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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Bureau of Meteorology

Bureau of Meteorology

CHAIR: We will commence. Thank you to the officers from the Bureau of Meteorology and welcome Dr Johnson. Do you have an opening statement?

Dr Johnson : No.

CHAIR: Excellent. We might head straight to questions.

Senator URQUHART: It has been reported that the government has proposed a sell-off of the 3.6 gigahertz radio frequency in relation to the mobile 5G networks. Can you clarify the nature of the negotiations between the bureau and the ACMA?

Dr Johnson : To be clear, Senator, it's the 5.6 gigahertz part of the spectrum, I think.

Senator URQUHART: Sorry, that's me trying to look down there over the top of my glasses!

Dr Johnson : That's all right. I want to make sure we haven't alarmed a whole bunch of folks who are on a different part of the spectrum! As you know, the government made statements about its intention to go to the market around that part of the spectrum. I'm sure you'll ask questions of ACMA, who are responsible for that.

Senator URQUHART: Yes.

Dr Johnson : The bureau has a number of its radars operating currently within that part of the spectrum, and there is a risk to the performance of those radar should that spectrum no longer be accessible to us in its current configuration. So, as you said, we're in discussions with ACMA around how the risks to that particular part of our radar network can be remediated. Those discussions are ongoing, but they're largely technical discussions around how that risk can be remediated.

Senator URQUHART: Are those negotiations and discussions specifically about whether there's an aim to establish separate frequency bands for each organisation? Is that part of the discussion?

Dr Johnson : It's a complex technical area. I think that perhaps one way to describe it best is that there are a number of either engineering or regulatory/licensing options available to ACMA to seek to mitigate the potential risk to the performance of one type of configuration of radar that we have. As I said, we're working with ACMA to understand those potential controls to the risk, and to satisfy ourselves that the risk can be satisfactorily controlled. That process is ongoing, so I'm not really in a position to say where it will land, but we're in dialogue with ACMA about it.

Senator URQUHART: Yes, okay. Can you tell me whether the bands are adjacent to each other? If there are separate frequency bands, are they actually adjacent to one another?

Dr Johnson : No, the bureau has 62 radars, and 32 of them are what we call C-Band, which operates in this 5.6 gigahertz range. The others are what we call S-Band that operate around that 2.60 gigahertz range. I can check if that number is absolutely right. So there's a difference in the frequency in which they operate, and it's only the 5.6 gigahertz C-Band radars that are potentially at risk.

Senator URQUHART: Right. And is there an opportunity for, or can you clarify how there might be, any co-sharing arrangement of the frequency band, and how that might work?

Dr Johnson : One of the options, and I stress it's one of the options, under active discussion is that approximately 10 megahertz of that 5.6 gigahertz bandwidth that the C-band radars use could be set aside for the transmission of our C-band radars. But that requires further technical investigation to really understand whether that partitioning of the 10 megahertz envelope within the 5.6 gigahertz bandwidth will satisfactorily mitigate the risk that we perceive at the moment to those very important services.

Senator URQUHART: I guess some of those important services are around emergency services. Is the bureau confident that the safety and information of those services for forecasting and reporting won't be compromised by government funding decisions in terms of sharing?

Dr Johnson : We're still working through those technical issues. I think it is premature to make any comment at the moment as to whether they will be compromised or not. Certainly, the C-band radars have a deep penetration around the country. Many of them are in regional Australia. Many of them are important not just from an emergency services point of view but also in terms of an economic productivity dimension. So it's very important to us. It's important to our customers and stakeholders. I know it's important to ACMA. We are in a constructive discussion with them to seek to understand the issue and mitigate any risks.

Senator URQUHART: What is the time frame for those discussions? Is there an end life?

Dr Johnson : They're actively ongoing at the moment. I presume the final time frame is really a matter for ACMA, so you probably need to take that up with them and the responsible minister.

Senator URQUHART: I want to go to some information about the climate records for 2018. In April, the bureau released a special climate statement titled 'Exceptional Heat of April 2018'.

Dr Johnson : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: Why did the bureau think it was appropriate to draft and release this statement? I think it's probably unusual? It's not something that you do?

Dr Johnson : No, it's not unusual. We have released 20 special climate statements over the last five years, for example. There are a number of triggers for that, either a particularly significant piece of meteorology or a piece of meteorology that covered a particularly large area or a particular set of weather phenomena in the public interest, or whatever. So there are a number of triggers for that. So the statement that came out in April isn't unusual. It certainly was reporting some unusual weather, but as an instrument that the bureau uses it's not unusual.

Senator URQUHART: Was it because it was exceptional heat in April? That was the purpose for why the bureau released that?

Dr Johnson : Yes. That's right. We had, as you know, a number of records broken, particularly in the south-east of Australia and over some quite significant areas, and so we thought it was appropriate to make public commentary around that particular hot weather.

Senator URQUHART: Can you talk me through the weather patterns immediately preceding that statement?

Dr Johnson : I might ask Mr Webb, my colleague who leads our National Forecast Services, to tease that out in more detail.

Mr Webb : As Dr Johnson said, we do issue these from time to time if the heat is particularly significant in an area, particularly widespread, or long-lived. There were significantly above-average temperatures, a lot of records were broken in different parts and the warmest ever April temperatures in a number of states. I think we had the latest ever occurrence of 45 degrees. Previously, we hadn't had 45 degrees after about 22 or 23 March, and we had it on four separate occasions in this particular year. We had a significantly warm first four months of this year, and the warmest January-April period on record as well. It was a very long-lived heatwave and also in terms of its intensity. The nature of heatwaves is that, at that time of the year, you don't feel them as much because they're not quite the same heat that you get in the heart of summer, but still significantly above average.

Senator URQUHART: Dr Johnson, this statement was titled, as I said, 'Exceptional Heat'. What does the bureau characterise as 'exceptional'? What's your definition? How do you claim that?

Dr Johnson : Again, Mr Webb might have a comment on that. But in my view, just in a layperson's view, it's heat that exceeds expected long-term averages, significantly. It's significant deviations from long-term averages or where we have records broken by significant amounts, and all of those things happened during that period.

Senator URQUHART: Mr Webb, do you have anything to add?

Mr Webb : No. I don't know the actual criteria, but I couldn't add anything further to what Dr Johnson said.

Senator URQUHART: Okay. Could you run me through the weather records that were broken in April?

Dr Johnson : I'll ask Mr Webb to give you that details; there are quite a few—a lot. Would you like maybe just a selection? Or would you be happy for us to table them, or give them on notice.

Senator URQUHART: How many?

Dr Johnson : There are many, many towns. Mr Webb's flicking through pages upon pages.

Senator URQUHART: Is that all the pages you've got there?

Mr Webb : Yes, this is from the same report.

Dr Johnson : Yes, I think in one of the appendices—

Senator URQUHART: Do you want to go to the ones that stand out more and then maybe—well, I'm sure that report's a public document.

Mr Webb : Yes, it is publicly available on our website.

Senator URQUHART: Just run us through the super-exceptional ones, maybe.

Mr Webb : The types of figures that are there—the highest April temperatures on record at Pooncarie of 39 degrees and at Mildura of 42.2 degrees. There are also records in here about the aerial extent of that, or the percentage of a state that might have been affected by the warm temperatures as well. It goes on and on, the numbers, the figures.

Senator URQUHART: So all those records in there were actually broken in April? For every single town that you've identified it was a record temperature?

Mr Webb : Yes. The record temperatures were for April generally.

Senator URQUHART: Okay. According to your records, how out of the ordinary was April's weather?

Mr Webb : That is difficult to answer. Record-breaking is pretty out of the ordinary. You can only break records—

Senator URQUHART: Yes, I think I get what you're saying. Are months like the one we saw in this past April, where weather records are being broken quite substantially, becoming more frequent?

Dr Johnson : I can take that one. I think what we're seeing, and we've discussed this at previous hearings, is that it's difficult to attribute any single event to a changing climate. We do know, particularly around temperature, that there is an overall warming trend. So I think it's fair to say that similar events are more likely than not. We have a high degree of confidence that in the future these sorts of events will continue in line with the trend we're seeing globally around warming temperatures.

Senator URQUHART: So they are becoming more frequent.

Dr Johnson : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: Why is that? Why are they becoming more frequent?

Dr Johnson : Well, it's a complex question, as you know. I think it's well established that overall, at the macro level globally, the earth's atmosphere is heating. The general scientific view is that drivers for that heating are, again, rising levels of greenhouse gases, rising temperatures in the oceans and so forth. How those global phenomena manifest at a local, national and regional scale obviously is highly variable across the planet. But we know that at a global level that warming trend is occurring, and the extent to which that warming trend will continue to progress along its current course is really going to be driven by a whole range of factors, including whatever the future trajectory of global emissions is. That matter of emissions trajectory is well outside the scope of the bureau's remit.

Senator URQUHART: The statement says:

The heat, which was more characteristic of mid-summer than mid-autumn, was unprecedented in many areas in April for its intensity, its persistence or both.

Is this characteristic of a change in climate?

Dr Johnson : As I said before, it's difficult to attribute individual events to global warming. But we know that there's an overall warming trend, and we know there has been some preliminary work done that shows that the warming that we're experiencing would be much less likely to occur under different emissions scenarios. In other words, when you try to factor in the global warming trend it's clear that it's having an impact.

Senator URQUHART: Is it the view of the BOM that the high temperatures in April this year can be attributed, with a high degree of certainty, to human induced climate change?

Dr Johnson : It depends on how you define 'a high degree of certainty'. If you're using IPCC terminology—people ascribe different probabilities to different things. But as I said in my previous answers, we know that the events that we saw in April are part of a broader trend. We know that those warming events are more likely to occur in the future than in the past. So, I think there's a need for some work to be done. There are people working on this to determine the extent to which the April events can be attributed to climate change per se, but we know there's an overall warming trend.

Senator URQUHART: I'm talking about human-induced climate change. That is obviously affecting what we've seen over the period, given it was such a broad area.

Dr Johnson : Correct.

Senator URQUHART: Moving on from April, overall what has been the general weather trend so far in 2018?

Dr Johnson : There again, I will ask Mr Webb. We knew April was very warm and dry. Anyone who's living in southern Australia would know that. We had quite a bit of rain on the east coast during the early part of the summer and we also had a below-average cyclone season. The average is 11; I think we had nine cyclones this summer gone. So, again, one of the great things about this country is the huge diversity in our weather every day. Maybe Mr Webb can talk through some the headline issues, if you like.

Senator URQUHART: And some of the trends.

Mr Webb : I suppose there's the one I mentioned before. The January-to-April period was the warmest start to a year that we've ever seen, in terms of temperature, with significantly warmer than normal conditions around South Australia, across southern parts of New South Wales and right across New South Wales. It was just generally warmer than normal. Rainfall has been particularly dry across Victoria, western Victoria and in South Australia and southern New South Wales. Earlier in the year, through various tropical incursions, the northern part of Queensland had a lot of rain and flooding, but it was particularly dry over the southern parts. That's the sum total. The cyclones were fairly quiet early on, but then we had quite a number towards the end, hovering around different parts of Australia.

Senator URQUHART: So the trend is that they're later than they would normally be?

Mr Webb : No, there's no real trend that we can see over time; there's not enough data in the cyclone signal to get a sense of that. We've always had late cyclones. The season goes right through to April, and there were quite a number of fairly large ones in the March-April period. That wasn't particularly out of the ordinary, but it was just a quieter start to the season than might otherwise have been normally expected.

Senator URQUHART: Would you characterise, according to the data you've collected so far this year, this year's weather as having seen a trend of above-average temperatures?

Mr Webb : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: Do you have any projections for the rest of the year? What's it going to look like?

Mr Webb : At the moment long-term projections are tricky. We're in a fairly neutral climate cycle; there are no strong broadscale drivers. But, for most of the country, we would be anticipating fairly normal conditions, over the next three months anyway. The southern parts of the country—

Senator URQUHART: What's normal?

Mr Webb : Average.

Senator Birmingham: It depends where you are.

Senator URQUHART: That's what I—

Mr Webb : Average conditions for wherever you are. The southern parts are probably a little bit warmer than normal, particularly the south-western part of Western Australia. It's a little bit warmer than normal. It's less likely that they'll get lots of rainfall through there—and across Victoria and Tasmania, as well, there are greater chances of above-average conditions.

Senator URQUHART: Good. So we'll have a warmer winter. Is that what you're telling me? Be nice.

Mr Webb : I've only just moved to the south of Australia and I don't think I'd ever describe it as warm.

Senator URQUHART: Will we continue to see above-average temperatures?

Mr Webb : I think the odds are leaning towards that across the southern part of Australia. For the rest of it there'll be a mix of above and below average. The time scales we're talking about—there will be periods of very cold weather as well and frosts. We already see that.

Senator URQUHART: Do you anticipate releasing any more climate statements this year?

Dr Johnson : I think it really depends on what happens with the weather.

Senator URQUHART: Yes, exactly.

Dr Johnson : If I could read the weather in advance, my life would be a lot easier.

Senator URQUHART: I thought you guys did a pretty good job. I watch it, and you're pretty spot on nowadays.

Dr Johnson : The skills of our team are very high.

Senator URQUHART: They are.

Dr Johnson : As I said before, if the conditions that we observe necessitate or trigger a special climate statement then we will do so, as we have with the other 20 that we've issued in the last five years.

Senator URQUHART: That's all I have. Thank you.

Senator MOORE: I just have one follow-up. I want to get an idea of what the market is for your special climate statements. Who is that directed to, and who's your audience?

Dr Johnson : It's a good question. Obviously there's a lot of interest in these statements within the general community. People are trying to reconcile the environment that they observe around them every day and put it into some sort of historical context, so I think the primary customer is clearly the general community. Clearly the special climate statements provide a window, I suppose, into the capabilities that the bureau has in analysing and interpreting meteorological data, and that data is also very useful for our customers in the emergency services space or in industry or wherever. So there are multiple audiences, but I think that, particularly for those special climate statements, the general public would be the primary customer.

Senator MOORE: Is the website the model for distribution?

Dr Johnson : The website's certainly one of our models. As you know, we have a very diverse set of channels. We distribute our knowledge and our insight around the country. The website's still very important, but, as I have in the past in these hearings, I draw your attention to our app.

Senator MOORE: That was a Dorothy Dixer! I was leading you to your app.

Dr Johnson : Thank you. I'm pleased to report we've just cracked just under 3.6 million users in our app now.

Senator MOORE: That goes to the next question.

Dr Johnson : Yes. It's growing and it's fantastic. I think just this year gone we had that app accessed just over 28 million times by the community, so it's a phenomenal reach and penetration into the community. What we're seeing is entirely consistent with our plans for other forms of engagement in the community: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We have nearly 760,000 followers on Facebook and so on. We have half a million followers on Twitter. So, as you know better than anyone, people are engaging with the community every day. The way the community's receiving information, processing it and acting upon it is changing fundamentally. So the website, traditionally important, will remain important, but those other channels will grow in importance, I think, in the way in which we reach our community every day.

Senator MOORE: The way it comes up on the app is just a note saying 'special climate statement'?

Dr Johnson : I'm not sure whether we actually drew the community's attention on the app, but certainly we did on those other channels—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We may even have recorded a video; I can't remember. We also do a lot of videos around severe weather. I'm sure one of those channels would have alerted the community.

Senator MOORE: On notice—because it's just one of those questions—could you tell me the resources within the bureau that are focused on this form of communication. We talked about that a couple of estimates ago in terms of the app development and now maintaining it. The other thing is that it's got to be up to date at every moment, because your audience is quite demanding and critical.

Dr Johnson : Indeed they are. I get a lot of customer feedback.

Senator MOORE: So I just put that on notice.

Dr Johnson : Yes, sure. We're happy to take that.

Senator MOORE: Thank you very much.

Senator PATRICK: I have a couple of questions. One might require me, for the benefit of the witnesses, to table something that I can refer to. It's from the report that you supplied in response to a question on notice about the Pel-Air incident. You will recall that at the last estimates there was something—it's really just the one page. It's talking about estimation of cloud bases at the time of the Pel-Air accident, and it talks about the use of a ceilometer. It goes on to say:

The ceilometer will function normally in light precipitation, shallow fog—

Dr Johnson : Sorry, Senator. Can I just get clarification: are you reading from what you've just distributed?

Senator PATRICK: Yes, I am.

Dr Johnson : Could you just point us to the paragraph.

Senator PATRICK: Yes, the second last paragraph. The second sentence says:

The ceilometer will function normally in light precipitation, shallow fog and blowing dust or snow. However as these weather phenomena increase in intensity, a point will be reached where the ceilometer can no longer unambiguously identify the cloud base.

The way I read that as a layman is that, when the weather's good, the reporting is good, but, when the weather's poor, the reliability of the sensor fails. Of course, you'd understand the significance of poor weather on any flight that were to go to an area relying on such a sensor. It says the fallback to that seems to be to use manual observers, but my understanding is that there has been a decrease in the number of manual observers at a number of sites around Australia. Are you able to tell me: has the situation changed now with that particular sensor? Have we advanced further as time has marched on, or are we still in the same situation?

Dr Johnson : That's a really specific question. I'd want to make sure I give you an absolutely accurate answer, so I'll take it on notice if that's all right.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. Related to that, I presume the airport operator pays for an observer?

Dr Johnson : No, not to my knowledge.

Senator PATRICK: Airservices?

Dr Johnson : No.

Senator PATRICK: Or BOM?

Dr Johnson : No. As you said, we have an extensive observation network. Many of our stations are fully automated. A number of our stations have both automated and manual observers and some have manual observers on their own. Again, depending on that particular station, I'd need to take that specifically on notice if that's all right.

Senator PATRICK: I recall there was an observer mentioned in the media recently about, I think, Lord Howe Island.

Dr Johnson : No; it's at Norfolk. This is a local person, if we're talking about the same person, who's been providing—and I don't mean this in a disrespectful way to this individual—amateur observations, so not authorised observations, and providing that to the airlines, I believe. Again, you'd have to direct that question—my knowledge of that is only what I read in the public domain, so I'm not certain of what the true story is.

Senator PATRICK: Where I'm going is that, in the case of Pel-Air, weather had a part to play in that accident or that incident, and there are regular public transport flights to places like Norfolk and Lord Howe. If we have a sensor—and I understand limitations of sensors are not necessarily your fault; they are what they are—I'm wondering how we address that. The fallback appears to be manual observers. I'm happy with the concept of a fallback, but it also appears as though we might be scaling back some of those services. Or are you simply saying that that particular person—

Dr Johnson : That person is not an employee of ours. Matters around safety at airports are matters for CASA, not the bureau. We provide observations at airports around the country—major airports and regional airports and so on. Those observations are provided under a very strict safety regime determined by CASA and we engage very closely with them on that. So ultimately it's CASA's decision around what the appropriate set of measurements or observations is to ensure safety at the aerodromes, not the bureau's.

Senator PATRICK: But do you accredit the observers?

Dr Johnson : Yes. If they are a bureau observer, they will have been accredited by the bureau.

Senator PATRICK: So in this instance where it's not an accredited—

Dr Johnson : I believe it's just a member of the general public who's lived at that location for a long time, is a committed citizen and wants to provide a community service, but if we're talking about the same person—

Senator PATRICK: I think we are.

Dr Johnson : we may well be—then that person is not accredited by the bureau, to the best of my knowledge. But Mr Webb might contradict me.

Mr Webb : At my peril. No. If I could just add in relation to the paragraph that you read out of this particular report that, when the visibility gets so bad that the actual piece of equipment can't tell the difference between the horizontal—when it's looking up, it's not sure what the cloud base is, so it's already saying conditions are quite bad. The conditions will be reported by the automated equipment as bad conditions, but it starts to look—the visibility might be 1,500 metres and it's going: well, how do I know if it's the cloud base or if it's the horizontal visibility?

Senator PATRICK: Sure, but does it get to a point where it adjusts a confidence level in circumstances where it knows it's going to have trouble dealing with a particular situation?

Mr Webb : No. I'd have to check that. I'd have to check those figures.

Senator PATRICK: You see what I'm saying?

Dr Johnson : Yes, I understand where you're coming from. If there are specific concerns you have, we'd be very happy to seek to clarify them on notice.

Senator PATRICK: I'm just wondering how we progress in these areas where there's a known limitation that does affect regular transport flights, and in some sense you're saying that, really, I need to direct some questions at CASA for this.

Dr Johnson : If you're interested in safety matters at Australia's airports, that's a matter for CASA. We provide a set of services, as many others do, at those airports, but we're not the only ones. They ultimately make decisions on safety and safety parameters.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you, Dr Johnson. I want to ask another short series of questions. It's a matter we've had a private discussion about, and the minister may wish to have a bit of a listen as we progress this. Just to give some background, in a references committee I have asked some questions of a whole range of agencies. The initial question was a very simple one: for a range of different projects, what was the budget for the project at the time of first approval, what was the spend of the project to date, and what was the current budget—because sometimes the budgets will move as a result of changes of scope and so forth? BOM basically didn't answer those questions, citing the fact that they are not for publication in the budget. The conversation that I've had with Dr Johnson, Minister, is one of trying to work out how the Senate has oversight over a project. One useful way of doing that is tracking the money. Another useful way is to track milestones and see if milestones are being hit. You can do that at a very top level without delving into details that would otherwise cause damage or raise security concerns. Alternatively, looking at things like risk registers and watching the risks retire is another useful method for oversight.

In response to answers that I considered to be unsatisfactory, I tried another set of questions that would at least give the Senate some way to have some oversight, and now I've got answers back saying you can't even tell me how many full-time equivalent employees are working on a project. I've never seen that anywhere for any project in the Senate. I have asked questions as to how much money has been spent. That gives no details as to the budget. Indeed, you are making a claim that you can't tell the Senate how much money is associated with a project. I asked how many subcontractors and subprojects are involved. We know there are seven; that's on the public record now. I say it's not necessarily possible to identify or cause commercial damage when you've got seven entities or seven subcontractors—or tenders involved; sorry.

So I'm looking for some help. In the latest round of answers, you have provided me at least with what contracts have been let and are on AusTender, and that's very helpful. But still, in asking for the project management plan, I was really after milestones that I can get to so that I can come back in three months time and say, 'Have you met that milestone?' Yet I've got no response back. I'm seeking help, and I'm not trying to be unreasonable.

Senator Birmingham: Perhaps you would help me if you referenced the particular question on notice that you're referring to.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. The question has been asked through the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee in relation to digital services. I'm happy to provide that to the minister.

Senator Birmingham: I think I've got it in front of me.

Dr Johnson : While the minister is digesting that, as per our private conversations, I think we both share exactly the same motivation here, which is to make sure that the taxpayers of Australia get fair value for money from their investment and that precious public resources are expended as effectively as possible.

Senator PATRICK: Without damaging security as well. We both agree on that.

Dr Johnson : I was just going to get to that: without compromising the national interest and so on. Our view, and the view of the various portfolios that are responsible for making the rules by which we are bound, is that disclosing or linking milestones to quanta of investment and those things—particularly at this juncture, when we're in the process of commencing or have already commenced and are scaling up a very significant amount of procurement—would put at risk the commercial position of the Commonwealth. If we disclose that, any competent operator will be able to easily deduce the relative weightings of the various work packages and potentially place themselves in an advantageous position in the negotiations that we will have with them. Once a contract has been let, there's no problem, in my view, with making that information available, as we have provided to you in that recent batch of QONs where there are hundreds of procurements in this program. When that procurement has been made, we will make those available. They're on the public record. We've done that.

Senator PATRICK: How about broader project milestones that once again don't have to be attached to a money amount but simply have to allow us to come back and say: 'Have you hit that one? You said you were going to hit it by June 2018.'

Dr Johnson : I'd have to take advice on this. I'd like to have time to contemplate this. If you were prima facie and you were asking us to map out for you the core elements of the program and their temporal distribution, that may be possible, but if they're associated with money connecting an investment quantum to a milestone, I think that fundamentally compromises our market position. This is, by Defence standards, not a large project, but it's a large project, nonetheless, with a lot of public money being spent. We have to make every dollar work here.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. I'd just point out that in some sense, in relation to the commercial concern that you raised, there are other projects that give this information that are in the same position as you.

Dr Johnson : That may well be the case but the government has taken a decision following the cabinet decision that these are not for publication. We're honouring the decision that the Department of Finance has taken under the budget rules.

Mr Pratt : Dr Johnson is not available to release this information. The Treasury's documents, the budget papers, make it very clear it's not for publication. I'm sure you know this: there are three reasons why the Commonwealth does not publish information of this sort. One relates to where we have negotiations with the state governments. The second one is around national security issues. The third one is around commercial in confidence. This falls clearly in those latter two criteria. It is not open for these sorts of things to be discussed in a public forum of this sort.

Senator PATRICK: For example, a large aircraft program by Defence has those elements in it as well. It involves moving a commercial negotiation forward and, indeed, national security.

Mr Pratt : If the government has made a judgement that it's not for publication, our hands are tied.

Senator PATRICK: That is not an accepted public interest immunity claim in the Senate. You have to advance something else. I don't mind if you say, 'It's commercial in confidence,' because that is a public interest immunity, or, 'It is national security,' or 'It's legal privileged'—in fact, that one doesn't apply. It's the same under FOI. I've been involved in litigation where the Commonwealth says, 'But the Prime Minister doesn't want this published.' In actual fact, under FOI the only question that a decision-maker asks is, 'Does it fall within an exemption?' Just because a government says, 'You can't do that,' doesn't necessarily mean in law that you can withhold it from the Senate or, indeed, under FOI. It has to be substantiated.

Mr Pratt : I'm certainly not arguing that, but on national security and commercial-in-confidence grounds it is the government's view this information is not available for publication.

Senator PATRICK: The alternate could be—once again I'm trying to be reasonable here—that you simply say: 'Milestone one is on this date. Milestone two is on this date. Milestone three is on this date.' There are ways you can deal with each level of commercial and/or security concerns where we can still check off those milestones without revealing anything other than if you're on time and if you're progressing.

Mr Pratt : I think Dr Johnson has undertaken to take that on notice to see if there is something we can do to be more helpful.

Senator PATRICK: I'm not trying to pry. I think we've had a good discussion on this.

Dr Johnson : I'm happy to continue our discussions, because, as I've said, I think our motivations are entirely aligned. I need to understand at what level of granularity you'll be satisfied, because there are literally hundreds of milestones in this program. This program goes until 2022. You could, frankly, drown in detail, so we can have a discussion.

Senator PATRICK: Typical milestones might include, for example, acceptance into operational service or trials commenced.

Dr Johnson : That's why I think it might be worth taking this offline to have a discussion, because there are many, many work packages. It fundamentally covers the entire ICT and observational networks of the bureau, so they're extensive—websites, computers, the whole lot. I'm happy to talk to you further about it.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you.

Mr Pratt : I always find that clarifications are helpful. They might give us a guide as to what we could do.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much. Thank you, Minister.

CHAIR: Problem solved. Senator Griff?

Senator GRIFF: I just have a handful of questions. I understand in February the bureau suspended a third-party company from providing advertising material due to the scam ads that were placed on the bureau website. Is that third party still suspended?

Dr Johnson : Yes, they are.

Senator GRIFF: How many third parties pay to place advertising on your website?

Dr Johnson : That is a good question. I'll see if I can get that for you. I've just been advised we have arrangements with two third parties, one of which has been suspended.

Senator GRIFF: So the other party is the active party?

Dr Johnson : It's still active, yes.

Senator GRIFF: What procedures have you put in place to prevent what happened in February taking place again?

Dr Johnson : It's important to understand and set this in context. Our whole advertising policy is underpinned by quite a significant and detailed set of interventions. We have a four-stage review process. Some of that's automated; some of that involves human beings actually undertaking manual checks. That process is still in play, and for the very large majority of activity on the bureau site has stood the test of time. The learning from this recent incident is that we are reliant still and always will be on the procedures of some of our third-party providers. So, in the case of one of these third-party providers, we actually suspended them. We had legitimate concerns about their capacity to block activity that's contrary to the bureau's policies, so the action we took was to suspend them. With the other party, we feel that the procedures they have in place don't present at this juncture any further risk, but that option's available to us as well if we form a view otherwise. But, as I said, the bureau has a four-layered approach to seek to prevent that happening.

It's worth saying that it's a gift that keeps on giving. There are lots of people out there who spend their whole life trying to engage in unhelpful behaviour, so there are never any guarantees. It's a constant battle of trying to stay in front of those who have malicious intent, and ultimately the only way you could possibly mitigate against it completely would be to stop that service altogether—take it off the website. That's the ultimate control to the risk.

Senator GRIFF: How much revenue do you get from this advertising annually?

Dr Johnson : It varies, depending on the amount of advertising that takes place. On average it's about $4 million. In the year to date we've received about $2.3 million in revenue, and it costs us about three-quarters of a million dollars every year to run it. So, it's somewhere between $3.2 million and $4 million. It just depends on the market demand.

Senator GRIFF: Does all of that revenue go to the bureau?

Dr Johnson : No. It passes through the bureau and goes to the Department of Finance. But we wear the expenditure.

Senator PATRICK: Consolidated revenue, I presume?

Dr Johnson : Consolidated revenue.

Senator GRIFF: What's the status of the investigation—which kind of related to this—into staff members using bureau resources to mine cryptocurrency?

Dr Johnson : The investigation is ongoing, so I'm really not in a position to discuss it any further. It's really a matter for the AFP.

Senator GRIFF: Was it just a coincidence that, within the space of a month, the bureau was dealing with two scandals relating to cryptocurrency, or is there a connection between the two matters?

Dr Johnson : There's no connection whatsoever between the two. The investigation that you referred to at the beginning of your question had been underway for some considerable time, and the decision to activate it and reach its denouement in the public domain was a decision made by the AFP independent of the bureau.

Senator GRIFF: When do you see this coming to an end?

Dr Johnson : See what, Senator?

Senator GRIFF: The investigation.

Dr Johnson : That's a matter for the AFP. It's now in the hands of the AFP, and it's a matter for them to prosecute or otherwise as they see fit.

CHAIR: Excellent. Thank you. Senator Whish-Wilson?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have just one quick question in relation to Cape Grim and greenhouse gas data. I went on your website, which took me through to the CSIRO website, and I've gone on and had a look at the baseline data that's available there. It only goes back to October last year, 2017. I know you've released information in the public domain since then, but can you give us the current parts per million reading?

Dr Johnson : I don't know if I have that right in front of me. I apologise. I should have. I can get to you quickly, on notice, whatever the latest reading is, but it's not in my brief.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: How often do you release that data or publicise it?

Dr Johnson : Again, I'm not sure what the regular schedule is. As you say, data comes in. We need to assure ourselves that it's of appropriate integrity and so on, and there will be a schedule for its release. Maybe October is the time scale that we release it on.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You say on the website that you reserve the right to alter it based on calibration.

Dr Johnson : To make sure it's accurate, yes.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could you get me the latest reading—

Dr Johnson : Sure.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: and also let me know whether you're aware of any work that's been done on changing forecasting of the parts per million.

Dr Johnson : Okay. Projections for CO2 at Cape Grim?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I know you're more involved in the monitoring and collection of the data. Is the BOM involved in any of this?

Dr Johnson : We're certainly involved in work with our colleagues in CSIRO. I'd probably steer you in the direction of CSIRO on future projections, because, as we were saying before in answer to the senator's question, those projections around CO2 equivalent levels in the atmosphere are very strongly driven by emissions and various strategies that are put in place to deal with those emissions. What the emissions trajectories are, and other actions, countermeasures and so on, will determine what sort of levels of CO2 we observe at Cape Grim.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I went to Cape Grim in the first week of the double dissolution election in 2016. You'd just officially passed 400 parts per million at Cape Grim.

Dr Johnson : That's right.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: My understanding is that it's up over 410 or 411.

Dr Johnson : It's in that vicinity, yes.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I'd like to know if there's any work being done or whether that's a faster acceleration than you were expecting or projecting.

Dr Johnson : It's certainly at the upper end of projections that were made for this point in time. Again, there's been quite a bit of commentary on that on the public record here in Australia. Probably most of that's come from CSIRO. I would have to double-check whether we've made any commentary on that ourselves, but I doubt it. I would direct you to CSIRO.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you.

Senator MOORE: I have a couple more questions about the SDGs.

Dr Johnson : You did ask us a question, I think, in previous estimates.

Senator MOORE: I did, and we got answers. It's to follow up on that. We've heard from the department that they're going through a process of doing their budget and their corporate plans around the SDGs as part of the framework for doing their modelling. Is that something that the bureau is thinking of doing in terms of its corporate plan, its public productions and also things like the app? Are you referring to the SDGs in that process?

Dr Johnson : I think the short answer is: no, not specifically. We have been going through various significant reflection on our own strategies. As you're probably aware, we released a new strategy for the bureau last July. I think you have a copy of it. I certainly sent you one. I'm sure you've read it.

Senator MOORE: I have.

Dr Johnson : At the heart of that are strategies around increasing our impact and value to the Australian community. I see nothing in that strategy and everything that underpins it that's incompatible with the SDGs or Australia's commitments around them. So, although we don't specifically call them out in the strategy, in my view they're absolutely aligned and consistent. For example, the work we do in the Pacific around disaster reduction, risk reduction and hazard assessment—the capacity building we're doing in the Pacific particularly and some of the regions to our north—is entirely consistent with the government's objectives or the nation's objectives there. We certainly call that out. When you do that, that enhances the national interest and increases the—

Senator MOORE: Is there any reason that there hasn't been any discussion in your agency to see whether the SDGs could be directly referenced in your work?

Dr Johnson : No, there hasn't been any discussion, but there's probably no reason why there can't be if it were felt by our stakeholders that that would be important to them. But certainly in the work that I did and my senior colleagues did when we were talking to our stakeholders and our customers in the formulation of that strategy, I can honestly say that the SDGs were not raised once with me. I would maybe look to my colleagues—

Senator MOORE: I wish I could say I was surprised, Doctor. In terms of the discussion with the minister, at any time has the minister discussed the SDGs with you?

Dr Johnson : No.

Senator MOORE: Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Johnson and officials from the Bureau of Meteorology. That concludes our questioning of this agency.