorous workforce planning activities each year based on the age profile of our staff. Achieving that natural attrition target just based on staff members that are reaching retirement age is not going to be a huge difficulty for the bureau. Based on our age profile, we expect that the majority of our separations will be people who are retiring because they have reached retirement age. When we do have staff that are retiring we do have quite a strong pipeline. We have actually recruited the largest number of graduates into our met course this year to make sure that our front-line services continue to be well supported by a pipeline of fully qualified staff members coming through in that area.

We have been able to quite capably manage changes in our workforce through natural attrition. With the interim recruitment arrangements that have been in place through the Public Service Commission we have never had any difficulty at all filling essential front-line forecasting positions where those are required. The bureau has been modernising the way in which it takes observations over the last decade and we have been increasing the rate of automation. So we are on a trajectory where we can actually increase the number of observations we take. We can increase our forecasting and warning output without needing additional staff in order to do that.

We have been on a program for quite some time about modernising the way we take observations. We will be able to produce more forecasts more often with the new supercomputing capability that comes in. Our forecasting numbers are actually on the increase, with the increased intake of graduates we are bringing in. We know, based on the age profile of our staff, that we anticipate separations in the order of about 150 as staff continue to reach that retirement age across our entire workforce. So I think the notion that we would have to go and look at reducing our particular function is not an option that we currently need to consider. We will continue to manage our workforce based on risk and continue to meet the services the public expects from us.

Senator SINGH: Are you saying that this loss of 102 staff will not have an impact on service delivery?

Ms Middleton : We will continue to manage risk to avoid that at all costs. We will continue to manage it on a case-by-case basis. So clearly where we have a staff member that is in an essential position we will backfill that position to ensure that a service is not diminished.

Senator SINGH: Will these 102 staff that are earmarked to go have an impact on service delivery at the BoM?

Ms Middleton : Our aim will be to continue to manage the national attrition to minimise any possible impact. Our view would be that we would look at where we adjust and prioritise backfilling vacancies from essential positions by not necessarily filling positions which we can afford to be without; it might take us longer to do some HR services or other things in corporate areas that do not affect front-line services.

Senator SINGH: Right. I think some would call that a bureaucratic answer. Anyway, it is your answer, nonetheless. I guess what I am trying to understand here, Ms Middleton, is that you are saying that your forecasting numbers are on the increase for graduates but at the same time you are reducing your staff by 102. If there is backfilling going on into some of the job losses of certain people of expertise in the BoM, is that backfilling done by employees who are already doing another job? How are you going to get to the 102 reduction if your forecasting numbers are on the increase for graduates? Isn't it one replacing another? Or is the backfilling done by individuals doing more than one task or one position? I am trying to understand here.

Dr Vertessy : I feel we are going around in circles here. First of all, as I said to you earlier, it does not follow that staffing will reduce by 102. That is a target based on dividing the appropriation resources we have been given and dividing that figure by the cost of the averaging staffing level. It does not equate to a death sentence for 102 people in the organisation.

I fully expect that to be mitigated, to some extent, by changes in emphasis and increases in external earnings. We do not know what the exact figure will be. We have a budget process that is in train working out how we are going to reduce our staffing headcount across all of our functions. Once that is sorted out we will be able to give you a better indication of how we have adjusted as an organisation.

The preeminent thing I would like to say is that maintenance of headcount is not the objective function of the bureau. The objective function of the bureau is to maintain a high quality of service for the Australian public. I think you will find that there is no immediate threat to that. In fact, quite the contrary; the bureau is producing more year upon year.

Senator SINGH: Thank you, Dr Vertessy. Now that it has been made clear that the 102 staff reduction is a target—and I thank you for using the term 'death sentence'—to the bureau, I agree; I think it would be.

Senator Birmingham: I am sure that will appear in your press release, Senator Singh, which no doubt will take Dr Vertessy's comments out of context.

Senator SINGH: Minister, you are giving me ideas!

Senator Birmingham: Given Dr Vertessy's comments were it is by no means leading up to that. I trust you will quote him entirely and accurately.

Senator SINGH: I would hope that the 102 staff reduction is not reached as well. I want to move to 115 of the PBS which outlines a reduction in revenue of $9.2 million. Is that a net loss to the agency, $9.2 million?

Ms Middleton : Yes, it is.

Senator SINGH: There are quite a few dot points there with a range of reasons for that loss of revenue. Has the funding for the supercomputer changed at all?

Ms Middleton : No, Senator. The total envelope of funding for the supercomputer remains the same.

Senator SINGH: That is the first dot point, that is all, in the PBS.

Ms Middleton : The total envelope for the supercomputer remains the same. There has been some rephasing of money aligned with the procurement process. But there is no decrease in supercomputer funding.

Senator SINGH: Do you want to elaborate on that phasing of funding for the procurement process of the supercomputer?

Dr Seebeck : The phasing for the supercomputer made a series of assumptions about staffing coming on board and taking on a new data centre. In the event, that did not happen so we negotiated a rephasing of that funding from this year into the next financial year. That is all it is.

Senator SINGH: It is carrying over.

Dr Seebeck : Yes.

Senator SINGH: I am just not sure why you would have added that dot point in. It reads as though there has been—we are talking about the $9.2 million cut—some kind of reduction in funding. But you have cleared that up.

Ms Middleton : There is no net decrease in funding.

Senator SINGH: Has the funding for the response to the Munro review changed?

Ms Middleton : No, Senator.

Senator SINGH: That is still at $58.5 million?

Ms Middleton : The total package was worth $58.5. Of course over the forward estimates it is still subject to the same efficiency dividends as all other money within the bureau's appropriation.

Senator SINGH: What are those? Is that in the PBS?

Ms Middleton : It is not explicit in this PBS because there are no new efficiency dividends this year. These are the efficiency dividends that were introduced in the 2011-12 MYEFO adjustments and then have continued on since then. Those are roughly an efficiency dividend of about 2.5 per cent that carry forward over the forward estimates.

Senator SINGH: So a package of $58.5 million. Could you tell me now what it is over the forward estimates in total, the package?

Ms Middleton : We would have to re-do those calculations because that is just part of our entire appropriation. I do not have a breakdown here of that.

Senator SINGH: Will you take that on notice?

Ms Middleton : Yes.

Senator SINGH: What is the revenue obtained through advertising on the bureau's website?

Ms Middleton : We keep that information commercial-in-confidence mainly because we go through an open market tendering process to have a provider of our advertising services. We want to ensure that we get the most competitive tenders for the provision of those services with the highest possible revenue targets included.

Senator SINGH: What were the original projections?

Ms Middleton : That remains commercial-in-confidence as well.

Senator SINGH: It is just that I cannot see how your projections would be commercial-in-confidence because that is before you have got interested commercial clients. It is just the bureau's—

Ms Middleton : Because if we went to the market and said that the bureau is seeking to generate X million dollars in advertising revenue then every tender we would receive would achieve that target. We are looking to make sure the market is as ambitious as possible in what it can potentially generate from our website.

Senator SINGH: Have funds for Water for the Future changed in this $9.2 million cut?

Dr Vertessy : No, only with regard to the efficiency dividend effects.

Senator SINGH: Can you update the committee on the pay negotiations for the BoM? I understand there has been a bit of a dispute going on for some time. Perhaps you could outline how long that has been going on as well. I acknowledge that I do not want to compromise negotiations.

Ms Middleton : We are progressing with EA bargaining in good faith within the bureau. Our bargaining team has met nine times since the commencement of bargaining with the release of the government's bargaining policy. We are continuing to make progress through that bargaining group in relation to all the non-remuneration elements of our new EA. We are at the moment finalising our clearance processes through the Public Service Commission for our savings and productivity measures so that we can put an offer on the table in the coming months.

Senator SINGH: As I said, I do not want to compromise negotiations, but could you outline the main points of difference between the parties?

Ms Middleton : We have not put a specific pay offer on the table at the moment so there aren't any specific points of difference. We have been working through the process of complying with the bargaining policy and ensuring that we can put the best available pay offer on the table for our staff.

Senator SINGH: So you have not put a pay offer on the table. How long has this been going on?

Ms Middleton : We started bargaining in June 2014.

Senator SINGH: So nearly a year?

Ms Middleton : Yes.

Senator SINGH: And you have not put anything on the table?

Ms Middleton : Not a specific pay offer yet.

Senator SINGH: And you cannot outline to the committee the main points of difference?

Ms Middleton : Not at this stage. We are still going through our clearances processes.

Senator SINGH: Why do your clearance processes take so long?

Ms Middleton : Essentially what we are trying to do is work through, as required under the policy, to identify exactly where we will fund the pay rise. We need to do that through both savings measures and productivity measures. In doing that, our key focus is making sure that any offer that we make in terms of pay is fully funded without needing to reduce staffing levels.

Senator SINGH: The hold-up seems to be in working out where you are funding the pay rise from?

Ms Middleton : That is correct. We have been working very hard to fund the pay rise.

Senator SINGH: Do you work with the department on that?

Ms Middleton : No; the bureau is doing its own EA negotiations.

Senator SINGH: What, if any, industrial action has been taken?

Ms Middleton : Currently ballots have been held by the three unions that are involved in our bargaining process: the CPSU, the ETU and Professionals Australia. All three have voted for protected industrial action. To date, the CPSU is the only one to enliven industrial action. We have had several one-hour stoppages during that time. Industrial action is running at the moment.

Senator SINGH: Basically, it has been a year. You hope to have these pay negotiations resolved in the coming months. Can you be any more specific as to how many months more the BoM staff will need to wait for these pay negotiations to be concluded?

Ms Middleton : We are hoping it will be within the next two months.

Senator SINGH: Thank you, Chair.

Senator URQUHART: I want to go back to the loss of the $9.2 million. If the funding for the supercomputer, the Munro Review and the Water for the Future have not changed, then where is the $9.2 million loss coming from? Why were all those listed in the PBS as reasons for the loss of revenue, when they are not? Can you point me to where that $9.2 million comes from? It reads—and I think Senator Singh tried to get this out—as if that is where it is coming from. Can you point me to where it is actually coming from?

Ms Middleton : The bulk of it comes from efficiency dividends and savings measures from previous budgets. If you give me two seconds, I will give you a list of what those are. Because those were in previous budgets and carried forward in the forward estimates, they date back to the one-off adjustments that went in through MYEFO back in 2011-12. They were the increase in the efficiency dividend to 1.5 per cent, then the further increase to 2.25 per cent, and then the further increase to 2.5 per cent. So it is that 2.5 per cent flowing through. That cumulative total is in the order of $9 million. That is where the bulk of it is. But because those efficiency dividends apply across all of our programs, that is why they are listed in that way.

Senator URQUHART: So they are coming out of those programs, but they result back from 2011; do I understand that clearly?

Ms Middleton : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: Right. Thanks, Chair.

Senator McGRATH: I have a question about the cyclones, and I think Senator Canavan is going to come in on this. Following the recent cyclone season, have you reviewed the adequacy of the warnings?

Dr Vertessy : I will throw that one over to Dr Ray Canterford, who heads up our forecasts and warnings division.

Dr Canterford : We do review, after each season, our warning processes. We have not completed that at this stage because of the late season of tropical cyclones. But that is done as a matter of course.

Senator McGRATH: When do you think it will be completed by?

Dr Canterford : We tend to use the off-season—this particular season now, over the next few months—to analyse these tropical cyclones to determine their exact intensities, et cetera and tracks. We do, of course, have preliminary reviews after each event, which is more of a round-table type review, to see if we can make an improvement. We are always on a continuous improvement curve.

Senator CANAVAN: Chair, I asked some questions at last estimates about Cyclone Marcia. I think you were doing a post-event review of the cyclone. What is the status of that at the moment?

Dr Canterford : The review of that is under way. We are working with engineers on the ground. There has already been an analysis of some of the damage that has occurred. When we determine the final intensity of the systems we go through a very thorough process of meteorologists working with engineers and also going back over and quality controlling any observations we have. At the moment that work is still under way. I believe that just in recent weeks there have been meetings with the engineers in the bureau's regional office.

Senator CANAVAN: So no early conclusions at this stage?

Dr Canterford : Not at this stage.

Senator CANAVAN: How far away is the new satellite Himawari? Is that going to be ready for next cyclone season?

Dr Vertessy : Yes, it will. We expect it to become operational some time in July.

Senator CANAVAN: Thanks, Chair.

Senator SINODINOS: I just have one question. What does the latest El Nino declaration mean for Australia?

Dr Vertessy : The week before last we declared an El Nino to be in play. Over the last week we have seen some intensification of it, but it is a long run process that we will see go out right through the winter and into the spring. We anticipated the question. We have a little infographic here that senators might find useful that gives a bit of a summary of how we spot them, how we define them and what some of the effects are. It is something that we will continue to monitor. On a fortnightly basis we will be providing updates on the state of the El Nino, and on a monthly basis we will continue to provide forecasts of what it means for temperatures and rainfalls in the season ahead.

Senator SINODINOS: It causes greater dryness; is that right?

Dr Vertessy : Yes, it does. El Nino causes drier and hotter conditions for eastern Australia, with most of the effects felt in New South Wales. That is as a result of there being very warm water in the eastern Pacific and cooler water in the western Pacific up against Australia. That has the effect of moving moist maritime air away from the Australian continent.

Senator SINODINOS: And interaction between El Nino and climate change?

Dr Vertessy : Yes, there is a mooted relationship there. It is a bit difficult to be clear about the fingerprint of climate change on any particular El Nino, but the expectation is that in the long run, as climate change deepens, the intensification of El Ninos is predicted to become stronger.

Senator SINODINOS: Is this El Nino more intense than previous ones?

Dr Vertessy : This looks like a particularly intense one so far. We judge the intensity by how anomalous the sea surface temperatures are in the central Pacific. At the moment they are running at about 1.2 degrees above normal. The threshold is only 0.8 of a degree. When we look at eight different international models out to October, on average they are predicting about 2.4 degrees warmer than average, which is a pretty intense event. I think that is comparable to the 1982 El Nino and the 1997 El Nino, which were also very, very strong ones.

Senator SINODINOS: The 1982 one preceded bushfires, didn't it?

Dr Vertessy : That is right; the Ash Wednesday fires occurred around that time.

Senator McGRATH: So for Queensland, which is 70 per cent drought-declared, the outlook is not good.

Dr Vertessy : No, not good. The chances of relief of that condition are greatly diminished with El Nino conditions.

Senator CANAVAN: Can I ask a quick follow-up as well? What is the Indian Ocean Dipole looking like?

Dr Vertessy : At the moment that is neutral. Just in the last couple of weeks there were some indications that the temperatures around the north-west coast are starting to cool off, which is a suggestion that we might be in for what is called a positive dipole event. Now, that is a bit like the ENSO. The Indian Ocean Dipole occurs in the Indian Ocean, naturally. Basically that is cool water along the Australian coast and warm water over on the African coast. Once again, that has the tendency to move moist maritime air away from the coastline. So if you get an El Nino and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole together, you greatly elevate the risk of drought yet again. That is what happened in 1982 but failed to happen in 1997. So although El Nino in 1997 was strong, because it didn't have the reinforcing conditions in the Indian Ocean it turned out not to have such a great impact.

Senator CANAVAN: Where does the dipole have its largest effect?

Dr Vertessy : I do not know the number exactly, but it is in neutral territory.

Senator CANAVAN: Sorry; I meant that, geographically, in Australia you said El Nino is concentrated New South Wales—south-east Australia, I presume.

Dr Vertessy : Good question.

Senator CANAVAN: Is the dipole geographically focused on some part of Australia?

Dr Vertessy : Yes. I am sure it would affect the west coast. It would probably inhibit the occurrence of those north-west cloud bands that tend to come down through the continent and bring rainfall into south eastern Australia as well. So I would expect it would diminish rainfalls in south eastern Australia as well.

Senator CANAVAN: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Waters.

Senator WATERS: Thank you, Chair. Thanks Dr Vertessy and Ms Middleton for coming today. Sticking with El Nino, can you explain the impact of El Nino on global temperatures?

Dr Vertessy : Yes. I think this infographic might even say it: a large number of the big jumps in global temperature are associated with El Ninos. This is because El Nino is the largest climate influence on the whole global climate system. What it is really all about is the turning over of heat energy from the oceans to the atmosphere. So during a La Nina—the opposite—we see a dominance of heat being subducted down into the deep ocean from the atmosphere. We have been in a kind of La Nina dominated phase, you might say, since 1998, which was the last big El Nino where there was a temperature spike. The risk now is, if this El Nino continues to intensify, there is a good chance that we will see global atmospheric temperatures start climbing much faster again, as they did prior to the last El Nino.

Senator WATERS: Another senator asked you about the impact of climate change on El Nino. You said there was a mooted relationship. My understanding from CSIRO is that, they say, climate change will double the risk of super El Nino—the really extreme ones—to one every 10 years. Do you share that view?

Dr Vertessy : That is based on outputs from model projections. They are not observations, which is the difference I would draw. It is not to say they are invalid at all, but that is why I am saying they are mooted. We have not observed such changes per se. But they are projected to occur on the basis of what the models are telling us.

Senator WATERS: Your models are also telling you that same information?

Dr Vertessy : Yes. We are operating with the same model base. Everything that CSIRO is talking about is effectively something that we are doing in collaboration with them with a joint model.

Senator WATERS: It is modelled that super El Ninos will become twice as frequent; namely once every 10  years, as climate change intensifies.

Dr Vertessy : We don't use the term 'super El Ninos'. We would say that strong El Ninos are likely to be more frequent. I cannot remember the exact figure of frequency increase, but I do know that they are increasing.

Senator WATERS: Perhaps you could take it on notice. My understanding is that it is one every 10 years, which is a doubling.

Dr Vertessy : We would be happy to provide a more detailed answer to that.

Senator WATERS: Moving now to what might be very controversial and ill-informed comments from Maurice Newman, the head of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council. In an op-ed presumably written by him, published under his name a few weeks ago, he said:

Global warming is the hook.

CHAIR: Senator Waters, you are probably a little close to the wind there. Would you like to keep your comments to the facts. By making the statement that it presumably has been written by him you are making an inference it was not written by him.

Senator WATERS: I am astounded that anybody holds those views. But it purports to be an op-ed in his name.

CHAIR: If it purports to be an op-ed in his name I think we can assume that he wrote it. Maybe we can start from that premise.

Senator Birmingham: I do not think Mr Newman contests that they are his views or that it is his op-ed.

Senator WATERS: More the pity. His quote was:

Global warming is the hook. It's about a new world order under the control of the UN.   

He makes other disparaging remarks about climate science in the course of that opinion piece, which I hope you have had a look at. Can you give me the bureau's scientific perspective on that view?

Senator Birmingham: You might like to rephrase the question. I am sure Dr Vertessy will happily answer factual questions in relation to the bureau's scientific work and analysis. But you have made a sweeping generalisation: can he comment on Mr Newman's op-ed? While Mr Newman is entitled to his opinion, everybody is entitled to contest that opinion. Dr Vertessy appears at Senate estimates to answer questions on matters of fact, not on matters of opinion. If you want to ask him questions on matters of fact I am sure they can be addressed.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Does the climate science support Mr Newman's views?

Senator Birmingham: If you want to put a statement, a particular statement, and ask Dr Vertessy whether climate science, as he understands it, accords with that statement, that is fine. Let us not generalise Mr Newman's views and then seek Dr Vertessy's response.

Senator WATERS: I can spend the next eight minutes reading the op-ed into Hansard, if you like, but I figured that would not be a good use of anybody's time.

Senator Birmingham: I would have hoped you might have come prepared for questions with particular comments that you might want Dr Vertessy to respond to.

Senator WATERS: I have put a comment that I am seeking comment on.

Senator Birmingham: A claim that you might want him to respond to.

Senator WATERS: You have not let him speak yet.

Senator Birmingham: You have not put to Dr Vertessy a properly formed question for Senate estimates.

Senator WATERS: Dr Vertessy, I asked before:

Global warming is the hook. It's about a new world order under the control of the UN.

Does the climate science support that global warming is simply about a new world order under the control of the UN?

Senator Birmingham: I am sorry but I do not think Dr Vertessy is here to comment on Mr Newman's great rhetorical flourish in his op-ed, whatever the merits of the facts, whether they are informed or not, or on the rhetoric of Mr Newman's arguments about whether or not this is a UN conspiracy or the like. If you want to ask him about the climate science, that is fine, but not about the UN.

Senator SINODINOS: Isn't that the province of DFAT, international conspiracy?

Senator Birmingham: That is right. Ask DFAT whether they think there is a conspiracy operating in the UN, if you want, but not the Bureau of Meteorology.

Senator WATERS: I am sure Mr Newman is not your friend, minister. I am sure he is not your adviser or friend, Senator Birmingham.

Senator Birmingham: I have met with Mr Newman. I respect his business credentials.

Senator WATERS: If I can review my question, please.

CHAIR: Excuse me, Senator Waters.

Senator WATERS: Pardon me, I am being interrupted.

CHAIR: I am the chair and I am in control here. So what I would respectfully suggest to you is that if you have a statement of scientific fact or a science statement that Mr Newman has made and you wish to question the validity of that statement in terms of climate science, then maybe ask it now, otherwise we might move on because this is not serving any purpose at all.

Senator WATERS: Thank you, Chair. There are multiple statements which assert facts about climate science that I am intrigued to get the bureau's view about. Given the invitation to do so, I shall go through them all, starting with:

It's a well-kept secret, but 95 per cent of the climate models we are told prove the link between human CO2 emissions and catastrophic global warming have been found, after nearly two decades of temperature stasis, to be in error.   

What is—

Dr Vertessy : That is incorrect.

Senator WATERS: That is incorrect. Thank you.

Senator SINODINOS: Does Newman source his material?

Senator WATERS: No, there are no references in this piece. Another states:

We have been subjected to extravagance from climate catastrophists for close to 50 years.

Is that correct?

Senator Birmingham: It depends how you define 'extravagance'.

Dr Vertessy : I would need something a bit more specific. That is talking about the dialogue that occurs rather than any scientific fact.

Senator WATERS: Indeed. Another is:

In January 1970, Life magazine, based on 'solid scientific evidence', claimed that by 1985 air pollution would reduce sunlight reaching the Earth by half. In fact across that period sunlight fell between 3 per cent and 5 per cent.

Dr Vertessy : I am not familiar with that work at all but I do not think it is relevant to climate change.

Senator WATERS: It is not of significance in determining whether climate change is indeed anthropogenic or not?

Dr Vertessy : Not that I am aware of. There is one related thing that I could talk about a little and that is the so-called process of global dimming, which is the accumulation of pollutants in the atmosphere, which is actually reducing the amount of sunlight that is coming to earth and which, to an extent, is actually suppressing the effects of global warming. And should that pollution be removed we would expect actually an increase in the warming process.

Senator WATERS: I continue, as the chair has allowed me to:

Fast forward to March 2000 and David Viner, a senior research scientist at the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, told The Independent: 'Snowfalls are now a thing of the past.' In December 2010, the Mail Online reported 'Coldest December since records began as temperatures plummet to minus 10C bringing travel chaos across Britain'.

Dr Vertessy : I am not familiar with that particular article but I think it is referring to a bit of an old red herring that suggests that just because you are getting cold weather in the Northern Hemisphere it somehow discredits the fact that there is global warming occurring. There is a perfectly good explanation for that. The theory in global warming does not hold that there will be no cold weather anywhere. In fact there is evidence to suggest that global warming will actually intensify the onset of some cold weather due to the effect of the changing behaviour of the jet stream which wanders around a hell of a lot more latitudinally than it used to as a result of changes to the global climate system. That has the effect of actually bringing more polar air down into some populated areas in the Northern Hemisphere as well as bringing up some hot weather. It is by no means any kind of proof that global warming is not occurring.

Senator WATERS: Another is:

Weather Bureaus appear to have 'homogenised data to suit narratives'.

Dr Vertessy : I reject it.

Senator WATERS: I am quoting here from Maurice Newman:

We've had our own busted predictions. Perhaps the most preposterous was climate alarmist Tim Flannery's 2005 observation: 'If the computer records are right these drought conditions will become permanent in eastern Australia.' Subsequent rainfall and severe flooding have shown the records or his analysis are wrong. We've swallowed dud prediction after dud prediction.

Dr Vertessy : It is someone else's opinion and it is a very broad canvas of ideas in that. I am not quite sure what I could say about that, other than to say that there is already a climate change effect on the rainfall of southern Australia.

Senator WATERS: Another is:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which we were instructed was the gold standard on global warming, has been exposed repeatedly for misrepresentation and shoddy methods.

Dr Vertessy : I would reject that.

Senator WATERS: And then he goes to his real agenda which is concentrated political authority. 'Global warming is the hook'. And the UN is apparently trying to take over the world. He then goes on and on and on. I will not continue. Thank you for clarifying that his statements were variously not correct, not relevant, an old red herring rejected on multiple occasions. Did you offer Mr Newman a briefing on the state of climate science?

Dr Vertessy : No.

Senator WATERS: Have you since?

Dr Vertessy : No.

Senator WATERS: Will you?

Dr Vertessy : No.

Senator WATERS: Have you offered the Prime Minister a briefing on the state of climate science?

Dr Vertessy : No, I have not.

Senator WATERS: Is that something that you might consider doing?

Senator Birmingham: I think, as with all governments, prime ministers, their departments, ministers, their departments, members of the executive request briefings when and where they need them, and they are provided that in the context of certain decision-making processes. I have no doubt that, as matters would have gone through government around the construct of, for example, the highly successful emissions reduction fund, the department would have crystallised within its advice whatever information was relevant from Dr Vertessy and other arms of government in relation to climate science.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Dr Vertessy, does the climate science support the statement that coal is good for humanity?

Senator Birmingham: One—

Senator WATERS: If you are allowed to respond.

Senator Birmingham: Once again, I would note that the Bureau of Meteorology, through its experts in its field, its experts in the field of climate and weather, is not a scientific agency like the CSIRO that has a range of scientific projects into the causes of climate change and that is a scientific agency looking at the occurrence of climate change. But if you want to try asking Dr Vertessy about causes of emissions, then again I am sure he would be quite happy to answer those where he can and otherwise refer you to CSIRO or elsewhere, where that is appropriate, but not to comment on rhetoric once again.

Senator WATERS: So just to be clear, Dr Vertessy is not permitted to answer the question of whether the climate science supports the statement by the Prime Minister that coal is good for humanity?

Senator Birmingham: You are asking Dr Vertessy for an opinion on a rhetorical statement.

Senator WATERS: Based on climate science, correct.

Senator Birmingham: You are asking for an opinion on a rhetorical statement. If you want to ask him about causes of emissions, go your hardest.

Senator WATERS: No, he really did say that. Our Prime Minister really said that.

Senator Birmingham: If you want to ask Dr Vertessy about causes of emissions, go your hardest.

Senator WATERS: Is there anything you feel you are able to contribute?

Dr Vertessy : What I can say is that the primary cause of global warming is the emission of CO2 and the primary reason CO2 emissions are increasing is the burning of fossil fuels. Coal is a fossil fuel.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I think that is fairly self-evident to many of us. Apparently it is not to the Prime Minister. But thank you for your clarity. Can I move back to some questions that Senator Singh was asking about staffing. Just so I am clear on the figures, you said that as at 30 June 2013 there were 117 folk that worked on climate issues as opposed to climate change and that there were currently now 101½ working on climate issues. That is 15½ equivalent people that have been reduced, which is about 13 per cent. What work on climate issues is now not being done as a result of that 13 per cent reduction in staffing?

Dr Vertessy : As I mentioned earlier, the three of the 10 functions that are listed in that table are climate change research, climate variability research and the development of climate models. All of these things are going on in our research branch, basically.

Senator WATERS: Sorry, were you saying that is the work that is now not happening or that is the work that is happening?

Dr Vertessy : No, it is happening. It has being reduced. The overall effort has been reduced by, it looks like, about 15 people.

Senator WATERS: So the reductions have been in climate research, climate variability research and climate models?

Dr Vertessy : That is correct.

Senator WATERS: Can you explain for me the distinction that you make between climate issues and climate change? Can you tell me what those categories are?

Dr Vertessy : Sure. Let me talk about all of the stuff we were talking about earlier with El Nino for instance, which is tracking the state of the Pacific Ocean and the pressure systems around the country, looking at the impacts that that is having on rainfall and temperature, based on our observations. That is a whole lot of what you might just call climate analysis and climate forecasting. That has got nothing to do with climate change science at all.

Likewise, there is all of the work we do on climate statistics that we provide for farmers and people in the energy industry et cetera, telling them what the distribution of solar energy is across the country or what the distribution of soil moisture might be for different seasons and so on. These are again general climate analysis activities that are very important to a lot of stakeholders but they have nothing to do with climate change.

Senator WATERS: Going back to those figures, you have nine people as at 23 February 2015 working on climate change as opposed to those broader climate issues that you just talked through; is that correct?

Dr Vertessy : That is specifically for climate change research. There is another area of climate change which is more in the operational services area. There were two people working on that on 30 June 2013. There are now three people working on that today.

Senator WATERS: There are now three, so you have 12 people currently working on what you would call climate change as opposed to climate issues?

Dr Vertessy : Predominantly on climate change work, yes.

Senator WATERS: You said you have 100—

Dr Vertessy : Sorry, could I hold you back there for a minute. Could we give you a copy of this table that we prepared?

Senator WATERS: Sure.

Dr Vertessy : There would be work that is undertaken currently in the development of climate models. Twelve people are working on the climate models. That is climate change related. Probably the distinction I would draw is that one group is looking at building the models; another group is looking at understanding the processes. There are subtle nuances, but if you really wanted to know how many people were working on climate change related things in the organisation, I am hazarding the guess that it is probably in the order of 30 or so.

Senator WATERS: You have confused me a bit. We have done the figures for climate research and for operational services, and that was 12. There are about an extra 12 on climate models, but then you said there are about 30. How do you get to the 30?

Dr Vertessy : Again I would draw attention to this detailed table that we have provided to a question on notice. If you like, I can read out all of the individual functions—

Senator WATERS: I will look that up. What was the number of that one? I will check that.

Ms Middleton : We will get you the reference number.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. That will help, because we do get a lot of useful QoNs back. So that is 12, possibly 24, possibly around 30, out of 1,669 staff. Is that a traditional proportion of climate change work?

Dr Vertessy : Traditional in what sense? Compared to other meteorological agencies?

Senator WATERS: Along the lines that Senator Singh was asking about before: has that diminished significantly or increased, or is it about the same?

Dr Vertessy : I think I explained earlier that it has decreased by about 15 or 16 people since June 2013.

Senator WATERS: I am trying to remember what you said—that it was not deliberate by the bureau.

Dr Vertessy : No. There is no intent within the Bureau of Meteorology to reduce the amount of climate change activity. The reductions that have occurred reflect changes in the availability of external funding which sustain that activity, and that has diminished. It is not just from the federal government; it is also from state governments and others.

Senator WATERS: I want to go to that now. You mentioned that you have some external funding from Defence, from state governments and also from offshore oil and gas.

Dr Vertessy : Yes.

Senator WATERS: Can you tell me about your offshore oil and gas work? How many staff do you have through that capital program working on offshore oil and gas?

Dr Vertessy : I might go to Dr Canterford on that.

Dr Canterford : We do have some figures here. I have an approximate number of about 30, but I would need to check our table.

Senator WATERS: So it is about the same amount of people doing climate change work as doing offshore oil and gas?

Dr Canterford : Let me confirm the number first.

Ms Middleton : In terms of our external revenue, in the last financial year, 2013-14, we generated about $74 million worth of revenue. In terms of headcount that equated to roughly 300 staff at one time or another during the course of that financial year that were actively engaged in delivering services that were funded from the private sector. We provide about $6 million worth of commercial weather services to the offshore oil and gas industry. Those are bespoke services, where the oil and gas industry is looking for additional services beyond what we traditionally provide to the public—beyond what we are appropriated to provide. Specifically, it is around early warnings regarding tropical cyclones and other events that affect their production. So they are quite specific services where the industry actually defines the parameters and the nature of the service that they want and they pay to have dedicated forecasters available to provide that service to them.

Senator WATERS: Are there any other examples of the nature of the work performed for the offshore oil and gas industry beyond the clearly very useful predictions of tropical cyclones?

Ms Middleton : Predominantly it is in the tropical cyclone space.

Senator WATERS: Is there anything else you can mention?

Dr Canterford : They do other work, for instance, in terms of sea state and swell et cetera for loading and unloading in harbours. Essentially, it is very much an occupational health and safety issue for staff on those rigs to enable them to be evacuated before a serious event. So it is very much an operational service. It is funded by the offshore oil and gas industry. These staff work alongside our normal appropriation funded staff.

Senator WATERS: So that is a focus on safety. Is there any production-relevant work? You mentioned that the assistance is essentially for safety, and no-one would dispute the need for that. Is there any additional work or any relevance to the production ability of those sectors as a result of your advice?

Dr Canterford : I am sure that the type of information services we provide would assist, but I would not have knowledge of the production capabilities myself. We provide a service under contract. We do have, of course, other specific cost-recovered funding that we receive from the aviation industry for safe operation of aircraft, and also from the Department of Defence for assistance to them. These are longstanding arrangements we have with both of those industries.

Senator WATERS: Thanks for responding to the best of your ability. Could you take on notice your awareness, or anyone in the bureau's awareness, of any effect on production capacity for offshore oil and gas as a result of the bureau's advice?

Ms Middleton : I might just clarify that. In our discussions, when we provide a customised or bespoke service to the offshore oil and gas industry, they essentially advise us of the information they need and we provide them with a quote for what it will cost in addition to our normal public forecasting to produce that information for them. We are not actually privy to the decision making that the offshore oil and gas industry takes. So we would not be in a position within the bureau, nor would we hold that information, to say what the impact would be of decisions around offshore oil and gas rig evacuation in a cyclone event. We would not have that information within the bureau. That would be a question to ask the offshore oil and gas industry.

Senator WATERS: How do you know it is all relevant for safety?

Ms Middleton : They basically say to us, 'These are key thresholds for us in which we need forecasts.' So we respond to those. We are not actually privy to their decision making.

Senator WATERS: You just assume it is safety related?

Ms Middleton : Yes, that is what they have advised us. But it is very general.

Senator WATERS: That is what they have advised you or that is what you think?

Ms Middleton : Yes. In terms of how they operationalise their plans in severe weather or extreme weather, they have time thresholds. So they have indicated to us when it is useful for them to have particular forecasts available to them of a particular weather phenomenon—wind speeds, wave heights and those sorts of things—so that they can activate their operational plans. As to why they have those thresholds, we are not privy to that information.

Senator WATERS: I have a final few questions on a different topic. There was a program called the Environmental Information Program. My understanding is that BoM was in charge of it, and I think it expired last year. Do you know if anyone is doing that work now?

Dr Vertessy : No, it has not expired. It became an ongoing measure for the bureau.

Senator WATERS: Can you tell me more about that?

Dr Vertessy : Yes, I can. It is a small program. It resides within our environment and research division. It is undertaking a few things. It is the home of our so-called eReefs activity, which I believe you asked us about before. We are working with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the Queensland government, AIMS, the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority and CSIRO to build a suite of different technologies that can help to more sensitively manage the Great Barrier Reef. Through that Environmental Information Program we have put together one operational product, and that is the marine water quality dashboard, which basically takes remote sensing data from satellites and produces maps of water quality in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon each day. So you can go onto the bureau's website now and every day see an updated map of what the water quality conditions are. That has been one of the products that we have produced under the program. We are now working on a hydrodynamic model for the Great Barrier Reef so that we can forecast what the circulation patterns will be in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon seven days ahead. That is work that is ongoing.

In other areas of the Environmental Information Program we have been looking at things like developing data sharing standards and policies, and working with federal agencies to understand their environmental information needs, and developing those data sharing technologies. They are a few examples of the things that are under way.

Senator WATERS: Can you clarify the funding situation? There was $18 million for BoM over four years, and that funding came to an end in 2013-14. You say it is now an ongoing program. Does that mean you do not have any specific money dedicated to it?

Dr Vertessy : No, it was an ongoing measure.

Senator WATERS: What is the quantum of that?

Ms Middleton : I would say it is about a third of that, so it is in the order of $3 million to $4 million.

Dr Vertessy : Yes, I think it is running at about $3 million to $4 million per year. There is a little bit of extra money in the original measure to do some capital builds of some data infrastructure. We can give you the precise figure on notice.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Can you tell me how much funding and staff time are currently allocated to consolidating environmental information on a continental scale, especially as regards biodiversity?

Dr Vertessy : It is pretty small. Again, I would have to look into that and we could give you a detailed answer.

Senator WATERS: Thank you; I would appreciate that. Specifically, whether there is anyone dedicated to that or whether it is just a responsibility shared amongst a few folk, and what resourcing they have available to them.

Dr Vertessy : I can certainly clarify one thing: we are not in the process of gathering and collating environmental information for the continent. Really, we are focused more on the standards and the technologies for doing it, such that other people can work together in what you might call a federated system whereby we are all doing our own bit and are able to share one another's data.

Senator WATERS: Thank you for your assistance today.

CHAIR: On 19 May this year CPSU secretary Nadine Flood tweeted:

Storms ahead. Cold & wet in Melb as weather bureau BOM staff walk off the job.

Can you tell me how many of the bureau's staff participated in that protected industrial action?

Ms Middleton : It was only a handful. Each staff member that undertakes protected industrial action is required to notify their manager that they are taking that protected industrial action. I do not have a specific number with me but it was in the order of 10 to 20.

CHAIR: Did this have any impact or did you report any impact of the action in terms of the operation of your agency?

Ms Middleton :You would appreciate we are an operational agency that has been operating for more than a century. There are a whole lot of reasons why we might have robust planning around business continuity in the event that we do not have staff available. In response to the protected industrial action, we are simply activating those plans. It is disruptive in terms of additional work for management in terms of making sure shifts are covered so that there is no impact to the public at all from this industrial action. It is disruptive to us internally, but we are absolutely confident that we will continue to manage any further protected industrial action so that there is no diminishing of services to the public.

CHAIR: So, in summary, there was negligible, if any, impact on the agency. Thank you very much for your attendance here today.