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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Department of the Environment and Energy

Department of the Environment and Energy


CHAIR: I now welcome Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham and officers from the portfolio. Minister, thank you for joining us today. Do you want to make an opening statement? I'm not running a book on this, by the way.

Senator Birmingham: I was just about to ask you for the various odds! But no, thank you; let's get into it.

CHAIR: Excellent. Mr Pratt, would you like to make a statement?

Mr Pratt : Thank you, Chair; no opening statement from me.

Senator URQUHART: Before I start, I acknowledge our secretariat, Christine McDonald, who I understand has a pending retirement. I place on the record our thanks to Christine for the many years of work she has done.

CHAIR: Of course, and given we might be back Monday, I thought I might wait till then.

Senator URQUHART: I didn't want to wait.

Senator KENEALLY: Anne's clearly got odds on tomorrow!

Senator URQUHART: Just on behalf of the Labor Party, thank you, Christine; it's been fantastic.

CHAIR: While we are doing that, then, before we get into general questions, because our secretary, Christine McDonald, has announced that she is retiring, I think all senators, officers who have dealt with this committee, and ministers who put up with us would agree that Christine has run a very professional outfit here in the Environment and Communications committee. As chair it has made my life a lot easier having you run things the way you do, so to you and the team you have brought up in this committee, thank you very much for all you do, but sorry if we are here on Monday as well.

Senator RICE: Thank you, Christine. As chair of the references committee it was terrific working with you.

Mr Pratt : While we're at it—

CHAIR: This is burning up time beautifully!

Mr Pratt : on behalf of the Environment and Energy department, Christine, congratulations and thanks.

Senator Birmingham: And the magnificent thing, Christine, is if we are all back next week, we can say all these wonderful things about you again.

Senator URQUHART: We can do it all again. Mr Pratt, can you take us through the recruitment process for the new GBRMPA CEO. I am particularly interested in what the government was looking for in terms of management experience and scientific expertise for the role. Can you take me through that.

Mr Pratt : Yes. For my sins, I am the appropriate person. I chaired the selection process, so I am quite across this. In looking for the GBRMPA CEO position we used the standard APSC criteria for an agency head position and we added some things to that. We looked at leadership, vision, experience in managing large and/or complex operations; being able to work with others, particularly stakeholders, to meet objectives; a high level of judgement and a high standard of professional and personal integrity. Those are quite standard selection criteria. We added to that an additional criterion around reef knowledge and experience. I should point out that this exercise followed the retirement of Dr Russell Reichelt, who held the joint positions of both chair and CEO of GBRMPA for 11 years. There was a review over a year ago which recommended the splitting of those two positions, which occurred with the advertising of the CEO role.

Senator URQUHART: The minister stated that, after a rigorous merit based selection process, her former adviser, Mr Thomas, was appointed. You have taken us through what was required. Can you talk about the rigour of this appointment process and how the department ensured the process was in fact independent.

Mr Pratt : The recruitment process was done completely according to the Australian Public Service Commission's policy for the recruitment of agency heads and statutory officeholders and consistent with the Cabinet handbook. I chaired the selection panel, which had on it the Australian Public Service Commissioner, Peter Woolcott, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman, Dr Ian Poiner. In fact we delayed the actual recruitment process until Dr Poiner was appointed, to ensure we had the chairperson on the selection panel. As an independent, we had the secretary of the Department of Jobs and Small Business, Kerri Hartland, and for great expertise, we drafted in the environment deputy secretary, Dean Knudson, who is sitting next to me.

To ensure as much independence as possible, the then minister's office sought advice, given Mr Thomas's interest in this, on what we should do in order to ensure probity in the process. I provided advice to the minister's office at that stage, and the result was that Mr Thomas was from that point recused from any dealings with Marine Park Authority matters and, naturally, the recruitment process. He was completely—I think the term was 'firewalled' from that process. We went through the interview process. If you wish, I can provide more detail about the number of candidates that were screened and all that. Essentially the next stage in the process was that we provided a selection report for the purposes of identifying suitable candidates for cabinet consideration in accordance with the Cabinet handbook. We presented that to the minister late in 2018, at the end of December. It provided a shortlist of four suitable candidates. Then, as required by the Cabinet handbook, the minister wrote to the Prime Minister seeking cabinet approval of an appointment before recommending to it to the Governor-General through the Federal Executive Council. In due course on 7 March the Governor-General signed the appointment instrument for Mr Thomas. He started on 18 March.

Senator URQUHART: Who made the decision for Mr Thomas to be taken off reef affairs?

Mr Pratt : That was a decision by either the then minister or his chief of staff. The request was from the chief of staff. Mr Thomas had identified an interest in the process. The chief of staff asked me for advice on what we should do to try to ensure there could be no suggestion of interference in the process. The result, as I said, was that Mr Thomas then had nothing to do with Marine Park Authority matters.

Senator URQUHART: What date did Mr Thomas cease advising on reef affairs?

Mr Pratt : My belief is that it was the day before the advertisement went out. It was 26 July 2018.

Senator URQUHART: What did Mr Thomas advise on in that position after ceasing to advise on reef affairs?

Mr Pratt : He was the senior adviser, environmental matters, so the whole gamut of environmental matters. I make a distinction between reef affairs and Marine Park Authority matters. He may have had some ongoing issues around the Great Barrier Reef to advise on, but nothing to do with the Marine Park Authority CEO position, its direct funding and so forth.

Senator URQUHART: It was just limited to the GBRMPA stuff.

Mr Pratt : Anything which could be perceived as his having an inside track on the role.

Senator URQUHART: Did the department run the recruitment process entirely?

Mr Pratt : Yes, with the assistance of an executive search provider, Derwent.

Senator URQUHART: How much did the executive search provider cost?

Mr Pratt : I will have to defer.

Ms Bennett : The executive search provider was asked to provide costings for the recruitment of both the chair and the CEO. It was $77,000 for both positions.

Senator URQUHART: Can you break them down separately?

Ms Bennett : No, I don't have that separately.

Senator URQUHART: That's fine. The GBRMPA website includes a bio for Mr Thomas but it doesn't list his career as a ministerial adviser to three Liberal environment ministers. Is that an oversight?

Mr Pratt : I won't speak for the authority. I am conscious that Mr Thomas is on later this afternoon. That may be a question you could direct to him. Naturally in the process we were very much aware of his role as an environment adviser to ministers and his background.

Senator URQUHART: What was Mr Thomas's position in APS before his appointment with Minister Hunt?

Mr Pratt : It's before my time, but at different times he had director level and acting senior executive positions.

Senator URQUHART: Was Mr Thomas involved in the decision to grant the Great Barrier Reef Foundation $444 million?

Mr Pratt : He certainly would have advised on that matter in the budget in 2018, but, ultimately, as we have considered at great length in this room, that was a decision by government.

Senator URQUHART: That is all I have for general questions.

CHAIR: Senator Rice, do you have general questions?

Senator RICE: No.

CHAIR: That means we move to outcome 1.


Senator URQUHART: Can I get a detailed year-by-year breakdown on committed and uncommitted funding in all programs funded by the Landcare and the Natural Heritage Trust accounts—funding over the forward estimates and over the medium term?

Mr Pratt : As we prepare to provide that information—and I know that this is potentially slightly gratuitous—I appreciate getting your letter, identifying things that you're interested in. I would encourage that more generally if at all possible!

Senator URQUHART: We'll see what we can do, Mr Pratt! I'm not sure that I can do that for every estimates, but we'll see. I'm pleased it was helpful.

Mr Pratt : Thank you.

Ms Jonasson : Thank you for the question. I can give you some, but not all, of the information I'm afraid. I can certainly give you the allocated funds from this year through to the out years, and I can give you some of the committed funding.

Just to explain for you: this funding is provided across three different portfolios. Prime Minister and Cabinet administers the Indigenous protected areas and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources administers a couple of programs under it as well. In the time that we had we weren't able to do the coordination process overnight, unfortunately. But I can give you some information and perhaps take the rest on notice, if that would help.

I'll start with the Natural Heritage Trust, with 2018-19—the current financial year—and the allocated funding. The 20 Million Trees Program has allocated funding in 2018 of 9.7, and in 2019-20 it has allocated funding of 5.3. Essentially, that's the remaining funds to close out the program. As I understand it, almost all of that funding is committed. There might be some bits and bobs waiting around, but the majority of that funding is committed. BushBlitz had $1.7 million in 2018-19, and in 2019-20 it's $3.1 million. Again, that's the remainder of the $5 million that was allocated to BushBlitz, which started last year.

The Threatened Species Recovery Fund: in 2018-19 it had $1.1 million. Again, that's the remainder of the Threatened Species Recovery Fund. It finishes this year. And there is a collection of election commitments that were made in 2016 which included things like funding for yellow crazy ants and the Tamar River Recovery Plan. There is funding for those in 2018-19 of $4.4 million, and then the tail of that funding in 2019-20 is $0.5 million. That's the remainder of those.

The Reef 2050 Implementation Strategy: in 2018-19 that was $8.9 million and in 2019-20 it's $8.9 million.

Senator URQUHART: So it's the same for both years?

Ms Jonasson : Yes. And in 2020-21 it's $7.1 million; in 2021-22 it's $7.7 million—sorry, it's $7.7 million in the previous year as well.

Senator URQUHART: It's not $7.1 million?

Ms Jonasson : Yes. And in 2022-23 it's $9.7 million allocated. The funding for the Reef 2050 Implementation Strategy is a component of the bigger picture of the reef funding. You'll find that comes up in a couple of other areas that are outside the National Landcare Program and the Natural Heritage Trust.

The environmental small grants program: in 2018-19 that had $5 million allocated, and there is nothing in the out years. That was a one-off $5 million allocation. Regional Land Partnerships: in 2018-19 it was $84.6 million, in 2019-20 it's $91.6 million, in 2020-21 it's $91.3 million, in 2021-22 it's $89.3 million and in 2022-23 it's $88.7 million. And you'll find that that's the largest bucket of money. That's for natural resource management organisations that are funded across 56 regions across the country. The Torres Strait Regional Authority has allocated for 2018-19 $0.6 million; for 2019-20, $0.6 million; for 2020-21, $0.6 million; for 2021-22, $0.6 million; and for 2022-23, $0.6 million.

There's also some funding for a marine organisation that was also connected to the previous program of the Natural Resource Management Program. For 2018-19 it has allocated $0.5 million; for 2019-20, $0.6 million; for 2020-21, $0.2 million; and for 2021-22, $0.2 million. There's some funding that provides program support and supports the evaluation of the range of these programs and supports the IT infrastructure. With respect to the largest funding, the regional land partnerships, it supports what we call MERI, our evaluation and research tool, which collects the information but also ensures that the funding is spent where we want it to go. For 2018-19 that's $24.4 million, for 2019-20 it's $24.7 million, for 2020-21 it's $27.1 million, for 2021-22 it's $27.3 million and for 2022-23 it's $27.2 million.

We have a small number of old legacy programs. I think you raised a couple of those at the last estimates, Senator. For just this year, 2018-19, there is about $200,000. That's the tail end of some very small, very old grant programs. For emerging priorities for 2018-19 there's $0.8 million; for 2019-20, $0.3 million, or $300,000; and for 2020-21, $0.4 million. We then also come to an agricultural program that's administered by the Department of Agriculture. It's called Smart Farms. It comes out of the Natural Heritage Trust. For 2018-19 it has allocated $28.9 million. For 2019-20 it has allocated $33.1 million. For 2020-21 it has allocated $29 million; for 2021-22, $18 million and for 2022-23, $23 million. Some funding is provided to the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions. This is for crazy ants.

Senator URQUHART: Just crazy ants?

Ms Jonasson : You'd have to ask the Department of Agriculture about that.

Senator URQUHART: You did talk about crazy ants in one of the others.

Ms Jonasson : It's sort of collected up in the higher-level one. And I should correct myself: I may have got that wrong, so don't quote me on that one. That's really a question for Agriculture. For 2018-19 it is $4 million, for 2019-20 it is $4 million, for 2020-21 it is $4 million and for 2021-22 it is $4 million. There was some additional funding that was provided for Indigenous protected areas. It is provided out of the Natural Heritage Trust, as well. In 2018-19 it's $0.7 million, in 2019-20 it's $4.5 million and in 2020-21 it's $9.4 million. That's brought us to the end of the Natural Heritage Trust allocation. I can read out the totals for each of those years if that helps you.

Senator URQUHART: I think we could probably add them up from the figures you've given us.

Ms Jonasson : Then we have three additional things that we also capture under the National Landcare Program. The allocated funding for Indigenous protected areas—the longer term program—what I provided you earlier is the additional funding that was provided for new IPAs, which has recently opened. This is administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. In 2018-19 it is $18.7 million; in 2019-20 it will be $18.7 million; 2020-21, $18.7 million; 2021-22, $18.7 million; 2022-23, $18.7 million. There is some funding for World Heritage grants. In 2018-19 it's $9.5 million; in 2019-20 it's also $9.5 million; 2020-21, $9.5 million; 2021-22, $9.5 million; 2022-23, $9.5 million. Finally, under the National Landcare Program there's yellow crazy ant control. Funding for that starts in 2019-20. That's $3 million in 2019-20. In 2020-21 it's $3 million and in 2021-22 it's also $3 million.

Senator URQUHART: That was for the yellow crazy ant?

Ms Jonasson : Yes. That is for the measure that was announced in the budget recently.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you for that. Can I get a detailed year-by-year breakdown of funding for the Securing tourism and jobs in Kakadu measure over the forward estimates and the medium term.

Mr Pratt : We should probably discuss that under the Director of National Parks, later on this afternoon.

Senator URQUHART: Okay. Can I get detailed information on the department's structure, including each branch and staff numbers in branches and sections across the department.

Mr Pratt : I can bring back the corporate people to do that if you would like. I suspect we won't be able to get down to section level. We might be able to give you indicative numbers at branch level. But we will get those officers back to the table.

Ms Bennett : I can give you the breakdown by division. We haven't got the branch and section detail. I can give you the head count as at 28 February—we've got the head count for month end. In Corporate Strategies Division we have a head count of 200; Australian Antarctic Division, it's 494; departmental overhead, which includes our graduates and staff on maternity leave, is 89; executive division, which is the executive and executive assistants, is 13; General Counsel Division is 39; Policy Analysis and Implementation Division is 148; Knowledge and Technology Division is 163; and then we've got a Corporate and Operational Change Task Force, which is four. In the Biodiversity Conservation Division there are 184. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office is 66. The Environment Standards Division is 193. The Office of Compliance is 50. The Heritage, Reef and Marine Division is 151. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is 32. The International Climate Change and Energy Innovation Division is 94. The Climate Change Division is 93. The Energy Division is 87. The Energy Security and Efficiency Division is 117. In addition to that, we have got some Parks Australia employees who are part of our Strategy and Operations Group; there are 12 staff there. The Director of National Parks has 562 departmental staff. As I said, that number is our headcount. They are employees who are directly employed at that point in time, so it is different from our average staffing level.

Senator URQUHART: That's as at 28 February?

Ms Bennett : As at 28 February 2019.

Senator URQUHART: Are they full-time equivalents?

Ms Bennett : I do have the full-time equivalents here. Full-time equivalents are slightly different because you have to take into account part-timers—so the full-time equivalents number is slightly lower. I can run through—

Senator URQUHART: I'm happy for you to pull that together over the course of today and table that.

Ms Bennett : I have got the numbers now.

Senator URQUHART: Do you want to run through them quickly?

Ms Bennett : Yes, I can do that. I can give you the same numbers. The full-time equivalents number for the Corporate Strategies Division is 170. The Australian Antarctic Division is 476. The departmental overhead is 60. The executive division is 13. The General Counsel Division is 32. The Policy Analysis and Implementation Division is 125. The Knowledge and Technology Division is 150. The corporate change task force is four. The Biodiversity Conservation Division is 162. The Commonwealth Environment Water Office is 58. The Environments Standards Division is 175. The Office of Compliance is 47. The Heritage, Reef and Marine Division is 131. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is 29. The International Climate Change and Energy Innovation Division is 85. The Climate Change Division is 76. The Energy Division is 76. The Energy Security and Efficiency Division is 107. The number of Parks Australia employees who are in corporate is 11, and Parks Australia has 316 full-time equivalents.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you.

Senator RICE: Good morning, everyone. I want to start with land clearing in Queensland. Mr Knudson, I want to go to the evidence you gave to our formal extinction inquiry. You stated that rates of land clearing have actually declined in Queensland and there has been an absolute decline in clearing in Queensland. I want to take you to what the department views as the trajectory of land clearing in Queensland since 2011. The evidence you gave to us, to that inquiry, was for the period since 2004. If we have a look at the period of time since 2011, what is the department's view?

Mr Knudson : With respect to land clearing statistics, it's our climate area that does all the mapping and reporting on that; we've talked about that before. The figures I have in my book talk about different years than those you're referring to. That being said, the climate officials will be here later on today. We can walk through what is happening over that longer period of time when they are here, if that's helpful.

Senator RICE: There was an article in The Guardian responding to the evidence you gave, and then the correspondence to our committee from that, which I would like to table.

Mr Knudson : That would be helpful.

Senator RICE: I've got some copies for you.

Mr Knudson : Indeed, there was a line of questioning from the Senate following up on my testimony previously. I went back and explained in further detail why I had said what I said. I would just note that that's been tabled to the Senate as well.

Senator RICE: There are tables in that Guardian article, which are two graphs. One is from the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory data, which you are referring to, in terms of greenhouse data. The other is from the Queensland SLATS data—the Statewide Landcover and Tree Study data. Have you got those in front of you?

Mr Knudson : There isn't a table in here, but there are a number of figures quoted in the article.

Senator RICE: You've just been given the table.

Mr Knudson : That's helpful!

Senator RICE: Do you agree that those tables are an accurate representation of the data included in the Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System activity table and of the SLATS data?

Mr Knudson : Again, it's the climate change area that not only provides the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory data but also does the analysis of the SLATS data.

Senator RICE: But you personally gave evidence to our Senate committee. You stated that, basically, since 2004—so much of it seems to depend upon your baseline. I wanted to take you to the data, which is the information I have given you there. I have given you the SLATS summary report and I have given you the LULUCF data as well. I have looked at those tables in the Guardian article, and they accurately reflect that data. I just wanted you to look at them and see whether you could say that they accurately reflect the data.

Senator Birmingham: In fairness, Mr Knudson's had the tables in front of him for only a minute. Whether he can actually say that they accurately reflect it—

Senator RICE: He was familiar with the data, Minister, given that he provided evidence to our animal extinction inquiry quite recently.

Mr Knudson : If it would be helpful, we might have the appropriate climate change people—no, we don't. We do not have the right people in the room. That being said, I can assure the Senate committee that I absolutely validated my testimony with the climate change area and that it was factually correct. I am happy, when the climate change folk are here, to walk through that in greater detail. But they are the ones within the department who have the main carriage of the validation of the analysis behind this. What I was doing was trying to provide the Senate with some insights into what is happening with land clearing not only in Queensland but also nationally. With respect to the specifics, your questions are best directed towards the climate change folk.

Senator RICE: With respect to land clearing, which is your area, we have the data that you used in your evidence to our committee in table 1, which shows that, yes, there was a lot of clearing up until 2005. If you look at that table it then reduced very significantly from 2005 to 2011, and it then increased again from 2011. Do you agree, looking at that data, that land clearing has been increasing since 2011?

Mr Knudson : As I have said—and let me be clear about this—forest clearing in Australia has substantially declined since 2004-05, with a small uptake in 2015-16. It's declined from 813,000 hectares in 2004-05 to 455,000 hectares in 2015-16.

Senator RICE: With all due respect, Mr Knudson, you are going back to 2004 data. That is a very long time ago. We are in 2019 now. That was 15 years ago. Seven years after 2004, in 2011, land clearing had reduced to almost half the level it was in 2004. I am interested in the period since 2011, which is quite a substantial period of time. I want you to look at that data, to look at that period of time since 2011, and say whether you would agree with my observation that land clearing has increased in Queensland since 2011.

Mr Knudson : When I look at the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory data, I see there have been some modest movements. If those facts are correct, if the Queensland data is accurate, then that shows a substantial increase in land clearing. But, again, I would suggest that these questions are best posed to the experts who follow this data in intimate detail. What I was trying to provide to the Senate was just a sense of what the trends are. I stand by those statements, as I have previously.

Senator RICE: But would you agree that since 2011, based on your department's own data—particularly, as you note, the SLATS data—land clearing has increased?

Mr Knudson : What I said was, based on the data you have placed in front of me—which is labelled 'National Greenhouse Gas Inventory data'—and the SLATS data, I can see a slight movement up for the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory data and a more dramatic movement up for the SLATS data. But, again, this is best posed to our climate change colleagues, who can answer this in detail.

Senator RICE: Yes, except this was the data that you presented. You presented data to our Senate committee. You essentially chose a baseline to say that land clearing had reduced. In your committee evidence you said that rates of land clearing have actually declined and there's an absolute decline in clearing in Queensland.

Mr Knudson : That is correct. That is what I said.

Senator RICE: That is correct—but it is only on the basis of looking at data comparing 2004 with now rather than looking at a recent period of time—the last seven years—when it's very clear from the data that land clearing in Queensland has increased.

Mr Knudson : Again, what I was trying to give the Senate a sense of was the general trend. I'm very happy to have the experts talk through different baselines. I presented from, I think, a very reasonable assumption of 2004-05.

Senator RICE: A very reasonable assumption in terms of cherry-picking which baseline you use.

Mr Pratt : If I have got it wrong, I will get the experts to correct us when they are here, but clearly 2005 is quite a reasonable baseline given our Kyoto obligations. It's the obvious thing to look at. To reinforce Mr Knudson's point, if we look at 2005 to 2016 nationally in terms of what counts in Australia's performance in this area, there has been a substantial drop from then until 2016 at a national level, and in Queensland it has gone down dramatically and rebounded to some extent.

Senator RICE: Rebounded!

Mr Pratt : I don't think the accusation that it is cherry-picking or it is picking the wrong baseline—

Senator RICE: I think that's a very generous assumption of 'rebounded to some extent'. If you look at that data, you see there was a very substantial reduction down to 2010 and it has in fact increased to beyond what it was in 2005.

Mr Knudson : The reason why I am suggesting that the experts come here is that, for example, you have talked about the increase in the Queensland land clearing. The statistics they provided me indicate that, for example, in the years you are particularly concerned with, in the most recent rates of clearing, in a relatively recent year of 2015-16, in Queensland 88 per cent of the land that was cleared was regrowth. It wasn't growth. Obviously, they have different values, but that's specifically why I think it is important to have the experts here. If this is about trying to get to the bottom of the issue of what is the extent of land clearing is, what its impacts are et cetera, we should have the right experts at the table to have that discussion. I can only give you a certain level of insight into this, because I am not an expert in land clearing.

Senator RICE: Mr Pratt, in your letter to the committee, you actually do talk about it. You say that, over the last 10 years, the area of land under emerging forest regrowth has been on average 486,000 hectares a year, which is in excess of the average rate of clearing. As a result, during this period the area under forest increased by an average of 26,000 hectares a year. I'm interested that now you are including forest regrowth in terms of trying to offset the amount of land clearing. How do you include forest regrowth? Is it included in your departmental definition of land clearing? Do you actually say that land clearing doesn't matter, because at some stage it regrows?

Mr Knudson : No. Of course we want to take a look at what is happening across the full landscape, including what sort of land clearing is happening, because they do have different impacts, but we also want to take a look at what's regrowing, because it also has a positive impact. As you would know, one of the key—

Senator RICE: So you are downgrading that?

Mr Knudson : If I may, one of the key considerations is also the overall effect of our forest and land to act as a carbon sink. That's why we are particularly interested as well in what is happening on the ground. Again, I would direct that these questions would best be posed to the experts who can go into exactly this level of detail with you not only about the national greenhouse gas inventory data but also the SLATS data.

Senator RICE: The reason I'm asking these questions of you is that it's not just the carbon stores and carbon sequestration, which is what the greenhouse gas inventory people are invested in. It's about the environmental impact of that level of land clearing. It's about the amount of erosion and the amount of sediment that's running off into the Great Barrier Reef, which is why you are interested in this.

Mr Knudson : Absolutely.

Senator RICE: And, whether or not that land regrows, in terms of those impacts, that very practice of land clearing, you agree, has significant environmental impacts.

Mr Knudson : We have absolutely been concerned and remain concerned about greenhouse gas related impacts and also, as you're pointing out, the biodiversity impacts and the impacts on the reed from land clearing. That's why we have had a number of engagements with which we have been talking about for a while in the Northern Queensland area with respect to land clearing and the potential impacts for the reef. So we're absolutely seized with those issues.

Senator RICE: Can I clarify, then, that, in terms of talking about emergent forest regrowth, it's not actually relevant when you're talking about the amount of clearing that's been undertaken? It's not included in your department's definition of land clearing. You don't offset the amount of land clearing with regrowth?

Mr Knudson : Again, when it comes to greenhouse gases, there is an absolute methodology around that, and I would encourage those questions to be asked of that area because they do actually look at the net effect of clearing versus regrowth et cetera from a carbon perspective.

Senator RICE: But from your perspective of land clearing?

Mr Knudson : From our perspective, obviously, if we're talking about, for example, hollow-bearing trees, those can't be replaced overnight by regrowth, so I absolutely accept that. But, that being said, whether it's for foraging or nesting, relatively young trees can serve that purpose—relatively.

Senator RICE: But you may have a gap of some 20 or 30 years, even.

Mr Knudson : That's right. Again, you cannot replace a hundred-year-old hollow-bearing tree with a regrowth tree. We're aware of that. We do very actively try to take a look at not only the impacts of losing those types of trees but also impacts of sediment run-off et cetera.

Senator RICE: Can the department outline the number of compliance investigations it's undertaken into land clearing in the past three years?

Ms Collins : I'm not sure if I've got the full data for the past three years, but, in terms of investigations over the last couple of years, in the 2017-18 financial year, the department received 45 allegations. At the moment, there are 10 investigations in Queensland itself and we've got a number of investigations in other states around Australia. I may take the question on notice for the last three years.

Senator RICE: Those 10 investigations are over what period of time?

Ms Collins : The 10 investigations are current investigations in Queensland.

Senator RICE: Do you have some information there as to what hectares of clearing that's covering?

Ms Collins : I haven't got the total hectares of those.

Senator RICE: Have you got any indication of what those 10 instances are? Can you give us some more detail about those?

Ms Collins : No; I haven't got the details in front of me.

Mr Knudson : The other thing is that I'm thinking of a couple of those where they are very active, and we wouldn't want to get into specifics that would compromise that. But I can assure you that the number of hectares were dealing with is in the thousands of hectares.

Senator RICE: From looking at the data, we've got about 800,000 hectares of land clearing in Queensland over the last three years, and you've got 10 investigations. I just want to get a bit of a feel as to how much of that 800,000 hectares of clearing has actually been under active investigation by the government.

Ms Collins : It's really important to note that the state and territory governments are the primary regulators when it comes to land clearing. There will be a volume of those hectares that may in fact have approvals for clearing of native vegetation. From the Commonwealth perspective, we only get involved where there are matters of national environmental significance and where there's likely to have been a significant impact on those. So, for those reasons, I don't imagine that we would have looked at all of those instances of clearing. We really take that focus where there is likely to be a significant impact on Commonwealth matters of national significance.

Senator RICE: Quite a number of those would have been matters of environmental significance—in particular, impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

Ms Collins : That's the very first thing that we assess—are there likely to be matters of national environmental significance—when we're looking into land clearing.

Senator RICE: If you could take that on notice then, because I would be very interested to know what proportion of that 800,000 hectares of clearing has occurred. In fact, I've been told since 2014 and 16 that it's been covered by your investigations.

Ms Collins : Definitely we can take that on notice. I would also just point out, to put it into context, that we'll be prioritising it at the highest level risk amongst our investigations. Obviously we're limited by the resources that we've got, and so we try to make sure that our investigations are focused in the highest risk areas for us.

Mr Knudson : If I may, Senator. You're trying to get at the issue of, if there's been 800,000 hectares of clearing, where we focused and why. Part of this, I would suggest, is that we should also talk to the Queensland government because, as Ms Collins points out, a good portion of that will have been permitted by the state government, will have gone through an assessment process et cetera, so it would be completely appropriate that we wouldn't be looking at those hectares. I'm just afraid that you might get quite a misleading conclusion—

Senator RICE: Again, if there are impacts on matters of national environmental significance, it doesn't necessarily mean that because they've been looked at by the state government they have thoroughly investigated their impact on matters of national environmental significance.

Mr Knudson : Hypothetically, yes, but we've been working—

Senator RICE: No, the evidence we have in our animal extinction inquiry is that there are certainly many processes that have been approved by state governments that haven't been adequately addressing drivers of animal extinctions and where you have threatened species being affected.

Mr Knudson : I just want to make sure that you're not making an ill-informed conclusion, so we'll try to make sure, when we do provide that, we're giving a sense of that to the best of our ability—as to which ones actually do have potential impacts on matters of national environmental significance and the amount that doesn't.

CHAIR: Very wise.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you for being here today. I'd like to ask some questions regarding the Communities Environment Program. I understand that Liberal Party and National Party members have been asking for expressions of interest for almost a month now for the Communities Environment Program grants. This was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald on 19 March 2019. Is the department aware that MPs are seeking expressions of interest for this program?

Mr Pratt : Certainly, Senator, we've seen those media reports.

Senator KENEALLY: Is the program currently open for applications for grants?

Mr Costello : The program will open in the 2019-20 year. It's a new budget measure, so, subject to appropriation, it will commence in the next financial year. There was an announcement made about this program by the Prime Minister and Minister Price on 4 March, so a prebudget announcement. There was a media release, there was a media event, and there was a downloadable fact sheet put up on our department's web page on that day. It provides the scope of the program, the types of activities that it might fund, the types of organisations that would be eligible to apply. It indicated that every electorate would receive $150,000 in grant funding, and a local member of parliament would nominate the projects. That would take place in the new financial year, so post-election.

That information has been publicly available since 4 March to everybody. It is the case that the minister's office provided that fact sheet to their members of parliament, but it's the same information that's available on the website. So what's happening at the moment is that some members of parliament, potentially some candidates, are looking at the opportunity that will come next financial year and consulting with their communities, getting ideas for what they might be able to put forward when the program opens midyear.

CHAIR: Good local members.

Mr Costello : A formal process will be run next year. Some people are having conversations in advance of that to explore what might be possible in their communities. As I said, every electorate will receive the exact same amount of funding—$150,000 each.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you, Mr Costello. My question actually was: is the program open for grant applications yet?

Mr Costello : And I will repeat my answer: the program is not open for applications; the program will open in the next financial year, subject to budget appropriation.

Senator KENEALLY: Is there an indicative date?

Mr Costello : Midyear is what it says on the website. So guidelines would need to be—

Senator KENEALLY: Mid-financial year or mid-calendar year?

Mr Costello : Mid-calendar year. So early in the new financial year, subject to budget appropriation. Guidelines would be developed through a grants hub. They would be made available. A process would be made known to all members of parliament at that time of how they had to nominate the projects in their electorate and there would be application forms, guidelines and assessments against guidelines, as is the normal course of events for any Commonwealth grant program. It would comply with the Commonwealth grant rules and guidelines.

Senator KENEALLY: So the funding hasn't been appropriated yet?

Mr Costello : No. It's a new budget measure.

Mr Knudson : Senator, if I may also add that the minister yesterday, I believe, or in the last few days, has written to all members of parliament to provide additional information. In that letter, she notes that community organisations will be able to apply for grants from September 2019.

Senator KENEALLY: Did the department draft that letter for the minister or her office?

Mr Costello : We did.

Senator KENEALLY: You drafted it?

Mr Costello : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Why did you do that?

Mr Costello : We were requested to draft it.

Ms Jonasson : Senator, I think that's part of the usual process with any program. It's not unusual that we would be asked to draft such a letter.

Mr Costello : We took the information that was on the fact sheet on the website and put it into the form of a letter.

Senator KENEALLY: So the minister's office requested that you prepare a draft for them?

Mr Costello : They did. Yes. Correct.

Senator KENEALLY: So if I can come back to the program itself, if I can be clear, Mr Costello, you said that the application process is not open yet.

Mr Costello : Correct.

Senator KENEALLY: The funds are subject to allocation through the budget.

Mr Costello : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Could any of these grants be awarded early?

Mr Costello : No.

Senator KENEALLY: Is the department aware that the member for Dunkley, Mr Chris Crewther, posted images on Facebook of him awarding successful grants under the Communities Environment Program?

Mr Costello : Not specifically. That would be a matter for him, but there is no successful grant under that program because the money is not appropriated. There has been no application process.

Senator KENEALLY: I understand that the three successful grants under the Communities Environment Program, which Mr Crewther announced, are no longer online. I would like to refer to his Facebook posts.

CHAIR: Do you want to table that, Senator Keneally?

Senator KENEALLY: I will get a better version to table, which doesn't have my scribble on it. The South Eastern Centre for Sustainability, according to Mr Crewther, received $20,000 under the Communities Environment Program, a program that has not yet opened for applications, a program that the money has not yet been allocated for, but somehow Mr Crewther posted an announcement on his Facebook page that he was awarding $20,000 to the South Eastern Centre for Sustainability. Has the Department awarded $20,000 to the South Eastern Centre for Sustainability under the Communities Environment Program?

Senator Birmingham: I think the department has already addressed those questions, Senator Keneally. They've answered questions in relation to when applications will open and when the grants will be approved.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm trying understand how a member of parliament has announced $20,000 to a community group in his electorate under the Communities Environment Program.

Senator Birmingham: I've not seen the posts that you are referring to. I would be surprised if the department has provided any advice in relation to such Facebook posts. If they have, then of course it's a matter for questions; but, if they have not, then it's not really a matter for the department.

Senator KENEALLY: Let me go on to read out Mr Crewther's Facebook post:

South Eastern Centre for Sustainability is a very exciting community project and I was very happy to announce, with Environment Minister Melissa Price MP, that it would be receiving $20,000 from the Federal Liberal Government's Communities Environment Program for their Environmental Bridge Project.

And then there is very helpfully a video with Melissa Price and Chris Crewther announcing this grant. Your evidence is that the money hasn't been allocated, the applications aren't yet open; but, somehow, we have a member of parliament, with the environment minister, announcing a grant under this program. How did this happen?

Senator Birmingham: Senator Keneally, Mr Crewther is a very active and engaged local MP in his community.

Senator KENEALLY: Does he have a crystal ball?

Senator Birmingham: Local members of parliament advocate for local projects all the time, and clearly Mr Crewther is—

Senator KENEALLY: Enthusiastic?

Senator Birmingham: indicating programs that he's committed to supporting, in terms of getting grant applications. Whether he misworded his Facebook post in that, I don't know. I've not seen it or heard of it before today, as I said, in terms of the department. If there was any advice provided, in relation to that Facebook post, that might be for the department to answer. Otherwise, the department has dealt with the overall program, and Mr Crewther, as somebody I know, is engaged with every single corner of his electorate, relentlessly, and I'm not surprised that he's advocating for them to receive grant funding.

Senator KENEALLY: Was anyone from the department with the minister when she visited Mr Crewther's electorate and made these videos?

Mr Pratt : My advice is that we have no knowledge of this Facebook post other than what we have seen here. Again, I will correct this if I am wrong, but I do not believe any departmental staff were with Mr Crewther when it was done.

Senator KENEALLY: Mr Crewther also announced that the Down's Estate Community Project in Seaford would receive a grant of $10,000: 'I was very happy to announce with environment minister Melissa Price that it would be receiving an additional $10,000 as part of the federal Liberal government's community environment program.' For clarity, Mr Pratt, was anyone from the department with Minister Price when she made this video and this announcement—

Mr Pratt : The same answer applies.

Senator Birmingham: Mr Crewther is, indeed, a very active local MP.

Senator KENEALLY: Mr Crewther strikes me as the kid who went searching in his parents' closet for Christmas presents before 25 December and found them.

CHAIR: That's all very funny, Senator Keneally, but we're here to ask questions not to give character assessments of members of the other place. So please return to your questions, if you have any further ones, or we'll move on to another senator.

Senator KENEALLY: I do. In another case of putting—

Senator Birmingham: I trust, Senator Keneally, that there won't be any Labor candidates, between now and the election date, proposing to make any commitments out of this fund that they might support in their electorates.

Senator KENEALLY: This is a program where the funding hasn't been allocated.

Senator Birmingham: The funding is allocated in the budget.

Senator KENEALLY: Mr Costello, what is the status in the funding of this program?

Senator Birmingham: It is subject to the usual appropriations of the parliament, but unless the Labor Party proposes to block the appropriations bill the funding is allocated.

Senator KENEALLY: You know the outcome of the election, do you, Senator Birmingham?

Senator Birmingham: You're suggesting you'll cut the program, are you?

Senator KENEALLY: No, I'm asking you—

Senator Birmingham: In that case, it'll be in the appropriations bill—

Senator KENEALLY: But it hasn't been created yet.

Senator Birmingham: regardless of who wins the election.

Senator KENEALLY: My point is, Mr Costello has given us evidence that the funding has not yet been allocated and the grant process is not yet open.

Senator Birmingham: It's in the budget. It will be appropriated in the normal ways.

Senator KENEALLY: But somehow we have Mr Crewther, the member for Dunkley, posting on his Facebook, 'It has been great to be involved with Susie Webster and the Friends of Langwarrin Outdoors and Waterways,' and he is very happy to announce with the environment minister, Melissa Price, that FLOW, the acronym for this group, 'would be receiving $7,500 as part of the federal Liberal government's Communities Environment Program'. Has the department awarded $7,500 to FLOW in the electorate of Dunkley, under the Communities Environment Program?

Ms Jonasson : No, we haven't.

Senator KENEALLY: Has the parliament met with any of these groups—

Ms Jonasson : No.

Senator KENEALLY: in Dunkley or in Canberra?

Mr Costello : No.

Ms Jonasson : Not to my knowledge. We can check, but I'm pretty confident.

Senator KENEALLY: Does the department send an official with the minister when she travels?

Ms Jonasson : Not in every case, no. It's only at the request of the minister or the office.

Senator KENEALLY: Has the department gone with the minister to the electorate of Dunkley?

Mr Costello : Not in relation to this program at all.

Senator KENEALLY: Can I put on notice whether they have gone with her at all to the electorate of Dunkley?

Mr Costello : We'll take that on notice.

Ms Jonasson : Yes, we can check that.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. If the department is not aware of these posts, will you investigate these announcements of a grant, under a program, when the applications have not even opened?

Ms Jonasson : Our usual process for monitoring compliance would relate to the funding once it has been provided to the applicant to ensure that they are spending the money consistent with the contract that we signed with them. In this case, we've not awarded any funding to these projects, so there is at this stage nothing for us to investigate.

CHAIR: Senator Keneally, I will remind you that it is common courtesy to provide documents you are referring to to witnesses so that they can actually answer the questions. Senator Rice provided the document ahead of when she was asking the questions. So, for future reference, if you could do that, that would be helpful—

Senator KENEALLY: They have just been provided to you, Chair. They are to your left.

CHAIR: ahead of questions, not while you are asking or afterwards.

Senator KENEALLY: Is there some other way that these grants could have been awarded by accident for a program that isn't open?

Ms Jonasson : No.

Mr Costello : I don't believe so. There is no funding to appropriate.

Senator KENEALLY: Does the minister have any discretion under this Communities Environment Program to make an announcement before the grants have opened?

Ms Jonasson : The guidelines are yet to be written and the funds are yet to be appropriated.

Senator KENEALLY: If the department is not going to investigate, is this more appropriately a matter for the Auditor-General?

Mr Pratt : I wouldn't want to—

Senator Birmingham: Senator Keneally, that is a matter for the Auditor-General. I would never seek to speak for the Auditor-General, but in the end, if her funding is not appropriated or allocated as yet, it is in the budget. I am confident it will be appropriated, and, as I said before, I trust, given the tone of your questioning, that there won't be a single instance of a Labor candidate seeking to promise funds out of this grant program for anything in their electorate between now and election day.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, can you explain how the Minister for the Environment somehow got herself in three videos announcing grants for a program for which the applications haven't yet even opened?

Senator Birmingham: I have not seen the videos in question. You have not tabled a transcript or anything else of what's in the videos in question. Nonetheless, what I would say is that—

Senator KENEALLY: Melissa Price, Melissa Price, Melissa Price—

Senator Birmingham: the Minister for the Environment is, just like Mr Crewther, very active in being out there and meeting with local community groups. It is of no surprise to me that Ms Price or Mr Crewther would be touring and meeting with local community environment groups and talking about their needs and the high level of interest they have in the fact that our government has committed funds for such local environment groups to be able to access under a grants program.

Senator KENEALLY: Mr Pratt, previously we have had questions here about grant processes, obviously with much bigger quantums of funding, such as the Great Barrier Reef Foundation grant. Ultimately, you wrote to the Auditor-General to ask them to review that. Whilst this is a smaller amount of money, it is still important that process is followed. Will you write to the Auditor-General and ask them to review this announcement of grants for a program where the applications haven't even opened and the money has yet to be appropriated?

Mr Pratt : I am not in the habit of lightly investigating members of parliament. That would be a rather large departure from the role of the Department of the Environment and Energy. I will take your suggestion under consideration and, in the event that I can detect anything which relates to the use of funding the department contracts under its programs, I will consider it in that context. Beyond that, I suspect that your request is that I look at something Mr Crewther has said, and we are yet to understand the content of that, and I would have no role in doing such a thing. Essentially, what individual politicians and members of parliament say is their business, and I don't regard it as my responsibility to confirm or otherwise challenge those statements. Clearly that is not the way our system is set up. But I certainly note your suggestion and will have a look at it.

Senator KENEALLY: To be clear then, as I close this line of questioning, the applications have not yet opened for this Communities Environment Program?

Mr Knudson : No.

Senator KENEALLY: The money has not yet been appropriated?

Mr Knudson : No.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to ask some marine parks questions. Should I do that here?

Mr Pratt : We will do marine parks under Director of National Parks later on.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that including the potential expansion of the marine reserve?

Mr Pratt : I'll just clarify that for you.

Senator SIEWERT: What I'm interested in is the Bremer Canyon. I'm aware of the changes to the reserves and the expansion of the reserve. I'm not having a go at that. My question is: why wasn't the actual hot spot, where the vents are, included in the marine protection system, and is it possible to reconsider that?

Mr Cahill : That actually is something specific to the Director of National Parks, who is appearing later today and will be able to answer that question.

Senator SIEWERT: He will be able to answer why it wasn't included?

Mr Cahill : I hope so.

Senator SIEWERT: Is your section of the department doing any work that is anything to do with that hot spot?

Mr Cahill : I can't answer that, but the Director of National Parks has an assistant secretary of marine park management who is across all that detail.

Senator SIEWERT: Even the areas outside the park? The point is that the hot spot where all the orcas congregate is actually outside the reserve, which is why I want to ask specifically. I understand they'll be responsible for management of the area. This is actually outside the protected area at the moment.

Mr Cahill : The director ran a process about the marine parks. I'll get the director to answer those questions when he's here later today.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, even though it's outside the parks? I want to be clear. In that situation, I don't want to be told: 'You should have been here this morning.' I'm very used to that.

Mr Cahill : I will get on the phone straightaway and make sure we can find the right people to answer that question for you.

Senator SIEWERT: It is also there that I should ask about the process of joint management between the marine area and the biosphere reserve?

Mr Cahill : Again, anything with joint management with the marine parks would be the Director of National Parks.

Senator URQUHART: I want to go back to seek some clarification on a couple of questions around the land clearing that Senator Rice spoke about. Since the state of Queensland took away clearing laws in 2011, have rates of land clearing increased or decreased year on year?

Mr Knudson : I've given the general trend figures, but I'm happy to walk through year-over-year numbers when the climate change experts who follow land clearance statistics are here.

Senator URQUHART: So you want to do that in that section? Okay.

Mr Knudson : In the climate change section.

Senator URQUHART: Where are we talking about there?

Mr Knudson : Outcome 2.

Senator URQUHART: I've only got three questions around that area, so I might deal with those in outcome 2. I want to move on to the Harry Butler Environmental Education Centre. How long has the department been working with this centre?

Ms Brunoro : With the Harry Butler centre, the decision to fund Murdoch University was made in the context of the budget.

Senator URQUHART: Sorry, I just couldn't get all of that.

Ms Brunoro : The decision to fund Murdoch University—

Senator URQUHART: The question was: how long has the department been working with the centre?

Ms Brunoro : We are not working with the centre at present.

Senator URQUHART: How long was the department working with the centre?

Mr Cahill : Senator, we are not working directly with the centre because the measure is actually for Murdoch University to establish a centre. We are starting the process based on the government announcement. Prior to that, all the decision-making was tied up in a cabinet process.

Senator URQUHART: Was there a business case on the new $25 million of funding to the centre?

Mr Cahill : Again, Senator, the business case would be something you would expect to see in response to any grant guideline that we put out. This has been a policy deliberation during the cabinet process.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me why the centre was chosen, and were any others considered?

Mr Cahill : Again, that's part of a cabinet process, Senator.

Senator URQUHART: Was there a ranking process or a process that the department went through to determine that the centre should be awarded $25 million?

Mr Cahill : It's part of a cabinet process.

Senator URQUHART: So it's all part of cabinet. The department had nothing to do—

Mr Pratt : This is the process of developing the budget measures for the budget.

Senator URQUHART: So is $25 million a small grant for a research centre?

Mr Cahill : It's hard to do relativity, Senator. There is a whole spectrum of grants to universities right across the whole Commonwealth, so I couldn't give you a sense of whether it was small or big. It's not unusual for millions of dollars to flow to a university, Senator.

Senator URQUHART: Sorry, I'm really having trouble hearing you. There's whispering up in that corner of the room that I can hear in one ear and there's noise outside the door that I can hear on this side of the room.

Mr Cahill : Senator, it's not unusual for millions of dollars to go to a university.

Ms Brunoro : I might just add to that. There are a number of research hubs that have been funded under the National Environmental Science Program, and the amount allocated under that program ranges from $8 million through to $30 million, so it is consistent with other grants provided for those sorts of activities.

Senator URQUHART: Has the department met with the centre?

Mr Cahill : Again, the measure is to allocate to a university to establish the centre.

Senator URQUHART: Yes, but has the department met with the centre?

Mr Cahill : The centre has been established is my understanding. It's a Murdoch University thing. We only started the process, given the measure was only announced a day or two ago.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know where it's going to be located?

Ms Brunoro : Yes, I can give you that.

Senator Birmingham: Murdoch University, I would imagine.

Ms Brunoro : That's correct.

Senator URQUHART: So, it's Murdoch. What do the department's National Environmental Science Program hubs receive over the forward estimates?

Ms Brunoro : The program is $145 million in total but, in terms of the six research hubs, it's $142.5 million from 2014-15 to 2020-21.

Senator URQUHART: The budget description says that the centre will explore the benefits economic development can deliver to the ongoing understanding and protection of our natural environment—that's on page 75 of Budget Paper No. 2. What does this mean, and is it referring to offsets?

Ms Brunoro : I think in general, obviously, with respect to sustainable development, it's key that, as economic activity happens, that takes into consideration the environmental and social consequences. So the focus is to ensure that, when economic development occurs, it does so with regard to any proposed impacts or how it might be able to achieve enhanced outcomes for the environment.

Senator URQUHART: Is the department aware of any current science on this issue—that the centre will then build on? You talked about what the definition of that was—the sustainable development. Is there any current science around that issue and will the centre then build on that?

Mr Knudson : I would argue that we are constantly looking at the efficacy of different interventions that we can do to achieve better environmental outcomes, and that's going to cover species, water—you name it. It's going to be pretty broad. You mentioned a point about offsets—absolutely looking at then what could companies in economic development provide as offsets that will have the greatest impact. But it's such a large question. There are enormous amounts of research happening in that space, including through the National Environmental Science Program.

Mr Cahill : The National Environmental Science Program has well over 200 projects. I'm sure there are projects in there that either go directly or indirectly to those elements, combined with a highly regarded university sector that would also have people with interests in that. The nature of establishing any centre or foundation is to become a focusing point for that material to be brought together to be able to have better influence and impact. Those are the sorts of factors we will take into consideration in drafting the guidelines.

Senator URQUHART: You said there was a raft of expertise and my question was: why establish the centre if there is already—

Mr Cahill : A part of it is the focal point—it is what we will look at during the drafting of the guidelines.

Senator URQUHART: Is there a leading expert in this field, either in Australia or internationally, because it seems like quite a specialised field?

Ms Brunoro : As Mr Knudsen has suggested, that would depend on what particular discipline area it would be focused on and what kind of industry. It could span soil, water, biodiversity—those sorts of things. I doubt there would be one leading expert in and of themselves.

Senator URQUHART: Does the Harry Butler Centre research environmental approvals? Is that going to be one of the roles?

Mr Cahill : It is probably too early to say. We're still working through the process of the focus of the grant guidelines.

Senator URQUHART: You've got this centre that's in the process of being established, but you don't really have a specific point for it? I'm not trying to put words into your mouth. I am trying to understand.

Mr Cahill : The measure is for a university to establish the centre. In doing that, we will be quite clear in the guidelines of what outcomes we expect from the university establishing that centre. All those matters will be taken into consideration in designing those grant guidelines.

Senator URQUHART: Can we get some information on the Practical Environment Restoration program, including uncommitted and committed funding and how the program will be implemented?

Mr Costello : The environment restoration fund is a new budget measure—just announced—and therefore it is subject to appropriation. At this point there are no funds committed from that appropriation. It is $100 million uncommitted at this point in time.

Senator URQUHART: How will that program be implemented?

Mr Costello : There will be guidelines developed and decisions will be made, subject to appropriation.

Senator URQUHART: None of that work has been done?

Mr Costello : No. The guidelines have not been released.

Senator URQUHART: Okay. Is the department—sorry, I'm jumping around a bit. I apologise to the officials if you're getting up and down. I'll just keep rolling on. Is the department aware of the proposed development in the ACT at the York Park grasslands site?

Mr Knudson : You were correct, Senator, to foreshadow that we're going to have to change teams a little bit!

Mr Tregurtha : I believe we are aware of that particular project, but I'll have to take it on notice just to clarify that. I can come back to you in the course of the morning just to clarify that we are.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me then, if you're aware, where the application is up to.

Mr Tregurtha : I believe it's under assessment, but if you allow me to double-check I'll clarify that with you after morning tea.

Senator URQUHART: Excellent, yes. Has the community been consulted?

Mr Tregurtha : As long as this project has been referred, community consultation forms part of, as you know, both our referral and our assessment processes. So my expectation is, if we've got a referral, there has been an initial consultation point, and certainly, as we move through an assessment process, there's an obligation for us to undertake a further public consultation process.

Senator URQUHART: Okay—but if you can come back to me and confirm that. Also, what are the main environmental issues at the site?

Mr Tregurtha : I'm sure one of the main environmental issues will be the golden sun moth. Environmental issues in grasslands in the Australian Capital Territory can also include species like the earless dragon. But, again, I can come back after morning tea and tell you exactly what the matters are.

Senator URQUHART: That'd be great. My final question on that point is: who is the proponent for the proposal?

Mr Tregurtha : I think it's the Commonwealth Department of Finance, but again I'll have to double-check because it may well be contracted out to a separate proponent. So we'll give you the exact name.

Senator URQUHART: If you can come back to me, that would be great. I've got some questions around the Kingvale referral.

Mr Tregurtha : Yes, we can do those now.

Senator URQUHART: Can you provide advice as to when you expect to make a decision on the referral of land clearing at Kingvale station?

Mr Barker : Currently, the department is seeking further information from Queensland and preparing information to support a decision on whether the proposal should be approved.

Senator URQUHART: Can you give me any sort of time frame for that, Mr Barker?

Mr Barker : There isn't a statutory time frame at the moment, because that's expired.

Senator URQUHART: What's your expectation?

Mr Barker : It's subject to us being able to obtain further information from the state government. We don't have a time frame for that at this stage. I expect it would be in the coming months.

Senator URQUHART: Chair, I've still got some questions, but I don't know whether you want to break before different topics.

CHAIR: I think we might break now.

Proceedings suspended from 10:28 to 10:48

CHAIR: We will recommence.

Mr Pratt : Mr Tregurtha has a discussion about York Park.

Mr Tregurtha : Senator Urquhart asked about York Park. I have an answer for you on that. In regard to the assessment progress for that particular block, an approval decision has been made. That proposal has now been approved, and that approval decision will be up on the department's website.

Senator URQUHART: Do you mean—

Mr Tregurtha : It's the notice of approval. Whenever we make an approval, the notice of approval is posted on the website. That will contain the conditions that were put onto that particular project. In relation to the protected matters, the project was assessed in regard to the threatened species in ecological communities. But the particular matter we were most interested about was, as I expected, the golden sun moth. A lot of the conditions will pertain to the implications of developments on that site for the golden sun moth. You also asked who the proponent for the project was. The proponent for that project was the Australian government's Department of Finance.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you.

Senator CHISHOLM: I just wanted to ask about the Convention on Biological Diversity. Can the department outline if and/or when it will be providing its sixth national report on the CBD? Will this document be circulated prior to its submission?

Ms Stevens : In relation to our sixth national report, we are currently behind in making our submission. We are looking to make that submission later this year, noting that it is quite a comprehensive report. It doesn't rely just solely on information the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy. It does require significant consultation with state and territory counterparts and other entities. It has taken us a while to compile all of that information, but we are hopeful that we will be able to submit that later this year.

Senator CHISHOLM: The second part of what I asked was: will this document be circulated prior to it being submitted?

Ms Stevens : I believe it's not normal practice to submit it prior. We do always make sure that, once submitted, we provide that to anyone who has provided information into the process.

Senator CHISHOLM: Can you give us some sort of outline of what the report is likely to say?

Ms Stevens : I'm not in a position to make a comment at this time.

Ms Jonasson : It's a little early to say at the moment. We're still collecting all of the information and pulling the report together. The report will be made public once it's submitted, as the others have been. They are on our website.

Senator CHISHOLM: Where is the department up to in providing input into the post-2020 framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity?

Ms Stevens : Australia is continuing to engage in regional consultations and the process that is being led by the Convention on Biological Diversity's secretariat. We had an Australian government representative present at the most recent Asia-Pacific meeting that was held earlier this year. Last month, we were at our regional consultation, which was the Western Europe and others group. We are considered part of the 'others' of that regional group. They are the starting point of discussions. They are doing regional consultations in all five regions. Following that, there will be a working group established, which will then start to synthesise all of the information from these processes.

Additionally, Australia has made a submission to the convention in terms of a broad position, which is also publicly available. It just puts some high considerations forward at this stage, noting that there is still lots to discuss. We have also recently attended a workshop that was held by the Australian committee of the IUCN in Brisbane, where we heard some views firsthand from some stakeholders. Again, that was an event held by the Australian committee and not by the government itself, but we participated and welcomed many of those diverse views in that room. We will also be looking to hold broader stakeholder engagement probably around June, which will put us in a good position to hear the diverse views of all of our stakeholders so that we can actually engage quite well in the working group that we expect to be held sometime in August. Again, this is a long process in the lead-up to the decision meeting next year. We will continue to engage at all important points. We will hold consultations and regular meetings in the lead-up to that to formalise our position.

Senator CHISHOLM: So that's basically planned through to June.

Ms Stevens : June and beyond. At this stage, the convention secretariat is still settling some of the meetings, which is quite challenging to do for all countries across the globe. At this stage, it looks like August will be the first working group meeting. I think they are anticipating holding up to two more before the final decision meeting at the end of 2020. At this stage, they are not all formalised; but we do anticipate attending all of those negotiations, acknowledging the importance of the post-2020 agenda.

Senator CHISHOLM: Thanks. I had some questions about the agricultural review that was undertaken. I just wanted to get an update on where that is up to and what its status is.

Mr Edwards : The agricultural review was undertaken during the last calendar year. That was delivered late last year to the minister, and it's currently under consideration by the government.

Senator CHISHOLM: So it's basically been sitting on the minister's desk since late last year?

Mr Pratt : We wouldn't characterise it that way. It's subject to consideration by the minister and the government.

Senator CHISHOLM: Will the department release any of the work that has been completed?

Mr Pratt : That will be subject to a government decision.

Senator CHISHOLM: Are you able to outline some of the scope of what was in the review?

Mr Edwards : Yes. The review was looking at a range of things. Dr Wendy Craik was appointed as an independent reviewer. She was asked to look at the short-term opportunities to reduce red tape and find practical solutions to help farmers navigate the EPBC Act's rules. I will highlight key components of the terms of reference for you. They are to consider ways to approve farmers awareness and understanding of the referral, assessment and approval requirements of the act; to explore farmers' engagement with the species and ecological communities listing process and to examine the interaction between the EPBC Act and state native vegetation regimes.

Senator CHISHOLM: Minister, are you anticipating a date as to when this report will be released?

Senator Birmingham: I'm not anticipating a date, but I'm happy to take that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: Thanks. I have some questions around the Great Barrier Reef and how the department is approaching the cumulative impacts of land clearing proposals, industry and mining operations, new dams and roads, and agricultural intensification in the catchments of the Great Barrier Reef, particularly those that have previously been identified in the northern catchments area.

Mr Knudson : One of the things I can say in this exact area, which would be a good piece to pick up with the marine park authority—they did some work last year where they issued guidance on cumulative impacts that could impact on the reef, which is something that we take into account for any approvals in the Great Barrier Reef catchment areas. But if you have specific projects—

Senator CHISHOLM: I want to know how the department is taking that into consideration.

Mr Knudson : It's then applied for specific projects. If you have specific projects that you're concerned about, we can talk about how we've done that. The other thing that I would say is—again, we can talk about that when the marine park authority is here—they're in the process of finalising the latest outlook report. These are done every five years. That gives us a sense of what's happening in catchments but also in the reef area with respect to the various issues that are at play, whether it's climate change, agricultural run-off or any other type of impact. They can give a good sense of where that's up to.

Senator CHISHOLM: I have some questions in regard to Olive Vale station, which we've asked questions about previously. Can the department outline the progress of any compliance action or referral of clearing at Olive Vale station?

Ms Collins : There is no current compliance action at Olive Vale station and, as far as I'm aware, no current clearing matter. My understanding is that the owner of Olive Vale has been advised of the requirements under the act and how that might apply to future land clearing activity at the property. I can refer to my colleague, but I don't believe that there is a current referral at this point.

Mr Tregurtha : No, we don't have a current referral.

Senator CHISHOLM: When was the last time the department inspected Olive Vale station?

Ms Collins : That would have been on 5 September 2017.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is the department aware of any recent clearing that has occurred at Olive Vale?

Ms Collins : Not to my knowledge.

Senator CHISHOLM: Why hasn't the department called in the clearing of vegetation at Olive Vale similar to what occurred at Kingvale Station?

Mr Knudson : As I think Ms Collins said, the owner has been informed that if they intend to do additional clearing we provide guidance about what would need to be referred. Until the landowner decides that they want to proceed with that, they don't need to refer to us, nor would we be looking at a compliance action.

Ms Collins : I can add to that as well. The department wrote to the landowner on 11 September 2017 providing a contact point to engage in referral discussions. Subsequently the landowner met with the department's assessment and compliance staff to discuss what would be required in terms of referral. That's a matter for the landowner as to—

Senator CHISHOLM: And as far as you're aware no clearing has taken place since then?

Ms Collins : To my knowledge no clearing has taken place since then. We're not aware of any further clearing.

Mr Knudson : Senator, if you do have information that goes to any individual in the public where they're concerned about that sort of thing—

Senator CHISHOLM: That wasn't what I was suggesting. I was just asking the question.

Mr Knudson : I just wanted to make sure.

Senator WATERS: Can I start with yellow crazy ants and then move to Adani and reef matters. On crazy ants, I understand the funding is $9 million over three years, so $3 million for the next three years. The Wet Tropics Management Authority had asked for $6 million per year for seven years in order to try to stay on top of yellow crazy ants and, ideally, eradicate them. What modelling has the department done as to what can be achieved with a quarter of the funding required?

Mr Oxley : Mr Williams may have further information to add. The key point to make is that, in a program where the Commonwealth and the Queensland government are jointly responsible for the Wet Tropics and there is a management authority, the Commonwealth has put in three years worth of funding and has an expectation that the Queensland government will match that funding. It gives continuity of funding to the Wet Tropics Management Authority. It also represents an increase in the overall funding envelope available to the authority from the Commonwealth for that three-year period. As to whether there was any modelling done as to the adequacy of the Commonwealth contribution to what should be a joint program, Mr Williams may have some advice on that.

Mr Williams : I don't have much more information than Mr Oxley has put forward. Our interaction with the Wet Tropics Management Authority was related to the total amount of funding that was being sought from the Wet Tropics Management Authority in order to progress the task in front of them. From our point of view, our ongoing partnership with Queensland government in relation to the management of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area—the Commonwealth was putting forward funding for this program in light of that joint management responsibility.

Senator WATERS: My question was really about what modelling had been done to determine the effectiveness of that level of commitment from the Commonwealth to meet the task required, which is obviously to protect the Wet Tropics and the surrounding agricultural areas from an incredibly invasive and damaging ant species. Are you saying there, in fact, was no modelling done for whether the money can meet the task?

Mr Oxley : I am reminded that the size of the proposal, or the need that has been identified by the Wet Tropics Management Authority, on my understanding is a program that has been validated or analysed by Biosecurity Australia. In terms of the size of the task, I think those are questions that could be appropriately asked in the estimates hearing for the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. Because we're in a partnership with Queensland, the reality is that the Commonwealth resources matched by the Queensland resources, on our understanding, would fully meet the need for the program that the wet tropics has set out for the next three years. And we are in a budget cycle, so, as we come to the end of that budget cycle, as we have just done this time around, we would be back considering what next is needed as part of a review of the program at that time.

Mr Pratt : Senator, if I can restate that: essentially, they asked for $6 million per year for seven years. On the assumption that the Queensland government co-funds with the Australian government, they will get $6 million a year for three years. As Mr Oxley points out, it is of course open to the government to then re-fund later on in the cycle if it chooses to do so, as it has done in this budget.

Senator WATERS: Why was there no funding allocated for that fourth year?

Mr Pratt : That's a budgetary decision by government.

Senator WATERS: Minister, do you have any explanation for that?

Senator Birmingham: I can take that on notice. It obviously was a budget decision. Significant funding has been allocated, and clearly there are always opportunities to review the progress of a program and to reinvest more or other amounts into the future.

Senator WATERS: Lastly, before I move onto other matters, has there been any level of confidence provided to any of you about whether the Queensland government will in fact stump up half of what WETMA had asked for in order to deal with crazy ants, or are you just hoping?

Mr Knudson : My understanding is that this has always been a jointly funded program. There's no reason to believe it won't be going forward.

Senator WATERS: Yes, but in terms of the amount required to do the job?

Mr Knudson : Again, as has been pointed out by my colleagues, it's the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, through their biosecurity role, that has the most direct connection with respect to this issue in Queensland.

Senator WATERS: Even though it's a World Heritage area?

Mr Knudson : That's correct. It's because it's a biosecurity risk.

Senator WATERS: Can I please move onto a nature paper that was published overnight which talks about the fact that not only did half of the corals on the reef die from those back-to-back bleaching events but also there is now very little spawning of fresh corals happening as a result of that, and the implications for the reef and its recovery from that most recent learned publication? Has the minister asked for a briefing on that paper?

Mr Knudson : Given that it came out overnight, and I just read some media reports on this, I haven't had a chance to talk to the minister about this issue yet. But I'm sure, because of its implications, we'll want to understand its findings and what it will mean for us going forward, so I expect to be briefing the minister shortly on this.

Senator WATERS: Has the minister asked for such a briefing?

Mr Knudson : It came out this morning in the media—

Senator WATERS: Well, I've read it, and I'm not the minister.

Mr Knudson : I understand that.

Senator WATERS: And I don't have you at my disposal to ask for a briefing. So she hasn't asked yet?

Mr Pratt : Unfortunately we've been here and—

Senator Birmingham: Mr Knudson is more at your disposal this morning than he is at the minister's.

Mr Knudson : I think it's a fair assumption that, yes, the minister will be seeking advice on this. It's a very important issue on the reef for us to understand going forward.

Senator WATERS: But right now, even though the report's been out since—

Mr Knudson : For a matter of hours.

Senator WATERS: quite late, the minister hasn't yet asked you for a briefing?

Mr Knudson : Not to my knowledge. It could be in my inbox; I haven't been reading my emails.

Senator WATERS: Have you begun a briefing yet? I presume it will be a written briefing?

Mr Knudson : We haven't. All I was saying was that I've read an article on the study by Dr Hughes, and we will be absolutely following up on this.

Senator WATERS: Is there anyone who's actually read the nature paper, rather than just the articles, at the table, in the room or in the environment department?

Mr Oxley : I simply can't answer that question, because I don't know what my staff may or may not have done this morning since arriving at work. Someone may have already read it. There will be officers in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority who no doubt have already read it.

Senator WATERS: And I'll ask them about it.

Mr Oxley : We will work very closely with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to ensure that the minister gets a comprehensive briefing on the findings of the paper and the implications for the management of the Great Barrier Reef.

Senator WATERS: Can I ask anyone here any questions about it, or would it be pointless, because no-one has read it?

Mr Pratt : To be fair, we have actually been in estimates all morning.

Senator WATERS: Well, we've all been working all day, but it is the job of the department to stay across—

Mr Pratt : I certainly want my colleagues to be focused on the Senate committee at this time.

Senator Birmingham: Senator Waters, have you read the whole paper?

Senator WATERS: Yes.

Senator Birmingham: You've read the whole copy of the nature article?

Senator WATERS: I have a spare copy here if you'd like; it's right here. You're very welcome to my spare copy.

Senator Birmingham: Excellent! You can certainly table it.

Senator WATERS: But I had hoped that someone might have read it already.

Senator Birmingham: We have been sitting here answering questions since 9 am, and no doubt officials were preparing to do this beforehand. It's not unreasonable that they have not read a paper that was only published overnight.

Senator WATERS: I beg to differ. Mr Knudson, given that you've at least read some reporting about the article—which, as I say, is not a long article—can I ask about your knowledge of it through the media. The key conclusion of the paper is that we need to act on climate change or the reef simply won't be able to recover from the back-to-back bleaching events. Given the likelihood of future bleaching events, it sounds an extremely concerning warning for the future of all global reefs and the Great Barrier Reef in particular. Given that the two portfolios are now combined and that the clear call from the scientists is that we must act on climate change, what is your department doing to drag this government to any form of climate action before we lose the reef?

Mr Knudson : There are two issues, and obviously we will be happy to walk through what the government's doing with respect to climate change, including the recent announcements in the budget. With respect to the reef—where, quite frankly, the level of sensitivity with respect to impacts from climate change is higher—the science is indicating that it's not a two-degree change but a 1.5-degree change that would need to be achieved. That's obviously pretty significant globally. The article that I read, though, was talking about the ability of the corals to regenerate and whether there is a national selection process going on. Quite frankly, we always knew the structure of the reef was going to change with a changing climate. This is just showing that that seems to be happening faster and more dramatically than we expected, and obviously we need to understand that. So, while we're trying to achieve the global action on climate change, we're also taking appropriate actions locally to ensure that the reef is as resilient as it can be to a changing climate.

Senator WATERS: It also goes predominantly to the reduction in new spawning and the reduction in recruitment.

Mr Knudson : Correct.

Senator WATERS: It's not just about the change of species, which, as you say, everybody knew was happening, particularly when nothing's being done about climate change. In the context of that paper and that scientific evidence, what preparation is underway, if any, for the upcoming World Heritage Committee meeting, and what preparation is underway for next year's five-year review of the status of the reef?

Mr Knudson : As you would imagine, there is some extensive work going on with respect to World Heritage Committee meetings but also with respect to the reef in particular in the World Heritage context. I'll turn to Mr Oxley to provide an overview of that.

Mr Oxley : If I may get clarification, are you asking generally about what the department's preparations are for the World Heritage Committee meeting?

Senator WATERS: In relation to the Great Barrier Reef and its listing as potentially in danger.

Mr Oxley : The Great Barrier Reef is not the subject of consideration by the World Heritage Committee this year.

Senator WATERS: Not this year, but next year it is.

Mr Oxley : We have a state party report due on 1 December this year. We are in the beginning processes of developing that state party report. There are a few key things we need in order to be able to further develop that report. We are in the early stages of engagement with the Queensland government to obtain their input into it. We obviously will need the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's Great Barrier Reef outlook report 2019, which is due later this year. That will be a key input into the development of the state party report. So the report writing is a process that will get underway substantively in the middle of the year. In terms of the meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Baku at the beginning of July, we will be carrying with us a briefing and a very comprehensive understanding of the current state of the reef. For any delegation that is interested, we'll be in a position to provide them with factual information, firstly, about the state of the reef and, secondly, about the process with implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan.

Senator WATERS: With those delegations, obviously last time around there was extensive briefing, if I can be generous in my description of what occurred, to try to keep the reef off the in-danger list. What interactions have been had with any of those other delegations from any of the World Heritage Committee countries in the last 12 months, for example? Have you got any booked in prior to that meeting that's due next year, when the status of the reef will be considered?

Mr Oxley : We have no meetings booked in which relate to the Great Barrier Reef. Certainly in the margins of the World Heritage Committee meeting, when I'm asked, I will be talking to committee members about our current implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan and the state of the reef, because it is a subject of intense interest globally. We'll certainly be seeking the opportunity to meet with the head of the World Heritage Centre, the World Heritage Centre marine program and IUCN to talk to them about where we are at the moment with implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan. Indeed, I will have a discussion with them about what they would like to see addressed in the state party report. But, in the past 12 months, I'm not aware of there having been any engagement with delegations.

Senator WATERS: Last time around, there was more than $200,000 spent on either flying members of the media or representatives of other countries here or flying our folk to them to try to talk them out of listing the reef as in danger. I know those figures because I asked about them in estimates. I have the transcripts here. Has there been any money spent since that 2014-15 financial year on similar sorts of activities, and are you anticipating that there will be any expenditure to do similar sorts of meetings in the lead up to that meeting next year?

Mr Oxley : Firstly, I wouldn't characterise the technical and diplomatic engagement that happened a couple of years ago as about convincing delegations not to put the Great Barrier Reef on the endangered list. What I would say is that there was quite deep, technical and diplomatic engagement to help committee members properly understand both the extent of the challenges facing the Great Barrier Reef and the substantial action that was being taken jointly by the Australian and Queensland governments in order to deal with the challenges facing the reef.

There was a program conducted where a number of UNESCO ambassadors had the opportunity to come to Australia and see firsthand what was occurring on the reef. They saw the good and bad. They heard about the good things that were being done and also the scope of the challenges. They walked away from those engagements with a much deeper understanding and a firsthand appreciation of the scale of the Great Barrier Reef, the scale of the challenge that was being faced and how the government was addressing it.

In terms of future engagement with committee members, no decisions have been made as to how we might undertake that engagement. As we work through towards the end of this year there'll be a meeting of the General Assembly of the World Heritage Committee in, I think, November. That will be an opportunity to talk with delegations about all matters World Heritage, including our substantial reform aspirations for the World Heritage system as a whole as a member of the committee.

Senator WATERS: In light of this paper, will you be briefing the minister that this constitutes new significant information that should justify a review of the approval of Adani's Carmichael coalmine approval?

Mr Knudson : That is a question of speculation at this point.

Senator WATERS: Have you begun such a briefing as yet?

Mr Knudson : No.

Senator WATERS: The Queensland government just concluded their investigation into yet another of the various breaches that Adani has now been found to have made of their environmental condition that the state level. They've just fined Adani for polluting the Caley Valley wetlands. Will this be something that you'll be briefing the minister on as something that might constitute evidence that Adani is either not a fit and proper person to hold the approval or that this is significant new information that justifies reviewing Adani's mine approval?

Mr Tregurtha : At the moment we're working through a range of postapproval conditions in relation to the obligations on Adani in relation to their existing approval. That approval does not cover either the site nor the incident at the Caley Valley wetlands. It's a separate approval. I think the then Minister for the Environment took into account all the relevant matters in terms of making his approval decision in relation to Adani, so, at this stage, we don't have any intention to brief the minister in the way you are describing.

Senator WATERS: So you won't be outlining for the minister that, in fact, there are a range of circumstances which could, under the act, justify significant new information that could prompt the minister to review the previous approval of the mine. You're saying that, as the department, you will not be doing that and will not be telling the minister that that is open to her, given all of this new evidence about their breaches.

Mr Tregurtha : In relation to the Adani coalmine, as I mentioned, there are a range of briefings being provided to the minister on the postapproval obligations. As you're well aware, there is a significant number of management plans that require intervention and approval by the minister beyond the approval point, which was a couple of years ago. When the department provides its briefing on those postapproval plans, it takes into account everything that is going on and, where things are relevant, they are incorporated in our briefing to the minister.

Senator WATERS: Is that a yes or no? Will you be including these most recent breaches that they have now been penalised for in those briefings on the groundwater management plan?

Mr Tregurtha : We will be including any relevant information in relation to the decisions the minister is required to make in our briefing to—

Senator WATERS: I'm going to take that as a yes. Correct me, if I've formed the wrong impression, because I do not want to misconstrue it. I do genuinely want to understand.

Mr Tregurtha : I guess what I am saying is when we provide our advice to the minister we ensure we cover off any relevant consideration in relation to the decision the minister is being asked to make as a result of that briefing. Where there are relevant considerations they will be included. When the department determines that they are not relevant in considerations they wouldn't be included.

Senator WATERS: On that groundwater management plan, have you received it yet?

Mr Knudson : Yes.

Senator WATERS: When did you receive it?

Mr Manning : It depends which specific groundwater management plan you are referring to. There are several. The groundwater management and monitoring plan in particular—

Senator WATERS: That is the one I am referring to—

Mr Manning : That has been received. We've been through numerous iterations with the company. If you just bear with me a moment I can give you the date the most recent iteration was received. The latest version that we have received of that plan was on 15 March.

Senator WATERS: Have you received the feedback back from—forgive me, was it CSIRO and Geoscience evaluating that draft plan? Have you got their advice back yet on that most recent—

Mr Manning : Yes, we have received CSIRO and GA's advice on those plans.

Senator WATERS: When did you get that?

Mr Manning : On 22 February.

Senator WATERS: But you said the plan was only on the 15 March.

Mr Manning : The latest version of the plan was—

Senator WATERS: Have CSIRO and Geoscience looked at the latest version of the draft groundwater management and monitoring plan?

Mr Manning : No, they have not.

Senator WATERS: Will they be?

Mr Tregurtha : There is no intention to provide those plans to Geoscience Australia and the CSIRO. The department commissioned Geoscience and CSIRO to review an earlier version of the plans, in light of the conditions, to ensure that we had expert commentary in relation to what the inclusions might cover in those two plans. As Mr Manning has pointed out, we have received that advice back from Geoscience Australia and the CSIRO, and the department has used that advice in terms of its further consideration of what an appropriate construction of those plans should be, in consultation with the company. That was advice provided by those two agencies to the department to inform our appropriate consideration of those two post approval management plans.

Senator WATERS: Has the recommendation for approval, refusal or modification of that draft plan been put to the minister yet?

Mr Tregurtha : The department has briefed the minister in relation to the groundwater monitoring and management plan.

Senator WATERS: Including a recommendation as to how the plan should be dealt with now?

Mr Tregurtha : There is a recommendation in our briefing.

Senator WATERS: What date was that given to the minister?

Mr Tregurtha : Monday this week.

Senator WATERS: What is the time frame on when the minister needs to take that decision?

Mr Tregurtha : There is no time frame in relation to post approval decisions provided for under the EPBC Act.

Senator WATERS: Is it at the top of the minister's list or under a few other things?

Mr Tregurtha : That is a question for the minister.

Senator WATERS: Given that the election is expected to be called soon, have you advised the minister around caretaker provisions with that particular recommendation on that draft plan? We raised this last time, so I want to check the time frame.

Mr Knudson : The minister has been advised of caretaker provisions by the department and that encompasses decisions under the EPBC Act.

Senator WATERS: If the minister doesn't make a decision on the groundwater plan before the election is called will the Labor Party need to assent or dissent to the minister's decision on the groundwater management plan under caretaker provisions?

Mr Knudson : That would be my expectation, given the level of controversy around the decision. On controversial decisions standard practice under the caretaker provisions is to consult with the shadow minister.

Senator WATERS: Has the minister given any indication of when she will be turning her mind and taking a decision on the groundwater management plan?

Mr Knudson : It is a matter for the minister.

Senator WATERS: Thanks, everyone. Sorry to take so long. That's all very helpful.

CHAIR: That's a pleasure, Senator Waters. I think Senator Whish-Wilson has one more.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Just a quick follow-up question. In terms of new information that comes to light, is there any continuous disclosure around the world heritage endanger process or at least reporting to world heritage if new information comes to light? We'll ask this afternoon about potential for a freshwater bleaching event this year, which we heard some worrying concerns about at the last estimates. Is there a process where you have to go back to world heritage with new information when it comes to light?

Mr Knudson : We do indeed keep the World Heritage Centre abreast of certain aspects, and Mr Oxley can walk through that with respect to our referrals et cetera.

Mr Oxley : The first thing to say is that we have a process of reporting on a quarterly basis to the World Heritage Centre. Where the department receives development proposals that are referred under the EPBC Act, we advise the World Heritage Centre of each of those referrals. We also then follow up and, in that same quarterly reporting process, advise of decisions that have been taken under the EPBC Act. In terms of events such as the reporting on the failure of coral spawning in the Great Barrier Reef, when we're in a state of conservation reporting cycle, as we are with the Great Barrier Reef, then we would generally address those things in our reporting on the state of conservation. There isn't a mechanism where, when something happens in a World Heritage area, it gets automatically reported. There is a regular process for the natural properties where IUCN looks at the outlook for World Heritage properties on a three-yearly basis. It published its last outlook report last year. Then we also have a system of periodical reporting which is on a six yearly cycle whereby we would report on such things. If events of great significance occurred, I have no doubt—and this is our past experience—we would be in a dialogue with the World Heritage Centre and the advisory bodies about those matters.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you.

Senator MARTIN: I just want to go back a bit with a couple of quick questions. Reverting back to Senator Kennelly's production of some Facebook posts by local member Chris Crewther. After reading them, I don't see where the minister has actually used the words 'announce' or 'commitment'. Minister Birmingham, have you got any knowledge in regard to Senator Kennelly's questions where she was pointing towards the minister's involvement and presence there as to whether she's actually made any commitment or announcement?

Senator Birmingham: I am advised that in no way did the minister make any announcements or funding commitments herself in those videos that were published.

Senator KENEALLY: What about Mr Crewther? Can you confirm Mr Crewther did?

Senator Birmingham: Obviously you have tabled an apparent Facebook post which you indicated had subsequently been taken down.

Senator KENEALLY: But you can confirm Mr Crewther announced grants?

Senator Birmingham: I can confirm, Senator Keneally, that you have presented Facebook posts that you indicated had already been taken down prior to you raising them here today.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you read them out for us?

CHAIR: How about if Senator Martin, who has the call, continues his questions. Then I can come back to you later, Senator Keneally.

Senator MARTIN: Thank you. That was one of the questions. The other one goes back to Ms Jonasson. In regard to the Tamar River recovery election commitment funding in 2016, you mentioned a figure. I was just wondering if you can give me an update on the progress and expected outcomes with that project.

Ms Jonasson : I will ask Mr Costello to come to the table. He has some details for you.

Mr Costello : There was a commitment of $1.5 million out of the National Landcare Program to the Tamar River, and that money is rolling out. $1 million of that is happening in this current financial year. So it's contracted and it's being delivered. Half a million dollars in 2019-20 is still to go. Subsequent to that, there has been a very significant announcement by the Prime Minister and the Premier of another $95 million commitment to the river health of the Tamar. That is in two parts. That is $85 million to modernise a combined sewerage and stormwater system in Launceston and $10 million for continuation of catchment works. That money is part of the Launceston City Deal. The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities is overseeing that city deal but via a payment to Treasury. So we won't be managing that, but we are continuing to stay in touch with the project and provide advice to the department of infrastructure on the river-health aspects as required.

Senator MARTIN: Great. Thank you.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can I ask a follow-up question?

CHAIR: Of course you can.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: So there's no more siltation raking of the Tamar River going on that you're aware of?

Mr Costello : No, certainly not that we've funded—not under any funding we've provided in the current grant, no.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have there been any requests for funding for feasibility studies for infrastructure projects, such as a Tamar canal or a Tamar barrage?

Mr Costello : There was some consultation done around the river health action plan by the Tamar Estuary Management Taskforce, I believe, and there was some consideration of various proposals under that, but there's no live funding that we're involved with that's been provided for any of those.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Further to that, if there's no live funding, is there any consideration or a process around potential funding going on?

Mr Costello : That process was being run by the Tamar Estuary Management Taskforce, who are been supported out of the Tasmanian government, so I'm not aware of any further consideration of that. That's not to say it's not happening somewhere else. The specific commitments that were made out of the $95 million, as I've said, are for, primarily, the combined sewerage and stormwater system and then $10 million for catchment management. There's no current decision to fund any other infrastructure from those funds.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'd like to just go back to the actual portfolio budget papers, if we could.

Senator Birmingham: You're not taking us back to them. You’re a first timer for this morning.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Okay. Well, let's get to something that's relevant to today. If we could go to page 49—

Senator Birmingham: Of the PBS?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes. Under program 1.4, Conservation of Australia's Heritage and Environment, on page 49, it shows clearly that we are not on track for a number of key elements in relation to Australia's biodiversity, including prioritising threatened species, ecological communities and other significant elements of what we should be doing to protect our environment. I'd like to understand what the headline reason is why we are, as it says in the budget papers, 'not on track'?

Mr Knudson : The main thing here that's highlighted is that the activities required by the legislation are conducted within statutory time frame, and, when we take a look at our statistics with respect to approvals under the EPBC Act and the various statutory decisions, they are not being delivered on statutory time frames. We're running late on a number of programs.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How many are we running late on?

Mr Knudson : I'll turn to Mr Tregurtha for that, but I remember when we looked at this a little while ago—the numbers aren't great. I think it's in the low teens. When you take a look at the average days late, it's not enormous, but it's still not the place we want to be and, nonetheless, they are late.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It says in the budget papers that there have been four breaches of these deadlines under the EPBC Act.

Mr Knudson : Yes, and they are listed there.

Mr Oxley : If I may help clarify, we're talking about program 1.4, where it says 'not on track'—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That's right.

Mr Oxley : The four instances all relate to the heritage responsibilities that the department has under the EPBC Act. The first breach was our lateness in tabling the five-yearly review of the National Heritage List and the second breach was the Commonwealth Heritage List. I do note that that report has now been tabled in the parliament. The third was that the assessment for inclusion, on the National Heritage List, of colonial Sydney which was not submitted by the Australian Heritage Council to the minister by the required deadline. The last one was that for 2019 no call was publicly made for nominations for inclusion of places on the Commonwealth Heritage List. That was fundamentally because, working within the resource constraints within which we all have to work, a decision was made that priority should be given to seeking nominations for inclusion of places on the National Heritage List rather than the Commonwealth Heritage List.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You have outlined what those breaches are, and obviously that's one element of the broader performance criteria, and you've had to accept here for all to see that we are not on track. Is this a lack of funding of the department, a lack of resources that have been allocated to this area, or a minister who is missing in action once again?

Mr Oxley : It is a reflection of the department having to prioritise the use of the resources available to it for the heritage function.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So it's a resourcing issue?

Mr Oxley : Yes, Senator.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Would you agree that there has been a 39.7 per cent—almost 40 per cent—decline in federal spending on the environment and, therefore, resources to this environment since 2013?

Mr Oxley : I am not in a position to agree or disagree with that number. I don't know.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the department done any analysis of how much your budget has been cut over the last six years?

Mr Knudson : Senator, we need to bring the right people to the table; we have the heritage folk here, but you need the broader perspective of the department.

Mr Pratt : Whilst that's happening, to the extent that people have anything to add to what I'm about to say, we have examined this issue a few times at estimates over recent years. It is very, very difficult to make that analysis because there have been a number of rather significant machinery-of-government changes to the make-up of the department over that period. In addition, at different times there are savings taken from certain programs, and at other times there are major investments in new programs, depending on the priorities of the government of the day. So it is almost impossible to do that sort of analysis in a definitive way.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Except that we are being told that we're breaching statutory time frames and we don't have enough resources to look after the biodiversity priorities of particularly endangered species. Surely the Australian public has a right to know why. Is it because the department has suffered budget cuts, or is it because this government continues to put up ministers who don't give a shit about the environment?

Senator Birmingham: Senator—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I will withdraw.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator Birmingham: I'm not going to take the bait. I know how these things work and what people are after in terms of easy headlines. We have gone through a technical process in relation to deadlines for the tabling of certain reports. Those reports have subsequently been tabled and completed.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is anybody going to come to the table and talk to us about the budget cuts, Mr Pratt? Are you just saying you haven't done the work, you know you've have had your budget cut, it's impacted on the loss of species, we're not able to meet our time frames, and that's enough?

Mr Pratt : No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying that over a period of time it is impossible to make those sorts of assessments in an accurate and definitive way, simply because of major machinery-of-government changes, the reductions in some programs, the introduction of new programs and all of those sorts of things. What I can say, though, is that Mr Oxley's statement is correct. In each area of the department they have a budget that they must operate to and they must prioritise the matters which are the highest priority for the government of the day. At a departmental level we have exactly the same issues at a broader level, and decisions have to be made about allocation of resources to the highest priorities. I agree entirely with your premise that the areas we are talking about are very important, and that it is essential that, as far as we possibly can, we meet our statutory deadlines, but sometimes that just does not happen. This is a situation which my colleagues and I, as secretaries of portfolio departments, have dealt with for decades.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did you come to the table because you're going to give some information?

Mr Cahill : I was just going to confirm, as the deputy secretary who oversees the chief operating officer and the work we do, in terms of our internal budget matters, that, again, it was a complex picture over the last five or six years, because of machinery of government changes and all the other matters that the secretary has raised, to be able to make a valid or relevant comparison. We run a budget process every year, quite extensively, to work through how we resource within the appropriation for the department to be able to deliver outcomes. Sensible decisions are made best on the information in front of us.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Cahill, would you be able to take on notice a detailed breakdown of where funding has been reduced in the different outcome areas over the last six years?

Mr Cahill : We can take that on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. I go back to the implications of this, in relation to not being on track. Which species are going to be affected? Which ecological communities will be affected? And what is the actual result of not meeting this? I understand there is the embarrassment of not reaching a time frame, but I'm more interested in what it means for the actual environment itself.

Mr Knudson : I think Mr Oxley walked through, in 1.4, the specific actions. We can talk about, in detail, what those implications would be, but I would posit that the impact on the environment is actually relatively small. Like I said on environmental regulation as a whole, the impact is, quite frankly, more on companies that have a delay in getting their approval decisions, in terms of material impact, because the act doesn't allow a company to take an action until they have approval in place. So, by definition, there can't be an impact on the environment due to a development that doesn't have timely approval.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You are telling me that not being on track to meet a number of these deadlines hasn't impacted on any of Australia's native species?

Mr Knudson : What I was saying, Senator—and I'm happy to walk through the impacts with respect to 1.4, with respect to heritage outcomes—with respect to the statutory time frames on regulatory decisions under the act for development, is that you can't build a road, you can't build a mine et cetera until you have approval.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Let's talk about the performance criteria not being on track in relation to Australia's biodiversity, including the priority of threatened species. Which species are impacted because we're not on track?

Mr Knudson : Again, if you're talking about program 1.4, I'll turn to Mr Oxley to walk through again for you what's listed there and his sense of the potential impacts. But, quite frankly, it's more about heritage than biodiversity, and that's what we've—

Ms Jonasson : Before we pass over to Mr Oxley, I think it's important to go through the structure of the table on page 49 in the portfolio budget statements. The performance criteria that you're referring to, not on track, comprise a number of targets. They're in the right-hand problem. The performance criteria are identified as not on track because of the items that Mr Oxley referred to earlier today in the conversation about this—the activities requiring legislation—and they are the heritage breaches that Mr Oxley referred to. In relation to the other targets that relate to that performance criterion, they are on track, and that does also include 100 per cent of listed threatened species and ecological communities having approved conservation advice and/or a recovery plan. We believe we are on track to achieve that. So, in terms of your specific question in relation to that performance criteria, I just refer you to the multiple targets, and one of the targets relates to the heritage elements that Mr Oxley talked about, which means that the performance criterion is not on track. I will pass over to my colleague, Mr Oxley, to provide further information, if he has it.

Mr Oxley : I'm not sure that I could answer any better than Ms Jonasson has just done. She's very nicely summarised what I previously said.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What about in relation to program 1.5, where, again, it's saying we're not on track in relation to the biodiversity—priority threatened species. That's on page 50.

Mr Tregurtha : Senator, that's environmental regulation and that's the point Mr Knudson was making earlier in relation to the implications. Again, it's a similar issue to statutory time frames not having been met. In terms of what the implications are for that, as Mr Knudson has already pointed out, that is largely on developers and companies who are proposing to undertake actions, not receiving their approvals in the time frame that is set out under the EPBC Act. In relation to the environmental implications of that, my staff continue to do those environmental assessments and approvals and take due diligence and care in relation to assessing the environmental implications of any approval. So, materially, in relation to how that assessment is undertaken, there is no difference in terms of whether they are on time or not. The material impact, as Mr Knudson said, is that it is a delay for the proponent.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could I go to the issue of Australian sea lions. I asked about this at last estimates. I was told at that point that in two weeks time we should have had a result as to whether Australian sea lions were finally listed as endangered, to make sure we could look after them in line with international descriptions and standards. What has happened to the Australian sea lions?

Ms Jonasson : Thank you. I will ask Mr Richardson to come to the table so that he can help you on that one.

Mr G Richardson : Good morning. Senator, you're right. At the last estimates hearing, I outlined the time frame for that assessment, which at that time was 30 March. I can update the committee and say that that assessment has not yet been completed and in fact the Threatened Species Scientific Committee has sought a further extension to that time frame for the assessment.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What's their excuse?

Mr G Richardson : Their excuse is that they are seeking to complete a thorough assessment of the available evidence for that species and complete that in a robust way. They weren't in a position to complete the assessment by the end-of-March deadline.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: This has been on their list for four or five years, has it not?

Mr G Richardson : It was put on the list, I believe, in 2016.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Three years ago?

Mr G Richardson : Correct.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What is the problem?

Ms Jonasson : Senator, I think there are some assessments that are straightforward, that are not complex and for which there is a lot of information available. The committee are very expert and very knowledgeable and take their job very, very seriously; I do want to stress that. This is a complex case and a complex consideration. The committee does not ask lightly for extensions from the minister. So, when they have taken this decision, it is because they are concerned to ensure that they take the right decision and provide the right advice for the minister to consider.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has there been any consideration of the impact that this will have on NOPSEMA's decision to allow drilling in the Great Australian Bight?

Mr G Richardson : That is not a relevant consideration for the Threatened Species Scientific Committee. The committee is charged with completing an assessment in a robust way, as Ms Jonasson just said, and taking account of all the information that is available. This species is one of the more complex to do that for.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is this a result of the fact that the minister had failed in her duties to appoint those vacancies to the committee until only a month or so ago?

Ms Jonasson : No. The membership of the committee has had no impact on this assessment.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So, for three years, they haven't been able to do this and now they're asking for an extension right at the time when we need to know whether a major development in their habitat will go ahead or not?

Ms Jonasson : I don't think there is any direct link with the committee's assessment. In fact, I'm certain there is no direct link between the committee's assessment and this development consideration in terms of timing. I would reiterate to you that this is a complex case. The committee is concerned to ensure they have all the information. I might get Mr Richardson to talk through for you the detailed process that the committee goes through to ensure that they undertake an appropriate consideration when they are doing their assessments. These assessments do take time. They include public consultation. Mr Richardson, would you like to—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Before you do, Mr Richardson, perhaps you could reflect on this in your response. The international committee made a decision about the Australian sea lion in 2008. That's 11 years ago. Are you suggesting they don't take their job seriously?

Ms Jonasson : I don't believe I said that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: There is a clear contradiction between the process that your department oversees and what the international committee has been able to do. For 11 years people have been wanting an assessment on the Australian sea lion. It has been before the Australian committee for three years and we still don't have a result.

Ms Jonasson : I think it is worthwhile Mr Richardson talking through the approach the committee takes when they are doing these processes and assessments.

Mr G Richardson : Thanks. Senator, I presume when you're talking about the international committee, you're talking about the IUCN and the red list?


Mr G Richardson : Yes. The process that is followed is set out pretty clearly in the legislation. The committee is charged with assessing those items that are added to the final priority assessment list. They have a time frame set out in that final priority assessment list, which is recommended by the committee themselves. The time frames that are set by the minister are upon recommendation from the committee, so the committee anticipated they would be in a position to complete this assessment in the time frame. But, as Ms Jonasson said, there are more complex and less complex assessments, and that's to do with the information available, the robustness of that information and the clarity of whether that allows the committee to determine whether or not the species meets the criteria set out for listing species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. I might add that those criteria are essentially the same as the IUCN's criteria internationally.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How long has the extension been given for?

Mr G Richardson : They sought an extension until September this year.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I understand the point that you have made in relation to the current application from Equinor in the Great Australian Bight not being directly linked. I am not suggesting it is. My concern is that decision will be made in the absence of knowing whether the Australian sea lion needs proper protection. Therefore, it is inherently linked—if we are actually worried about the endangered nature of this animal.

Mr Knudson : One of the things I would suggest—because you're getting right at the issue of NOPSEMA's assessment of this project, and that would best be directed towards them in terms of how they plan to take into account any marine impacts. That is the essence of your question. The Australian sea lion is just one of the potential impacts that could happen in this space. NOPSEMA would be able to give you a better sense of what level of scrutiny they are applying to this project, so that you have that assurance.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. With all due respect, I have little faith that NOPSEMA are prepared to consider the impacts on the sea lion unless there is information from your department.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: They're not called to appear at estimates.

Senator Birmingham: Information from NOPSEMA has already dealt with the Australian sea lion and the impacts upon it. So that's completely untrue, Senator Hanson-Young.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: No. I am saying I have little faith. You can't say that is not true.

Senator Birmingham: No. You said you have no faith that they will consider the impact of the sea lion unless it is listed through this process. That is actually incorrect, because the Australian sea lion is already cited in NOPSEMA information in relation to this listing. How many listings—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I am not going to hold my breath as to whether they do the bidding of the big oil companies or the bidding of the Australian environment. I know which side of the fence they continue to fall down on. I don't think they're independent at all. I am on the record and I'll—

Senator Birmingham: That's a reflection upon the officials and their responsibilities to uphold what are quite high environmental standards.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: When they hang out with pro-gas-and-oil heads and—

CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: host drinks for politicians, I know what side of the fence they sit on.

CHAIR: we might just revert to asking questions of officers of the department, rather than rhetorical flourish. It is lovely, but it is incorrect and inaccurate. I would like to give Labor senators a chance and then we'll come back.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you. Mr Pratt, The Guardian have just released an article titled—and I have a copy—and you look like you have a copy, Mr Pratt.

Mr Pratt : Thank you, Senator.

Senator URQUHART: It is titled 'Government tries to censor itself over export of birds to convicted German fraudster'. The Guardian reported that the department has asked it to destroy documents handed over under FOI relating to the Australian government allowing for the export of 232 birds to a Mr Martin Guth, a man with multiple criminal convictions. I understand you have the article?

Mr Pratt : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: Is it common for the department to retrospectively redact FOI documents?

Mr Pratt : No.

Senator URQUHART: What powers does the department have to retrospectively redact FOI documents?

Mr Pratt : I believe we have no powers of that sort.

Senator URQUHART: The Guardian article also states that the department argues that retrospective redaction was needed because release of the information could facilitate fraudulent export applications. Given the concerns with the export of the 232 birds to begin with, how can the release of this information put other Australian fauna at further risk of illegal export?

Ms Jonasson : Thank you for the question. We do have a copy of the letter that we provided to the journalist, which we would be happy to table. It might help the committee. The first point I would like to make is that we do acknowledge in the letter that Ms Cox has no obligation to do as we asked. It was a request we made of her. We also noted that we made this request really to protect the information from further disclosure, not to prevent her from making use of the documents for other purposes.

To be quite frank, it was because of an administrative error of my team that this information was released. I was absolutely aware that, in having this letter provided to Ms Cox, an article such as this may appear in The Guardian. Nevertheless, I felt that, for full transparency and to ensure that due process was followed, we should provide such a letter to Ms Cox and provide her with the information and the reasoning why, absolutely noting that there was no legal obligation on her to do as we were kindly requesting.

The reality is that more information than would have normally been provided has been provided. I trust that Ms Cox will use the information in an appropriate way. Our concern really is to ensure that, as we've said in the letter, permit numbers and those sorts of things are not used for people to create their own fraudulent permits, permit numbers and that sort of stuff. That's basically the reason we did it. I was aware that, in doing so, we would likely end up in The Guardian.

CHAIR: Is it the wish of the committee that we have that letter tabled?

Senator URQUHART: Yes.

CHAIR: If we could have a copy of that, that would be great. Thanks, Ms Jonasson.

Senator URQUHART: What Australian fauna are at risk of fraudulent export as a result of the release of this information?

Ms Jonasson : It's actually because of the nature of the information. People may be able to create their own permit numbers and things like that. We really wanted to ensure that that wasn't possible, particularly given the concerns that have been raised recently around a number of other exports. We take the protection of our wildlife very seriously. We look to ensure that, where animals are exported, we contract that and we know where they have come from.

Senator URQUHART: You mentioned that the release of the information was an administrative error.

Ms Jonasson : Yes, it was.

Senator URQUHART: What things have you put in place to ensure that this won't happen again?

Ms Jonasson : The first thing I would say is that, since we became aware of this, we have done this letter to Ms Cox to ensure that we are on record as correcting that. In addition to that I've put in place additional checks in my team. There have been multiple FOI requests on this particular topic, as you would be aware. I've been working with our general counsel branch to ensure that we have the appropriate checks before information is released to make sure nothing of a personal nature or something that could support corrupt or fraudulent behaviour is released. I might hand over to my colleague Ms Tregurtha.

Ms Tregurtha : In terms of responsibility for ensuring that delegates and others processing any department requests are aware of their obligations, we take an educative role and we also provide support in processing requests. I've also been through this error with my team as to what we could do better in the future. We're making sure that we do thoroughly review and assist to review those documents and also identify where we might need to do more enhanced consultation with third parties to pick up these sorts of things.

Senator URQUHART: Have either set of documents—the newly redacted or the originals—been published on the department's FOI log?

Ms Tregurtha : No we haven't done that yet.

Senator URQUHART: Are you going to do that?

Ms Tregurtha : Yes, we will do that.

Senator URQUHART: Who are the third parties who have raised concerns about the information being made public? It is six months after the release of that information.

Ms Jonasson : I don't have that information available here today. I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator URQUHART: Can you provide it during the course of today?

Ms Jonasson : Yes, I will absolutely attempt to do that for you.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me why they've acted on these concerns?

Ms Jonasson : I'll ask the question for you, Senator.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to follow up the questions I asked about Shark Bay during the last estimates, as a question on notice. Thank you for the answer, it was very useful. I want to ask about time lines for the study about the impacts of climate change on the World Heritage values at Shark Bay. You said:

The Department is working with researchers and on-ground World Heritage property managers to identify the risks and potential responses to the impact of climate change on the World Heritage values.

Can I ask for a time line on that work—if it's still underway or has been completed?

Mr Oxley : It may help me just a little if I could have—

Senator SIEWERT: The question number?

Mr Oxley : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: My apologies; it's question No. 112.

Mr Oxley : Thank you. That refers to the new National Environmental Science Program Marine Biodiversity Hub project, which we talked about in the answer.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. I want to come to that. In answer to the question, you referred to a scoping study that's being undertaken.

Mr Oxley : We may need to take it on notice and seek a response directly from the relevant hub.

Senator SIEWERT: Fair enough. In answer to the first two questions, is it the hub that's undertaking that work?

Mr Oxley : I can't answer that question. We need the relevant officers at the table, I'm sorry. We may not have them here; they're not associated with outcome 1.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Where should I ask about this then?

Mr Knudson : It's here, actually; it's 1.2.

Mr Cahill : Senator, can I get you to confirm the specific scoping exercise that you're—

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. This was in answer to my question No. 112. I asked:

Has the Department undertaken an evaluation of the impact of climate change on the world heritage values of Shark Bay?

And you said:

The Department is working with researchers and on-ground World Heritage property managers to identify the risks and potential responses to the impact of climate change on the World Heritage values.

I want more detail on that. If I'm asking in the wrong place can you please tell me where I should ask it?

Mr Cahill : You're in the right outcome, Senator.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you, because I was just told I wasn't.

Mr Cahill : We'll probably have to take that on notice and go back to the hub. We'll see what we can find out for you today. It is at a scoping stage and, by its nature, they're working at the focus of the research exercise.

Senator SIEWERT: That's why I'm asking, because I ask this earlier—in February—and I expect that things have moved on. I would like to know if the scoping study has been completed and, if not, what the time line is and what happens from there.

Mr Cahill : We'll get back to you later today on that.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be appreciated. You then said:

The Department is working with the Shark Bay World Heritage Area Advisory Committee and climate change experts to develop a Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Action Plan.

I'd like to know, then, where that plan is up to, what the time line is and funding that's anticipated. Is there funding already allocated to that, or will funding be allocated to that subsequently? And at what level will that be?

Mr Oxley : That work is being led by the property manager for Shark Bay. The department is supporting that process—engaged in that process would be a better way of articulating it. There's not any funding available for implementation of that strategy per se, although it would be open to the property manager to apply for assistance through the Australian Heritage Grants program if they had projects that they wanted to see implemented as a result of it. One other thing I should add—and Mr Williams may have more detail than I do—is that in recent months a workshop was conducted in Shark Bay, which involved quite a number of experts. It was looking at the vulnerability of the property to climate change, and I believe that produced some very useful information.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I'm aware of that workshop, and I have in fact looked at some of the work that came out of that. Thank you. So, you don't have the time lines? Or can you take that on notice?

Mr Oxley : We'll take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: That'd be great. And the funding that you listed in the rest of the answer—the funding that's been made available to the marine hub, and there's the $140,000 that's the annual contribution, plus the funding for the dugong population and habitat survey—that is the only funding that is currently being made available by the Commonwealth to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area?

Mr Williams : That's the case at the moment. We have work underway, as pointed out in the answer to the question that we've provided to you in relation to the National Environmental Science Program. And as Mr Oxley said, it will be down to the site managers to use that work as a basis for pursuing further funding possibilities, including with us.

Senator SIEWERT: Including with you, but also with the Marine Biodiversity Hub project? Or, with the Marine Biodiversity Hub, is there more funding potentially available through that process as well?

Mr Oxley : We don't have the expertise to answer questions about the Marine Biodiversity Hub. They have an annual work program, and they develop up their annual work program through quite a comprehensive consultation process. As a general theme, there is a focus within that program on World Heritage. But the job lot of work that the hub does rolls from year to year, and the program evolves. I do know that in recent months the hub leaders have been in consultation with the department and others in looking to build the forward work program. Whether that has looked specifically at needs for survey study, research, in Shark Bay, I don't know, but that can certainly be taken on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Perhaps you could take that on notice, then.

Mr Oxley : And lastly, in relation to funding to Shark Bay specifically, I should say that the department does fund the role of an executive officer for Shark Bay.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, the $140,000.

Mr Oxley : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I've got that one. And that's just rolling.

Mr Oxley : Yes.

Mr Cahill : I will concur with Mr Oxley. I actually met with the hub leaders last week, and we are in the process of thinking through the approach of the next hub research decisions and such and working through that priority program, because it's a rolling program.

Senator SIEWERT: One last question: can I get a sense of the understanding of the sense of urgency around the impact of climate change on Shark Bay?

Mr Oxley : What we do know is that the marine heatwave in 2011 had a very extensive impact in terms of loss of seagrass in Shark Bay, and there have been some real challenges in the recovery of the species there. There are questions about what the future species composition is going to look like and whether there is a need to look at changes in species composition in order to sustain the ecological function there in the same way that that discussion is going on in relation to coral ecosystems and system function in the Great Barrier Reef and other places. And we've seen in recent days reporting on new research that has shown that there's been a 12 per cent drop, I think it was, in recruitment of dolphin populations, which is understood to be a consequence of the loss of that seagrass habitat. So, the picture for Shark Bay, as it is for many of our marine World Heritage systems, is one of being challenged in the face of climate change.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you, Mr Oxley. I wanted to get a sense of the sense of urgency, and I'm not trying to make this a Shark Bay or the west coast versus the east coast, but there is a lot of work being done and funding being spent on the Great Barrier Reef, as there should be. My concern is that Shark Bay is, as I know you're aware, only one of four marine places that meet all four listing criteria. Looking at the science, we are seeing some pretty dire prospects, and I'm not seeing the same level of investment in the bay as we are providing in other places. I'm not making a grab for anybody else's money. I'm asking: is it intended and are you looking at it in that sort of scale in terms of needing to be upping the investment in Shark Bay to meet the level of urgency about climate change impact on the very issues you've just articulated?

Mr Oxley : I would say that we feel that sense of urgency in relation to many of our World Heritage properties. That sense of urgency is something that we communicate clearly and that is understood globally—hence the criticality of the focus on mitigating emissions. In terms of how we respond to those challenges in the here and now, I guess there are two particular components, one is managing systems to ensure they are as resilient as they can be, and then secondly there is really starting to look comprehensively at the adaptation challenge and how that might be supported. So, there is a sense of urgency there, and that is being communicated, but it—

Senator SIEWERT: Communicated to whom?

Mr Oxley : From time to time, we provide an overview of the sort of challenges facing our World Heritage properties.

Mr Cahill : Included in that is that Mr Oxley and his team right across the whole department are engaged in how we set priorities for the National Environment Science Program. So that focus on Shark Bay and other areas where there is importance to the World Heritage area actually are inputs to the decision-making about where we focus the science.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I'll put the rest of my questions on notice.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I will ask more questions to GBRMPA this afternoon about the AAT decision a couple of days ago around drum lines in the Great Barrier Reef, but I note today that Mr Mark Furner MP, who is the Queensland government minister, wrote to the environment minister, Melissa Price, yesterday requesting federal government intervention in relation to the removal of those drum lines from the Great Barrier Reef. Can someone tell me whether that is the case and whether that's been actioned by the department?

Mr Knudson : I'm not aware of that correspondence yet, but I'm sure it will be coming to us very soon.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Minister, are you aware that the environment minister has been asked to intervene in Queensland to replace drum lines in the Great Barrier Reef?

Senator Birmingham: Do you have you got a copy of the letter from Mr Furner?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I do. It's on social media. What's your Twitter handle and I'll forward it to you!

Senator Birmingham: I'm not—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: He's attached a copy of the letter.

Senator Birmingham: Is it a letter that's only been released today?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Yesterday, from what I understand.

Senator Birmingham: Yesterday—late yesterday.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Anyway, I'll get you a copy of it, but he has put it up on his social media.

Senator Birmingham: We'll look into it. It's always interesting in these cases as to whether the letter has reached the office before it's actually been released.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could I ask one of the department officials: what potential intervention could the environment minister make if she were to accept the minister's ministrations that the drum lines should be replaced in the Great Barrier Reef?

Mr Knudson : As you would imagine, it's a pretty complex issue. The regulatory regime around the Great Barrier Reef incorporates not only state legislation but also Commonwealth legislation and GBRMPA legislation. It's just such a speculative question, that we would want to take a look at who's in the best position to respond. Without stating the bleeding obvious, the other part of this is trying to ensure that swimmers and users of the ocean are safe as well.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Did you read the judgement by the AAT?

Mr Knudson : No, I haven't.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: They said the scientific evidence was overwhelming that those devices provided no safety for bathers.

Mr Knudson : That would obviously be important for anyone to consider.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That's not a point I want to debate with you today, anyway, but I do want to know when this committee looked into shark mitigation around the country. I understand there was a federal environmental law loophole that allowed nets and drum lines to be put in at Ballina, in New South Wales. Could you remind me what that exemption was under EPBC—

Mr Tregurtha : Are you talking about a national interest exemption that was provided to New South Wales for a specific trial, in relation to drum lines?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That's correct.

Mr Tregurtha : From memory, it was only the nets that needed the exemption because the drum lines—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Smart drum lines.

Mr Tregurtha : the smart drum lines were determined to be unlikely to have a significant impact on the national protected matter.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: As we know, drum lines do which currently exist in Queensland. Is it possible that the exemption could be used again by the Queensland government? I'm not asking you for advice.

Mr Tregurtha : It's a national interest exemption, so it has to be sought by a proponent and is a case-by-case consideration for the national environment minister. The other thing to be aware of, though, is that, for example, when you're talking about shark protection measures that are currently in situ they may well be operating under existing exemption provisions that are also contained in the EPBC Act. So, as Mr Knudson said, it is a potentially complex arrangement—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: It is. For your information, the Queensland government today have taken out the drum lines. They have complied with the AAT's decision, but they are now requesting that the federal environment minister intervene. I will leave it at that for now. Can I ask you very quickly, because I've only got a few minutes, at the last estimates, which wasn't that long ago, I asked about the waste policy. Could you tell us where we are at with that? I am happy to read you your comments. You more or less said that actions agreed by governments to be included in the national action plan will guide government decisions on future funding commitments and that you would have something in April. Could you quickly update me on where we're at with that?

Mr Tregurtha : Absolutely. My staff have been working assiduously with states and territories as well as with industry, in terms of progressing the national action plan, on the back of the communique and the decision that was made at the Meeting of Environment Ministers in December last year. In fact, I'm hosting a meeting in Melbourne tomorrow of both state and territory colleagues and industry to progress that national action plan. It would be our intention, as we noted in the question, that we put together a draft in relatively short order so that we can brief a minister, over the course of the coming months, with a view to whenever the next meeting of—ultimately, this would be put in front of the next Meeting of Environment Ministers for consideration.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Just as a reminder, when is that?

Mr Tregurtha : We haven't set a date yet. That would be dependent on the next—after the election.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: So it's not likely we'll have a new funding package or policy ready to go by the election, if you haven't set that date. Is that a reasonable—

Mr Tregurtha : I would say a couple of things on that. As we noted in the response, and we are working with the states and territories, we would expect to have a national action plan in place that would help guide future decisions of that nature. That doesn't prevent—as we've seen, just recently, the government made a commitment in the budget announcement on Tuesday night. Certainly, there are a range of other commitments that could be made, but from our perspective, in relation to the national action plan, we would want it to be agreed between the Commonwealth and state and territories before it was used as a vehicle to inform funding decisions.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That was going to be my next question. The announcement, on the budget, looked like it was a grants based announcement in a broader fund for recycling projects. Was that an informed recommendation from the department to the government or was it a purely ministerial initiative?

Mr Tregurtha : We've been speaking with the minister and the minister's office for years, in relation to—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I'm aware it's been many years, and I'd like to have seen this a long time ago.

Mr Tregurtha : the potential, as you are well aware. We've been having an ongoing discussion with a range of environment ministers, since the 2009 national waste strategy, in relation to what proposals or propositions there were for taking action on waste. The decision of the government in the budget was to make that funding program that we heard about earlier available for recycling and other waste infrastructure projects, so there's a facility there contingent on the guidelines being—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is there a dollar amount, like a cap or an allocation within that fund, or an expectation, of how much would go towards recycling?

Mr Knudson : No, there isn't. The only thing I would flag is that, in addition to communities environment program, which we were talking about earlier, there is a community restoration fund which is $100 million and it talks about waste and recycling initiatives. But, no, there is no cap in there. I just want to flag that there are actually two programs that talk about waste.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: If I get a chance, perhaps I can have another go a bit later.

CHAIR: You won't get another chance, Senator Whish-Wilson; sorry to break it to you.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Maybe next week when you come back!

Mr Knudson : Looking forward to it, Senator!

CHAIR: You've just jinxed this whole day.

Senator RICE: I want to ask about the Threatened Species Scientific Committee's assessment of the conservation status of the Leadbeater's possum. That was due to be submitted to the minister on the 30 March—is that correct?

Ms Jonasson : That's correct, Senator. We're just waiting for Mr Richardson to join us at the table so he can join this conversation.

Senator RICE: Has that indeed occurred?

Mr G Richardson : Senator, I'm pleased to note that the assessment of the Leadbeater's possum threatened status has been completed by the committee and has been provided to the minister.

Senator RICE: When was it provided to the minister?

Mr G Richardson : It was on Friday last week—on 29 March.

Senator RICE: How long until the minister must respond to it?

Mr G Richardson : The EPBC Act sets out the statutory time frame, and that is 90 business days from receipt of the advice from the committee.

Senator RICE: Is it correct that the minister can decide to reject the recommendation of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee?

Mr G Richardson : I'm not sure I'd characterise it as a reject. The minister, in making a decision on a listing advice, must only take account of—and I should get these words right—the advice from the committee and the effect on the species of any change in the listing status.

Senator RICE: But, if they decide to do something different from the recommendation of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, what does the minister have to do?

Mr G Richardson : The reason I'm hesitating is that it's never actually happened to my knowledge. The minister is restricted to considering essentially the evidence as to whether or not the species meets the regulated criteria under the EPBC Act for listing and the effect of that change in listing of the species. That's what the minister is restricted to, so I guess it is conceivable that a minister might consider different to new evidence or conclude something different to the advice from the committee. However, those are the only options available under the act.

Senator RICE: I understand from my reading of the act that the minister may seek and have regard to information and advice from any other source as well.

Mr G Richardson : Correct. They could be in receipt of different information.

Senator RICE: They could effectively reject the recommendation.

Mr G Richardson : I guess they could conceivably have available to them information that's not available to the committee under that provision and reach a different conclusion.

Senator RICE: If the minister decided to make a recommendation in the next short period of time, would the minister only be able to do that up until the writs were issued for an election?

Mr G Richardson : The caretaker provisions would apply to a decision of the minister based on the advice from the committee. I guess, if it were contentious—and I think this one could be—it would be subject to the provisions we discussed earlier around consultation with the shadow.

Senator RICE: So the minister could make a decision whether to accept the scientific committee's recommendation or make a different decision on the basis of other evidence. She could do that on her own up until the election is called but, after that, under the caretaker provisions, it would need to be in consultation with the Labor Party.

Mr G Richardson : That's my understanding.

Ms Jonasson : The process that we would take is that we would have a conversation with the caretaker people in our department as well as with the caretaker people in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and with the minister to determine what the appropriate approach would be under the caretaker conventions.

Senator RICE: Going back to the prospect of whether the minister didn't accept the recommendation of the scientific committee, on the basis of information or advice from any other source, would that be able to consider information that the scientific committee also had considered, such as the information from AFPA, the Forest Products Association, or the VicForests data?

Mr G Richardson : As I said earlier, the minister is restricted to, essentially, scientific information that goes to whether or not the species is eligible under the IUCN criteria that are set out in our regulations.

Senator RICE: But if it was scientific information that the Threatened Species Scientific Committee had also considered, would that be eligible to be 'other information', even though the scientific committee had also considered it?

Mr G Richardson : There's no limit on the other information that the minister can consider, but the minister must consider the advice of the committee.

Mr Knudson : I think your question is: if the forestry peak body put in some information and the minister said, 'I only want to pay attention to that, not the scientific committee's advice.'

Senator RICE: Even though that information had already been considered by the committee.

Mr Knudson : No. Just logically—obviously we'll come back if we've got this wrong—it wouldn't make an awful lot of sense if that was the case.

Senator RICE: What does it mean to 'consider' that information?

Mr G Richardson : I don't have the act in front of me, but the act sets out that the minister is required to consider the advice of the committee and within the time frame I mentioned earlier but can have reference to other material, but can only consider that material as it goes to the science as to whether or not the species is eligible under the criteria that are legislated.

Senator RICE: We will wait with bated breath to see what the minister does.

Mr G Richardson : It's not a matter, I understand, that's been tested in the courts, for example, as to what that consideration could comprise.

Senator RICE: So if the minister did decide to make a recommendation other than what the scientific committee was recommending, there could potentially be legal action about whether she had appropriately considered the advice of the scientific committee.

Ms Jonasson : I think, as Mr Richardson said earlier, this is actually something that's never happened, so we're inexperienced perhaps in our consideration of such an event, or such a decision. I feel we're moving into speculative territory—

Senator RICE: But the act does allow it?

Ms Jonasson : so perhaps we can have a conversation once we know where this lands. The minister, as Mr Richardson, said has 90 business days under the legislation in which to make a decision.

Senator RICE: A speculative question is whether you would expect the minister to make a decision prior to the issuing of the writs for the election.

Ms Jonasson : Absolutely—I couldn't comment on that.

Senator RICE: No. Given that, and given the 90 days, which could be four months, what does that mean for the recovery plan? Do you still have a deadline of 30 September for completion of the recovery plan?

Mr G Richardson : The recovery plan, as you're aware, a year or so back was put on hold. The minister sought the committee to reconsider whether the recovery plan that had been drafted needed to be updated to take account of the new information that was being made available through the reassessment process. That's essentially the survey data out of the Victorian government over the last few years. The committee will be considering the recovery plan and any amendments that need to be made to it at their June meeting, and I'd anticipate the recovery plan would be finalised shortly thereafter.

Senator RICE: Can we go back to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee's recommendation to the minister. Is the minister required to make that recommendation public when she makes her decision?

Mr G Richardson : At the time the decision on a listing outcome is made by the minister, there's a requirement for a conservation advice to be published. That conservation advice, by matter of policy—it's not required under the act—has been the listing advice from the committee. Historically, when the minister makes the decision on a listing decision, the conservation advice, which is constructed from the advice from the committee, is published at the same time as the approved conservation advice. That is what I anticipate will happen in this case.

Senator RICE: But it's not required under the act.

Ms Jonasson : No. But it is usual practice.

Senator RICE: There's no expectation that the committee's recommendation would be made public before the minister makes her decision.

Mr G Richardson : There's actually a provision in the act that prevents that from happening until the minister has made the decision.

Senator RICE: Thank you.

CHAIR: That concludes our consideration of outcome 1.

Proceedings suspended from 12:30 to 13:32

CHAIR: We will recommence. Hello to our friends in Tasmania at the Australian Antarctic Division. Thank you for joining us today. Welcome, Mr Ellis, to your first estimates in this role, and congratulations on your appointment. Do you have an opening statement before we kick off with questions?

Mr Ellis : No, not at all. We can go straight into questions, thank you.

CHAIR: Okay. Senator Urquhart, fire away.

Senator URQUHART: Hello down in Hobart. I've just got one question, but it has got some components to it. Could you give me some information on the Antarctic Program—each component, including uncommitted versus committed funding, and how the program will be implemented.

Mr Ellis : I think I'll take that question on the details of the budget on notice.

Senator URQUHART: Well, I did write to Mr Pratt to give him an indication of the areas that we would be asking questions around, and it did comprise of the amount of funding which was uncommitted and committed.

Mr Cahill : Under 'Budgeted expenses for Outcome 3' on page 65 of the budget portfolio, there is the funding for outcome 3. In its broader sense, it's separated into 'departmental' and 'administered'.

Senator URQUHART: Is it uncommitted and committed?

Mr Cahill : In terms of how we're performing against this year in terms of our commitments this year, our program is operating tightly but within budget. Most of our commitments are already in place in terms of our operating—

Senator URQUHART: Can you take me through the figures. I asked this question earlier of the department, and a significant amount of information was provided, which I was very grateful for.

Mr Pratt : If I could just to clarify—certainly we've attempted to cover off everything in your very helpful letter, but I don't see anything about the Antarctic funding. Primarily, that is in two areas. It will be in departmental funding for the operation of the Antarctic Division, including the bases in Antarctica and also a lot of major capital items. But we haven't come prepared for such a detailed discussion on that, because we didn't—unless I've missed it somewhere in your letter.

Senator URQUHART: There are a number of areas of detailed information about advertising and information campaigns for the department. It talks about the total expenditure on advertising. You're correct, Mr Pratt, but it doesn't outline the Antarctic department.

Mr Cahill : If it helps, Senator, there are three groups of funding for the Australian Antarctic Program. There is the departmental appropriation, which then is supplemented by some revenue we get from other sources. We then have equity and capital injections. There is an equity injection of capital for the Antarctic icebreaker and major capabilities as well as, as you'll see in the budget papers, a commitment to a large capital investment program for reinvigorating and rebuilding our bases down on the southern continent. Thirdly, we have a series of other appropriations that pick up expenses or other matters like the operating side of running ships and such.

What I can say in terms of commitments is that the program this year is fully committed. By its nature, when you're running bases and ships and such, there are some long-term commitments. The ship contract itself is a 30-or-so year commitment with contractual obligations. And then we are moving from a one-year to a five-year planning scheme, so there are commitments in an accounting sense—contracts signed—and there are commitments you just have to maintain.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know what the value of those are?

Mr Cahill : No, I'd have to take that on notice. That's very detailed. As you'd imagine, the amount of contracts we would have in place just to run the logistics and supply of bases would be quite large.

Senator URQUHART: You can't give me the uncommitted?

Mr Cahill : No. What I'm saying is: this year is fully committed and by the nature of how we operate—

Senator URQUHART: When you say 'this year' you're talking about the 2018-19 financial year?

Mr Cahill : Yes, and there are already contractual arrangements in place for 2019-20, 2020-21 and various seasons to be able to run those bases, because that's the nature of the operation we have.

Senator URQUHART: All right. If you're able to provide some more—

Mr Cahill : We'll give you as much detail as we practically can.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you.

Senator PATRICK: I don't know who to ask about this—Mr Ellis, perhaps. There was an article in The Australian at the end of March relating to China, titled 'China unchecked in Antarctica', talking about the fact that Australia hasn't carried out inspections of their facilities on the Australian Antarctic Territory. My understanding is that article 14 of the Protocol on Environmental Protections to the Antarctic Treaty gives rights for inspections. Could someone give me some details as to what your involvement is when these inspections occur?

Mr Ellis : Senator, [inaudible] for inspections. That's something that we would normally [inaudible].

CHAIR: Mr Ellis, we are having a bit of trouble with the audio. It is cutting out every second word. Try again, fire away.

Mr Ellis : Just confirming that, yes, the Antarctic Treaty and the protocols that go with it have provisions for inspections on stations. That provides a complete freedom to access those stations and undertake inspections. We've conducted inspections over the life of the treaty quite extensively—most recently in 2016-17 on the Scott Amundsen base. Inspections are something we would normally include in our planning process, and we are currently doing that. As Mr Cahill said, we are moving from a one-year to a five-year planning cycle and inspections will be a very important part of that planning cycle. There are quite significant logistics issues to be dealt with in that, of course, to determine the stations we're going to inspect, how we get there and what other parties we use to support our logistics activities. As a matter of protocol, we don't normally announce those stations that we're going to visit until we are absolutely ready to; that's a standard treaty protocol. We will have, for the next season, a series of inspections involved, and I can assure you that I intend to participate in those inspections.

Senator PATRICK: You say 'substantial inspections'. According to your annual report or information on your website, it says that since 1963, inspection teams have conducted inspections on only nine occasions. So I'd hardly call that intense.

Mr Ellis : It reflects a very comprehensive operational program. We have priorities in terms of science, logistics and infrastructure development, and the inspections are activities we fit into that broader planning cycle. In 2009-10, we visited Russian and Japanese stations; in 2010-11, German and Russian stations; and in 2016-17, American. We'll continue with that program of inspections.

Senator PATRICK: You've talked about resources—it's a significant task. Have those inspections been constrained by financial considerations?

Mr Ellis : No. The constraints on those inspections have been operational constraints and the prioritisation of activities within the division.

Senator PATRICK: But you can see that resources are clearly tied up with priority. Resources are also a function of how much money you're prepared to pay to have sufficient resources to conduct a whole range of activities. Respectfully, they are interrelated.

Mr Cahill : One of the factors is while there are resources involved in aircraft and logistics to get to a particular base for inspection, the key constraint is on the bases themselves—where we operate the platforms, where we operate off. You've got so many beds, so much infrastructure and a range of other things, and that's how we fit the priorities in from that base. One thing it would be fair to say is the investment by the Australian government to rebuild those bases will give us stronger platforms to be able to do more inspections. It's not about a one-off operating expense for an inspection; it's about having a base capability to be able to operate your inspections off.

Senator PATRICK: Anything Mr Ellis wanted to add to that?

Mr Ellis : Just to agree with Mr Cahill's comment. The funding program, the 20-year strategy and action plan, gives us the opportunity to start to create five-year and longer plans, which the division really hasn't had in the past. That will allow us to have a much more rigorous program of inspections and allocate resources and time to do those. They're never easy and there are other constraints. Simply the logistics, the engagement with other nations, the weather, but I think we've got more of an opportunity to undertake a broader range of inspections, going forward, than we have in the past.

Senator PATRICK: I don't want you to comment on this, but, just so you understand the context of my line of questioning, I'm putting my context to you. China, as a growing nation, one would expect them to be having greater influence internationally. That is absolutely the case of the South China Sea. They're spreading their influence throughout the Indian Ocean and a range of other different places now, and it is extending to the Australian Antarctic Territory. It's in that context—and you don't have to comment on that context—that I'm wondering, noting your point about not wanting to announce dates, whether or not there is an intention over the next five years to inspect the two facilities that are in our territory?

Mr Cahill : I think—and, Mr Ellis, correct me if I'm wrong—there are eight countries operating multiple stations within the Australian Antarctic Territory, over which we have sovereign claim. The strength of the Antarctic Treaty system is to ensure that there is appropriate coverage by independent nations inspecting respective stations and such. So, in my view, over the next five years we'll be turning our minds to all those stations operating within the Australian Antarctic Territory and making the appropriate decisions about how they fit into our priorities. I don't know if there is anything that Mr Ellis would like to add to that.

Mr Ellis : I concur entirely. Our plan will look at all of the 18 stations throughout the Australian areas of influence in East Antarctica, looking at how we can program inspections on as many of those as possible.

Senator PATRICK: Can I ask: what Australian facilities in Antarctica have been inspected by other nations, which facilities were they, which inspecting nations, and on what dates? I'm happy for you to take that on notice. Firstly, perhaps not on notice, have our bases been inspected from time to time?

Mr Ellis : Not recently. I'd have to take that on notice to provide you the details. There have been inspections but not in recent times.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. I'm satisfied with that if you take that on notice. I'd like to turn very briefly to the icebreaker, my favourite estimates topic. The division provided an answer to me in relation to question on notice No. 127 in the 2017-18 additional estimates—I'm still running off that sheet. I wonder if you could give me an update on that particular answer on notice? It looks like you've got your harbour acceptance tests pending until sometime in June. Is it still the plan, at this stage, to conduct harbour acceptance tests in June?

Mr Ellis : I'll attempt to answer that, but if I struggle I'll hand over to my colleague Mr Sumner. As recently as 5 am this morning I received an update from Mr Bryson, who's currently in Romania with the ship. Milestone 13 is substantially completed, and the final inspections will be done tomorrow. Power is now connected to the ship, and electrics are being tested after the extensive cable pulls. There is still, as previously reported, a 13-week delay in delivering the ship. We still don't have comprehensive plans to reduce that delay, but we're working with Serco Defence to look at alternatives for that. I am confident that the harbour trials will be proceeding in mid-2020, and we'll continue to monitor the progress of the build.

Senator PATRICK: So, just to be clear, you are expecting harbour acceptance tests to commence in June?

Mr Ellis : Taking into account the 13-week delay.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. I'm just basing that off the last information that you provided to me. I presume that involves sending qualified masters and people who are familiar with the ship environment across to conduct or witness those tests?

Mr Ellis : Absolutely. In fact I might ask Mr Sumner to give you a list of the sorts of people who will be attending that.

Mr Sumner : As well as the department's own project team, which will be sending representatives over to observe and participate in the harbour acceptance trials, Serco Defence themselves will have their own team. They have a representative in the shipyard like the department does and they will be sending some of their own project team, including masters and some other engineering senior officers to be part of that process.

Senator PATRICK: Aurora Australis is operated by P&O, isn't it?

Mr Cahill : Yes, P&O.

Senator PATRICK: So they have their own mariners that are not available to you. The Navy, for example, would typically send their own people to a harbour acceptance test.

Mr Cahill : Serco has been in the process of recruiting the crew, effectively, for the icebreaker, and some of them will be part of that test and trial. I'm also aware that there has been extensive work going through the test and trial program, which we, under the contract, have the sign off for too.

Senator PATRICK: Moving to the sea acceptance tests, which will presumably take place towards the end of the year—I presume that's going to take place in the Black Sea, where conditions will be quite different to what one might expect in the Southern Ocean. There would be requirements, I presume, for the ship, in respect of some of our sea conditions. Is there any testing that's going to be conducted in Australian waters, or will we be accepting the ship before it leaves Romania?

Mr Sumner : The ship will conduct sea acceptance trials in the Black Sea. It will then go around through the Mediterranean to the Netherlands. From there it will go to the North Atlantic and conduct special sea trials off the coast of Norway and towards the top, into the Arctic itself.

Senator PATRICK: I presume that would involve using the icebreaker in an operational scenario?

Mr Sumner : Yes, that's correct.

Mr Cahill : In addition, when the ship does arrive in Hobart in the middle of next year, there is a warranty period after that as well.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. But it's always much more expensive to fix a defect on the other side of the world.

Mr Cahill : Very much. We're acutely aware of that.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. If you could update question No.127, that would be appreciated.

Mr Cahill : Will do.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I wanted to ask the division today if they had any comments about the media stories, which I think have come out of the British Antarctic efforts, around the projections for CO2 levels at 412 parts per million, given that historically plants were growing in the Antarctic at 400 parts per million, and their suggestions that we might start seeing similar things occurring in the future. Could you update us on the ice-core program that's going on at the moment and whether you have any views on those reports in the media today?

Mr Ellis : I'll ask my colleague Dr Gwen Fenton, our chief scientist, to address that question.

Dr Fenton : I thank you for the question, Senator. I'm aware of some of that research. In terms of the ice-core project, which was your actual question, it is advancing. In terms of what we're going to do with the million-year ice-core project, we're at the stage of buying the traverse capability to do that project and in the final stages of selecting the site for conducting the program. The program will take place over four years. The likely areas are at little Dome C, well into the Australian Antarctic Territory, near the French and Italian Concordia station. That is the most likely site we will drill at. It will be nearly a three-kilometre ice core that we will retrieve over that period of time. We're largely in the planning phase of that project. It's a very major undertaking, to do this project, so it necessarily comes with a large amount of planning and funding from the government to procure the traverse gear to do this.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: But that funding has been secured for the project?

Dr Fenton : Yes, it has.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: The media articles today were about fossils that were found and dated that showed that plants grew in that area a long time ago at 400 parts per million. They were suggesting that, given we've seen an increase of three degrees Celsius in the Antarctic already, which is, I think, five times the mean change in temperature around the planet, the Antarctic is a very important place to study, because changes tend to happen there faster than anywhere else on the planet. Do you agree with that statement?

Dr Fenton : I certainly agree it's a very important place to study. It's globally important in terms of the stories it can tell us about the past and potential for the future. So I do agree entirely that it's the case that we should continue a strong science program in Antarctica. In terms of the details of that study, I would like to read the papers more closely before making any comment on that, though. If you would like us to forward any information, we're happy to do so.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I'll do that. The conclusion—at least the way the media framed it—was that, given the parts per million we have in the atmosphere now, of 412, we won't be able to avoid a three- to four-degree warming of the planet. They then differentiated that sea level rises from melting ice are going to be quite different, and it could take thousands of years to get back to what we saw at the time of the fossil plants they studied. But they were saying that plants were growing there with lower parts per million than there are now and we'd be locked into three to four degrees of temperature rises, even on current carbon measurements.

Mr Ellis : I'd just reinforce Dr Fenton's comments about the million-year ice core. This will give us an unprecedented ability to look at the past climate of earth and allow us to have much better forecasting for what's likely to occur in the future.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is that in collaboration with other international agencies or is it just an Australian project?

Mr Ellis : Like most things in the Antarctic, it's extraordinarily collaborative. In the preparation for the traverse project, we've had people working with the French traverse and others to look at how they operate and to redevelop those skills that Australia had in the eighties. That's in the development of infrastructure, equipment and procedures. On the science side, it's an extraordinarily collaborative issue, particularly in the design and development of the drill, in the creation of technology to support the drilling program and then ultimately in the analysis and review of the data that comes out of that. Like everything in the Antarctic, it's highly collaborative.

CHAIR: Contrary to the committee's decision earlier on to release outcome 1, there's been a request from Labor senators to recall some officers from outcome 1. I'm not sure whether the relevant officers are here.

Mr Pratt : We have two witnesses who we need to arrive. That's all. They're trying to get a park.

CHAIR: So they're not far away. Labor senators, what would you like to do? Do you want to suspend for a period of time while we wait or would you like to commence with outcome 2? Let's go to outcome 2 and then go to the relevant officers when they arrive. Thank you, Australian Antarctic Division, for sitting through our housekeeping. Apologies and thanks for your time today. We'll see you again soon. I call officers from outcome 2. We'll start with questions from Senator Urquhart.


Senator URQUHART: I just had some questions that I asked in the outcome this morning that I just wanted clarified. Since the state took away land clearing laws in 2011—I'm talking about Queensland—have rates of land clearing increased or decreased year on year?

Mr Sturgiss : One of the things we do in preparation of what we call the national greenhouse accounts is prepare a set of data on the area of forest clearing throughout Australia. That data is used in our annual submission by the Australian government under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto protocol. We prepare a long-time series of land clearing estimates. The data is published on the UN website and the department's website and extends all the way back to 1990. Your question was about 2011?

Senator URQUHART: I am talking specifically around Queensland. Since the laws changed in 2011, have rates of land clearing increased or decreased year on year?

Mr Sturgiss : The area cleared since 2011 has increased by a small amount. I haven't got the precise number in front of me, but the clearing data that we published shows a long-term trend decline in the area cleared, and since 2011 there has been a small pickup in clearing rates.

Senator URQUHART: But you can't give me a year on year increase or decrease?

Mr Sturgiss : Excuse me, Senator; I need my glasses. In Queensland, in 2010-11—we work on a financial year basis—the area cleared of primary forest was 40,000 hectares. In 2015-16 it was 36,000 hectares. For the clearing of secondary forest—forest that we have observed to have been cleared previously; we have a long-time series of satellite data that goes back to 1972, so we are talking here about forests that are relatively young and emerging from pasture—the rate in 2010-11 was 165,000 hectares in Queensland. In 2015-16 that increased to 263,000.

Senator URQUHART: I think I heard you say that the trend has declined—is that correct?

Mr Sturgiss : These numbers are prepared for the purposes of our national greenhouse accounts and our reporting under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, so we habitually are very interested in the long-run change from our base year. Our base year for the Paris agreement is 2005. Our commitment base year for the 2020 emissions reduction target is the year 2000. The original base year for the Kyoto protocol commitment was 1990. So, relative to those periods, the level of land clearing now is much reduced and there is a long-run trend decline in the level of clearing, but there has been some pickup in the last few years.

Senator URQUHART: Has the trend been declining since the new land clearing laws were put in place in Queensland last year?

Mr Sturgiss : I'm not sure I understood the question. We don't attempt to ascribe reasons for the changes in clearing rates, so—

Senator URQUHART: No, I didn't ask you about the changes; I said: has the trend declined since the land-clearing laws have been in place in Queensland, since last year?

Mr Sturgiss : Since last year? I'm sorry, we don't have any data for the period since the legislation changed.

Senator URQUHART: So when would you have that data?

Mr Sturgiss : We usually work in terms of an annual estimate. The legislation was changed in May last year. It would obviously take some time for the legislation to have effect. We would look back at the year of clearing subsequent to the change. So we are talking about early 2020 before we would have estimates of the amount of clearing for the financial year that followed the change in the legislation.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me: what are the total figures for land clearing over the past eight years?

Mr Sturgiss : I'm sorry—do you want Queensland data or national data?

Senator URQUHART: If you could give me both, that would be helpful.

Mr Sturgiss : Okay! Well, the data is all published on the department website. I think we did provide some data through a question on notice. Eight years ago would be 2007-08. The level of clearing in Queensland in 2007-08 was 103,000 hectares of primary forest—

Senator URQUHART: How was it 2007-08? You are going on the 2015-16 year there, are you?

Mr Sturgiss : Yes, sorry.

Senator URQUHART: That's fine; I just wanted to clarify that.

Mr Sturgiss : There were 103,000 hectares, in 2007-08, of primary forest clearing, and 234,000 hectares of secondary forest clearing in Queensland. Nationally, the clearing of primary forest was 139,000 hectares in 2007-08, and clearing of the secondary forest in 2007-08 was 381,000 hectares. I probably haven't provided 2015-16 for the national level; so, at the national level, the clearing of primary forest was 60,000 hectares in 2015-16, compared to 139,000 hectares in 2007-08—that's primary forest. The secondary forest clearing in 2015-16 was 395,000 hectares, so it's about the same as the rate in 2007-08, which was 381,000.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you. Thanks, Chair.

CHAIR: On that point, Senator Whish-Wilson, do you have questions?

Senator KENEALLY: I have questions on outcome 2. Thank you, all. I'd like to ask about the government's Climate Solutions Package document, which includes a chart of emission reductions resulting from the government's climate solutions policy on the last page. I hope you're all familiar with that? Yes. Thank you, Mr Pratt. Was this chart prepared by the department?

Ms Evans : Yes, that chart was prepared by the department.

Senator KENEALLY: The chart indicates almost 11 megatonnes of CO2 is abated through energy efficiency measures. Can you explain how that estimate is arrived at?

Ms Tilley : Actually, for the energy efficiency measures, which are a number of different measures, what that graphic represents is a total of 63 million tonnes of abatement on those measures, not 11.

Senator KENEALLY: So you're saying this chart does not indicate 11 million megatonnes—excuse me—of CO2?

Ms Tilley : The chart that is titled 'Climate solutions package' which starts with a long blue bar on the left and various colours of green to a yellow colour, the middle bar which represents energy efficiency measures is 63 megatonnes of abatement.

Senator KENEALLY: So it's 63 megatonnes, not 11?

Ms Tilley : That is correct.

Senator KENEALLY: My apologies. That doesn't change the second part of my question. Can you explain how this estimate was arrived at?

Ms Tilley : Certainly. The estimate for the abatement from the energy efficiency measures—the 63 megatonnes—is based on departmental modelling of energy savings in the residential and commercial building sector and product use sector, and by large, energy-using businesses. The modelling uses input data from a number of sources including energy usage from previous studies undertaken from the department, including the Residential baseline study for Australia 2000-2030, and typical energy savings from similar past programs such as the Clean Technology Innovation Program and the Energy Efficiency Opportunities program.

Senator KENEALLY: Of those specific policy measures, is there funding allocated to each to deliver that abatement?

Ms Tilley : It's one of the issues which spans a different division from the Climate Change Division in terms of the rollout and the application of that funding. Possibly the energy team is best placed to answer in detail.

Ms Evans : There are funding allocations to each of the programs underneath the energy efficiency measure. There is funding for the Energy Efficient Communities Program; there is funding to support the space heater labelling work; there is funding for the residential homes initiative; and there is funding for the commercial buildings initiative.

Senator KENEALLY: And do you have those funding amounts there, Ms Evans?

Ms Evans : I do, but as Kristin's indicated, this is actually outcome 4, so I can give them at a very high level. For the Energy Efficient Communities Program, the total amount is $61.2 million; for the space heater labelling, it's $7.5 million; for residential homes, it's $3.4 million; and, for commercial buildings, it's $7.1 million.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you have an average cost of abatement under the energy efficiency measures?

Ms Tilley : No, we don't have an average cost of abatement. It will be different for different measures in different circumstances. I don't believe we've tried to work out an average figure for that.

Ms Evans : It's fair to say, though, that our experience with energy efficiency programs has been that they're really relatively low-cost abatement. In fact, they often deliver a net benefit in a cost sense for the abatement that you achieve. We can provide on notice the actual costs, but they're usually very, very low, if not benefits.

Senator KENEALLY: And who pays for this abatement?

Ms Tilley : The funding that Ms Evans just referred to is cost to government to roll out programs to deliver in some cases—and, again, we're speaking on behalf of colleagues—but some information programs through labelling of appliances or regulation through COAG to develop various trajectories that will go into building codes.

Senator KENEALLY: So, in some cases, there may also be costs to end users?

Ms Tilley : In some cases, there may be, but as Ms Evans says, in many cases with energy efficiency, there'll be net benefits from those.

Senator KENEALLY: How can the government be confident that it can achieve this 63 megatonnes of CO2 through energy efficiency measures?

Ms Tilley : If I could talk more generally about abatement estimates and confidence rather than specific measures—on these specific measures, I would need to turn to colleagues under program 4—but, generally, with the abatement projections and analysis we provide to government, we take a conservative approach about what the costs and what the likely abatement would be. So, from that basis, I think government should feel very confident that abatement estimates would be achieved.

Ms Evans : I could just add to that a little, because we have, as a department, a long history in running energy efficiency improvement programs, and the labelling and so on has been a foundation. We have had a program of that kind for various products over many years, so this abatement estimate is based on a lot of base data and information and experience about what happens when you introduce these kinds of energy efficiency measures. So, in this particular case, we're very confident of the number.

Senator KENEALLY: I will turn to another section of the chart: the Battery of the Nation abatement numbers. Now, I think they say 25 megatonnes by 2030. Have I read that correctly, Ms Tilley?

Ms Tilley : That's correct.

Senator KENEALLY: Are these numbers derived by the department or sourced from another source?

Ms Tilley : The abatement estimate was developed by the department. It's based on analysis, including from Hydro Tasmania, so it's based on reports and evidence from external people who are familiar with the hydro capacity in Tasmania.

Senator KENEALLY: What is the assumed capacity of pumped hydro to achieve that abatement?

Ms Tilley : The Battery of the Nation proposal is expected to deliver 2,500 megawatts of new pumped hydro capacity.

Senator KENEALLY: I think, to be fair, the document says that already more than 2,500 megawatts of potential new capacity is being investigated. But it doesn't actually specify the actual size of the pumped hydro capacity needed to generate the 25 megatonnes of abatement.

Ms Tilley : I think, again, I'm speaking on an issue that other colleagues are responsible for, but my understanding—and they can certainly come and correct me if this is incorrect—is that there is capacity there and that, by doing things such as the Marinus Link, which would connect from Tasmania to the mainland, you allow for a use for that capacity. So, while the capacity might exist at the moment, it's unable to be used because it's only available to Tasmania. But, by opening up that capacity to the mainland, you allow that capacity to be used.

Senator KENEALLY: But we still don't have an actual size of the capacity needed for the 25 megatonnes. I understand you're saying that there has been a potential new capacity of 2,500 megawatts, which is either there or is being investigated, but is that what is needed?

Ms Evans : Sorry, needed to deliver—

Senator KENEALLY: To deliver that level of abatement.

Mr Pratt : Senator, is your question: is the expected Battery of the Nation supply what will provide for the 25 megatonnes of emission reduction?

Senator KENEALLY: Yes. I'm trying to understand because, as I read the document, it doesn't specify the actual size of the pumped hydro capacity needed to generate 25 megatonnes of abatement.

Mr Pratt : When the outcome 4 people get here, we'll confirm this. But I believe it is a combination of the additional Battery of the Nation provision, which is about 2½ thousand megawatts, and the 400 megawatts which is currently available but is not able to be connected to the mainland.

Senator KENEALLY: Maybe you can answer this question before we have to wait for outcome 4. How is a pumped hydro storage project responsible for emission abatement?

Ms Tilley : It really is a question best directed to outcome 4. In a simple sense, hydro storage is drawn at peak periods when demand is at its highest, so it tops up available electricity supply or it displaces other available electricity supply.

Senator KENEALLY: Doesn't it rely on renewable energy investment?

Ms Evans : I think the explanation for how it delivers abatement is that, with the growing volume of renewables in the grid, and particularly the resource that may be available in Tasmania and Victoria for wind in particular, that excess wind would be effectively the energy that would be stored by the pumped hydro. So then that has the capacity to potentially displace higher-emissions electricity at other times when it's dispatched. That's how the abatement estimate is calculated. It is the relative abatements of having more renewables stored in pumped hydro compared to—

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, because isn't it the case the Battery of the Nation is just a big wet battery? It needs something to feed into it—

Ms Evans : It depends what feeds into it.

Senator KENEALLY: and if it's going to achieve abatement, presumably that has to be renewable energy?

Ms Evans : That's correct.

Senator KENEALLY: Right. So, can you provide the assumptions about the renewable energy investment that underpin the Battery of the Nation abatement numbers?

Mr Pratt : I think we'll hold that for outcome 4, Senator.

Senator KENEALLY: Okay. Just a moment while I work out what I can ask now and what I need to hold off to outcome 4.

CHAIR: Sure.

Mr Pratt : Chair, we have two out of the three—I'm reminded of a Meatloaf song—so we can start whenever it's convenient for the committee.

CHAIR: Okay; we will continue with Senator Keneally's other questions.

Senator KENEALLY: If we could, thank you. Besides contributing to the related feasibility study for the Marinus link transmission line, has the government provided any direct support for the Battery of the Nation project?

Ms Evans : Yes. Through ARENA there has been some support directly to the Battery of the Nation project to look at a number of the pumped hydro sites. ARENA is appearing later in the program if you want to ask for more details on those.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you, Ms Evans. But we could not categorise the Battery of the Nation as a Commonwealth government project, could we?

Mr Pratt : Again, I suggest we talk about Battery of the Nation issues under outcome 4.

Senator KENEALLY: All right; we'll save all of that for outcome 4. Let me ask you this then: in the same chart, the government's Electric Vehicle Strategy is responsible for 10 megatons of abatement—yes?

Ms Evans : That's correct.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. How is this abatement number derived?

Ms Tilley : It was a department generated abatement estimate based on analysis by a consultancy called Energeia, who did some work for ARENA and CEFC. Their work indicated that electric vehicles could make up between 25 and 50 per cent of new vehicle sales in 2030 if it's supported by a mix of local, state and Commonwealth actions coordinated under a national strategy, which is the measure that was announced in the Climate Solutions Package.

Senator KENEALLY: Sorry, could you repeat that? There were doors opening and other things happening.

Ms Tilley : Sure. The abatement number was generated by the department, the abatement estimate of 10 megatons, and we based that estimate on analysis that was undertaken by a consultancy called Energeia. They had done some work on electric vehicles in a report for the CEFC and for ARENA. That analysis indicated that electric vehicles could make up between 25 and 50 per cent of new car sales in 2030 if supported by coordination and facilitation of local, state and Commonwealth actions, coordinated through a national strategy, which is the measure that is announced in the Climate Solutions Package.

Senator KENEALLY: And that would lead to this abatement number of 10 megatons?

Ms Tilley : Yes. To be clear, and we can go into this, there are a number of Commonwealth funded, through CEFC and ARENA, support initiatives for electric vehicles, but there are also a number of state and territory initiatives, funding announcements, charging stations et cetera. There is work by COAG. I guess the point of the national strategy, based on the reporting by Energeia, is that when you coordinate those actions appropriately and bring them all together under a national strategy, you should have many more positive outcomes than having a piecemeal approach would have. That's the assumption—the national strategy will lead to that more coordinated approach.

Senator KENEALLY: Just so I am clear: the government's climate solution policy includes a Climate Solution Package that's projecting a 10-megaton CO2 abatement number that could come from an electric vehicle strategy that sees 25 to 50 per cent of new car sales in 2030 as electric vehicles?

Ms Evans : That's right.

Ms Tilley : Correct.

Senator KENEALLY: Okay. And the policies that are going to help achieve this under the current government's strategy are a combination of some COAG plans, some state and territory policies—and what from the Commonwealth?

Ms Tilley : The strategy hasn't been written as yet. The announcement was for the development of a strategy, which will occur. Its funding is through the budget that was introduced this week so that funding has to be appropriated, but the strategy would be developed. But my point about the other activities is that the basis for the strategy is that there actually are a number of initiatives happening at various jurisdictions across Australia at the moment, and also private sector activity. Based on the report by Energeia, based on having a more coordinated national strategy of pulling that all together, we'll get better outcomes.

Ms Evans : But I should just comment that ARENA has already funded fast-charging stations and there's something in the order of a billion dollars available through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in various measures, including concessional loans for the uptake of low-emission vehicles. There is already Commonwealth action that will be picked up in the strategy as well.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. Ms Tilley, the funding that you spoke of allocated in the budget, I presume you mean the budget handed down this week—yes?

Ms Tilley : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: How much is that? What funding was allocated?

Ms Tilley : $400,000.

Ms Evans : That's to fund the department to do the work on developing the strategy, as opposed to being funding for the activities under the strategy.

Senator KENEALLY: Just so I'm clear: the government's electric vehicle abatement number assumes that up to 50 per cent of new vehicle sales in 2030 are electric vehicles?

Ms Tilley : Through the coordination of the range of activity that's currently underway or could be underway in the future.

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, but it does?

Ms Evans : Yes, that's correct.

Senator KENEALLY: It seems a bit chicken or egg, with the greatest of respect, that we've got an abatement number that's an outcome from a strategy doesn't yet exist.

Ms Evans : You always have to start with estimates of things before they have actually been implemented. In fact, we've had this discussion a number of times in this committee, because when the department does its projections of what's happening to actual emissions over time, we will tend to not include the things that have not yet actually been fully designed and implemented—that's why oftentimes there are still things coming in the pipeline that haven't happened. We've talked before about energy efficiency measures that don't yet appear in the projections, so these are some of those that are being articulated, and then here we have an estimate of what that does to bring those emissions down. You will see in our next iteration of projections documents that we'll be doing a further iteration of what's happened to the things that have actually been implemented. Some of these things will be in there and some of them still won't be, because they will still be at too early a stage. But this is our current estimate of what they will deliver.

Senator KENEALLY: It is an interesting way to do policy though, isn't it? Rather than start with a policy and then estimate its impact, you've decided what the impacts will be and now you're going to design a policy to get to that. Is that a fair way to describe this policy-making process?

Ms Evans : I guess I'd say we've decided what's a realistic outcome to be working towards, and we have confidence that we can shape the policy and the strategy in the case of electric vehicles; we're confident of being able to get there, given that the research that's available suggests that's an achievable outcome.

Senator KENEALLY: I might move on as I'm mindful of the time. It also appears from the chart that almost 100 megatons of abatement is said to come from technological improvements. Are these technological improvements the result of any specific policies?

Ms Tilley : No. If I could point out, that bar chart is less intended to represent a firm number as the other bars that have hard lines under them and more to indicate that the government has confidence that, of the remaining abatement that is not pinned to a particular measure in that chart, of which there are around 100 million tonnes required to meet the 2030 target, that remaining gap, if not more—hence the yellow line coming down underneath that bar chart—is that that sort of abatement is likely to come from technology improvements and other sources of abatement. I will read out what I have and then I will give a bit more context. It refers to autonomous improvements in technology not captured by the current emissions predictions, new action by businesses or additional state and territory measures.

The reason we feel very confident that that 100 million tonnes will be easily met by the general reference to technology improvements in our as yet unannounced measures, is that year on year in the projections, we do see them coming down from what we had predicted the previous year, not because of a specific policy but more because of general improvements in the economy and the efficiency of the economy. For example, between 2017 and 2018, there was a 170-million-tonne change just in that one year alone that we hadn't predicted a year earlier. A lot of that was driven by a significant uptake in renewable energy in that case, but not driven by a particular Commonwealth government policy measure per se. I think when you have evidence that 170 million tonnes in one year was reduced in the emissions projections that it is fair to say that over a decade 100 million tonnes would be reduced.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you for your candour there. What is the economic GDP cost of the government's climate solution package by 2030?

Ms Tilley : We haven't done any specific analysis on that. I guess, if we had the specific metrics you were talking about, you could do an average cost, but we haven't ourselves done a GDP cost per abatement per measure.

Senator KENEALLY: We are always reminded by the government that we can't cut emissions without a cost to the economy, so are you saying the department hasn't done any analysis of the economic costs of the government's own climate solutions package that the government says will deliver on its 2030 emissions targets?

Ms Evans : For each individual measure, there is always a cost benefit style analysis done which takes into account economic costs, but we certainly haven't attempted to put these measures through a whole lot of economy modelling exercise.

Senator KENEALLY: Have you put it through any modelling on the impact on wages, for example?

Ms Evans : No.

Senator KENEALLY: Or the cost on consumption?

Ms Evans : It is certainly true that when the targets were set, there was significant modelling completed through both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and through a taskforce that, I think, at that time was situated in Prime Minister and Cabinet. That modelling was quite comprehensive and had all of the kinds of impacts that you are describing that relate to achieving the 26 to 28 per cent target. Our department has not commissioned that style of modelling again since that time.

Senator KENEALLY: When was that modelling done? What year was that?

Ms Evans : I will just check. I think it was about 2015.

Senator KENEALLY: And since those targets were set, you have developed in some areas a more comprehensive set of policies to how to achieve them?

Ms Evans : We have, and since that time, the scale of the task to actually achieve the target, if you look at the degree of abatement required, has also come down substantially. If anything, we would be expecting that the costs, if we were to do them again in that way, would look less than they did at the time that that modelling was done.

Senator Birmingham: Out of interest, is there a similar table that steps through how the Labor Party's policy released earlier this week?

Senator KENEALLY: In fact, I was about to go to that very question. I know the chair is rushing me on, but since you raised that, I am going to go to that. Is the department aware of the modelling by BAEconomics of the economic impact of a different set of set of reduction targets on the Australian economy?

Senator Birmingham: That was not quite my question; I was asking if you could tell us, for example, under the policy released at the start of this week—

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, after the election, if you and I swap places, you can ask me questions.

Senator Birmingham: You have got policies out there now. We are just about at an election. Surely you can tell us how each of the components of your policies will meet the target.

Senator KENEALLY: Let's step through—

CHAIR: Senator Keneally—

Senator KENEALLY: The minister has raised a question.

CHAIR: I am the chair of this committee, not you. We are trying to accommodate many of your demands and requests today, including recalling outcome 1, which you have now facilitated and the officers are here. Would you like to go to them? How long will you be?

Senator KENEALLY: I have three more questions.

CHAIR: Make it quick.

Senator KENEALLY: The government uses a BAEconomic modelling in talking about Labor's emission reduction targets, so I do think the department may well be aware of it. Labor rejects the modelling as flawed, but the government insists that it is accurate. Can you tell us, what does the BAEconomic modelling say is the Australian carbon price in 2030 under the government's policy, including the use of Kyoto carryover credits?

Ms Evans : To answer your original question, we are aware of the report. We obviously did not commission the report and we were not asked to do that by the government, so there is only a limited amount that we can say about it. We don't have access to a lot of detail about the report. I think you would really just be asking us whether or not we have read the report.

Senator KENEALLY: For the record, it is $92 per tonne. Can you tell us what the modelling says about the GDP impact of the government's policy by 2030?

Senator Birmingham: Senator, I think—

Senator KENEALLY: Do you know, Minister?

Senator Birmingham: I think Ms Evans has given an answer there.

CHAIR: She is trying to answer.

Senator Birmingham: The work done by Dr Fisher, a former chief executive of ABARE, as someone who long worked on the intergovernmental panel on climate change, had a look at the targets and the cost to economy of meeting the targets that the Labor Party has committed to, and his information is in the public arena.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you know what he says about the impact of the government's policy on GDP?

Senator Birmingham: I don't know whether or not he modelled it.

Senator KENEALLY: For the record, he says it is $90 billion. Can you tell us about the impact of the government's policy on jobs—

CHAIR: Okay, they were three questions.

Senator KENEALLY: This is my third question. Can you tell us about the impact of the government's policy on jobs according to Dr Fisher's modelling?

Senator Birmingham: I am pretty sure he said it is a lot less than the impact of Labor's policy.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you stand by Dr Fisher's modelling, Minister?

Senator Birmingham: It is for Dr Fisher to stand by his modelling.

Senator KENEALLY: You stand by it when it comes to Labor policy. Do you stand by it when it comes to Liberal policy?

Senator Birmingham: However, Senator Keneally, I certainly accept that his modelling that demonstrates the impact on jobs and on the economy of Labor's policies will be particularly severe and far worse than anything that the coalition undertakes.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you stand by his modelling of your policy?

Senator KENEALLY: It is clearly common sense that what you are proposing to do, even though you can't spell out how you will get there and what contribution each of your policy measures will make, would have a far greater cost impact.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you stand by Dr Fisher's modelling of your policy, Minister? The minister does not want to answer the question.

Senator Birmingham: Senator Kennelly does not want to listen to the answer.

Senator KENEALLY: You are asking me questions, Minister.

Senator Birmingham: I am not the person who conducted the modelling; it is not for me to stand by it.

Senator KENEALLY: Well, you stand by it in one case. Do you stand by it in your own policy?

CHAIR: You are wasting your own time that we have provided for you as a committee out of courtesy for your request. We are trying to accommodate everything you want. So we will pause outcome 2 now and we will go back to the officers we have dragged back from outcome 1—our apologies for our all-over-the-shop approach, courtesy of Labor today.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you for coming back. I do appreciate this and I do apologise. There has been some additional documentation provided to us in relation to the Communities Environment Program. Just to refresh our memory, Mr Costello, is it your advice that the funds have not yet been appropriated and the grant applications are not yet open? Great. I do have some documents to table here that may assist us in this line of questioning. If that can be done, I would be very grateful. The first document I have is a document from Christian Porter MP's website, and I just want to be clear that Mr Porter has accurate information. I think he does, but I want to be clear. Mr Porter has put out an expression-of-interest form for the Communities Environment Program. As you said, I believe, Mr Costello, members of parliament have been consulting, and it's not an unusual step for them to consult with their communities. When you receive this form—I realise the secretariat's now passing it out—note that Mr Porter is inviting EOIs. He says:

If your organisation is nominated, you’ll be invited to apply formally when the program officially opens in mid-2019 through the Australian Government Business Grants Hub.

Then he goes on to say:

Nominated projects will need to meet Program Guidelines and eligibility criteria, which will be made available closer to the opening date.

That seems to be an accurate description of the process—is that correct?

Mr Costello : That's correct.

Senator KENEALLY: Rowan Ramsey has less detail on his form, but I do believe it is still accurate. He says:

Final applicants will be invited to submit a formal application which will be assessed by an independent panel. Grants will not be ongoing.

That also seems to be an accurate statement of the Communities Environment Program process. The Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro, Fiona Kotvojs, said on her Facebook page on 27 March that 'applications for grants under the Communities Environment Program close tomorrow.' I'm not trying to make her look foolish, but, to be fair, that is not entirely accurate, is it?

Mr Knudson : The applications haven't opened.

Senator KENEALLY: The applications haven't opened, so it's nonsensical to say that they could be closing on 28 March.

Ms Jonasson : We could also read that as 'applications to Ms Kotvojs to nominate close'. We're not sure what applications she's referring to here.

Senator KENEALLY: Well, she says, 'Applications for grants under the Communities Environment Program close tomorrow.'

Ms Jonasson : That may be her language to say to provide applications to her. We're just not sure.

Senator KENEALLY: It seems a pretty plain English expression. Before I move onto Minister Price, I would note that Ms Kotvojs is not actually a member of parliament, so people can't actually apply to her. The way these grants are structured is it goes through the MP, so it can't actually be an application to her.

Ms Jonasson : Well, yes, she's not an MP at the moment. As the guidelines are written, and when the program opens, if she's not a member of parliament, she will not be able to provide opportunities for people in that electorate. She will not be able to put forward applications as a citizen.

Senator KENEALLY: So she's not actually in any position whatsoever to be taking applications for grants?

Ms Jonasson : We don't consider these formal applications, because the program isn't open and the application guidelines haven't yet been written, as we said earlier today.

Senator KENEALLY: Which goes back to my point, with the greatest of respect.

Ms Jonasson : From our perspective, we don't see these as formal applications.

Senator KENEALLY: You don't see them as applications for grants, but—

Ms Jonasson : In the process the department would run.

Senator KENEALLY: the Liberal candidate is presenting this as applications for grants closing tomorrow. It says on Minister Price's website that she 'encourages people to apply for these grants by 27 March 2019'. The minister should know that the grant application process is not open. Why is she inviting people to apply for these grants by 27 March 2019?

Mr Knudson : Again, I would have to say that it is obviously up to each of the individuals on what sort of process they're trying to put in place for their electorates as to how they want to manage that. But, as has been stated many, many times, we'll be developing guidelines and opening the program formally for actual funding decisions in the second half of the year.

Senator KENEALLY: Which seems to be the process that Mr Ramsey has followed, that Mr Porter has followed and that I think Sarah Henderson has followed. Yet Minister Price seems to be encouraging people—she says—to apply for grants by 27 March 2019. That is actually not possible, because there are no applications open for these grants.

Ms Jonasson : It's not possible under the process that the department or the grants hub would run, because that process has not yet commenced. But I guess one of the components of that process is for local members to be able to reach out to their communities and seek ideas, seek proposals. They may call them applications, as well as ideas and proposals. So, my interpretation of this would be that Minister Price is reaching out to her electorate to seek applications to her and to her office as a member of parliament such that she may then be able to look at them when the process opens and the guidelines are written and put forward her recommendations for those that she would like to see supported in her electorate.

Senator KENEALLY: All right. We perhaps can take your explanation that Minister Price could have perhaps been more precise with her language in the way that Mr Porter, Mr Ramsey and Ms Henderson had been. But if we go back to Mr Crewther and his announcements, which we spoke about earlier, there was a question from Senator Martin earlier, Minister Birmingham, where he noted and asked you whether Minister Price made any announcements in the videos that had been posted on Mr Crewther's Facebook page, and you said that no, she hadn't. That suggests that you either have seen the videos or have a transcript of them.

Senator Birmingham: I said that I was advised that Minister Price had not announced or committed funding in those videos.

Senator KENEALLY: So, somebody either has seen those videos or has a transcript of them, in order to provide you with that advice for you to provide here at Senate estimates without misleading us. So, are you able to table a transcript of those videos or the videos themselves?

Senator Birmingham: I'll take that on notice.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. I will now turn to another document I'm tabling. It is a media release from Chris Crewther MP, federal member for Dunkley, on 15 March 2019. He says:

On Wednesday 17 March Chris Crewther, Federal Member for Dunkley, and Melissa Price, Minister for the Environment, visited several community environmental groups to announce the first grants of the Federal Government's Communities Environment Program.

So, we have a media release now from Mr Crewther, with the Minister for the Environment, announcing grants. This morning we heard that Mr Crewther had announced three grants on his Facebook page. This media release actually includes a fourth:

At Animalia Wildlife Shelter, in Frankston, Chris and Minister Price announced the federal government would contribute $10,000 to their organisation.

Has the department made a grant of $10,000 to the animal wildlife shelter in Frankston?

Mr Knudson : No.

Senator KENEALLY: The media release goes on to grants that we've heard about: to FLOW, in Langwarrin, $75,000; to Down's Estate, $10,000; and the South Eastern Centre for Sustainability, 'where Chris and the minister announced $20,000 for the centre's project'. It goes on to include a quote from Minister Price:

Minister Price explained that this funding 'was meant to support small environmental groups because they're the ones doing a lot of the work, yet they often don't get a cent, and good local members like Chris have identified a number of really good environmental projects that they believe need the support of the federal government'.

So, now we have Minister Price lending a quote to a media release announcing four projects to be funded under the Communities Environment Program grants. Minister, how does it come to be that Minister Price is quoted in a media release announcing grants for a grant program that hasn't even opened for applications?

Senator Birmingham: The first point I'd make is those quotes from Minister Price are quite generic in their terms; they could apply to any aspect of the operation of this program. It is targeted to support small environmental groups and good local members. Indeed, even good Labor Party local members would no doubt successfully identify a number of really good environmental projects that they believed needed support. So the comments are quite generic in that sense.

The other point I'd make is that, when this program was publicly announced, it was made clear that the program from its very inception would be modelled on the Stronger Communities Program—a program that is already in operation elsewhere across the government that provides funding distributed by electorate in a similar way, through a process that local MPs play a role in. So it is not unsurprising that local MPs, given their familiarity with the Stronger Communities Program, would seek to instigate similar processes in relation to the environment program.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, do you deny the plain English meaning of this media release, which says, 'Chris Crewther, federal member for Dunkley, and Melissa Price, Minister for the Environment, visited several community and environmental groups to announce the first grants of the federal government's Communities Environment Program'? This is an announcement, is it not?

Senator Birmingham: It does appear to be an announcement from Mr Crewther.

Senator KENEALLY: So it's Mr Crewther's fault?

Senator Birmingham: I assume we all take responsibility for our words in that sense, Senator, so I can only take what you have tabled in front of us here today. I have not seen this before. I think the last couple of paragraphs of that statement appear to broadly pick up the point that was being made before—

Senator KENEALLY: Do you deny the plain English meaning—

Senator Birmingham: about the nature of the program.

Senator KENEALLY: of 'Chris and Minister Price announced'—

CHAIR: Senator, hang on a sec. The minister is still answering. Just hang on a second, Senator.

Senator Birmingham: Sorry, Senator, what was your question?

Senator KENEALLY: Do you agree that any reasonable person would read a sentence that says 'Chris and Minister Price announced the federal government would contribute $10,000 to the Animalia Wildlife Shelter in Frankston' as an announcement of funds disbursed by Minister Price under this program?

Senator Birmingham: I'm sure that, the government being re-elected, Mr Crewther would make sure that such applications are successful through the communities program and that they will receive funding.

Senator KENEALLY: That's not what the media release says! The media release, dated 15 March, says that Chris and the minister announced $20,000 for the South Eastern Centre for Sustainability; they travelled to Langwarrin, where they announced $75,000 to FLOW; Chris and Minister Price announced $10,000 in funding for the Down's Estate. This is an announcement, isn't it?

Senator Birmingham: Are you suggesting that the Labor Party, if they're elected, won't provide that funding?

Senator KENEALLY: No, I'm asking you: have the government announced the first grants of the federal government's Communities Environment Program, or have they not?

Senator Birmingham: I'm sure that Mr Crewther and the government, if re-elected, will be providing that funding.

Senator KENEALLY: So you have announced the first grants of the federal government's Communities Environment Program.

Senator Birmingham: I am sure that if Mr Crewther and the government are re-elected, that funding will flow under the program.

Senator KENEALLY: So have you announced it? Yes or no?

Senator Birmingham: I am sure that if Mr Crewther and the federal government are re-elected, that funding will flow from the program.

Senator KENEALLY: Is this media release worth the paper it is written on? Is it an announcement or not?

Senator Birmingham: I've just told you. I am sure that if Mr Crewther and the government are re-elected, that funding will flow under the program. You're welcome to match the commitment, Senator.

Senator KENEALLY: Are you announcing it here today? Are you backing in this announcement? Why is it so hard for you to do this?

Senator Birmingham: I'm saying precisely what I just said several times over. I can repeat it again: I am sure that if Mr Crewther and the federal government are re-elected, the funding will flow under the program—

Senator KENEALLY: That's not what this media release says.

Senator Birmingham: and you're welcome to support it, or you're welcome to telegraph to those individuals that if a Labor government is elected they won't get the funding.

Senator KENEALLY: That is not what this media release says, Minister, and you know that. Is this an announcement of the first grants of the federal government's Communities Environment Program, or is it not?

Senator Birmingham: When governments changed at elections, circumstances change. If you're not going to give a straight answer that a Labor government would support such a grant funding, that's an uncertainty that those communities groups will face.

Senator KENEALLY: No Labor member has made an announcement about this. As far as I'm aware, no other Liberal member has made an announcement, but Chris Crewther and Melissa Price have made an announcement of, 'the first grants of the Federal Government's Communities Environment Program'. Has the government done that?

Senator Birmingham: It's not unusual, in the context of the run-up to an election campaign and during election campaigns, for members to indicate how grants programs might be able to support projects within their electorate.

Senator KENEALLY: Before the grants have even be opened?

Mr Knudson : Senator, there's a very basic fact that I want to bring us back to. If you go back to the original announcement of the project or the program on the 4 March by the Prime Minister, it did include the link to the department's website, which talks about the program, the timing of the program and what the process will be, to the extent that it has been developed thus far. So it makes it very clear from day one that the funding decisions wouldn't be made until guidelines were done, et cetera.

Senator KENEALLY: This is the point of my questions, Mr Knudson, because this is a media release that disregards everything on that website.

Mr Knudson : I think that is a question—

Senator Birmingham: Senator Keneally, the initial announcement of the program, as I said, was very clear. It said:

The program is modelled on the Government's successful Stronger Communities program. Each electorate can receive funding for up to 20 projects, with grants ranging from $2,500 to $20,000.

I would fully expect that members around the country, or even candidates, would seek to be identifying projects that they wanted to see secure funding through that process, just as they do under the more long-standing Stronger Communities Program. I understand that Mr Burke, in the other place, has said that the program should be abolished, so I guess we'll take advice to the Animalia Wildlife Shelter in Frankston, the Downs Estate in Carrum Downs and the Friends of Langwarrin Outdoors and Waterways that none of them would receive their funding if the Labor Party were elected.

Senator KENEALLY: Perhaps the program shouldn't proceed because the Liberal member, Mr Crewther, and the Minister for the Environment, have completely disregarded probity and process in announcing grants. They have announced grants for groups when money has not yet been allocated and grant applications haven't been opened. This is not an expression of interest. The plain English meaning of these words is clear.

Senator Birmingham: Under the Stronger Communities Program I think you will find plenty of examples of Labor MPs who have been out there cheerily and merrily announcing grants.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, we are here today in the environment portfolio Senate estimates. I am asking you again: has the government announced the first grants of the federal government's Communities and Environment Program in the electorate of Dunkley?

Senator Birmingham: I am sure if Mr Crewther and the government are re-elected, these will organisations will receive these grants if they put in appropriate applications.

Senator KENEALLY: You accept the department's advice that the money has not yet been allocated?

Senator Birmingham: The money is allocated in the budget to—

Senator KENEALLY: Excuse me, appropriated. You accept the department's advice that the money has not yet been appropriated?

Senator Birmingham: And I assume the Labor Party's not about to break with its longstanding position of not opposing appropriations bills if the government is re-elected.

Senator KENEALLY: You accept the—

Senator Birmingham: The appropriations are not really in any doubt, Senator Keneally.

Senator KENEALLY: You accept the department's advice that—

Senator Birmingham: Except for the Labor party, if they were to win, cutting the program.

Senator KENEALLY: You accept the department's advice that the grant applications have not yet opened?

CHAIR: I think the minister has answered that question several times—

Senator KENEALLY: I have one more question—

CHAIR: Yes, and then we'll go back to outcome 2.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister Price allowed herself to be filmed in three videos posted on Facebook announcing these grants. She gave a quote to a media release announcing these grants. Is Minister Price lazy, incompetent, both or is there something more devious going on?

CHAIR: Senator Keneally, we do not provide character assessments of members of the other place.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm trying to understand how a minister is so inattendant to her portfolio that she allowed herself—

CHAIR: If you would like to ask about expenditure of funds, that is fine—

Senator KENEALLY: I am asking about the expenditure of funds.

CHAIR: No, you were asking about characteristics of another member of parliament.

Senator KENEALLY: How does a minister allow herself to be in three Facebook videos and give a quote to a media release making an announcement of grants before the grant application has even opened? Is it devious or is it something else?

Senator Birmingham: As I said in response to Senator Hanson-Young earlier today, I know these games, Senator Keneally, and I'm not going to take the bait. You can make your slurs; I'm not going to—

Senator KENEALLY: So you cannot come up with an excuse for either Mr Crewther or Minister Price?

CHAIR: Thank you, outcome 1. We are done with outcome 1. We will now move back to outcome 2.


Mr Pratt : If I might as we are moving back to outcome 2: Senator Siewert asked some questions around Shark Bay and the National Environmental Science Program. We can very quickly update on that.

CHAIR: Sure.

Ms Brunoro : Answering those questions regarding the science under the National Environmental Science Program in the Shark Bay World Heritage area: there are three project-related activities. The first relates to a project which was funded for $91,630, which was an aerial dugong survey, which added to a time series monitoring dataset that is held by the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions. That project started in May 2018 and is due to be completed in June of this year. The second science-related activity in that area is a project called 'assisting restoration of ecosystem engineers through seed based and shoot based programs in Shark Bay'. The goal is to scale up existing restoration research to practice and assist recovery of dominant seagrasses in the area following the 2011 marine heatwave activity.

There's also a new project being scoped that is being led by the Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub. That will be looking at world heritage and climate change. The project overall will be focusing in on two case studies—in particular, Shark Bay and the Gondwana Rainforests. It will aim to address gaps in scientific understanding of the impact of climate change on these World Heritage areas and the need for the use of available climate change science and information to develop a successful climate change adaptation plan for these and other World Heritage areas. At this point in time, the funding aspect of this project is yet to be determined. There was a workshop in Shark Bay in September 2018. The hub is actually working across the department and relevant stakeholders in the World Heritage area to define the project activity so that it can proceed.

CHAIR: Okay. Thank you very much, Ms Brunoro. We will now go to outcome 2.

Senator DI NATALE: I have some questions on the Climate Solutions Fund. Just to be clear, I note there's $189 million allocated over the forwards for the fund—is that right?

Ms Evans : Just for the Climate Solutions Fund, Senator, in the forward estimates only, that is correct, but there is $2 billion dollars in total allocated to the fund.

Senator DI NATALE: Over 15 years?

Ms Evans : Yes. I might ask Ms Tilley to elaborate, but that's not unusual. The fund is supporting contracts that have often got a 10-year life or so.

Senator DI NATALE: Sure, but per year we're talking about $47 million or so?

Ms Tilley : I haven't done the per year average estimate, but I think I'll just give some different context. That certainly sounds like a low figure.

Senator DI NATALE: It is a low figure. That's because it is!

Ms Tilley : Just in terms of the abatement estimates for the entirety of the Climate Solutions Package, they're all to 2030. We do our abatement projections to 2030. We haven't sought to assess the ongoing abatement benefits of these Climate Solutions Package announcements beyond 2030, but it's important to say that the abatement benefits in many cases would continue beyond 2030. With the Climate Solutions Fund, which tops up the Emissions Reduction Fund, an important distinction to make is that the announcement of government funding—as was the case when the Emissions Reduction Fund was first set up as $2.55 billion—then becomes available. That commitment of funding then becomes available to the Clean Energy Regulator to commit to contract projects through the Emissions Reduction Fund. But the expenditure of the money is on delivery of abatement.

For the purpose of the budget, we in the department and the Department of Finance agree assumed costings of what is a likely scenario of the committed money actually rolling out the door to pay for abatement delivered under contracted projects. As Ms Evans indicated, those contracts are typically around nine years but can be up to 12 years long. What is the case, though, when the money is committed by the Clean Energy Regulator through contracts—at that point in time, the money is locked up, so to speak. It can't be used for different purposes or projects. There is a difference between when the money is committed and when it's paid out. Again, just to reiterate, it's at the Clean Energy Regulator's discretion at what point in time they commit that money to be spent. That would be assumed to be committed much earlier in the decade, but the then rollout of projects, the timing at which the payments are made, is entirely a product of the number of contracts that are committed at various auctions and then the project time frames—and each project will be different—that it plans to deliver that abatement to government and then actually does deliver that abatement to government.

Senator DI NATALE: I understand all of that, but you've basically allocated $189 million over the forwards—that was the question.

Ms Tilley : That is an estimation by the department about when it's likely.

Senator DI NATALE: What's the estimate—

Ms Tilley : Can I make one other relevant point?

Senator DI NATALE: I actually don't have a lot of time.

Ms Tilley : There's still $226 million left in the initial allocation under the ERF. This $180 million over the forward estimates is of the new money, which we don't expect to start rolling out—paying for actually delivered abatement—until that remaining $226 million has already been committed and paid out.

Senator DI NATALE: Let's talk about the abatement that you expect to get from that $189 million of new money. What would you expect to get in terms of abatement?

Ms Tilley : The estimate we provided for the Climate Solutions Package is that that $2 billion would deliver, in actual delivered abatement by 2030, 103 million tonnes.

Senator DI NATALE: That wasn't my question. The $189 million over the forwards.

Ms Evans : I think we would have to take that on notice, but it will be based on, roughly, our approximate emissions per tonne, because this profile reflects—

Senator DI NATALE: Your average abatement figure?

Ms Evans : No, the projected emissions cost per tonne for this particular package, not the average over the history of it.

Senator DI NATALE: So you'd expect it to be higher, because most of the low-cost abatement has been done already?

Ms Tilley : We've looked at the previous auctions and modelled, to some degree, the volume of abatement that came forward at the beginning of the ERF, noting that there was a large funding announcement then, and assumed that, with a new funding announcement of $2 billion, you would get a larger volume of abatement coming forward initially, because that announcement would signal opportunities under the fund. So, like we saw when the fund first operated through its first three or four auctions, the vast volume of abatement that has been contracted to date was delivered through the earlier auctions. While we would assume that there's a gradual price rise, this is purely an assumption for the purpose of costings. Given such a high amount of volume is expected at the earlier auctions, that keeps the average price per tonne low.

Senator DI NATALE: Just to put it in context: if we do assume a level of abatement, basically, that's consistent with some of those earlier projects, we're talking about 10 million tonnes of abatement broadly—would that be over the $189 million?

Ms Evans : Senator, I think you are mixing up the way that financial information is being presented in the forward estimates period with the abatement estimate, which is out to 2030 and which is in the context—

Senator DI NATALE: I am asking you over the forward estimates. Give me an estimate of the abatement over the forwards.

Ms Evans : As I said, we'd have to take it on notice.

Senator DI NATALE: Perhaps you could take it on notice.

Ms Evans : Yes, I will take it on notice.

Senator DI NATALE: In the last year—just to be clear when it comes to the latest quarterly accounts—pollution went up by about five million tons. Is that right?

Ms Evans : In our quarterly emissions update—and I have to say that the department does take its responsibility to provide accurate and comprehensive information about our emissions to the public very seriously, and we do that regularly through this report—there are a number of statistics, and that includes the decline in emissions in the September quarter of 1.4 per cent. I can't quickly see the number that you are referring to, Senator. Can you tell me what page you're looking at.

Senator DI NATALE: What was the total figure over the previous year?

Ms Evans : For the year to September 2017, the total was 531.4 million tonnes. For the year to September 2018, it was 536 million.

Senator DI NATALE: I want to ask you about the Kyoto carryover credits. Can I ask some questions about that? Has the department provided minister with any advice regarding the Kyoto carryover credits?

Ms Evans : We provide the minister with advice on any number of topics related to the Paris agreement.

Senator DI NATALE: That wasn't my question. Did you provide them with advice on the Kyoto carryover credits?

Ms Evans : I just answered the question.

Senator DI NATALE: No, you didn't.

Ms Evans : We provide advice on a number of topics, including carryover.

Senator DI NATALE: Are you able to discuss the nature of that advice?

Ms Evans : No.

Senator DI NATALE: How much will using the Kyoto carryover credits reduce our obligations under the Paris agreement?

Ms Evans : That information is in our Australia's emissions projections document from December of last year. I'm just looking for the page where you can see it directly, but it essentially reduces our emissions task from 695 million tonnes to 328 million tonnes, with the difference being the total carryover amount of 367 million tonnes.

Senator DI NATALE: With our greenhouse accounts, does the use of international credits lower the counted emissions in our accounts even though pollution is unchanged? For example, you've got the industrial emissions firms that purchased five million tonnes of abatement. Will the industrial emissions be counted as five million less, or will it reflect the actual emissions?

Ms Evans : It would reflect actual emissions.

Senator DI NATALE: Can I ask you some questions about the government announcing recently that there is going to be $10 million spent on a feasibility study for a new coal plant in Queensland?

Mr Pratt : That will be under outcome 4.

Senator DI NATALE: Okay. Is the electric vehicle strategy something we can ask about?

Ms Evans : Yes.

Senator DI NATALE: What's the $400,000 going to do? What's the intent of that?

Ms Tilley : That's for the development of a national strategy to coordinate the various actions that are underway: states and territories, Commonwealth support through CEFC and ARENA, and COAG processes.

Senator DI NATALE: Sorry, you'll just have to slow down. Development of a national strategy to coordinate existing efforts? Were those your words?

Ms Tilley : Yes, in part it is to coordinate existing efforts, but it is also to look at opportunities going forward.

Senator DI NATALE: Such as?

Ms Tilley : We'll have to wait for the development of the strategy.

Senator DI NATALE: So the government's got no plan. The department's got no plan that it looks to on charging infrastructure or any price incentives? Are you looking specifically at any of these issues?

Ms Tilley : The funding for the strategy is part of the budget that was handed down this week, so it's funding from next financial year that would be underpinning the development of that strategy.

Senator DI NATALE: Do you have a breakdown of the spend?

Ms Tilley : It is $400,000 departmental funding from the department.

Senator DI NATALE: How was that $400,000 figure arrived at?

Ms Tilley : Our analysis, broadly, was that we'd need two full-time employees and a range of consultancies to underpin the development of that strategy.

Senator DI NATALE: So at the moment there's no national strategy whatsoever?

Ms Tilley : No, the announcement was for the development of a strategy.

Senator DI NATALE: Electric vehicles have been a thing for many years. Why haven't we had a strategy up until this point?

Ms Tilley : That is not to suggest the government has not been supporting action in this area. We can have a colleague come up and talk about the range of support at the Commonwealth level, through the CEFC and ARENA, that has supported rollout of charging and support for electric vehicles. The ministerial forum has been looking at opportunities for where the Commonwealth can continue to focus its efforts. COAG itself, through—

Senator DI NATALE: What concrete things are happening—in English.

Ms Evans : There has been a number of things, including—Ms Tilley has already referred to funding through ARENA.

Senator McKenzie: Senator Di Natale, I'm pretty sure the officers were using English.

Senator DI NATALE: Bureaucratise isn't English. Funding for ARENA for what?

Ms Evans : They have provided $6 million to provide fast-charging networks in Australia. In addition, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has provided just over $1 billion of support to lower-emissions vehicles through a range of initiatives that includes things like concessional loans for the purchase of low-emissions vehicles. Those are two very concrete—

Senator DI NATALE: What are low-emissions vehicles classified as in this setting?

Ms Evans : Electric vehicles are certainly a part of that, and I believe there is another threshold for other types of vehicles, as well. But electric vehicles are certainly—

Senator DI NATALE: For what purposes?

Ms Evans : What purposes?

Senator DI NATALE: The billion dollars for low emissions vehicles.

Ms Evans : The CEFC is running those programs, so they would be a more appropriate entity for ask.

Senator DI NATALE: I will ask them, but I am interested, given you are saying you have given some attention to this. You have now told me that the CFC has provided $1 billion. I asked you specifically about electric vehicles. Is that $1 billion going towards electric vehicles?

Ms Evans : They are going to low-emissions vehicles and I did say that the first time.

Senator DI NATALE: The question I asked was about electric vehicles specifically.

Ms Evans : It includes electric vehicles, so it is a relevant answer to your question.

Senator DI NATALE: How much of that billion dollars is directed at—

Ms Evans : I can't give you that specifically. I will have to take it on notice. But the CEFC would be able to answer that question when they are called.

Senator DI NATALE: And the $6 million for fast-charging stations through ARENA? How much of that $6 million has been spent?

Ms Evans : I don't have those details in front of me.

Senator DI NATALE: You said earlier that it was to co-ordinate existing efforts by the Commonwealth government. You have spoken to me about ARENA and the CEFC. I am interested in knowing specifically what your department is doing in the area of electric vehicles.

Ms Evans : We haven't had a specific agenda on electric vehicles, other than to support the government in its considerations through the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions. That's been running for some time and it has discussed electric vehicles, among other things. We keep a watching brief. We provide information. We continue to keep informed and advise the government on developments in electric vehicles.

Senator DI NATALE: If the department we are talking to is about reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and you can't point to anything specifically that you are doing in the EV sector, isn't that a huge gap in the work you are doing?

Ms Evans : The government uses many entities, and climate change and emission reductions touch most portfolios. Not all of the programs are done through our department.

Senator DI NATALE: Twenty per cent of our emissions comes from the transport sector and you guys are doing nothing on EVs.

Ms Evans : That's not quite true. We have already mentioned the two programs that are in our portfolio. There are others in other portfolios, I'm sure. Through ARENA, there have been studies, such as the Energeia report that Ms Tilley referred to earlier, that have all contributed to understanding electric vehicles.

Senator DI NATALE: There's been massive uptake of EVs right around the world and yet here in Australia it is very, very slow, and it doesn't seem your department has a focus on increasing the uptake of EVs here in Australia. You can't point to anything concrete that you are doing to try to drive the uptake of EVs.

Ms Evans : I've pointed to several concrete things that government is doing—

Senator DI NATALE: You have no strategy at all. We've got $400,000 to co-ordinate existing efforts. How is that addressing the fact that 20 per cent of our emissions are coming from the transport sector and yet we now have $400,000 for a strategy to co-ordinate existing efforts?

Ms Evans : The government has committed the $400,000 to develop the strategy. It has supported ARENA, which is provided funding for fast-charging stations. It has supported the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which is providing finance for, among other things, electric vehicles and other low-emissions vehicles.

Senator DI NATALE: I might move on to an issue around the environment minister, who requested a review of how climate change policy could be used to upgrade coal-fired power stations, after some lobbying by an energy company. Is that something I can ask you?

Ms Evans : Yes.

Senator DI NATALE: I'm sure you know what I'm referring to. There was an article in The Guardian on 2 April 2019. According to that article, the minister asked the independent—

Senator McKenzie: Sorry, I don't read The Guardian. Could I have a copy of—

Senator DI NATALE: You don't read The Guardian? Why am I not surprised! I'll see if we can get a copy and table it.

Senator McKenzie: Thank you.

Senator DI NATALE: According to the article, the minister asked the independent Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee to review how coal-fired power stations could earn carbon credits under the climate scheme. The committee conducted this review?

Ms Tilley : Can I give a little bit of context?

Senator DI NATALE: Yes.

Ms Tilley : There is an existing method under the Emissions Reduction Fund; the facilities method, which allows large facilities, including coal-fired power stations, to undertake approved activities to reduce their emissions. So that's an existing method under the Emissions Reduction Fund. All methods under the Emissions Reduction Fund are reviewed regularly. Under legislation, they're required to be reviewed every four years.

The independent Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, which undertakes those reviews and provides advice to the minister, had notionally intended to do a review of the facilities method in 2019. As a result of a project that was registered by Vales Point coal-fired power station, but which has ultimately not been approved to go to auction under the ERF, there were some conversations with the department, with the Clean Energy Regulator and with the minister's office. As a result of that, Minister Price asked for advice from the department about what—

Senator DI NATALE: Asked for advice or requested a review?

Ms Tilley : Asked for advice from the department about ways in which the opportunities, or the eligibility, so to speak, of different projects at coal-fired power stations fit with the requirements of the method under the ERF, given that the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee was intending to do a review of the method in—

Senator DI NATALE: 'Was intending'?

Ms Tilley : Was intending to do a review of the method in 2019—

Senator DI NATALE: And just coincidentally after this request was made?

Ms Tilley : No, coincidentally because all methods need to be reviewed every four years and that was on their notional schedule for 2019.

The department's proposal was that in reviewing the method, which they intended to do, one objective of that review would be to provide greater clarity about what sorts of activities were eligible and would not be eligible under the facilities method. In understanding that, Minister Price requested that the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, as part of their review, focus in particular on providing clarity around what is eligible and what's not.

Senator DI NATALE: After she'd been lobbied by this energy company—

Ms Tilley : Well, after—

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Di Natale: just as further assistance to the minister, do you at least have a title for the article so that we could search for it?

Senator DI NATALE: It was on 2 April 2019, in The Guardian. Just Google 'Trevor St Baker'—he'll come up as one of your donors as well!

CHAIR: We'll source that and get a copy to the minister. It makes it easier for her and the officers.

Senator DI NATALE: Yes, I appreciate that.

Ms Tilley : Can I just finish that point by saying that after we, as officials—and I speak on behalf of colleagues at the Clean Energy Regulator as well—had a number of dealings with the proponent for Vales Point and understood the complexity—

Senator DI NATALE: We're talking about Mr Trevor St Baker?

Ms Tilley : No, a representative of the organisation, not Mr St Baker. We had a number of conversations in which it was apparent to us that it was a complicated method—the legislative instrument—that was difficult to navigate, and that there was an opportunity to provide more clarity and guidance around what was eligible and what was not under that method.

Senator DI NATALE: Tell me about the review. Where are we up to?

Ms Tilley : The Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee agreed in its December meeting to proceed with the review. That was intended to be initiated in early 2019. I haven't checked in the last couple of weeks where that is up to, but, certainly, a small number from the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee—a subcommittee, so to speak—have agreed to lead that review. They've initiated what they intend to be the scope of the review. I will just check with my colleague to see if they've gone out with any public calls for consultation.

Ms E Johnson : No, they haven't yet gone out with a consultation paper. That will be the next step, and we would anticipate that within the next couple of months or so.

Senator DI NATALE: The next couple of months.

Ms E Johnson : That's right.

Senator DI NATALE: Will the review be open to submissions?

Ms E Johnson : Yes, that's right. It's a statutory 28-day consultation period, unless ERAC decides on a shorter period. But that's a full public consultation.

Senator DI NATALE: Will the outcome of the review be made public?

Ms E Johnson : Yes, that's the standard practice.

Senator DI NATALE: Can I ask whether Mr Trevor St Baker has met with the minister?

Ms E Johnson : We'll have to take that on notice.

Ms Tilley : Not to my knowledge.

Senator DI NATALE: It's interesting when you're looking at this grant process. Would the department take into account the fact that Mr St Baker purchased Vales Point from, I think, the Liberal New South Wales government at the time for $1 million and the asset was then worth $770 million the following year? Will you look at the review and say, 'Hang on, this bloke could probably afford the upgrade himself'? In fact, when he was asked about this in the interview—I believe it was on Radio National—he did not state that he would not proceed with the modifications if he wasn't awarded that assistance.

Ms Tilley : Just a couple of points of clarification: the review is not on the project or the project application; the review is on the method.

Senator DI NATALE: Yes.

Ms Tilley : In looking at the method and reviewing the method, what the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee will have as its primary function is: does the method continue to meet the offsets integrity standards under the Emissions Reduction Fund?

Senator DI NATALE: Integrity standards—what does that—

Ms Tilley : There are, I think, five things that I can list off. They are the legislated offsets integrity standards, but in a generic sense it's to make sure that emissions that are produced from an eligible project or under a method are genuine, real and unlikely to occur in the ordinary course of events.

Senator DI NATALE: That's the key point—the last bit. How do you make an assessment about whether something would be done and you're not just throwing away good money for something that would have been done anyway?

Ms Tilley : When we designed the Emissions Reduction Fund, there were obviously—and I recall this—conversations in this room with your colleagues about the design of the scheme and how we tested additionality. It's tested in a number of ways. It was a conscious decision under the design of the Emissions Reduction Fund, as it has been in a number of offset schemes around the world—the Clean Development Mechanism, for example—not to have a test for financial additionality, because it is simply too difficult at a project registration or approval stage. You're simply not going to have the information necessary to know what was in the mind of a board or an individual or a building owner when they decided to go ahead with a project which reduces emissions. The method, largely, is required to do the testing on a general whole-of-sector, whole-of-activity sense of what is normal and what is additional to BAU.

Senator DI NATALE: Do you accept that it's one of the big criticisms of the scheme?

Ms Tilley : I almost look at it as the flipside—that it would be unworkable to, on a project-by-project basis, know what the person was thinking when they decided to buy an efficient lightbulb or a more efficient car or to change practice. As is the case with most offset schemes around the world, they have decided not to go into that and try to have rules of thumb in the project rules.

Senator DI NATALE: The question around the feasibility study for the new coal-fired plant is not—

Senator McKenzie: Outcome 4.

Senator DI NATALE: Thank you.

Senator SPENDER: I'd like to ask about a reply you gave to Senator Leyonhjelm last time around. It was a spoken question and the reply was, I think, 193. It was about his request for unofficial estimates by you of emissions to 2030, if possible, in various countries that have bigger emissions than us: Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, India and Brazil. I have to say that it was probably the best written reply to an estimates question I've ever seen. It was brilliant. It must've involved a lot of work, so thank you very much for all of that. I'm just curious as to how this sort of information could be used. It relates to how you operate vis-a-vis DFAT. Your function may have previously existed in DFAT, but I would think that, in a perfect world, information about how these countries are increasing their emissions—other than Brazil—according to the unofficial estimates, would be useful in our bilateral discussions with those individual countries, if not in multilateral discussions. Firstly, this information that you've collated, did you do that with DFAT? Have you provided it to DFAT? Do the posts in these various countries have those numbers?

Ms Munro : Firstly, thank you. I will pass on your thanks for the well written answer to my officials. We work very closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and that is both through the ongoing international negotiations on climate change, as well as the analysis and tracking of what other countries are doing. In terms of how we put together this response it was on the basis of a compilation of external sources. The caveats are actually quite clear. This is not official data, and, as you said, it is not data that has been put out by countries. Nonetheless, it is trends that others have determined to make. In that regard, there is an understanding of these issues between countries, and as part of normal discussions in bilateral and multilateral forums these are issues which are discussed.

Senator SPENDER: Do you think there is much fruit to be gained by pushing bilateral discussions of these things—basically behind closed doors saying, 'We recognise that your emissions are going in the wrong direction.' And they can presumably say the same thing to us. I don't know whether you have much hope that we can have bilateral agreements. I know that maybe a decade ago there was a greater hope that we would have more bilateral agreements on each country's emission profiles. Is that no longer the trend where we are solely focusing on multilateral and Paris based—

Ms Munro : It was very significant in terms of the Paris Agreement and it is not that we haven't had the multilateral agreement before; as you would know, we have the Kyoto Protocol and then more broadly the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. And so it is within the construct being a global issue what a country puts forward, and that's the nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement. The architecture, the framework and, I guess, the peer pressure that is a construct of the Paris Agreement is an important one about where countries will put forward their contribution but they make pledges on an increasing scale of ambition. Under the Paris Agreement there will be a global review of action in 2023, and then an expectation for all countries to put in greater ambition in 2025, or just make the case for why they can't do that.

Senator SPENDER: More provocatively I'll put the question about, given the risk that multilateral discussions might not be as easy to progress, whether or not we should be putting more of our eggs in the basket of bilateral discussions. You talked about peers. A lot of the people involved in those discussions are not our peers. Their emissions are well below ours. I am wondering whether it might be more useful that we have discussions with these more as our peers. We are presumably in the top 10 countries in terms of emissions, depending on how you treat Europe, as a whole. Do you think there are abilities through, say, G20 or other forums of smaller groups of countries, where we should, at least as an alternative to these Paris based arrangements?

Ms Munro : I don't think it's as an alternative. There are ongoing discussions that Australia participates in as part of the G20. For example, there is a climate sustainability working group. A big focus of the working group, this year in Japan, is that the chair of the G20 is looking at the long-term strategies for emissions reductions. Within the group of countries that we reported on Saudi Arabia, China, India and Brazil are part of the G20. Iran isn't, but the other four countries are. It is an important forum, as you suggested, to build both trust and understanding of what other countries are doing and also to encourage greater effort through those forums. But it is not as an alternative; it is another forum to help progress the issue of action on climate change.

Senator SPENDER: On the original question, do the posts all know about that? Iran isn't in the G20. Do you know whether our post in Iran is aware of these figures and could possibly have these discussions with, for instance, Iran? Their emissions are rising, in the rosiest scenario, by about 43 per cent over the period we're committing to reducing our emissions.

Ms Munro : I think, on that one, that is an issue for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, if you wanted to ask them that question.

Senator SPENDER: That's fine. Thank you.

Senator MARTIN: I want to delve a little bit into the Fisher report. Did the government commission the report, and was any funding provided for it? Mr Pratt?

Mr Pratt : My apologies, Senator. Could you ask the question again?

Senator MARTIN: In regard to the Fisher report, did the government commission the report itself and was any funding provided for it?

Ms Evans : The answer is no. The report was not commissioned by the government. And, no, there was no funding provided for it.

Senator MARTIN: Did the government have any influence on the report at all?

Ms Evans : No.

Senator MARTIN: Are you aware of any other reports that model the impact of Labor's climate policy as announced on Monday, 1 April?

Senator Birmingham: I think the silence says no.

Senator MARTIN: Are you aware of Dr Warwick McKibbin's 2015 report that looks at a 45 per cent target? What coverage did that report have of Australia's emissions?

Ms Evans : I'll just see if we can find that detail. I know there are some differences between the McKibbin model and, as I understand—although I'm not particularly familiar with the BAE model, I do understand there are some differences. I don't know whether Ms Tilley has an answer on what the coverage of the McKibbin model was.

Ms Tilley : I assume you're talking about sectoral coverage?

Senator MARTIN: Yes.

Ms Tilley : I don't have a breakdown of what sectors are covered. Given it was a broad model across the Australian economy, my presumption would be that the McKibbin model looked across all relevant sectors that we report on in the emissions inventory.

Senator Birmingham: I think my understanding is that it excluded sources like agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

Ms Evans : I have to take that on notice as well, but the minister is correct. I'm pretty sure the McKibbin modelling has a focus on energy, on the energy related sectors, so I don't think it's coverage is particularly strong on the land based sectors.

Senator MARTIN: Okay.

Ms Evans : We will have to take it on notice, to clarify, I'm sorry.

Senator MARTIN: Yes, thank you. Are you aware of Dr McKibbin 's public statements to the effect that his 2015 report did not model Labor's policy?

Ms Evans : I'm not aware of specific comments he might have made.

Senator Birmingham: Sorry, I missed that.

Senator MARTIN: I'm asking if you are aware of Dr McKibbin's public statements to the effect that his 2015 report did not model Labor's policy.

Senator Birmingham: As I said before, I have a recollection that it doesn't cover certain sectors. Therefore, that would be an accurate assessment in terms of meeting a whole-of-economy 45 per cent target.

Senator MARTIN: Minister, the abatement that Labor needs to meet, Labor's rejection of carry over, therefore, is zero impact, a range of measures announced by the government that Labor seems to support. What effect does that have in comparison to what the current government targets in its emissions that we are talking about?

Senator Birmingham: Obviously, Labor's 45 per cent target is significantly greater to start with, which I understand necessitates the removal of around 1,326 megatons. The coalition's target is substantially less than that, and carryover, which accounts for an estimated 367 megatons, is apparently not available on the basis of what the Labor Party has indicated their policies are. That means that further costs would have to flow through the different sectors to duplicate that otherwise available carryover.

Senator MARTIN: Thank you. Has Labor provided any information as to how they may reach their target at all?

Senator Birmingham: The Labor Party apparently released policies on Monday. You did hear before, Senator Martin, that, when I asked Senator Keneally, when she went through the very detailed table that accompanied the climate solutions package at the Prime Minister and Minister Price released, which identifies the expected contribution to emissions reduction across energy performance, the Climate Solutions Fund, energy efficiency, hydro, electric vehicles and technology improvements—when I asked if there was a similar detailed breakdown in terms of emissions reductions that would be achieved by the different components of the policy that Labor apparently released on Monday, there was nil answer provided.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister—

Senator MARTIN: Are you able to—

Senator Birmingham: Senator Keneally, you are welcome to correct the record, if you like. If there is such a breakdown, nobody's ever seen it.

Senator KENEALLY: The chair does not like me to speak out of turn.

Senator Birmingham: If there is such a breakdown, nobody has seen it.

Senator KENEALLY: If you'd like me to go back to: if you could provide me information, Minister, for the record—

CHAIR: You don't have the call, Senator Keneally, but I do appreciate your good humour.

Senator MARTIN: For Labor to reach their target, what would be the cost to the budget and what would be the cost to the industry?

Senator Birmingham: We, of course, don't have any modelling provided by the Labor Party in terms of what the costs or impacts of the policies they've released would be. That's a mystery to all. We do have the modelling from Dr Fisher, which has been referenced before—that is, in terms of the target the Labor Party has set, and to do that without counting carryover, it's been indicated there'd be a $472 billion cost that would see 336,000 fewer jobs and a $9,000 average hit to wages.

Senator MARTIN: On that, I presume the government's plan is more productive and more real than what Labor's offering at the moment.

Senator Birmingham: On the only available modelling that exists, the government's plan provides better outcomes for the economy, better outcomes for jobs growth and better outcomes for wages growth.

CHAIR: I'm glad Labor finds the seriousness and destructive nature of their emissions reductions policy—it's a very serious matter, yet they laugh.

Senator KENEALLY: I was unaware that Minister Birmingham had joined the Labor Party or that he wanted to be a Labor minister in a Labor government yet he was answering questions about Labor policy!

CHAIR: Senator Rice?

Senator RICE: Thank you. I'm interested in methodologies under the Carbon Farming Initiative for native forests. First of all, what are the current methodologies that exist?

Ms Maguire : Our branch is responsible for developing methodologies for the land sector. There are currently seven vegetation methods available for use. They cover a range of activities. A couple of them are about regenerating native vegetation on agricultural land. There is a commercial plantations method, a farmed forestry method, an avoided deforestation method and an avoided clearing method.

Senator RICE: Is there a methodology that relates to unlogged native forest?

Ms Maguire : No, not at this stage.

Senator RICE: Has the department done any work on considering a methodology for unlogged native forest?

Ms Maguire : Over the last four or five years there has been some very preliminary work done. Various people have asked us to have a look at whether it would be feasible or not, but it hasn't been a priority for us in the last couple of years.

Senator RICE: Who asked the department to look at it?

Ms Maguire : You probably would have seen in the media that the Victorian government requested that the minister have a look at it or that the department have a look on her behalf.

Senator RICE: Can you give me more information about the representations from the Victorian government regarding looking at a methodology.

Ms Maguire : I haven't got the letter in front of me, but there was a fair bit of information in the media in the last couple of weeks requesting that the federal government have a look at potential—

Senator RICE: There's a letter. Were there other representations or would the letter have been the extent of the representations?

Ms Maguire : The letter is what I understand to be the request.

Senator RICE: So you don't know of any other? Has there been any minister to minister discussion or anything like that, or is it just a letter?

Ms Maguire : My understanding is it's a letter, but we'd have to take on notice if there were any other representations.

Senator RICE: Was that letter responded to?

Ms Maguire : I understand it was. We'll have to take that one on notice.

Senator RICE: So you're saying that nothing has been proceeded with it because it hasn't been a priority. Can you expand on why it hasn't been a priority?

Ms Maguire : The minister is responsible for determining priorities for method development under the Emissions Reduction Fund. Those priorities get published on the website. It's really a case of choosing relative priorities where the department and the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee puts its effort in developing methods. As I said, there are seven existing vegetation methods. In addition to supporting the development of those by the department, we also support the independent Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee as they review methods.

Senator RICE: What is the interaction between the department and the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee on the decision as to whether it's a priority? Who would decide? How would things change? How would a decision be made that it was a priority?

Ms Maguire : There are two separate processes there. The Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee decides its priorities for reviewing methods.

Senator RICE: So it has to have a methodology before you review it.

Ms Maguire : Yes. The Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, ERAC, decides on the priority. The priority for developing new methods is a decision by the minister.

Ms Evans : If I can just add: that is informed by our analysis about the potential for each of the methods to add to the existing stock of methods that we have. Some of that prioritisation is about how much abatement there is likely to be from it, how many people are likely to take it up and how much work it will take to get the method in place. We're weighing a lot of things up. We make suggestions about whether or not a new method in the particular area is the one we should be spending our time on at the moment.

Senator RICE: Have you done work on looking at how much abatement would be likely to be made from having a methodology for keeping unlogged forests unlogged?

Ms Maguire : No, we haven't done that assessment.

Senator RICE: How can you decide if it's a low priority, if you haven't done that assessment?

Ms Maguire : Again, it's a decision about relative priorities. We have to look at, not least, the offsets integrity standards that we've talked about before. There's a range of things in there. One of the questions that has to be answered and addressed in developing a method is whether the activity is likely to be beyond business as usual at a method scale.

Senator RICE: Given we know there is ongoing logging of native forests right across the country, it would be beyond business as usual if the decision was made to not log unlogged native forests. I want to go back to Ms Evans. You said the determination of the priorities is based on an assessment of the level of likely abatement. You haven't done that assessment. How can you then say it's a low priority?

Ms Evans : We make judgements about areas where we've already got methods and, as Ms Maguire explained, there are already quite a number of methods—

Senator RICE: But there's not one of relevance—

Ms Evans : We've avoided deforestation, which is relevant to native forests. So there are things that are already broadly covering the area. We are constantly looking at different ideas around methods.

Senator RICE: With all due respect, avoiding deforestation is very different to leaving native forests unlogged under our current regime where the plan is for that forest to then regrow. Avoided deforestation is where you are actually clearing land without an expectation that the forest will regrow. But, in order to make that judgement as to whether it's a priority or not, you must have done a back-of-the-envelope assessment of what the potential abatement from keeping forests unlogged would be.

Ms Evans : I would have to refer to Ms Maguire. We haven't done any—

Senator RICE: Nothing at all?

Ms Maguire : We haven't done any detailed assessment of what the likely abatement would be.

Senator RICE: Have you reviewed any of this research that's been done, particularly out of the ANU led by Heather Keith, of the potential of carbon abatement from leaving forests unlogged?

Ms Maguire : Because it hasn't been on our priority list of method development, our efforts have been going to supporting the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee in reviewing the existing methods, which has been a very substantial amount of work.

Senator RICE: So you've basically been completely keeping your head in the sand about the potential of abatement from leaving native forests unlogged. It really seems to be that you don't want to look at it.

Ms Evans : No, I don't agree with that characterisation. We are simply describing to you the processes that we use to prioritise our work and where we are up to. I'm happy to say that we will have another look at whether there is—

Senator RICE: My final question then is: is getting the letter from the Victorian government enough to prompt a reassessment and to decide that maybe you need to pay some attention to it?

Ms Maguire : We get a lot of representations from a lot of different people on a lot of different types of methods that people would like developed. We have to weigh up where we put our efforts at a point in time. That's not to say we might not do it in future. At a point in time, we decide how to allocate that resource.

Senator RICE: How many letters do you get from state governments, though, asking you to develop methodologies? How many would it be?

Ms Maguire : I can't tell you exactly how many, but we have had a number of representations on a range of different types of methods over time.

Senator RICE: Can you take on notice the representations from state governments and whether they have resulted in methodologies, please.

Ms Maguire : Yes.

Senator RICE: Thank you.

CHAIR: I think that will see us out for outcome 2. What we intend to do after the break, which we are about to take, is jump forward to the Director of National Parks before we go to outcome 4 and then proceed with the rest of the program as planned. Just to add to the list of broken promises from all parties—mainly the Labor Party—we won't be finishing at four o'clock on this portfolio, sorry. We will be going through until at least six o'clock, I believe. We will see how we go.

Pr oceedings suspended from 15:53 to 16:10

CHAIR: We will resume. Secretary, you have a document that might assist the committee.

Mr Pratt : Yes. It's just about to be tabled, with your permission, Chair.

CHAIR: I think the committee will happily have that tabled.