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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Director of National Parks

Director of National Parks


CHAIR: We will now go to the office of the Director of National Parks. Welcome back. Is there anything in the way of an opening statement to be made today?

Dr Findlay : No thanks.

CHAIR: Excellent. We'll go to questions from Senator Siewert.

Senator SIEWERT: I think you have probably been forewarned that I want to ask about the Bremer Bay Canyon. The particular area where the hotspot itself is, as I understand it, wasn't included in the boundaries of the various marine protected areas in the Bremer Marine Park. Can I ask why that area wasn't included? The hotspot where the orcas congregate wasn't included. I'm aware that a large bit of the canyon was, but that bit wasn't. Can I ask why?

Mr Mundy : Senator, you would be broadly familiar with the long process of bioregional planning and analysis which led to the creation of the protected areas.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mr Mundy : That process led to the identification of different representative examples of habitat around the Australian jurisdiction. Over many years of detailed analysis, it led to the identification of different bioregions and different habitat types within those bioregions. The process of designating the specific locations in which the parks were to be placed is one which resulted from that long period of bioregional analysis. The process of making those designations predates my experience in this role, so it may be that there is some history around specifically why that location was chosen. I believe that the canyon heads, which have been included within the actual boundaries of the Bremer Marine Park, are representative examples of that habitat type in the region. I don't know whether at the time those decisions were made that the anecdotal evidence of large aggregations of orcas and other species in the area adjacent to the place that was designated for the marine park to the east was known. I do know that in recent times, following a recommendation by the independent Commonwealth Marine Reserves Review, some further scientific analysis has been done of the site immediately adjacent to the marine park. It was funded under the National Environmental Science Program, which has made some further preliminary investigations into whether the anecdotal evidence of hotspots and aggregations adjacent to the park are accurate and can be verified.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I just be clear so that I understand: under that project, further work has been done around this particular aggregation?

Mr Mundy : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: I've got a map. I'm sure you know where that aggregation is.

Mr Mundy : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: As I understand it, it's about 10 kilometres from the current boundary.

Mr Mundy : It is immediately adjacent to the westward boundary of the Bremer Marine Park.

Senator SIEWERT: So they've investigated that, if I understand it correctly, subsequent to the expansion that occurred under the previous process. Is that correct?

Mr Mundy : The external perimeter of the then Commonwealth marine reserves—

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, which was an expansion of the previous—I do acknowledge that.

Mr Mundy : So there's what occurred through the consultations around the management plan. It wasn't an expansion of the external boundaries of the marine park, but it was a zoning of the areas within it.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. I do realise that there was that process made. Since that process, there has now been subsequent investigation of what's commonly known as the hotspot.

Mr Mundy : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: What has it found? Are you able to articulate that? And what's the process from here.

Mr Mundy : The project was a 2017 project, titled Surveying marine life in the canyons off Bremer Bay, held under the NESP, with total funding of $316,000. Approximately $100,000 of that was provided by NESP, the Director of National Parks put in $50,000, $150,000 was in-kind contributions by research partners, and the balance was cash contributions by research partners. The project convened an expert scientific workshop to synthesise existing data. It did note that the group of canyons to the south-east of the Bremer Bay area is the site of reported large seasonal aggregations, particularly of killer whales and other key species. The research, as I understand it, found that it's unclear whether the area in question adjacent to the marine park represents a discrete and unique killer whale hotspot or whether Bremer Marine Park supports other aggregations, whether they're from separate individuals or from the same animals. The research didn't detect a difference in species diversity or abundance within and outside the Bremer Marine Park.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you able to provide a map, because we may be talking about different areas? As I said, the spot I'm talking about, which there's deep interest in, is the one that's about 10 kilometres from the boundary. Are we referring to the same one when we say 'adjacent to'?

Mr Mundy : Yes, we're speaking about the same place.

Senator SIEWERT: Right. I'm told that there's a large number—120 individuals are known to occur in several family groups around that area. So we are definitely talking about the same—

Mr Mundy : We're talking about the same location.

Senator SIEWERT: So my understanding from what you've just said is that, as yet, you haven't verified whether they're discrete groups and whether that area should be protected. Is that how I am to interpret what you've just said?

Mr Mundy : Correct, and also that the findings of that research are that there didn't appear to be a difference in species diversity and abundance within the park and adjacent to it. That's just on the basis of the limited findings of the study. There was aerial research which sighted greater numbers outside the marine park than within but didn't draw final conclusions about whether the aggregation was greater outside or in, but I acknowledge there is anecdotal evidence that the aggregations are bigger in the area outside and adjacent to the park.

Senator SIEWERT: There certainly is in Bremer, as I understand it. So where to from here? Now that that research has been done, is there further work, or is there an ongoing process to further investigate this?

Mr Mundy : Not at the moment. In the future it will be open for consideration of whether some form of protection for that area, in addition to the area already captured within the Bremer Marine Park, is appropriate or not, but there's no process to pursue that further protection at this stage.

Senator SIEWERT: I think you'll find there'll be quite a lot of local enthusiasm for continuing the research in that area. There's also keen support for better integration of the management, as I understand it, between the biosphere reserve and the marine environment. Are you aware of that?

Mr Mundy : For Parks Australia, we were aware of an interest in having the Bremer Marine Park somehow brought into the biosphere for the Fitzgerald biosphere reserve. We were made aware of that through submissions during the public consultations on the management plans. That's the only place where I'm aware of that interest having arisen. The department hasn't been contacted by the Fitzgerald Biosphere implementation group relating to a further renomination of the Fitzgerald Biosphere to include the Bremer Marine Park.

Senator SIEWERT: You haven't been contacted yet—

Mr Mundy : Correct, other than through—

Senator SIEWERT: other than the submissions through the formal marine park planning process?

Mr Mundy : Yes, which wasn't the appropriate channel for considering it. It was the appropriate channel for comments on the marine park, but obviously not for proposing an expansion to the Fitzgerald Biosphere as a—

Senator SIEWERT: So the formal process is for whoever wants to propose it to write, through that process, to ask you to consider that—is that correct?

Mr Mundy : To correspond with the department requesting inclusion of that area.

Senator SIEWERT: Is there a formal process, or do they just write to you?

Mr Mundy : I'm not aware of the formal process.

Dr Findlay : There is a formal process. It would actually require a renomination process in line with the UNESCO guidelines for biospheres. That biosphere was most recently re-declared in 2017—

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I'm aware that—

Dr Findlay : It's not due for review for another eight years. So it would actually require renomination, and so that process would need to be completed through the department and obviously through UNESCO as well.

Senator SIEWERT: I understand the UNESCO part of it, but can anybody write to you at any time to suggest it, or is there a—

Dr Findlay : It's actually managed by the department, not by the Director of National Parks, so we'd have to come back to you, but I'm sure there'd be something online somewhere—

Senator SIEWERT: I knew there was something I'd need the department for!

Dr Findlay : There is a lot of material available online on our website.

Mr Cahill : People can write to us expressing interest on environmental matters and then we look at the appropriate policy advice.

Dr Findlay : To anyone who is listening: there is quite a lot of material provided on the department's website about the process and the relevant links to the international process as well. And that's how I found it today when you raised it.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you very much. I'll keep following up the hotspot issue.

CHAIR: Senator Urquhart.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you for the document, because you've almost answered all my questions in this, so that's helpful. I have a question as to tourism jobs funding in Kakadu. Are there other national parks that will receive funding under the package?

Dr Findlay : No.

Senator URQUHART: It's just related to Kakadu?

Dr Findlay : The package announced by the Prime Minister on 13 January was heralded with great excitement by Parks Australia and obviously our partners in Kakadu and Jabiru in particular, but the funding only relates to those areas.

Senator URQUHART: On marine parks: given your previous role in AFMA, I'm just interested in your view as, now, the Director of National Parks in relation to marine parks and also highly protected zone marine parks.

Dr Findlay : So comments in general?

Senator URQUHART: Yes.

Dr Findlay : Marine parks play an important role in ensuring the protection and conservation of biodiversity and also supporting a healthy blue economy in Australia, including through fisheries. They complement our fisheries management and other natural resource management systems. Australia can be very proud of its marine park network. Our US and French colleagues aren't in the room, so I'll happily claim that we are a world leader! They may dispute that. But we are certainly in the top three.

Senator URQUHART: I'm sure we will get a letter! So I guess the position is that there is support from National Parks for marine parks—would that be a fair assumption?

Dr Findlay : I would say more than 'support'. We own them. We live them. We are them!

Senator URQUHART: You are them? So that's much more than support.

Dr Findlay : Yes, that's right.

Senator URQUHART: Great. Again, as I said, thank you, because I think you've answered nearly all my questions on Kakadu, so that's great.

ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Martin ): Senator Keneally, do you have any questions on this?

Senator KENEALLY: I don't have any questions for this outcome, thank you.


ACTING CHAIR: So I take it we are now going onto outcome 4?

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, please.

Senator URQUHART: Outcome 4? Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Keneally.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you for being here today. I'd like to ask some questions about the Battery of the Nation project. I attempted to ask these earlier in a previous section. My questions arise from the citation of the Battery of the Nation abatement targets in the government's Climate Solutions Package. The Climate Solutions Package indicates that the Battery of the Nation will contribute 25 megatonnes of CO2 abatement by 2030. Where is that figure derived from?

Mr Sullivan : In terms of detailed analysis, I will have to take that on notice. In terms of how that figure was arrived at, it was building on the potential of the megawatts that would come out of Battery of the Nation in terms of the pumped hydro, looking at the assumptions around the renewables coming online, and the timing of that, and looking at the capacity with respect to the potential sites. ARENA worked with Hydro Tasmania to identify up to 4,800 megawatts. From that, there were an additional 2,500 megawatts and a whole bunch of assumptions about what that pumped hydro based on renewables coming online would displace. The assumptions in terms of the calculations would also take into account demand and projections in Victoria. That would have formed the basis in terms of a number of assumptions around what the possible abatement is.

Senator KENEALLY: That's helpful. I understand we have neither the time nor the capacity to go through that in great detail here. At a basic level, it sounds like the number was derived by the department rather than sourced from some external consultant.

Mr Heferen : As Mr Sullivan said, you look at the displacement of the gas peaker that might otherwise occur and the displacement of coal-fired generation. They are quite complicated. But the other complication is the demand there is going to be out of Victoria. When you start with AEMO's demand projections over that period, which are very difficult to be clear about, and couple those with the Victorian government's rooftop solar proposal, which is not included in AEMO's demand projections—when the word 'modelling' is used, I would say these projections are very much those projections. There are a number of uncertainties. I think the one thing we can be pretty confident about is that it would be an underestimate. I think everyone would agree that the volume of intermittent renewable energy coming into the system has been consistently underestimated, update after update, by anyone involved in this. The numbers that are there, to use the vernacular—I wouldn't say 'rough'—are broadly indicative of the sort of abatement which might be obtained. I would put the caveat that I would expect that they would be on the downside.

Senator KENEALLY: Let me go at it this way. You mentioned that 2,500 megawatts of potential new capacity is being investigated—you didn't say that; that is what the report says. More than 2,500 megawatts of potential new pumped hydro capacity is being investigated. The Climate Solutions Package, which attributes the 25 megatonnes of abatement from the Battery of the Nation, doesn't specify the actual size of the pumped hydro capacity needed to generate that abatement.

Mr Heferen : The pumped hydro would be used almost as an alternative to a gas peaker. The other complication is that the Marinus Link would need to go ahead for the extra interconnection. Without the Marinus Link—and I stand corrected—I think there is already 400 megawatts of hydropower sitting in Tasmania over the summer period as latent; it's not used in Tasmania. It could be used on the mainland but is at the moment constrained by the size of Basslink. So hydro itself is continual power as opposed to pumped hydro, which will be the peaking. The 2,500 megawatts of pumped hydro goes to the question of a peaking plant not being used on the mainland, whereas the 400 megawatts out of the Tassie hydro system itself probably goes to the question of the displacement of coal or other combined cycle gas or baseload.

Senator KENEALLY: Is it 400 or 4,800?

Mr Heferen : The 400 megawatts is the capacity of Hydro Tasmania now that can't be used on the mainland because of the size of Basslink.

Senator KENEALLY: Okay; got it. Where I was trying to get to previously, in the other section—correct me if I am wrong, Mr Heferen, but the Battery of the Nation is exactly that; a battery.

Mr Heferen : Of the nation!

Senator KENEALLY: Of the nation! I'm glad we are able to agree on that! It in itself cannot be completely responsible for the 25 megatonnes of abatement, I presume; it also requires renewable energy going into it. It is a battery.

Mr Heferen : Yes. The way that pumped hydro typically works is: when prices are low you use energy to pump the water up the hill and when prices are high you pump it back down. In Tasmania it's pretty much 100 per cent renewable anyway, because I think the Tamar gas-fired power station has been mothballed; it doesn't run much. So it's largely renewable energy in Tasmania.

Senator Birmingham: Obviously there are already points in time where there is surplus renewable energy. If we had Snowy 2.0 or the Battery of the Nation operational, they would already be able to utilise those surplus points. But, with the projected growth in renewable energy forms and the opportunities that this could spur for extra investment in Tasmania or Victoria, you would expect to see more of those peaks in the future. That is, of course, what a pumped hydro facility would utilise.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, that's entirely what I'm trying to understand from this figure of 25 megatonnes of CO2 abatement. How much more renewable energy investment is required to meet that?

Mr Heferen : To have a correct answer, we will take it on notice. We're really talking about the renewable energy that will exist in Victoria and, to lesser extent, South Australia, for the megatonnes of abatement. The gas peak is there, and the coal-fired generation largely in Victoria is not needed as much because the power can come from Tasmania. When you think about renewable energy, it's the penetration of intermittent wind, grid-scale solar and rooftop solar—largely but not exclusively in Victoria—that will require the firming that will be provided by Battery of the Nation, via both Basslink and Marinus Link. Having said that, I hope to give you a sense of the renewables coming in north of Tasmania, and we'll take that on notice to provide a more accurate breakdown of what those underlying assumptions are.

Senator KENEALLY: If you're taking that on notice, can I also ask that you address these questions. What amount of renewable investment is required to deliver this abatement via the Battery of the Nation project? What share of renewable energy does this lead to overall? What is the cost of that investment and who pays for it?

Mr Heferen : We'll take that on notice.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. You've mentioned a few times the Marinus Link transmission line. I understand that this is probably a question best put to ARENA, but, besides contributing to the feasibility study for the Marinus Link transmission line, has the government provided any other direct support for the Battery of the Nation project?

Mr Gaddes : I might have a shot at that one. I'm the assistant secretary in charge of international energy implementation, and unfortunately my title doesn't really reflect most of my duties.

Senator KENEALLY: Is this really the time to bring that up!

Mr Gaddes : These are not international matters, but I do have a role.

CHAIR: Tasmania is a different country!

Mr Pratt : I will add some later!

Mr Gaddes : Lucky me! In terms of the Commonwealth contribution to both the Battery of the Nation and Marinus Link, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency has contributed $2.5 million to Hydro Tas to support the Battery of the Nation and has provided $10 million towards the Marinus Link. You may be aware that the Prime Minister announced recently an extra $56 million to the Tasmanian government to support the feasibility study and early works that need to be done to get Marinus Link up. So it's $66 million for Marinus Link and $2.5 million for Battery of the Nation.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you very much, and Senator Urquhart would like to put on record that she appreciates you clarifying that Tasmania is not an international destination! Mr Pratt, I'm trying to understand if the government can legitimately claim the Battery of the Nation project as part of its climate solution policy package. Yes, it's made a contribution of a not inconsiderable amount, but then again it is a Tasmanian project.

CHAIR: National infrastructure.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you, Chair. Is there a set of criteria the government uses to determine what it will claim as part of its own climate solutions policy or does it simply say, 'We're going to hoover up all the things that are happening and claim them as part of what we are doing'?

Senator Birmingham: It's purely about meeting targets, in the end. That is the objective that is there—to meet the targets that we commit to. Of course, transformation that is occurring, other activities that are occurring, some of which we may provide some funding support to—all of them rightly contribute towards meeting the target. It is one of the things sometimes lost in—

Senator KENEALLY: If I can ask for clarification—I don't mean to interrupt; I'm not being as aggressive as I was in the last section—Mr Heferen, for example, mentioned rooftop solar; would that be something you would consider as helping you meet your targets, even though it might be state programs or individuals who make that decision?

Senator Birmingham: The operation of RET to date and the SRES have contributed towards Australia's success in meeting the 2020 targets. That's purely a statement of fact. They have equally contributed, in some different ways, to some pressures in the energy market which we've been seeking to address through some of the stabilising factors such as the investments in Snowy and the Battery of the Nation.

Mr Pratt : Can I just jump in at this moment?

Senator KENEALLY: Sure.

Mr Pratt : Apologies for interrupting your flow, Senator. Chair, we have an expert with us on energy efficiency matters who has to leave in 15 minutes, so I just wanted to check with senators if there are any questions in that space before said expert disappears.

Senator URQUHART: We've got some on the Underwriting New Generation Investments Program.

Senator KENEALLY: We don't have any specifically, I can advise—Labor senators.

CHAIR: I think it's only fair that, if there are any, we put them on notice at this stage, given that we are running behind. I think that said expert can be released at the required time.

Mr Pratt : It's appreciated.

Senator KENEALLY: Chair, I have concluded my questions on Battery of the Nation.

CHAIR: Okay. Do you have questions, Senator Hanson-Young, for outcome 4?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Maybe I'll just ask the minister whether he knows who it was that visited the Prime Minister asking him to sign off on Adani—and going over the environment minister's head—this afternoon.

Senator Birmingham: I don't know the basis for your question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It's just broken in the last few minutes that there's been a delegation of Queensland MPs visiting the Prime Minister, to hurry up giving Adani the tick before you all rush to the polls.

Senator Birmingham: I know that you and Senator Keneally have been taking it in turns today to see who can create the greatest excitement to get a news grab tonight, but I'm still not going to take the bait from anybody. It's a wonderful, theatrical contest! I'm certainly not going to—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just to be clear—

Senator Birmingham: buy into unsourced media reports.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just to be clear, though, Minister Birmingham, no-one's approached you about what it would mean for our seats in Melbourne, or Victoria or South Australia, if the Prime Minister were to satisfy these Queensland MPs?

Senator Birmingham: I can assure you and everybody else that decisions in relation to EPBC matters will all be made fully in accordance with the law, and no other factors will be entered into.

CHAIR: Senator Urquhart, I believe you have some questions.

Senator URQUHART: I have some questions around the Underwriting New Generation Investments Program. I understand that the government announced that 12 projects would be put onto the short list. Is that correct?

Mr Heferen : That's correct.

Senator URQUHART: These were, I understand, projects that were lodged as part of the registration of interest, ROI, process, which commenced at the end of last year. That's correct, isn't it?

Mr Heferen : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: According to the document Underwriting New Generation Investments Program: call for registrations of interest that was released in December last year, the ROI process 'is not a selection process and ROIs will not be assessed against eligibility and merit criteria'. Were the ROIs received last year assessed against eligibility and merit criteria?

Mr Heferen : No.

Senator URQUHART: If that's the case, then the government has chosen 12 projects to proceed under the program based on something other than eligibility and merit criteria. Can you tell me what they were based on?

Mr Heferen : The government have been quite clear that this was always intended to be a multistage program going over a number of years, and then what they wanted to do was short-list a range of projects. A press release put out by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Energy, and the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia on 26 March goes through the process by which they listed the 12 projects, as you outlined. They looked at a range of things that led them to go to listing those as projects and made it clear, as part of that, that the ones who aren't on that list of 12—provided they're legal, and provided, also, that they're not part of one of the main gentailers in the NEM—will continue to be contacted and considered for future rounds.

Senator URQUHART: Are the merit and eligibility criteria for this program developed? Do they exist?

Mr Heferen : I might turn to Ms Parry or Mr O'Toole, who might have those things at their fingertips.

Senator URQUHART: Are they public?

Ms Parry : They are. In the press release that Mr Heferen is referring to, the government highlighted that they were interested in the projects that delivered a balance, including renewable, affordable and reliable power. The emissions intensity of individual projects was considered. As Mr Heferen indicated, proposals from participants with a large market share were excluded, and, obviously, any proposals that were illegal were also excluded. The government have indicated that, in shortlisting, they're interested in working closely with those projects going forward to take a deeper dive into their proposals and will be calling on those 12 projects to submit more detailed proposals against a set of criteria as the UNGI program unfolds. So the government have made a commitment to those 12 projects that they will look at them more closely but are not guaranteeing anything yet—they just wanted to have a closer look at those 12 projects based on a set of initial criteria that the government were interested in.

Senator URQUHART: But I understood you to say, and correct me if I'm wrong, that the merit and eligibility criteria for that program is developed—it does exist and it is public. Can you actually explain to me what it is or have I misunderstood?

Ms Parry : The eligibility criteria will come as the UNGI program is developed. There will be established guidelines which the project proponents will have to meet and by which those projects will be assessed. So the—

Senator URQUHART: Sorry to interrupt, but can you then just explain to me, if that criteria is not yet developed, how those projects were chosen.

Ms Parry : First and foremost, it was a decision of government, again based on the information that the government has publicly released why they were specifically interested in those 12. They've made it very clear that that doesn't mean that they've ruled out other projects through the ROI process, with the exception, obviously, of the ones that are illegal. In considering that, they again took into consideration a variety of factors to develop that shortlist, but they very clearly said that they want to do more work on those projects and they will have to meet a set of guidelines and a set of criteria.

Senator URQUHART: The call for registration-of-interest documents stated:

The Government will run a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) for phase 1 of the program in the first quarter of 2019. The RFP process will seek detailed proposals for projects to be considered for support under the program. The RFP will be accompanied by final program guidelines, including final eligibility and merit criteria.

Is that still the case?

Ms Parry : It is still the case that the program guidelines will be worked up, as I've indicated. The next steps in the program are for us to work more closely with the proponents so they can develop their project proposals by which they will be evaluated, and it is still the intention that the program will go out in phases. This is phase 1, and the government will make a final decision on those 12 when the proposals are more fully developed against a set of guidelines and criteria.

Senator URQUHART: Can you explain the process for this program?

Ms Parry : In what sense?

Senator URQUHART: You said it was being worked up—what's the process for that?

Ms Parry : The government has made its intention around the 12 projects clear. We will be working with those project proponents now. They will be responsible for developing further information on their projects, and we will, again, be developing the program now with a full set of guidelines and appropriate authorities moving forward.

Senator URQUHART: Is there a projected time frame on the development of those guidelines?

Ms Parry : There isn't, but the government has committed to the first half of this year, and we will continue to pursue that time frame.

Senator URQUHART: Can you assure the committee that the program is being conducted to the highest standards of probity and due diligence and according to the best practice guidelines for programs such as these?

Ms Parry : We've been taking every step to ensure that the proper processes have been followed, including making sure that there is proper probity advice, which is why now we will be developing clear guidance for the projects in order for them, once their project proposals are fully developed, to then have to meet the guidelines.

Senator URQUHART: So we can be assured that those high standards of probity and due diligence will be applied?

Ms Parry : Yes, you can.

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

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I will just hand this to the minister, so he knows what I'm talking about. It's just an article that's been published in relation to the delegation of MPs who visited the Prime Minister this morning, lobbying for the Adani coalmine to be approved before the election is called. In your capacity, Minister, have you been made aware of this delegation?

Senator Fifield: No, Senator.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is it a matter of who wins this lobbying effort—the members in Queensland or the members in your home state in Victoria—as to whether Adani gets approval before the election is called?

Senator Fifield: I'm not aware of any of the matters to which you refer.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You do see the article in front of you?

Senator Fifield: I see a newspaper article, but, firstly, I haven't had the opportunity to read it. Secondly—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you haven't been consulted, as a Victorian MP?

Senator Fifield: As I said, firstly, I haven't had the opportunity to read it. Secondly, if I had, I would not have any knowledge about the veracity or otherwise of it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you expect the election to be called soon, Minister?

Senator Fifield: I would say soonish.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Pratt, just for the record, is there a draft plan sitting on the desk of the environment minister in relation to approval for Adani?

Mr Pratt : Without wanting to be unhelpful, we covered this stuff under outcome 1 earlier.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just to be clear.

Mr Pratt : Certainly the minister has the plan and has the department's briefing on it and on the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia advice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Pratt, do you believe that it's up to a point where it could be given approval this weekend if Queensland LNP members get their way?

Mr Pratt : I wouldn't want to speculate about what the minister may choose to do.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is the draft plan at a stage that simply requires a signature from the Prime Minister?

Mr Pratt : That goes to the nature and content of our briefing to the minister.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is it at a final draft plan stage?

Mr Pratt : The plan has had many iterations.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Would it be unusual for a Prime Minister to give approval for something like this, over the head of the environment minister?

Mr Pratt : If a decision is made on this, I expect it would be made by the environment minister.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Minister Fifield, would you expect to be informed before a decision like this would be made?

Senator Fifield: Not necessarily, Senator. As the minister for Communications I wouldn't be expecting—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You sit around the cabinet table.

Senator Fifield: I do.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is this something you would expect to go to cabinet?

Senator Fifield: I don't have sufficient familiarity with the EPBC Act to know as to who under the act the decision-maker is. I know, for instance, that under the Foreign Investment Review Board the Treasurer is personally and individually the decision-maker, but I don't know the EPBC Act well enough to know, other than who the decision-maker is, so Mr Pratt and his colleagues are probably in a better position to talk to that.

Mr Pratt : Primarily, it is a decision for the minister. Some matters are delegated for decision by departmental officials.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Minister Fifield, if the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was to give approval to the Adani coalmine within in a matter of days, how damaging would that be for the Liberal Party in Victoria?

Senator Fifield: Senate estimates isn't a forum for electoral calculations. Also, in your question, you made reference to the Prime Minister. I think Mr Pratt has indicated who the decision-makers are under the act.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Of course, if the Prime Minister wanted something to happen he would just make the environment minister do it, though, wouldn't he?

Senator Fifield: Legislation that goes to, and here I am speaking generally across portfolios—you really have to look at the particular piece of legislation to see who the decision-maker is and those factors which the legislation says need to be taken into account.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just for the record, no-one's lobbied you, as a Victorian minister, to give approval for Adani?

Senator Fifield: No. And I don't have a role in the decision-making process.

CHAIR: Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: I think we are now done with outcome 4. We'll now move to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.