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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
25/05/2015
Estimates
ENVIRONMENT PORTFOLIO
Director of National Parks

Director of National Parks

[14:40]

CHAIR: Would you care to make an opening statement before we go to questions?

Ms Barnes : No, thank you.

Senator McGRATH: My questions focus around the yellow crazy units, with which I am slightly obsessed. These things are scary. I have nightmares about them. Can you outline the steps being taken to achieve your program deliverable yellow crazy ants biocontrol program in line with relevant approvals, which is on page 191 of the PBS?

Ms Barnes : Yes, I share your concern about yellow crazy ants. When it comes to land managed by the Director of National Parks, I am particularly interested in the impacts of yellow crazy ants on Christmas Island. What we know is that the introduction of yellow crazy ants there many, many decades ago continues to be an ongoing threat to the biodiversity of Christmas Island. In fact, because the food supply to the crazy ants increased over the years, the crazy ants are now at a super colony stage at Christmas Island.

My predecessor, Peter Cochrane, actually started work with La Trobe University to look at what could be done about the whole yellow crazy ants problem there and its impact on crabs and threatened species. They have been working for a number of years as to what the solution could be. At the moment we are controlling them through the use of baiting, but that is fairly ineffective. You have to do it every year, and we are just really maintaining the ground. The work that the La Trobe University has done, however, has actually said to us that there is a potential to bring in a biological control to Christmas Island, a very, very, very small micro wasp, to break the cycle of food and ant, and actually introduce that small wasp that will then eat some of the food supply and will then actually help reduce the number of yellow crazy ants.

It has been a very extensive scientific study that has been going for about four years looking at different things that could be done. Of course, it has to be thorough, because introducing any sort of biocontrol is a risk. We have reached the stage now where we have taken the advice of the scientists and we have an application in to various government departments to look at importing this small wasp as a biocontrol agent.

Senator McGRATH: What time frame will you be operating under?

Ms Barnes : The application at the moment is before both the Department of Agriculture and also the Department of the Environment, and we are hoping to get the approvals, if it is approved, in the next few months. We are hoping to start the program by the end of this year.

Senator McGRATH: Is the plan to eradicate the ants rather than merely contain them? My own experience is up in Far North Queensland.

Ms Barnes : To be realistic, we think we will be able to control them rather than eradicate them. What has happened over the last few decades is that the food supply has grown in abundance, and therefore the colonies have grown in accordance with the food supply.

Senator McGRATH: What do you mean by 'the food supply has grown in abundance'?

Ms Barnes : The ants mainly eat scale or a lac attached to the plants. The amount of scale or lac has increased enormously on the plants. It just means the ants have a greater food supply, and this has actually tipped them into a super colony on Christmas Island. I am not sure at what stage the other yellow crazy ants are in Western Australia, but certainly on Christmas Island for many, many decades they were there but they were not the problem they are now. It is this sort of explosion due to extra food that the scientists tell us has made them such an issue. The recommendation we have is that if we reduce the food supply by bringing in something that will actually destroy the food supply, we will be able to control the ants to a lesser number. We have not talked about eradication.

Senator McGRATH: When is the current funding for the yellow crazy ant program due to end?

Ms Barnes : The funding for the exploration of the options finishes this year, but if we move into the operational phase we are hoping that we will be able to reduce our baiting program. We know that, in using a biological control agent, we will need some funding initially, but then through that control agent we will be able to reduce the use of poison and actually reduce our budget in the long term.

Senator McGRATH: How are the Green Army teams being utilised?

Ms Barnes : On Christmas Island we are putting forward an application to use the Green Army teams out there. We will be looking to use them in hopefully some of the regeneration work there or potentially some of the cat baiting work we are doing.

Mr Thompson : I might just add to that. Beyond the parks that Ms Barnes looks after, there has been funding for three Green Army teams to help protect and conserve the wet tropics management world heritage area.

Senator McGRATH: I think they are doing a fantastic job, having met with some of them up in Edmonton. I think they are doing fantastic work.

Mr Thompson : You are aware of that work that is being done?

Senator McGRATH: Yes. Is the department or the minister aware of your request for an extension of the funding, especially for the Green Army teams up in Far North Queensland?

Mr Thompson : Not aware of an extension. I understand from my briefing here that there will be an application for an additional set of Green Army teams, and we will consider those.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go through the current review, and then have some budget issues. In terms of the review process, I understand that the consultations have all now been completed; is that correct?

Ms Barnes : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go back to the bioregional advisory panels and just ask a few questions in terms of the makeup of those panels. In terms of the members of the panels that were representing commercial and recreational fishing interests, how were they selected?

Ms Barnes : The panels were selected from a broad range. Mr Clark can go into the membership of each panel and some of the stakeholder consultations.

Mr Clark : The panel membership was not established on the basis of representing a particular sector per se.

Senator SIEWERT: Were they expertise based?

Mr Clark : They were expertise based.

Senator SIEWERT: I appreciate that. How was that determined?

Mr Clark : It was a matter for a decision between the minister and Parliamentary Secretary Colbeck.

Senator SIEWERT: Did they pick all of them?

Mr Clark : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: For the fishing interests that were on there, are you saying that they were not representing fishing interests; they were there because of their expertise? Is that correct?

Mr Clark : That is correct. In establishing the panels, they were seeking to have a broad range of experience, not just having the networks and linkages to various groups and communities, but also to bring their relevant expertise to assist the panel chairs in making their assessments of the review.

Senator SIEWERT: Were there commercial and recreational fishing interests on those panels? I am not asking if they were representing them there, but were there?

Mr Clark : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: There were?

Mr Clark : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: They were not representing themselves; is that what you are saying? They were supposed to be providing expertise?

Mr Clark : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: What other areas of expertise were present on the panel?

Mr Clark : As you are aware, there are five bioregional advisory panels. The compositions of each of those panels varied depending on both the region and particular issues that might be relevant to that region. For example, in some regions there was representation from Indigenous interests. In other regions there was representation or experience from the recreational fishing sector. In some other regions there was a greater degree of representation of community and local government expertise to bring to the review. In each of those regions, the experience would have varied depending on the region.

Senator SIEWERT: Did any of the panels have any expertise from the tourism, the dive sector or, in fact, environmental NGOs?

Mr Clark : No.

Senator SIEWERT: Did you not consider that you needed expertise, or the government did not, on those forms of recreational use or tourism industry, a big industry in the marine environment, or any environment NGOs had any expertise to offer?

Mr Clark : The composition of those panels, as I said, was quite broad ranging, but ultimately the decision of the composition was a matter for the minister.

Senator SIEWERT: What provisions were in place to deal with conflict of interest? Clearly commercial and recreational fishers would have a conflict of interest.

Mr Clark : That is a good question. There was quite an extensive program in place for each of the members of the panels, before they started the process, to be aware of their obligations as members of the panels. There was also quite an extensive program where any interests, either perceived or real, are declared prior to making assessment or judgments. There is the provision that, on occasions, members of panels can exclude themselves from certain discussions if they feel that, for whatever reason, they might either be perceived to be or otherwise conflicted. That has been a matter of quite a degree of focus throughout the review.

One of the advantages of having co-chairs of the review—this is the co-chairs of Mr Peter Cochrane and Professor Colin Buxton—is that they have sat in on the vast majority of all the meetings of all the bioregional advisory panels, and through that they have been able obviously to bring a coordinated and consistent approach to the conduct of each of the panels, and in particular with a focus on ensuring that the panels are conducting themselves in an appropriate way.

Senator SIEWERT: Were declarations of interest made through the planning process? You said then there were provisions, and I ask whether they were in fact made. How many and when?

Mr Clark : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you take on notice for all the panels how many declarations of interest were made, if they were made during the public consultation process and when they were meeting as panels for each of them, please? I do not know whether it is appropriate to give them against the names, but certainly the expertise they were representing if you cannot give me the names.

Ms Barnes : For this information we would have to consult with the chairs of the review, because they are running the process. We will consult with them and see whether they were implementing the guidelines.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be much appreciated. I presume that there was a process, when the people were appointed—and I appreciate that you may not be able to answer this because you have told me already it was the minister and the parliamentary secretary—and I presume those potential conflicts of interest were considered at the time of appointment of the panel members?

Ms Barnes : We cannot answer that.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you perhaps take on notice the process and the time of appointment for considering the conflict of interest for those appointments? That would be appreciated, thank you. The main areas of expertise that were represented on the panel were obviously recreational and commercial fishing. Could you go back over some of those other areas of interest that you did that were on the panels—the areas of expertise? We have had obviously commercial and recreational fishing. What other areas?

Mr Clark : Some may be characterised in a number of ways, their degree and variety of expertise. For example, on the Northwest Bioregional Advisory Panel there was Associate Professor Stephan Schnierer, who has advised on a number of matters including fisheries related, but he is an Associate Professor at the School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Southern Cross University. In the Southwest Bioregion, there is Ms Sue Middleton, who is the Chair of the Western Australian Regional Development Trust. She has varied experience in a range of agricultural consultation issues. In the Temperate East region, in addition to commercial fishing expertise, there is Professor William Gladstone from the University of Technology, Sydney, who again has a broad background in a range of marine and sustainable use matters. In the Coral Sea region there is Ms Larissa Hale, whose experience extends primarily in Indigenous engagement and also through her roles in a range of management roles or formerly executive director roles on a number of Indigenous corporations, and experience with land and sea ranger programs. In addition to that expertise in commercial and recreational fishing, there is a broad range of other expertise that gets brought to the table. In addition to that, obviously, you have the two co-chairs of the review who bring their wide experience to the program.

Senator SIEWERT: I wanted to ask specifically about the ongoing management of the marine parks. I do have a range of questions that I will put on notice, but I did want to ask specifically about the current expenditure on the existing marine parks. What process are you going through at the moment for the marine parks, both the existing ones that have management plans and zoning plans, and those that do not? Did I make myself clear?

Mr Clark : Yes, I think so. There are 26 reserves that are currently under active management. There are those reserves that are under interim management arrangements that were first declared in 2012, but essentially I understand you are talking about the 26 reserves that were declared prior to 2012?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. I want to know about those that were post 2012.

Mr Clark : Those reserves that were declared prior to 2012 are being actively managed. The expenditure in the 2014-15 financial year was approximately $5.3 million. That funding related to a range of usual marine reserve management activities, including compliance, monitoring, stakeholder engagement in a number of particular projects related to each of the reserves, whether it be developing an understanding of the local habitat on some reserves that contain islands. It might have involved some of the preliminary work we are doing to some threat abatement activities on islands. There is also money that went towards research and monitoring, some enforcement actions that were taken, and some management planning around those reserves.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the post 2012 reserves, what budget currently exists for them now, and do you have in the forward estimates money for their management if and when they are reinstated, and how much?

Mr Clark : Those reserves are under transitional management arrangements at the moment which, in effect, mean there is no active management of those reserves. That is a policy decision of the government, which is then given effect by the Director of National Parks putting in place a range of transitional management arrangements or approvals that allow activities to continue as they had prior to the reserves being declared.

Senator SIEWERT: So any existing work that you are doing is ongoing? If you were not, you are doing nothing; is that correct?

Mr Clark : I am not sure that I understand your question.

Senator SIEWERT: The transitional arrangements—if I understood what you just said, you could do what you are doing previously?

Mr Clark : Yes.

Ms Barnes : They did not have management plans and they were not being managed. The activities around compliance is not happening in those reserves at the moment. Once the review is over and the management plans are in place, we are looking at what the funding will need to be for that.

Senator SIEWERT: Is there any money allocated in the forward estimates for those marine parks?

Ms Barnes : Marine parks are not in the Director of National Parks budget, and are not contained in our budget statement. They are in the department's budget, so you cannot see those in the Director of National Parks budget.

Senator SIEWERT: Is there money in forward estimates for the management of those parks when they come back online?

Mr Thompson : I will confirm that when we come back to 1.1, but my understanding is that there is no allocation at this time. That is really bringing forward the finalisation of the management plans and moving stepwise towards management of those marine reserves.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the process for finalisation of the review, is that on track? What time will that process finish?

Ms Barnes : I think it is fair to say that the consultations have been extensive for submissions, and the responses through the surveys have also been extensive, and the chairs are working through a lot of the things that have come in from both the stakeholder meetings but also submissions. At this stage I imagine the review will not be finalised—and I cannot talk on behalf of the chairs—but the signals they are giving us are that there is a lot more work to be done through that process and we would have to ask them when they think they will be delivering the review to government.

Senator SIEWERT: So you do not have an end date?

Ms Barnes : I have not been given an indication personally from the chairs on when they think they will be finished.

Senator SIEWERT: In that case I presume that means you cannot tell me when it becomes operational?

Ms Barnes : No. It is the government receiving the review, the response and then the management planning process.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you remind me what date you expected the review?

Ms Barnes : Originally it was mid-2015.

Senator SIEWERT: That is what I thought. I thought it was due now.

Ms Barnes : Yes, mid-2015. I think it is important to make sure that the panels and the chairs have time to review all the submissions and really get the nub of the issues, and so they have not finished yet.

Senator SIEWERT: I understand what you have just said. Given the discussions that you have had, do you anticipate that it is going to be before the end of this calendar year?

Ms Barnes : From what the chairs have said, it is difficult to say because it is their process but, yes, it would be before the end of this calendar year.

Senator SIEWERT: I have a number of other questions on notice.

Senator URQUHART: I note on page 191 of the PBS that the government is committed to finishing the Commonwealth Marine Reserve review and preparing new management plans. I think this is a drastic back down from the promises in last year's PBS, where it was said to have five new draft management plans released for public consultation from July 2015. Does the government still anticipate receiving the report from the review chairs in mid-2015?

Ms Barnes : No. The chairs are signalling that they will take more time to finish the review and, therefore, the management plans will not be finalised by mid-2015.

Senator URQUHART: Do you have an exact date for when that would be?

Ms Barnes : It is a little bit of a chicken and egg. It depends on when they finalise their review, because we cannot work on the management plans until we hear what has come from that independent review.

Senator URQUHART: If you do not have an exact date, do you have a ballpark date?

Ms Barnes : I do not. Not from the chairs, no.

Senator URQUHART: Are you able to take that on notice and find that out?

Ms Barnes : Yes. I can ask the chairs and report back.

Senator URQUHART: Are you able to report back through the course of today?

Ms Barnes : Tomorrow perhaps. It depends of where the chairs are in terms of what they are doing and other meetings and things.

Senator URQUHART: I would be interested, given what was in last year's report. I also recall that at the supplementary estimates in October you said, 'Once the review panel finalises its work plan and its timetables for consultation we will be in a better position to recalibrate the timing of the management plans.'

Ms Barnes : That is right.

Senator URQUHART: Now that that work plan has been finalised, and indeed the consultation has been finalised, surely by now the timing of those management plans has been recalibrated?

Ms Barnes : We will be in a position to recalibrate the timing for the management plans once the independent review has been finalised. The plan did have them trying to have the report to government by mid-2015, but the depth of issues and the depth of consultation they wish to undertake means that they are not in a position yet to finalise their recommendations to government.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know when the government will be ready to release those new draft management plans?

Ms Barnes : Once they receive the review from the independent chairs. Governments will consider the recommendations of that review and then we can get on with finalising the management plans. My hope is that the consultation has been so extensive in the review and that everyone has had a chance to be consulted in that review so the management planning process should be as fast as possible with meaningful consultation along the way.

Senator URQUHART: Do you think we might see the finalisation of that by the end of this year?

Ms Barnes : I do not think so—not for the management plans. We were very ambitious in last year's work plan ourselves.

Senator URQUHART: What about the end of financial year next year? Do you think that is a likely scenario?

Ms Barnes : It is difficult to be hand on heart, but I would hope that we would be nearly there.

Senator URQUHART: By then?

Ms Barnes : Yes, by the end of next financial year.

Senator URQUHART: So, that is quite a long way out, is it not?

Ms Barnes : It is. The statutory process for management planning for marine reserves has double consultation. As well as the work, there are two quite lengthy statutory processes along the way that we need to adhere to. That is where some of that time comes in.

Senator URQUHART: I note from the latest update of the co-chairs that they have developed a range of possible options for zones and zoning boundaries in a number of the reserves. The chairs note that the options will now be evaluated for the extent to which they improve conservation and also show economic outcomes. Against what baseline will the options be judged to determine whether they are an improvement?

Ms Barnes : The chairs are looking at the zoning. From the information they are putting forward we are doing some work with ABARES to look at the socioeconomic outcomes for those reserves under different configurations. Also, the chairs are working with the expert scientific panel. They are asking them about some of the conservation outcomes as well and some of the science behind their thinking and testing some of that. It is going backwards and forwards to the expert scientific panel. It is seeking the additional information from ABARES on some of those options that is taking that extra time, but I think it is worth doing properly in the review process because that will then help us enormously with the management planning process.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know what the baseline for those options would be or is that still with those bodies?

Mr Clark : Ultimately it is a matter for the chairs, but in their thinking to date it has been against the baseline of what was proclaimed when the reserves were proclaimed. Obviously, in accordance with their terms and reference, the reserves were established under a series of goals and principles. They will be looking at the measurements against the goals and principles of any changes that would take place if there were to be any.

Senator URQUHART: So, basically the baseline would be what was in the previous modelling.

Senator SINGH: I will just continue on that. I noticed in the co-chairs update on 19 May it talks about new steps. I am just paying attention to the language in that update, because it says that it is quite possible that some options which are given to the government will improve socioeconomic outcomes, but it does not say conservation outcomes as such, and so how are the socioeconomic outcomes being measured?

Mr Clark : In meeting with local communities and businesses, I understand that the panels and the chairs have sought to get a better understanding of particular local issues that might relate to a particular business or how it would interact or operate in a reserve or not. By meeting with those local individuals or communities they have a better understanding of not just the water impacts but also potentially any impacts that relate to local communities or associated businesses, whether it be the tourism that is associated with recreational fishing or the supply chain that supports a commercial fishing business. By having a better understanding of that through those local meetings they are trying to determine what, if any, potential impacts it might have and what options are available to address those impacts. Some of that information has been supported by work that ABARES is conducting, which is looking at the value of the catch landed by particular fisheries in particular locations, and that is supporting the process.

Senator SINGH: Is there an actual formula that they are using to make this evaluation of the socioeconomic outcomes or is it some kind of verbal reporting based on their own observations and interactions in these local meetings? Presumably not everyone is attending these local meetings, so it may be a snapshot or it may not be. I am trying to see what kind of formula they are using or if it is a bit of an ad hoc process.

Mr Clark : The meetings are one part of that broader consultation process. Obviously the local communities, businesses and interested people have been invited to make submissions to the process. They have also had the opportunity to fill out surveys.

Senator SINGH: Yes. We went through that last time.

Mr Clark : From that information some of those submissions from businesses were quite detailed in talking about the potential impacts on their business or their community. They have been able to then follow that up with the relevant businesses. We have also taken those submissions and in some cases, in looking at options, those options would also be validated in terms of catch data by working with ABARES to the extent that the submissions received around the historical catch, for example, marries up with that information that is reported through the relevant fisheries management agencies. I am not sure exactly what you mean by 'formula', but they are going through an evidence based process to look at those issues.

Senator SINGH: When I say 'formula', I mean is there a set of specific criteria that they are applying their socioeconomic outcomes to in their report, which you are waiting for, or is it just anecdotal kind of conversations that they are receiving?

Mr Clark : ABARES has quite a sophisticated process by which they look at the catch data, the landed data for particular fisheries. In this case we have entered into agreements with state fisheries agencies as well so that we have the catch data from state fisheries where they intersect with the Commonwealth marine reserve and Commonwealth fisheries. That data is available to the chairs and the panels to assess the potential impacts of any of the options they are looking at.

Senator SINGH: I will just go back to the draft management plans. You said to Senator Urquhart that they will now be further delayed. Is that correct?

Ms Barnes : They cannot commence them until the review has been submitted.

Senator SINGH: Once it is complete, and that has been delayed.

Ms Barnes : There is then the government response and then we can get on with the management plans.

Senator SINGH: What will be the process once the draft management plans are released?

Ms Barnes : Once the review is received or the draft management plans are released?

Senator SINGH: I am asking about the final outcome, the draft management plans being released. How long will it take? When will we see draft management plans?

Mr Clark : The draft management plans are the second phase of the statutory consultation.

Senator SINGH: Yes. I know that.

Mr Clark : As Ms Barnes mentioned earlier, the process cannot commence until the review process is complete and the government has made its decisions. It is then a statutory 30-day consultation on the notice of intent to prepare management plans. Submissions are received through that process. We reflect on the input received through that process before finalising draft management plans and then putting those out for another 30-day period of consultation.

Quite often, as we have seen through previous processes, the number of submissions made through that notice of intent process have to be considered before the draft plans can be finalised. Sometimes it could be a relatively straightforward and quick process, but other times there will be more issues that are raised that need working through before the draft management plans can be prepared. Again, it is hard to give a definitive answer, but we are talking in the period of a month or two or months rather than weeks before an NOI period can then transfer into a management plan for public comment.

Senator SINGH: I am sorry; what was the answer to that question?

Mr Clark : You asked for a particular date.

Senator SINGH: How long will it take?

Mr Clark : It is not possible to give a start date, but previous experience shows us that the NOI process, after a month of consultation, takes a period to evaluate and then on the basis of that to prepare new plans. As I said, it is not possible to say a definitive, 'It will take five weeks,' or, 'It will take X months,' because until you receive the comments and you have had the opportunity to evaluate them you cannot say definitively, 'We'll have a draft management plan out for consultation.' It is in the period of a few months.

Senator URQUHART: Do I understand you are saying that once the draft management plans are released that they will go out for a 30-day period for consultation?

Mr Clark : That is correct.

Senator URQUHART: So, at the end of that 30-day period, what happens after that?

Mr Clark : The Director of National Parks reflects on those comments received.

Senator URQUHART: For how long?

Mr Clark : For as long as it takes to assess the comments that have been received. On the basis of that there may or may not be any further changes to the plans before they go through their normal process of tabling for giving them effect.

Senator SINGH: I am sure we will be asking these questions again before the year is out. The minister is on record as recently as December saying that 36 per cent of Australia's marine areas are covered by marine protected areas. I think that is similar to an answer in question 9, which also highlighted that. What percentage of that 36 per cent comprises the five marine reserve networks for which the management plans have been revoked?

Mr Clark : I do not have that exact percentage cut in that way in front of me, but I can take that on notice.

Senator SINGH: What do you have available to you? You have the whole department—

Mr Clark : Perhaps I can answer it in a different way. There are 26 reserves out of the 58 that the Director of National Parks manages that are under active management at the moment. So, there are 26 under active management. Primarily they consist of the South-East Commonwealth marine reserve network around Tasmania, with 14 reserves. In addition, another 12 reserves are under active management.

Senator SINGH: I am specifically asking about the marine protected areas. Thirty-six per cent of Australia's marine areas are covered by marine protected areas, and so I am specifically asking about those. You have 36 per cent. You have the five marine reserve networks. We all know that the management plans have been revoked from those five marine reserve networks. What I am trying to ascertain is, out of the 36 per cent of marine areas that are covered by marine protected areas, of the five marine reserve networks what amount is made up of that 36 per cent? I am sure you have information there about the five marine reserve networks, because they once had management plans and so I am sure you are aware of the marine protected areas.

Ms Barnes : The Commonwealth marine protected area estate comprises 60 reserves in total. It covers over 3.1 million square kilometres. It includes the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and, of course, Heard Island and McDonald Island marine reserves. Then there are the other ones that I manage. I can get you the hectares of the reserves. They are all still in the marine system and they are all protected but they do not have management plans. I can get you a breakdown of the hectares that have management plans across that whole marine protected area estate as a follow-up. I do not have that with me at the moment.

Senator SINGH: If you could relate it to the 36 per cent of waters that are within Australia's jurisdiction which now make up the marine protected estate.

Ms Barnes : Yes. The 36 per cent of the waters is 100 per cent of the Commonwealth marine reserves.

Senator SINGH: Yes, but are we clear on what you are taking on notice?

Ms Barnes : Yes. I think I know.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Barnes and Mr Clark.