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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Director of National Parks

Director of National Parks


CHAIR: Welcome. Would you like to make an opening statement?

Ms Barnes : No, thank you.

Senator CHISHOLM: I have a question concerning funding for the establishment and management of national parks. Is it increasing or decreasing?

Ms Barnes : The 2016-17 budget position saw an increase of nearly $3 million to the Director of National Parks for management of parks and also the establishment of Commonwealth marine reserves.

Senator CHISHOLM: What about forward projections?

Ms Barnes : Yes, the forward estimates include $56.1 million for the establishment of Commonwealth marine reserves, and there is some additional money in the next year's budget again, as that ramps up.

Senator CHISHOLM: In terms of climate change, is it increasing the risk to the parks and the reserves from a biodiversity and ecosystem point of view?

Ms Barnes : Across the world changing climates and climate change are seen as threats to biodiversity in both terrestrial and marine parks. Park managers everywhere, as evidence in the recent World Conservation Congress, are looking at adaptation and ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems. One of the ways of doing that is to actually work to make ecosystems more resilient so that with these changes the actual parks are more able to protect their biodiversity.

Senator CHISHOLM: Could you explain to me how the National Reserve System works?

Ms Barnes : Under the Constitution the states are responsible basically for land management responsibilities, but there is a National Reserve System where all the states work together to have a system of protected areas in both the marine and terrestrial estate. It is branded as the National Reserve System, but each state runs its own national parks, both terrestrially and in the marine estate, as well.

Mr Thompson : If I could just add to that. The National Reserve System also includes other protected areas, in particular Indigenous protected areas, which are led through Commonwealth government policy and have been established for the last decade or so.

Ms Barnes : And at the international level there are targets for reserve systems and protected areas, and Australia has met its international target of 17 per cent of the land mass as reserves.

Senator CHISHOLM: Where does the money for the reserve system come from?

Ms Barnes : Regarding the money for the Commonwealth reserves, as the Director of National Parks I manage the Commonwealth land that is set aside for conservation. That money comes through the budget process. In regard to each state and their management of their terrestrial and marine reserves, it comes through their budgets, as well.

Senator CHISHOLM: Regarding the budget allocation for the National Reserve System, has that funding increased or decreased over the last four years?

Ms Barnes : I do not have a collective view of what is happening in each state.

Senator CHISHOLM: In terms of the national parks?

Ms Barnes : From a Commonwealth perspective, that budget is going up to cover the increased responsibilities for Commonwealth marine reserves. In terms of individual states and their budgets for their responsibilities, I could not answer those questions.

Senator CHISHOLM: No, I am not interested in the states.

Mr Thompson : Just to clarify, there is no dedicated terrestrial national reserve system program that is run by the Commonwealth any more. That terminated some years ago. The program was commenced under the Howard government, I think, mainly to fund the purchase of properties to add to the National Reserve System. The government's position for a number of years has been that the scale of the national reserve system does not require the same scale of purchase of land to add into the National Reserve System that it did previously.

Senator CHISHOLM: So within the budget there is no identifiable line item for the national reserve—

Mr Thompson : That is right.

Senator CHISHOLM: And that was stopped a number of years ago?

Mr Thompson : Yes, a number of years ago. It may even have been under the previous Labor government. I would have to confirm that.

Senator CHISHOLM: In terms of the National Reserve System, to what extent has it reached the national criteria for comprehensive, adequate and representative?

Ms Barnes : In terms of reaching the percentage target we are certainly there as a country. In terms of covering each bioregion and each ecosystem there is probably still more work to do.

Mr Thompson : We could get you on notice some specific figures on that. As Ms Barnes said, we have reached the Aichi target under the Convention on Biological Diversity for 17 per cent of the land mass to be in protected estate. But in terms of the representative proportion of each of the habitats or bioregions that are represented within the protected area estate, no, we have not reached that. There are large parts of the Murray-Darling Basin, for example, that have been cleared for over a century and a half and for which we do not have a large number of protected areas covered.

Senator CHISHOLM: Who is responsible for reviewing that? Is it a federal department or are state based agencies responsible?

Mr Thompson : It is a collaborative exercise, because the National Reserve System is a mosaic of properties that are owned mostly by the states in the national park estate and also by the Indigenous traditional owners, through the Indigenous protected areas, which the Commonwealth does continue to fund—Indigenous protected areas—through the Office of Indigenous Affairs, in the Prime Minister's portfolio. There is a funding stream still for that, which contributes to the National Reserve System. The smallest portion really—land based, at least—is held by the Commonwealth. We have colleagues in the department who work with the states and territories about the nature of the National Reserve System and its current state.

Senator CHISHOLM: If there is more information to be provided on notice about the shortfall, I would be interested in that, as well.

Mr Thompson : We are happy to do that.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is more funding required to get closer to achieving the full CRM/NRS system? Is that why there is a shortfall?

Mr Thompson : I think there is a debate about that. There are probably some parts of Australia and some bioregions that are never going to be comprehensively, or adequately or representatively covered, because the landscape has been modified so much. There is a debate about whether putting more money into it and purchasing property or whether there are other means by which we can enter into covenants with existing landholders, and those sorts of things, which we do with the farming community. There are still working properties that are still producing agricultural outcomes, but they also have protected areas on them.

Senator CHISHOLM: I want to get an update on progress with the Commonwealth marine reserve draft management plan.

Ms Barnes : We have finalised the first public statutory consultation process, which is where I let everyone know that I was about to prepare management plans. I also inform the public that I will be looking at some of the recommendations from the independent review and anything else they think I should look at. We have had submissions in from that. I can get my colleague Mr Mundy to talk to you about the number of submissions, if you like. We have looked at all those submissions. Going through those submissions, I have met with various people post that submission period just to clarify some of the issues they have raised in their material. We have been looking at what some of the zoning outcomes might be. We have been going back to some of the principles of the national representative system for marine areas and looking at what is required. We have been working with both ABARES and our colleagues in the environment department, through mapping, to look at where some of the key ecological features are and make sure that we know the costs and also the underlying science behind what we will be putting forward as draft management plans. I am hoping those plans will go out in a couple of months. We are still looking at making sure that we are reflecting the comments, but we are also making sure we know the impacts before we go out.

Senator CHISHOLM: I would be interested if Mr Mundy had anything to add about the feedback that has been received.

Mr Mundy : The public consultation period ran from 5 September until 31 October last year. We received 54,110 submissions that we would categorise as campaign submissions, because they came in bulk lots on specific topics. And we received 212 unique submissions. If you would like some more information on which sectors those submissions came from, I can go on.

Senator CHISHOLM: Yes, sure.

Mr Mundy : Of the 212 unique submissions, the general public contributed 80; the conservation sector, 30; 28 were from commercial fishing groups; 19 were from commercial tourism; recreational fishing, 15; research organisations, 10; seven from government; six from oil, gas and mining; five from Indigenous; three from recreational, scuba or snorkelling; and the rest were small numbers from other sectors.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is there a flavour of support or opposition?

Mr Mundy : Overall there is a flavour of support for the conclusion of the process.

Senator CHISHOLM: In terms of when the draft plans are out, I think previously it was said that they would be out in the first half of 2017. Is that still the case?

Ms Barnes : Yes. I am hoping the first half of 2017.

Senator CHISHOLM: Once the management plans are finalised, does the government plan to commence the operation of revised zoning of the affected areas?

Ms Barnes : Once the plans go out for public comment, they come back and then I submit the final plans to the minister for his consideration. He has time to consider that, then they are put into the parliament. They sit at both houses for 15 working days. After that, the plan comes into operation and the underlining zoning will be there. How we introduce the activities around that zoning will be part of our management decisions. Part of that will be articulated in the draft management plan for public comment.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: My questions relate to the questions just asked by my colleague Senator Chisolm. I just want to check that I have my numbers straight. You said that, in relation to the marine reserves review and the management plan review that is taking place as part of that, there were 54,110 submissions that you would characterise as campaign submissions that were essentially the same.

Mr Mundy : That is correct. They were split across 16 separate campaigns.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: But 54,000 in total?

Mr Mundy : Yes, that is correct.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: And there were 212 unique submissions.

Mr Mundy : Yes.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: With regard to those unique submissions, and I suppose the campaign ones too, I have not been able to find them. Have they been made public yet?

Ms Barnes : No, they are not public at the moment. When the draft management plans go out for comment, I will also be putting a report out to the public on what was in those submissions and a synopsis of the issues raised.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: But the submissions themselves will not be made public?

Ms Barnes : No, they will not be.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Why is that?

Ms Barnes : That was decided at the beginning of the process. The report will be the synthesis of the issues that were raised.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: I understand that it was decided at the beginning that they would not be made public. I am interested to know why.

Ms Barnes : In previous processes they were not made public either. It was because people were writing to me as the director about what I should consider in the drafting of the management plans. When the management plans go out then I will ask people again for their comments.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: But it will not be possible for interested parties to review what was in those submissions.

Ms Barnes : No. At the time of the submissions we told people they would not be made public, that I would be writing a report.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: That was made very clear to everybody making a decision.

Ms Barnes : That is my understanding, yes.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: How was that made clear?

Ms Barnes : On the website and to people who put their submissions in. I can go back and check, but it was set out fairly clearly in the process, in the Q&As on the websites.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: If somebody wrote to you and said they would have no problem with their submission being made public, would you agree to that request?

Ms Barnes : We would follow due process and look at the request. Obviously, if people have put submissions in, it is up to them if they want to make them public. They are not sent to me confidentially. I am not releasing them, but if anybody who put in a submission wanted to make it public, absolutely.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: I suppose I am still just a little bit confused about why they are not made public as a matter of course.

Ms Barnes : To get through the process and—I will put out a report on the key issues raised and then the draft plans will be how I have read those reports, but it was never the intention to make them public.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: You do not have any specific concerns about the content of those submissions that might adversely impact the process? It is the first time I have come across a process where submissions are called for but then they are not made public as part of the review.

Senator Birmingham: I sure there are other examples. Of course, I do not recall what the reasons may or may not have been. I imagine that in some instances—for example, commercial fishers or the like may be sharing commercial information and so on.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: In which case I would understand if they said, 'I send this in confidentially,' but if you could take on notice the reason why it was decided not to make it public that would be great.

Ms Barnes : I am happy to get back to you.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT: I have some questions about Kakadu and the buffalo farm. I want to follow up on the incident that occurred in December, but that leads to bigger picture issues.

Ms Barnes : It does.

Senator SIEWERT: What is your understanding of what Mr Boyd was doing on the buffalo farm?

Ms Barnes : I am assuming you are responding to a report in the media about an incident on the buffalo farm in Kakadu.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Ms Barnes : Not all of the details or the background was included in that media report, so I am happy to actually go through it with you in more detail.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could, that would be appreciated.

Ms Barnes : First of all, I think I need to make clear that neither Parks Australia nor any staff from Parks Australia manage the buffalo farm.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to get to that issue.

Ms Barnes : My understanding comes from staff talking to the manager of the buffalo farm about what happened at the buffalo farm.

Senator SIEWERT: You are talking about Mr Lindner?

Ms Barnes : Yes. His report to staff, verbally, was that a fellow had come onto the buffalo from, he had invited someone onto the buffalo farm. While that person was there, my understanding was that Mr Lindner—I am not sure whether he shot the buffalo or whether the buffalo was going to be put down. Whatever happened, the buffalo was shot and became angry. The guest was taking a photograph of the buffalo.

Senator SIEWERT: Who shot the buffalo?

Ms Barnes : I do not know who shot the buffalo.

Senator SIEWERT: Did you not inquire as to that?

Ms Barnes : It is not my accountability, in my understanding. No, I did not. The buffalo was shot and became angry and the person who was invited on was a photographer. He took the opportunity to take a picture of the buffalo and, as he was taking a picture of the buffalo, the buffalo charged him and apparently he received severe injuries, so much so that he had to be medevaced out to the medical centre and then the hospital, and he was very lucky to survive.

Senator SIEWERT: I understand there was an application for commercial photography to take place.

Ms Barnes : That is not my understanding.

Senator SIEWERT: The park manager put out a comment saying:

He withdrew his application for personal reasons. Parks were advised he would be shooting photographs in January and February and weren't aware he was shooting commercial photos at the Buffalo Farm until we were notified after the incident occurred.

Ms Barnes : That is right. Our expectation was that the photographer would be shooting photos in January and February. There had not been an application to shoot the photographs earlier, when the incident occurred.

Senator SIEWERT: This is where we get to the tricky issue of who manages the farm and the fact that is inside the park. Why is that being allowed to continue?

Ms Barnes : Because it is a lease with the Northern Land Council. The history of that area is that is Aboriginal land and therefore we treat it respectfully. There was an Aboriginal corporation that ran the buffalo farm, particularly around the time when buffaloes were removed from the Northern Territory. It was agreed at that time by the park manager and that particular Aboriginal corporation that they could continue to run the buffalo farm to supply—

Senator SIEWERT: The NLC.

Ms Barnes : No; there was a previous—

Senator SIEWERT: The corporation that was running it. I beg your pardon.

Ms Barnes : So there was a previous corporation. It was agreed that the corporation could continue to run the buffalo farm to provide meat to traditional owners. That particular corporation then decided it could not continue to run the buffalo farm from a financial perspective. The NLC asked the park manager and, therefore, Parks Australia at the time if they could continue the work of running the buffalo farm. We gave them permission to continue to run the buffalo farm.

Senator SIEWERT: What you are saying is that Mr Lindner is now running it for NLC.

Ms Barnes : I have written to the NLC to ask them to clarify their understanding. But certainly, from the paperwork we have, it is the NLC that holds the lease for the buffalo farm and for that area. I have asked the NLC to clarify their arrangement with Mr Lindner.

The other thing to note is that, in the current Kakadu plan of management, the plan says that once the current lease arrangements are finalised, we would look to close the buffalo farm. I have also asked the NLC to work with us on the next steps. That said, it also needs to be brought to your attention that where the farm is located is in a section of Kakadu National Park where the native title claim is not finalised or clear. This is where we get into some quite murky territory about who speaks for that country and who the traditional owners are. Once again, the sorting out of that claim and who the traditional owners are and who speaks for country is something that we are working with the NLC to try and progress as quickly as possible so that these sorts of issues can be clarified as quickly as possible.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you; I am going to have to put a lot of questions on notice. There are a couple of other key things I just want to do now. One is in relation, therefore, to the issues around commercial photography, which is part what is happening here. Does a person, if they are on the buffalo farm, need to have permission to take commercial photos?

Ms Barnes : We have a commercial photography policy and program in place—

Senator SIEWERT: That is why I am asking.

Ms Barnes : Mainly so we know who is in the park and we can make sure that people are being culturally sensitive, but also so they are safe and if they want to go somewhere, we know where they are. It is being culturally sensitive plus safe. Because the buffalo farm is run by the NLC, there is a query whether they actually need it on there, but we encourage them to apply for a photography licence—once again, so we know where people are, but also to make sure it is culturally appropriate. This is where it gets murky. If it is the NLC running it on behalf of traditional owners, then they should be aware of the cultural sensitivities, but it would be better if they did apply for a licence.

Senator SIEWERT: They definitely need one as they step outside the boundary, but it is unclear—

Ms Barnes : Well, it would be beneficial if they did have one, but from a respectful perspective, you can understand that it is a bit different when it is an Aboriginal corporation and, therefore, they have cultural understandings. Definitely, in the rest of Kakadu, we—

Senator SIEWERT: But it is running it at the moment.

Ms Barnes : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Just double checking, so I am really clear: Mr Boyd did not have one in December when he was on the buffalo farm.

Ms Barnes : My understanding was he did not have one then. I am not sure whether he expected to do a photo shoot when he was there in December, or whether he was just going to see what he would be shooting when he was there in January and February. It would sound to me—but I have not spoken to the gentleman—that this was opportunistic in terms of what was happening on the buffalo farm that day.

Senator SIEWERT: What was happening on the buffalo farm that day?

Ms Barnes : You would have to ask Mr Lindner, because he runs the buffalo farm.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of any commercial tourism operations that might be run on the buffalo farm, are you aware of one that may be operating there called Animal Tracks?

Ms Barnes : I am.

Senator SIEWERT: And they have a licence?

Ms Barnes : Animal Tracks have applied to the board on a number of occasions for a licence and they have a licence. The board has licensed them on the proviso that, if there are changed arrangements to the buffalo farm, we would potentially have look at their licence in the future. They are a good business and the board is happy to licence them.

Senator SIEWERT: What period of time is that licence for?

Ms Barnes : I will have to get back to you.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could, that would be appreciated. So I am clear, they can operate from the buffalo farm out into the park?

Ms Barnes : They operate on the buffalo farm. They may be going out in the park, but that is where they have fallen under the regular Kakadu practice of being licensed to operate, even if they are on the buffalo farm.

Senator SIEWERT: I am just trying to understand. They are on the buffalo farm but they do go outside into the rest of the park.

Ms Barnes : Even on the buffalo farm the board has asked them to have a licence.

Senator SIEWERT: I understand that, thank you. I appreciate the issues you have explained around the sensitivity of native title, but how do you ensure that the sites within the buffalo farm are being protected?

Ms Barnes : The lease arrangements have fallen to the Northern Land Council and the responsibilities for looking after the area within that lease also fall to the Northern Land Council.

Senator SIEWERT: In other words, ask the Northern Land Council who their—

Ms Barnes : Yes. And I have asked them to clarify that with me too.

Senator SIEWERT: When did you do that and have they responded?

Ms Barnes : I wrote to them in January to clarify arrangements on the buffalo farm.

Senator SIEWERT: Once the buffalo farm lease you described expires, then it will look to come into the park. How long is that lease?

Ms Barnes : At the moment, the lease is ongoing. There is not an end date to that lease. That is what I need to clarify with the NLC, what their intentions are with the buffalo farm.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you aware what consultation the NLC is having with those groups that are going through the process of native title at the moment?

Ms Barnes : No, I am not aware but, similarly, I have asked them to let me know what they are doing to progress that as well, because that would help settle a lot of these issues.

Senator SIEWERT: I will put the rest of the fire questions on notice, as I do have quite a few. I want to ask a specific one about the budget for the management of Kakadu. Can you tell me what funding the Commonwealth provides and whether it has gone up or down, specifically about Kakadu?

Ms Barnes : I do not have the exact figures with me at the moment. I can provide them on notice, but I am not aware of any major decrease in the last few years. In fact, Kakadu has had an increase of funding for specific projects to implement the Kakadu threatened species strategy and also fire-management work.

Senator SIEWERT: There is also the issue about the closing down of Ranger and what level of funding is available there.

Ms Barnes : Ranger is outside the park but I am happy to discuss that.

Senator SIEWERT: It is having issues around that area's management in the future—

Ms Barnes : The transition.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. Could you take that on notice?

Ms Barnes : I would be happy to.

CHAIR: As I foreshadowed, I will now call the Office of the Supervising Scientist to come forward. Welcome, Mr Whitfort. What you like to make an opening statement?

Mr Whitfort : No, thank you.

Senator LUDLAM: I want to concentrate on the rehabilitation progress underway for the Ranger mine site, which I figured would be taking up a fair bit of your work at the moment. I understand you suggested to my colleague Senator Siewert, in another hearing, that full implementation of the closure plan at Ranger might take decades. Mr Tayler noted that the mining company's responsibility will continue until the rehab works are signed off by all regulators. I am interested in which aspects of the rehabilitation you anticipate may not be complete by the mandated date of 2026.

Mr Tayler : The date of 2026 relates to the capital works associated with rehabilitation. The current rehabilitation schedule has the planting of vegetation and other things happening in around 2024-25, once the land form has been finished. And, as you would appreciate, it will take quite some time for that vegetation to establish and to reach a point by which we would be confident the vegetation community will be sustainable without additional management inputs. I cannot give you an exact time frame of how long that will take, but it takes quite some time obviously to allow the vegetation to grow.

Senator LUDLAM: That is valuable. Thank you. Further to this, what legal mechanism would you expect to be in place after the cessation of the current Atomic Energy Act section 41 authority to ensure that the company actually sticks around after that 2026 date?

Mr Tayler : I think that question would be better addressed to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, because they administer the Atomic Energy Act. I believe it is something they are well aware of. In discussions with them, there are a variety of legal instruments in place to ensure that the ERA is not relinquished from their responsibility until such time as the rehabilitation process is satisfactorily completed. But they would be able to provide you with more information on that process than I can.

Senator LUDLAM: I can try, but we are stretched a little thin. So would you be able to take on notice your understanding of what relevant legal authorities there would be post 2026. I understand the distinction you draw between capital works and the slow healing of the environment over decades or longer. But if you can provide us with some direction on that I would greatly appreciate it. Second from me, in the last estimates session Mr Whitfort described the process for the development of the closure criteria, which I appreciate. Could you please provide us with an update of where that has got to and whether or not the final set of criteria has been agreed to.

Mr Tayler : Certainly. Just before Christmas, ERA submitted a closure plan for Ranger mine, which included proposed closure criteria for the site as well as details of how they will actually go about conducting the rehabilitation.

Senator LUDLAM: That goes without saying. That was subsequent to the last budget estimates session.

Mr Tayler : Yes. So we are now in the process of reviewing that plan in detail. And, as part of that review, we will review the proposed closure criteria that have been put forward by ERA, and we anticipate having that review completed in quarter 2 of this year. So, whilst it includes closure criteria, it will go beyond closure criteria to encompass the rehabilitation process more generally. And we will then provide that advice to the relevant regulatory authorities.

Senator LUDLAM: Will you also provide it to the parliament?

Mr Tayler : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. I guess it is always worth asking, because you never know your luck: would you be able to table the criteria that the company provided to you in December—their first go?

Mr Tayler : I would not commit to being able to table it. The possibility of making the entire Ranger closure plan public has been discussed, and ERA is considering that. That would be something the Supervising Scientist would support.

Senator LUDLAM: They are considering it. What if they do not feel like it?

Mr Thompson : Senator, I think Mr Tayler has said that is something we are working with and talking to ERA about, in terms of the process from here. So we would not want to speculate on what would happen if they chose not to do that.

Senator LUDLAM: Not to verbal you, Mr Tayler, but I think you just indicated that you would be supportive of that material being put into the public domain on behalf of the office.

Mr Tayler : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: But it is up to the company ultimately? Who is the final decision maker in that regard?

Mr Thompson : As you know, Senator, there are three parties involved, including the Northern Territory government and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, who are the regulatory decision makers in relation to Ranger uranium mine. Supervising Scientist advises them and supports them. I would say that a number of these issues we are working actively through, amongst those three parties, and there is a Ranger intergovernmental task force on closure which is meeting more regularly to talk about those matters.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. I should have clarified before: the closure criteria and the rehabilitation plan are two separate documents, obviously—

Mr Tayler : No.

Senator LUDLAM: They are not? You drew the distinction before between closure and rehabilitation, which is sensible. But they come as a package?

Mr Tayler : Closure criteria is simply 'set your target end point'. So the rehabilitation plan that has been provided includes closure criteria to, I guess, set the target. Then the plan explains the process through which ERA will go to achieve that target. So it is sort of twofold, I suppose.

Senator LUDLAM: So the company has submitted that. Could you just clarify for us what role the Supervising Scientist and the Northern Land Council play in evaluating and responding to that document.

Mr Tayler : Both the Northern Land Council and the Supervising Scientist are currently reviewing that document, and we will both provide feedback on that document which will be considered through the process. Under the environmental requirements for Ranger, both the Supervising Scientist and the Northern Land Council have a formal role in advising the minister administering the Atomic Energy Act on whether they believe the closure criteria have been achieved. That is actually set out in the environmental requirements.

Senator LUDLAM: Great. I am a bit perplexed as to who has got the lead. Is it the NTG, the environment minister, the industry minister or the Indigenous affairs minister? Who is driving the bus?

Mr Tayler : Okay. So the Northern Territory government administers uranium mining in the Northern Territory under a delegated authority from the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia. Prior to the Northern Territory minister exercising a power, he needs to confirm his decision with the Commonwealth minister, which is the minister administering the Atomic Energy Act. So, ultimately, the accountable minister is the minister administering the Atomic Energy Act; however, the Northern Territory government does have some delegation to conduct certain activities on behalf of the Commonwealth minister.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. The buck actually stops with the Commonwealth minister?

Mr Tayler : That is correct.

Senator LUDLAM: But it is not EPBC; it is industry.

Mr Tayler : No, it is not the environment minister.

Senator LUDLAM: At what point is the intention to involve the World Heritage Committee, IUCN and other expert advisory bodies in the closure process? I take it they were not listed in your run-down of stakeholders before. At what point do they get invited to the table?

Mr Thompson : We provide advice to the World Heritage Centre, which is advising the World Heritage Committee on a regular basis around developments in relation to all of the World Heritage properties, including Kakadu National Park. They have so far not requested any further information, as far as I know, but Stephen Oxley, a colleague who appeared in program 1.4, would be able to provide some more information on that.

Senator LUDLAM: Do you mean I have missed him?

Mr Thompson : Yes. But I am happy to take it on notice if you would like.

Senator LUDLAM: I would appreciate it—just anything that sets out their formal or informal engagement with the process all the way through.

Mr Thompson : Sure.

Senator LUDLAM: I am getting the wind-up from the chair, so I will just run through a couple very quickly. Anything that seems a bit arduous, I am happy if you take them on notice. In the last estimates session, with my colleague Senator Siewert, Mr Tayler mentioned that the capping for pit 1 was anticipated to be complete by now. Has that occurred?

Mr Tayler : That was the approval for the capping of pit 1. The Supervising Scientist branch issued an assessment report on 1 February regarding the pit-1 tailings level, and we supported the proposed level. The final approval is yet to be issued by the regulator.

Senator LUDLAM: Is that document that you have mentioned public?

Mr Tayler : Yes. It is available on the Supervising Scientist branch website.

Senator LUDLAM: I have one last one on elevated electrical conductivity levels in surrounding waterways. I know you would be disappointed if you did not get at least one of these from me. I understand that remedial work has been undertaken in an attempt to limit the elevated EC levels at some of the monitoring points around the tailings dam. Could you please give us an update on how the levels have been this year? Have there been any exceedances? What sort of levels are you recording? If you have any documentary evidence to give us a more detailed idea, we would appreciate seeing it.

Mr Tayler : There have been no statutory exceedances in the creeks around the mine this year yet. We have seen some elevated electrical conductivity events, but not above the limits. As you mentioned, there were remedial works that have been undertaken. Those remedial works were designed to cut off groundwater moving to the west of the site. It would be, and it was expected when those works were undertaken—it will take some years for that plume of solutes that was in the groundwater to express and to move through the system. So I think the events that we are seeing at the moment are not to suggest that the interception system has not worked; it is just that it will take some time for that system to flush through.

Senator LUDLAM: Could you take on notice to provide us with a record? You have said there were no exceedances of statutory guidelines but that you did see some elevated levels so, if there is anything you are able to provide us to document that, that would be good.

Mr Tayler : Sure.

Senator LUDLAM: I am probably pushing my luck, but the chair is otherwise occupied.

CHAIR: You started doing that two minutes ago, Senator Ludlam!

Senator LUDLAM: This is my last question. Have you modelled what happens when the head of pressure is finally removed from the tailings storage facility—when all that material has been put back in the pit, what happens to the groundwater at that point?

Mr Tayler : Not yet. That is a task that has been identified as being required. However, the tailings storage facility is not going to be decommissioned for some years yet, so that is work that is yet to be done.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks for your time, and for coming all the way down from Darwin.


CHAIR: Thank you very much for appearing here today. I now call officers from the department in relation to program 1.5—environmental regulation. I will start with Senator Urquhart but, Secretary, I would like to pass on my thanks to Mr Knudson and his team, who came all the way over to Perth last week to appear in person. We were very grateful for the fact that you did that, and I think it was of great benefit to have you there in person. Thank you.

Senator URQUHART: For the questions that I started at the beginning with the department, about the environmental assessments, I was sent to this section. Have staff numbers for environmental assessments increased or decreased over the last three years?

Mr Cahill : In terms of the total number of assessment officers, the number in September 2016 was 66.1 full-time equivalent and it is currently 66.95, so it has stayed in the vicinity of 66 staff, going up one or two and down.

Senator URQUHART: Have assessment times increased or decreased?

Mr Cahill : Assessment times over the last three or four years have been broadly the same. They were shorter for about 18 months there, and now they have come back into line with where we were about two years ago.

Senator URQUHART: How is the department monitoring the environment in Australia—what indicators are you using and what are the trends showing?

Mr Cahill : Currently, through the annual report we are monitoring actual performance via our performance standards in terms of timeliness of statutory decision-making, and we also monitor a range of other indicators through the annual report. I will be honest with you—most of them are more process per se but, as with any regulator or any department, we endeavour to find better performance indicators. As part of the exercise the secretary commissioned a review of regulatory maturity and one of our recommendations was that, to try and strengthen the key performance indicators, we have got to see what impacts we are having.

Senator URQUHART: How many KPIs have you got?

Mr Cahill : I would have to take that on notice. I have only got a couple in front of me at the moment.

Senator URQUHART: What are the trends that they are showing?

Mr Cahill : I can give you an example of a trend in our performance against statutory decision-making, in terms of our time frames. Over the last four years, that was at 79 per cent within the statutory period in 2013-14 and for most of the other years they have been between 65 and 75 per cent. It is currently tracking at 66 per cent for the last financial year. There are a range of factors that influence that beyond staffing letters. In terms of complexity and a range of other issues as well.

Senator URQUHART: When you provide the indicators on notice, can you give us the trends for those indicators as well?

Mr Cahill : Sure.

Mr Knudson : I would just also add that obviously one of the things that the department as a whole looks at is the state-of-the-environment reporting, which would give a good indication of how we are doing overall on issues like air quality, water quality, land management et cetera. We will be talking about that later on this afternoon, so there will be an opportunity to ask questions on the trends at that point as well.

Senator URQUHART: What consultation is the department undertaking and on what issues?

Mr Cahill : More specifically, Senator? There is a lot of consultation.

Senator URQUHART: I am sure there is a lot going on, but what are the important issues that you are dealing with at the moment?

Mr Cahill : I will take that probably in a couple of categories. Firstly, we have ongoing engagement through the projects themselves, be it with industry, companies or interested parties. We then also have more broadly ongoing conversations with our environmental regulator, co-regulators and other jurisdictions. I was only recently down with the Victorian EPA, for example. We also have an ongoing engagement and relationship with various industry associations as well as environmental groups—ACF, WWF and such. In terms of issues, they are broad, from perspectives on policy through to views on specific issues—for example, when we are doing strategic assessments. And we are actually going through a process of engaging with them about how we are approaching regulation on the back of that regulatory maturity report.

Senator URQUHART: Do those consultations play a role in forming policy and program development or is it purely you consulting with industry and EPA et cetera?

Mr Cahill : It informs everything. In terms of our policy development, we are interested in the views of industry. It depends whether we are working on a specific policy piece or whether they are just coming to say, 'These are our current views.' It also informs the way we regulate in terms of what issues are important to various sectors and whether or not, within the legal framework, we can address those.

Senator URQUHART: I want to move to the review of the EPBC Act. Has the government made a decision on when to start the statutory review of the act in 2019?

Mr Cahill : Not at this stage. I might ask Mr Tregurtha to expand on that.

Mr Tregurtha : No. At this stage, work on the review is in a preliminary stage. There has been no decision about timing.

Senator URQUHART: So you have not provided any advice to the minister on the review or the timing?

Mr Tregurtha : We provide advice to the minister on a range of issues around the EPBC Act and its reform. Clearly the review is due by 2019, and the minister's office is aware of that. But we have not specifically tackled the question of timing at this point.

Senator URQUHART: What about advice? Have you given advice to the minister on reforming the act? Is that part of those preliminary discussions?

Mr Tregurtha : As you are aware, the government has a policy of reform to the EPBC Act. There were a range of legislative reforms that were introduced into the last parliament, and so the department continues to support the government on its agenda of EPBC reform.

Senator URQUHART: Has the government been contacted by stakeholders regarding reforming the act?

Mr Tregurtha : As Mr Cahill was just talking about, the department maintains a dialogue with a range of stakeholders—industry, environment and the community more broadly—in relation to a range of matters in relation to the EPBC Act, reform being one of those matters. So we have ongoing discussions about how we can make the act work better and what elements of the act are and how they are working and the perspectives of each of those sectors.

Senator URQUHART: So those stakeholders are industry and—

Mr Tregurtha : Industry, environment groups, civil community. We have a range of discussions.

Senator URQUHART: Are you able to provide a list of who those are?

Mr Tregurtha : I would have to take that on notice in terms of the specifics. As I said, there are a range of different stakeholder groups that we meet with, but I am sure we can provide you with something on notice.

Senator URQUHART: How long will a review of the act take?

Mr Tregurtha : That will depend on the specific nature in terms of reference for the review.

Senator URQUHART: Because the last one took a few years, didn't it?

Mr Tregurtha : The last review did not take a few years. I would characterise it more in terms of a number of months to undertake. As I said, the terms of reference for a review of the act and the concept of a review of an entire piece of legislation, particularly one the size of the EPBC Act, will largely depend on the terms of reference determined and indeed the process determined for undertaking the review.

Senator URQUHART: What is the time frame for those terms of reference?

Mr Tregurtha : As I said in my previous answer, no timing has been finalised at this point.

Senator URQUHART: Right, but have you started work or not started work?

Mr Tregurtha : We have undertaken some preliminary work in terms of the next review. As you would be aware, it is coming up. As I said, the timing for that review is 2019, so the department has commenced preliminary work.

Senator URQUHART: Is the department working on legislation to amend the act in relation to third-party appeals?

Mr Tregurtha : As you will be aware, there was legislation introduced into the prior parliament in relation to the capacity for environmental groups to take action under section 487 of the EPBC Act. That bill lapsed with the proroguing of the last parliament. It has not been introduced yet, but—

Senator URQUHART: Is it likely?

Mr Tregurtha : As I said in my previous answer, we continue to advise the government on a range of issues in relation to EPBC reform. That may be one of them.

Senator URQUHART: So that is one of the things that would be. Okay.

Dr de Brouwer : It still does not matter. That is a matter for government.

Senator URQUHART: Okay. I think Mr Tregurtha said it was probably one of the things. Is the department, and Treasury, looking at legislation that would restrict the criteria for charitable status for environmental groups under relevant acts and regulate donations from overseas organisations?

Mr Tregurtha : Sorry, could you repeat the question?

Dr de Brouwer : That is a process done by the Treasury

Senator URQUHART: It is the department and Treasury. Are you doing that in consultation?

Dr de Brouwer : The process is led by the Treasury

Senator URQUHART: It is simply Treasury?

Dr de Brouwer : It is the Treasury.

Senator URQUHART: Is that something that you are looking at? It is led by them but you would be involved?

Dr de Brouwer : As part of a whole-of-government process, but it is led by the Treasury.

Senator URQUHART: So how many hectares of EPBC listed threatened ecological communities have been allowed to be cleared by the federal government in the last five years? And what were the offsets?

Mr Cahill : I will have to take that on notice. There are some elements that we may not be able to get a full picture on, because we would go through a lot of records. But I will take that on notice and see what we can do within reasonable limits.

Senator URQUHART: Why has the number of EPBC Act referrals decreased significantly in the last few years?

Mr Cahill : I would have to speculate. Some of the referrals might be a reflection of economic activity or a range of other things happening in the market.

CHAIR: Probably speculation is not good. If you do not have the answer, then just say.

Mr Cahill : Sorry, Senator. We do not have the answer. We just would not be able to tell. There is no clear indicator.

Senator URQUHART: What is the Commonwealth's official position on the NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects? Does it meet or exceed the standard required to be accredited under the approved bilateral agreement?

Mr Tregurtha : The NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects has been endorsed as delivering an outcome that is, in broad terms, equivalent to that which would be achieved under the EPBC Act. At the moment, as I said, that policy has been endorsed in relation to the EPBC Act, which means that, where an assessment undertaken by the New South Wales government under an assessment bilateral has offset requirements applied to it by the New South Wales government, the Commonwealth will accept those offsets as being equivalent to what would have been required under the EPBC Act.

Senator URQUHART: I have a number of questions on the Malabar Headland but I will put some of them on notice. I will just ask a few. I understand that work on the equestrian facility is underway and it has involved a lot of movement of soil and significant digging. What is the government doing to monitor any potential airborne contamination form that work on the headland?

Mr Cahill : We have to take that one on notice.

Senator URQUHART: Has testing revealed any chemicals or contaminants in the air or soil?

Mr Cahill : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator URQUHART: What chemicals and contaminants have been identified during this work?

Mr Cahill : I did take that one as that I did not know about—

Senator URQUHART: I know—you did say that.

Mr Cahill : If I had the material in front of me, I would be able to answer your questions.

Senator URQUHART: I will put them on notice. I have about four questions on wetlands, if I can move quickly through them.

CHAIR: If we have time.

Senator URQUHART: Can you outline any environmental impacts expected to arise from the proposed Toondah Harbour development, EPBC Act referral 2015/7612.

Mr Barker : The Toondah Harbour proposal has been referred, but a decision has not been made yet on that referral. The proponent has nominated the proposal as having likely significant impacts, particularly on migratory birds, because of its location in and adjacent to the Moreton Bay Ramsar site.

Senator URQUHART: So the impact on migratory birds is expected to be the main environmental impact?

Mr Barker : And the habitat. There are also some marine species in that area, as well as the values of the Ramsar wetland itself.

Senator URQUHART: Right. Who has the department sought advice from regarding those impacts during the assessment of the development?

Mr Barker : The department takes a range of advice from other areas of the department, including areas that provide advice on particular species and on the values of the wetland itself. We have been in the process of obtaining that advice from those areas.

Senator URQUHART: From the department?

Mr Barker : From various experts within the department, providing advice at that initial stage of the proposal—given that the project is also at the initial referral stage in terms of the statutory process that it is at.

Senator URQUHART: So it is just from experts in the department?

Mr Barker : At this point in time. That is correct.

Senator URQUHART: Where else would you go to get advice about those impacts?

Mr Barker : The department can seek advice from a range of expert sources through the process. It is part of the legislative process for proposals to be exposed for public comment. This referral has been out for public comment. We received a range of public comments on the proposal both during the statutory period and comments that have come in after that statutory period as well. Then, as the project proceeds—if the department proceeds further, and depending on the nature of the particular statutory process that may be applied to the project as it proceeds—different advice can be brought to bear on the detail.

Senator URQUHART: Is there a time frame in terms of seeking that advice from other bodies?

Mr Barker : There are particular statutory time frames on the department for its exercise of the process under the EPBC Act. Primarily, the time frame for undertaking assessments is with the proponent, who is obviously responsible primarily for the project. At this stage, for this particular project, it is yet to be subject to a decision on the referral—at that threshold stage. Then, depending on that decision, it might take different pathways.

Senator URQUHART: Okay.

Mr Knudson : If I could just add a couple of things: the referral decision is not due until July. I do not have the specific date, but it is July. The second thing—

Senator URQUHART: July this year?

Mr Knudson : July of 2017. That is correct. The other thing is that during this process we will talk to the state government as well. Obviously, we also want to understand the company's perspective, what they think about the impacts and what sort of science and analysis they have done.

Senator URQUHART: If matters of national environmental significance have been identified at the project site, why has the Minister for the Environment defended the decision on whether to declare the development a controlled action six times?

Mr Barker : The statutory decisions that you are referring to, in terms of the six times, relate to extensions to the referral decision date. So, as Mr Knudson pointed out, the referral decision date is currently 17 July. There is a provision under the act for proponents to request an extension of that deadline. That has been requested, and so the deadline has been extended accordingly.

Senator URQUHART: Can you outline whether or not the dredging of a Ramsar-listed wetland is consistent with Australia's obligations under the Ramsar convention.

Mr Barker : Speaking broadly, there are a number of Ramsar sites that are naturally turbid environments, and the Moreton Bay Ramsar site is one of those. I do not have the detail of particular past referrals that relate to dredging in Ramsar sites, but I understand there have been some small amounts of that type of activity within Ramsar sites.

In relation to the Toondah Harbour proposal, the harbour itself is actually not within the Ramsar site. Given that it is a functioning harbour, there is an amount of dredging to maintain the operation of the harbour at present. It occurs periodically.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would like to ask some specific questions—and I will be as quick as I can, because I understand a number of my colleagues also have questions to ask—in relation to Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania and the Tasmanian salmon industry—specifically the EPBC 2012/6406, which was the federal government's decision on EPBC. Has the department reassessed the decision that the expansion of salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour is not a controlled action?

Ms Collins : No, it has not, so that decision remains in place.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: So what would trigger review of that decision?

Ms Collins : I would have to take that question on notice. I am not sure whether there is a review provision for that decision.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Are you undertaking your own assessment of Macquarie Harbour?

Ms Collins : We have been undertaking compliance monitoring of the particular matters in which the referral decision was made.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Will you be publishing that detail?

Ms Collins : We are still reviewing the findings. We were out at Macquarie Harbour only a couple of weeks ago, so we are still reviewing the findings of that. It is not normal that we would publish compliance-monitoring reports, though.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Given it is a significant matter of public interest, would it be something you would consider?

Ms Collins : I would take that on notice.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay. Would that include considering if any targeted management responses had resulted in substantial benthic visual, physiochemical or biological impact no longer occurring? Is that the kind of thing you are doing?

Ms Collins : We are assessing compliance with all of the particular matters, and there are particular matters that relate to the monitoring of those conditions.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have you been asked by the EPA in Tasmania to provide advice in relation to the setting of the revised biomass limits in Macquarie Harbour?

Ms Collins : Not to my knowledge.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would you expect to be asked by the EPA in Tasmania to provide advice in relation to something like that?

Mr Knudson : I think that is a question of speculation.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have there been precedents where an environmental protection agency has asked your department for advice?

Mr Knudson : We certainly have worked with environmental protection agencies on broader policy questions in the past. I do not know that we have had specific cases on individual projects.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Did you meet with the EPA when you were down in Tasmania?

Ms Collins : Yes, we did.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: What did you discuss?

Ms Collins : I cannot provide specific information, because I was not there, but we were there to discuss the compliance with the particular matters in which the referral decision was made.

Mr Cahill : When the compliance officers went down—I think it was the week beginning 13 February—those officers were authorised under our act to make inquiries about compliance with the particular matters, and they specifically interviewed the EPA itself. My understanding was that the focus of those conversations was compliance with the particular matters that we had had in that decision, and that was about the breadth of it. We can confirm that for you, though.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you. Was that a scheduled or regular visit to Tasmania based on some kind of timing, or was it prompted by other—

Mr Cahill : Yes. In fact there was a program of visits that involved other matters, other projects. Obviously, for value for money, we make sure that, if we are sending someone down to Tasmania, we can do a range of verification on other projects.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: So it was scheduled? Do you do regular compliance audits of those decisions—for example, in Tasmania?

Ms Collins : Yes, we do. We have a program of routine compliance-monitoring activities, so we schedule compliance visits at a range of sites. We identify priorities on a risk based scenario.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Was Macquarie Harbour considered high in your priorities on that risk based scenario?

Ms Collins : I do not have that information in front of me, but we normally would schedule to go to areas with high risk and then look at other projects in the location. When I say 'high risk', it is in terms of potential for environmental harm.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That is very useful to know, because Macquarie Harbour is turning into an oxygen depleted wormhole at the moment. My next question in relation to that is: how long has the department known that there have been issues in Macquarie Harbour with oxygen levels and very obvious changes to the benthic environment?

Mr Knudson : One thing I would add to the last set of questions very quickly is that I am more than happy to provide the department's annual compliance plan, which lays out where our priorities et cetera are at a broad level. We do not get into specifics because we do not want to completely telegraph to industry exactly where we are going to go, but we do that in a proactive way.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: It would be very useful to know when the department decided that it needed to look at this issue. How long have you known there have been problems in Macquarie Harbour?

Ms Collins : I do not believe this was the first time we have done a compliance visit. I am fairly sure we did a compliance visit in 2013 as well. For this compliance visit we started to put plans in place either in November or December last year.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I did write to the minister in October or November, so I am hoping that perhaps that prompted his decision or your decision to send a team down there to ask that a compliance audit be done. This committee heard leaked evidence, from who knows who, that scientific reports nearly 2 years ago showed that things were deteriorating rapidly. So you can confirm the department has not been down there since 2013 to do their own audit?

Ms Collins : We went down there in 2013 and again earlier this year.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have you provided the minister's office with any advice on legal action that is being taken at the moment by Huon Aquaculture against the Tasmanian government and, I think, the federal government in relation to the biomass cap being set in Macquarie Harbour?

Mr Cahill : Obviously we have made the minister's office aware that there is legal action. I think the minister is actually named in one of those actions. We made him aware of that and we made sure that the minister was aware that we were doing the normal compliance visit—the minister's office.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: In your experience, Mr Cahill or Ms Collins, have you ever seen a company take any legal action to get more regulation and get a government to do their job?

Mr Cahill : It is probably not appropriate that we comment on that one.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay, save that as a comment, perhaps. I note that the EPA's decision to reduce the biomass cap from 21,500 tonnes to 14,000 tonnes was made with a range of comments, including that significant deterioration in the level of compliance with benthic indicators was obvious and there was a state of steady decline in dissolved oxygen to levels which 'would present a significant risk to the ecology of the harbour' and that this was actually recognised by the EPA themselves as having negative implications for the endangered maugean skate and other fauna. About a week after that comment an IMAS report was released with all the details around this. Were you aware of that IMAS report? Had the department received a copy of the report from anyone in Tasmania?

Ms Collins : We are aware of it. I cannot say exactly when we became aware of that report. I think that report was only released recently.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Now that you have been down there and you have done some monitoring, presumably, or an audit, at what point would you consider possible administrative actions or—let us go back to my original question—reassess the decision on whether Macquarie Harbour should be a controlled action? Could you give me an idea of how long that might take or what kind of process—

Mr Cahill : Senator, it is an open investigation. We would have to check with the compliance officers to make sure that they have thoroughly done their job and then finalise their view of whether or not the particular matters that we were auditing against have been met by the proponent. It would be hard. Again, I will not speculate on how long that investigation is going to take, but I would assume it would be a matter of weeks and not months.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I will put some more specific questions on notice around the process. Could I ask quickly about the Tarkine tracks in Tasmania and the legal action with the state government. Can somebody give me an update on where that is at, because I understand that the federal government has been involved in the legal action to reopen the Tarkine tracks.

Mr Writer : The minister intervened in the appeal that was brought against the original decision of the Federal Court. That appeal was brought by the government of Tasmania. The minister's role in that appeal was to assist the court in understanding issues relating to the EPBC Act. My understanding is that the government of Tasmania was successful in overturning the original decision. The Commonwealth, as part of that, agreed to pay the costs of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre for its part of the appeal, and the department is making arrangements to do so at the moment.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Where does it go from here? Is there any appeals process?

Mr Writer : The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, if it were so minded, could seek special leave to appeal to the High Court. But that is a matter for it.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Your understanding is that that has not happened?

Mr Writer : I am not aware of that happening and the time for pursuing that would have long expired, I think.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: With the Tasmanian government re-opening the tracks, is there any role there for the Commonwealth, given the heritage values in the area?

Mr Barker : The department is aware that the Tasmanian government made an announcement in October that it was committed to providing access to that area and to consulting with parties in Tasmania before it made a decision whether to make a further referral under the EPBC Act, so we do not have a further referral for that proposal as yet.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: It would be the Tasmanian government that would come to you with that referral, being the proponent?

Mr Barker : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Are there plans to export platypuses—possibly from Taronga Zoo to San Diego Zoo?

Mr Knudson : I think we would be dealing with that under 1.1. The Threatened Species Commissioner could talk about that in more detail at that point.

Senator RHIANNON: Has 1.1 already been done?

Mr Thompson : Wildlife trade? Maybe the commissioner should deal with that.

Senator RHIANNON: I note that they do not call it 'trade'. They say that they are protecting our threatened species.

Mr Thompson : I think we will deal with that later on this evening. You can raise it at 1.1.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay.

Senator RICE: I want to start with the department's evaluation of the efficacy of the regional forest agreements—the Gippsland one having been extended for a further 18 months. What measures has the Commonwealth implemented to monitor the effectiveness of protection provided under the RFAs?

Mr Knudson : That also is dealt with under outcome 1.1 to the extent that the Department of the Environment and Energy is involved. The principal lead, however, as far as the Commonwealth is concerned, is taken by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources—on all of the regional forestry agreements.

Senator RICE: All RFA related questions of any type—even though it is about environmental regulation and exemptions under the EPBC?

Mr Knudson : Yes.

Senator RICE: Okay, I will ask those questions at 1.1.

Mr Knudson : It is principally the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. We can answer to a certain—

Senator RICE: But the environmental protections—basically there are exemptions under the EPBC Act because of the regional forestry agreements.

Mr Knudson : We can talk that through, but in a significant way we will be pointing to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. I just want to foreshadow that.

Senator RICE: But we can talk about it in 1.1?

Mr Knudson : Absolutely.

Senator RICE: I wrote to Minister Frydenberg about the issue of protections for hooded plovers on beaches in Victoria. I do not know if you are aware of the issue that where beaches are being used for horse training, it is impacting upon hooded plovers that are on the beaches between Port Fairy and Warrnambool. Are you aware of that issue?

Mr Knudson : I personally am not; I am sorry.

Mr Thompson : I suspect we are back in 1.1, which will be later this evening.

Senator Birmingham: If you want to try your question there, Senator Rice, we can see whether it is a specific EPBC—

Senator RICE: Basically, we have hooded plovers listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act and we have horse training going on on the same beaches. I wrote to the minister about it and have received a reply, which I wanted to have further discussion about.

Mr Knudson : It really depends which element of the issue you want to explore. If you are saying that this should be referred for assessment under the EPBC Act, if you are saying the listing of it as endangered is at the wrong level of protection then that is a different area of the department. I am just trying to understand what you—

Senator RICE: Basically, the response I got from the minister is saying that it is a matter for the state government rather than the federal government, because the situation is considered to be one where the horse training activities are viewed on a horse by horse basis—so, individual actions. But what is actually happening is that you have horse training happening en masse on the beach. What I wanted to discuss and clarify was why this documented ongoing activity is not able to invoke our federal environmental protections.

Mr Knudson : That question in general we would need to take a look at; first of all, to look at the individual species and whether the action that is happening would constitute a significant impact on it. Obviously, I cannot give you a very fulfilling answer based upon the information I have, which is based upon your comments, but I would be very happy to come back on notice with a much more detailed answer on that for you, if that would be helpful.

Senator RICE: Okay. The final area I have, again, may be better put elsewhere, but let us start here. It is about conditions of the Gippsland Lakes. Is that here or the environmental water office?

Mr Knudson : I believe that is the environmental water office, but the good news is that he will be appearing later on tonight.

Senator RICE: Okay. Well, that was quick.

CHAIR: And you doubted you could do it. Senator Rice, thank you very much. Senator Ludlam.

Senator LUDLAM: I am going to go directly to the issue of the clearing that is underway in the Beeliar wetlands at the moment. I know several of the folks who are at the table tonight joined us in Perth for the inquiry on Thursday. Thank you very much for your presence. It was valuable. Can you just confirm for us, before we get underway, how many officers flew to Perth to attend that inquiry on environmental breaches.

Mr Knudson : There were four offices there.

Senator LUDLAM: Of which you were one. Did any of you visit the site while you were there?

Mr Knudson : Sorry; did any of us visit the site?

Senator LUDLAM: Did any of you visit the actual site while you were in Perth?

Mr Knudson : No.

Senator LUDLAM: Nobody?

Mr Knudson : No. We had already had an investigation on the site previously by the departmental officials.

CHAIR: I recall there was a suggestion and an offer for us all to go and visit the site, which was knocked back.

Senator LUDLAM: You wanted to go to Leach Highway. I am not sure there was any benefit in that.

CHAIR: Yes, and also the site. Anyway, I am just pointing that out; it was knocked back.

Senator LUDLAM: What was the cost of having those four officers across to Perth?

Mr Knudson : We would have to come back on notice on that. I do not have those figures with me.

Senator LUDLAM: I would appreciate it. You would be aware, no doubt, that the reason the inquiry took place at all was that the minister refused to hand over, among other things, any evidence of the surveys of the endangered cockatoos, which are federally listed. That was in the terms of reference and that was the reason you were there. Is there any reason why you flew all the way to Perth and still were not able to table that material?

Mr Knudson : I believe one of my colleagues has an update on those documents.

Senator LUDLAM: Excellent. Go ahead.

Ms Collins : It is not normal for the department to release documents for matters where we have an active investigation or a compliance review going on. We have looked into the allegations for noncompliance against condition 4, as you know. In response to the allegations, we did request further information from the Western Australian government as part of the evidence collection to satisfy ourselves whether they have complied with that condition. The minister is on the record as having committed to providing the information at the next sitting day.

Senator LUDLAM: State minister or federal?

Ms Collins : The federal minister.

Ms Collins : So now that the department has concluded its assessment of their compliance against that condition, the information can now be provided in accordance with the minister's commitment.

Senator LUDLAM: How come it cannot be provided today? I am presuming you did not imagine that I was not going to ask: can we please have a copy of it today?

Ms Collins : I might just say that the minister committed to provide it at the next sitting day, and so we were just going to comply with the minister's intent.

Senator LUDLAM: Let's just go through a little bit of history here. I have asked for this material or warned the department—the minister, I guess, through the department—that the survey work was either deficient or had not been done at all a total of 15 times: four letters during the assessment phase between July and September 2015; five letters during the post assessment phase—January and February of this year, including one last Friday; two phone calls—one to the minister and one to the department, of which some of you individuals were in; two Senate orders for production of documents that were denied; and one Senate inquiry. And you are still sitting here saying we cannot have that material. I will ask one further time: can you please table a copy of that material. If it has been cleared for release, can we have a copy of it today.

Mr Knudson : I think what Ms Collins said was: it is very much our intention to table that and to do so in accordance with the minister's—

Senator LUDLAM: I am asking you to do so now, and I have not heard any reason, or public interest immunity ground, as to why you would not do so right now. The only reason I am lending a sense of urgency to this is that, as you would be very well aware, land clearing is occurring right now.

Ms Collins : In relation to land clearing—our investigation or inquiries into where the condition for has been complied with—the department has satisfied itself that the condition has been complied with. So the condition requires the approval holder during the breeding season—as you know, August to December—within seven days prior to clearing, to ensure all potential nesting trees are investigated to detect the presence of black cockatoos using the hollows. Potential nesting trees: the list of 38 specified trees—none of those are in the area of investigation. The department has black cockatoo referral guidelines that specify that 500-millimeter diameter breast height as being an indicator of potential nesting habitat.

Senator LUDLAM: I think you covered that the other day.

Ms Collins : And so there were—I will make sure I get my facts right—26 trees of that size identified on the site, of which two had hollows—

Senator LUDLAM: So you had 38 potentially significant trees. You narrowed that to 26. You narrowed that to two.

Ms Collins : No. Of the 38 trees, none of those occurred in the area that was subject to potential clearing, so the investigation on the site found an additional 26 trees that were at that diameter at breast height. Of those, only two had hollows, and it was determined that those two hollows were not suitable as nesting trees for the cockatoos. Nevertheless the main roads took the precautionary principle and left all of those trees remaining standing during the breeding period, which is August to December.

CHAIR: Senator Ludlam, you have actually exceeded your time, and these seem to be exactly the same questions that were asked last week.

Senator LUDLAM: I am nowhere near finished; I am about halfway through.

CHAIR: How many more minutes do you want?

Senator LUDLAM: I am about halfway through.

CHAIR: How many more minutes do you want, because you have almost had—what have you had? You have about another three minutes from here.

Senator LUDLAM: I have got about another 10 minutes to go and then I will wrap it up. If I am able to take it to about half past or just before, that would be appreciated.

CHAIR: No, because we break in five minutes and I would like to move onto the next item after this, and we have still got senators who want to ask questions in this area

Senator LUDLAM: I am not finished, Chair; I am in your hands. You are aware that this is fairly important. I am happy to come back after dinner.

CHAIR: Wrap it up in five and put the rest on notice, and then we will go—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I can put my questions on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: Is there any reason why we would not come back after dinner, Chair?

CHAIR: We can do, but we are now running very late. What I will do is I will give you until half past and then we will move to the next questions. We will work out another arrangement because we are running so late.

Senator LUDLAM: I appreciate your flexibility. Thanks. I will try and kick this along. Can you tell us how the trees were investigated since you have wrapped up your assessment and overview. How was this investigation done and how many people were involved?

Ms Collins : I understand three people were involved and the investigation involved observations on the ground of trees with a diameter greater than 500 millimetres.

Senator LUDLAM: How are they meant to assess the existence of nesting hollows that might be 10, 15 or more metres up in the air? How do they do that from the ground?

Ms Collins : As part of our inquiries, we asked about the qualifications of the people who were doing the surveys.

Senator LUDLAM: That is my next question.

Ms Collins : Between them, they have extensive amount of experience in ecological survey work. Again, I come back to the intent of the condition, which was to ensure any potential nesting trees that were going to be cleared during the breeding season were inspected. What we found was that any potential nesting trees, even though they had been ruled out as suitable, were retained on the site.

Senator LUDLAM: In the interest of time, could you table the qualifications of the three individuals who did the survey?

Mr Knudson : We will take it on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: I do not know whether you stayed in the room or not, but are you aware of the testimony by Dr Hugh Finn at the inquiry last Thursday? He is a specialist in this area. He said that the only reliable methodology would be to inspect the hollow directly either using a cherry picker, someone climbing a tree, a pole camera or even a drone. It sounds as though you are indicating or confirming for us that that was not the case—that it was all done on foot from ground level.

Mr Knudson : As Ms Collins talked about, there was an incredibly precautionary approach taken that was: if any of the trees had any potential to have a hollow, they were retained until well after the breeding season in terms of the intent of the condition. That is why we think—

Senator LUDLAM: I am highly sceptical, and that is why we wanted this material handed down before the election—ideally today—because destructive activity is occurring. In only identifying 26 trees—or only two with nesting hollows—you have dramatically undercounted the number of trees. It is my information that 605 significant trees were identified in the PER. Is that your understanding?

Ms Collins : Was that in the area to be cleared during that period?

Senator LUDLAM: Yes.

Ms Collins : No, I do not have that understanding.

Senator LUDLAM: In which year was the PER done? Does it go back to 2011 or thereabouts? Can you just confirm that for us.

Ms Collins : I can take that on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: It was done in 2009. I beg your pardon. What I am trying to get to is that there seems to be a lot of dispute, including from some of the scientists who gave evidence last week, about whether the three individuals identified would have had any chance at all of identifying all of the appropriate trees or the suitable trees in a couple of hours on 14 December. If they were working from the list that was generated in 2009 from the PER, there is up to 534 additional trees that may have matured since 2009 to the degree where they might provide nesting hollows. That is the reason why observers and the watchers who have been on site since the land-clearing started are observing cockatoos basically evacuating these trees as they are being pushed over by earth-moving equipment.

Ms Collins : My understanding is that the people who did the investigations on the ground were not working from a list. They were working from the guideline that said that any tree with a diameter greater than 500 millimetres could potentially qualify and to then have a look and see whether the trees of that diameter contained hollows. Only two of the 26 trees that were measured at that girth contained hollows and, as I said, they were found not to be suitable a habitat but were nevertheless retained.

Senator LUDLAM: How are they doing that from the ground? I genuinely do not understand how you do that from the ground.

Mr Cahill : We will have a look, ourselves personally, at the compliance plan that was conducted for the exercise.

Senator LUDLAM: I am sorry, but Ms Collins just told me that you have already done that and that that work has been completed.

Mr Cahill : I think the original PER talked about Roe 8.

Senator LUDLAM: So they narrowed it?

Mr Cahill : Our compliance investigation focused on where the immediate clearing is happening at the moment—

Ms Collins : That is correct.

Mr Cahill : which is a subsection. Obviously the numbers in the original PER were quite significant on the margin.

Senator LUDLAM: I am not trying to muddy the waters here. The clearing underway at the moment is a relatively narrow strip. It is certainly not the width of the entire impact area that will eventually be cleared. Was the surveying done by these three individuals just of that narrow strip that is presently being cleared or for the entire 25- or 30-metre corridor?

Ms Collins : It was just for the strip that is presently being cleared.

Senator LUDLAM: Has the survey of the total impact area that will be cleared before this project is done been completed?

Ms Collins : For any clearing work occurring between August and December, the condition requires that the potential nesting trees be investigated to detect the presence of cockatoos.

Senator LUDLAM: Presumably, they should be looking for anything that is about to be cleared?

Mr Cahill : Seven days in advance was the requirement. We expect to see the survey report seven days in advance to be able to say, 'Before you're clearing, let's identify any trees that have the potential to be nesting hollows and have them marked out.' So if there is another stage to the program, we would look closely—

Senator LUDLAM: I do not mean another stage. Inevitably, to push a four-lane freeway, you are going to need to clear a substantially wider area of land than they have cleared to date. Are you saying that the actual surveys for the entire area of clearing within stage 2 have not occurred yet?

Mr Knudson : Just to clarify, the original PER that you referred to earlier on would have identified all the potential habitat for the species, and then our decision would have said, 'This is the amount of offsets that you have to—

Senator LUDLAM: No. Let's not get distracted by offsets. I am interested in condition 4. Time is very short.

Mr Knudson : What I was going to say was that when you combine that then with the other concerns—so that is on the offsets—then you try to mitigate the impacts. Mitigation is about avoiding the specific breeding season and that means that what you are looking at is what potential area is going to be cleared during the breeding season and what sort of controls are required. That is what Ms Collins was walking through. Now that we are past the breeding season, that condition is no longer relevant until you get to the next breeding season in August.

Senator LUDLAM: When they will all be gone.

Mr Knudson : That is why I was talking at the beginning about the original assessment because the calculation of offsets becomes very relevant because you are not looking at a mitigation; actually you are looking at an offset requirement.

Senator LUDLAM: I wish that I had time to go into how utterly destructive and pointless the offset system is, but I do not. I want to come back to the reasons why we would not be able to have that material. I understand that the minister has made an undertaking—and I was not aware of that—to table in a couple of weeks. Why would he not table that material in this sitting week? Why would he wait until after the state election? What is that delay about? That is probably out of order. You are not meant to be able to read his mind.

Mr Knudson : That is a question for the minister.

Senator LUDLAM: In that case, I will go to your obligations. Unless you can identify a public interest immunity ground for tabling that material now, I request that you table it now. The minister has said he might table it safely the other side of state election, but that is not relevant to your reason for being here. So on what public interest immunity ground are you refusing to make that material available to us now?

Mr Thompson : We will take that on notice. We have to take that on notice so that we understand our legal obligations and can come back with an argument.

Senator LUDLAM: They are not really legal obligations. They are obligations to this parliament that unless there is a compelling public interest immunity—

CHAIR: Senator Ludlam, I understand they are taking it on notice to further pursue public interest immunity.

Senator LUDLAM: That pushes into the next month or the month after. I have been at this already for months.

CHAIR: They are absolutely within their rights to do so.

Senator LUDLAM: These are not the blueprints for the Death Star; they are cockatoo surveys.

Senator SIEWERT: Perhaps we should seek advice from the Clerk. This could be seen—and I am not accusing anyone—as a delaying tactic. To say you need to seek legal advice undermines the issue around claiming public community for a document. I suggest we seek advice urgently and come back to it after dinner.

CHAIR: The secretary is perfectly within his right to refer it to the minister and to seek further advice about public interest immunity. I would point out that the urgency from your perspective is not of the department's making. This inquiry was brought on at very short notice with a very short turnaround time.

Senator LUDLAM: Because there are bulldozers on site.

CHAIR: They are totally within their rights and it is appropriate for the department to do so.

Senator LUDLAM: Is the reason you are withholding this material because these surveys are either legally deficient or they were not done properly, or maybe were not done at all, because that is the only conclusion we can draw? We have found it easier to get national security sensitive information out of these committees than about some bloody cockatoo surveys. So why are they still being withheld? The clearing will be done by the time we have got our hands on these documents.

CHAIR: Senator Ludlam—

Mr Knudson : I think we have been over this issue before, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: I will stop when we have got the documents.

Mr Knudson : Understood, and it is our intention to provide those documents as soon as possible.

Senator LUDLAM: They have obviously already been cleared. The minister has agreed to table them. Why can we not have them today?

CHAIR: Senator Ludlam, you are now not only going over time but also over old ground. The department, as I have said, have said they will refer the issue to the minister to seek further advice and then get back to the committee.

Senator SIEWERT: They said they would seek legal advice.

Mr Thompson : We have legal responsibilities under the act, which is referring it to the minister.

Senator LUDLAM: Your responsibilities under the standing orders, with the greatest respect, are perfectly clear.

CHAIR: Unless you have a point of order about the course of action that I, as chair, think is totally within the standing orders—that is, to refer it back to the minister for further advice and to seek legal advice? I think that is a very sound course of action.

Senator LUDLAM: Maybe there is some national security threat here that I am not seeing.

CHAIR: Senator Ludlam, I think you can leave the editorialising, as I am sure you will do, to outside of this room after this. Your colleague Senator Whish-Wilson has follow-up questions.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Yes, follow-up questions to you, Mr Barker. With the Tarkine traps, you mentioned that since October the Tasmanian government are free to open those tracks again. But then you said they have not provided a third referral. I just wanted to check: do they need to provide a third referral to the federal government before they open those tracks or can they open those tracks without a referral?

Mr Barker : My recollection of the Tasmanian government's media release, essentially, from October was that they were committed to providing access to the area. Exactly where they will put the tracks is obviously a matter that we will be expecting the Tasmanian government may be consulting on. The Tasmanian government have not yet made a formal referral under the EPBC Act.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: They do not need to do that to reopen the tracks?

Mr Barker : It depends on the character of the activity that they are proposing to undertake. We are not privy to exactly how they might be shaping that up at this point in time.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: If you have any advice you could table, if you could do so? Or if you could take on notice what they have to look at in that respect, that would be greatly appreciated.

Mr Barker : Certainly, Senator. Generally, it would be about the impacts of the proposed activity—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: But you are still driving on 20,000-year-old middens.

Mr Barker : It depends, exactly as I have mentioned, on where the tracks are and exactly how they are proposing to undertake it. That is information we do not have at this stage because we do not have a formal referral.

CHAIR: I think that has been asked and answered. I understand that Senator Duniam, who has been waiting very patiently for the last hour, has some questions.

Senator DUNIAM: I do, yes. Some are on behalf of Senator Back, who cannot be here right now. These questions are: firstly, if a project proposal for a development is determined to be a controlled action under the EPBC Act and the development and access areas contain species that are declared as endangered, what is the process the minister would follow in determining how the development will be assessed, in broad terms?

Mr Tregurtha : Under the EPBC Act there is a process. In relation to the specifics of your question, you said there was a species that was endangered—

Senator DUNIAM: A species that is declared as endangered.

Mr Tregurtha : If we are talking about a species that has been declared endangered under the Commonwealth environmental law, not necessarily state environmental law, for the person proposing to take an action there is a self-assessment component which is to determine whether or not they believe they are likely to have a significant impact on that particular protected matter, so on any nationally protected matter. If they believe that to be the case then they put a referral in to the department. It is a referral under the EPBC Act. The department reviews that referral and considers it. Then there is a decision by the minister or his delegate in the department as to whether or not that becomes a controlled action. If it becomes a controlled action then there is a full assessment and approval process under the EPBC Act. Alternatively, it can be assessed as not to be a controlled action or not a controlled action with particular matters attached to it, but if it is assessed to be not a controlled action then the activity can proceed. Basically, what 'not a controlled action decision' means is the department has determined that there will not be a significant impact on the species from the activity.

Senator DUNIAM: Thank you. I think that covers that. Following on from that, in the assessment of a controlled action referral, would the department's legal team ever advise to approve a project based on the threat of appeal from the developer rather than the importance of protecting a threatened or endangered species to which the legislation is purposed?

Mr Tregurtha : No. There are strict statutory requirements for an assessment approval process under the act and we follow those—

Senator DUNIAM: To the law.

Mr Tregurtha : to the law.

Senator DUNIAM: Excellent. Finally, where the development is inconsistent or may be inconsistent with the objects of the act, is it ever a relevant consideration that a developer might appeal as a result of the application of those provisions?

Mr Tregurtha : In terms of the decision-making process?

Senator DUNIAM: Yes.

Mr Tregurtha : Again, the decision-making process is undertaken in accordance with statutory obligations.

Senator DUNIAM: Thank you very much for that.

CHAIR: Just before I suspend the inquiry, for the purposes of your staff, Secretary, when we come back we will move to program 1.6. We will stick to the order of 1.6, 1.2 and 1.3, but from discussions with my colleagues I am not anticipating that any of those three programs will take a great deal of time, which means that program 1.1, where we do have a significant number of questions, is likely to come on at around eight o'clock tonight.

Proceedings suspended from 18:36 to 19:30

CHAIR: I call officers from the department for program 1.6: management of hazardous wastes, substances and pollutants. I welcome to the table Minister Ruston.

Senator Ruston: Thank you, Chair.

Senator URQUHART: What is the current status of the fuel quality and standards review?

Ms Farrant : In December 2016, the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions released a discussion paper, Better fuel for cleaner air. The discussion paper is out for consultation now and seeks community and industry views on ways to strengthen Australian fuel standards. It is on public exhibition until 10 March 2017.

Senator URQUHART: Very soon.

Ms Farrant : Very soon. We are in the last few days.

Senator URQUHART: Who has been consulted in that review?

Ms Farrant : There has been quite wide consultation. We have been meeting with the key stakeholder groups—for example, the Australian Institute of Petroleum, the FCAI and the AAA. Ministers Frydenberg and Fletcher held a forum a couple of weeks ago at which around 50 to 60 representatives from a whole range of groups—industry, stakeholder, consumer and health groups—were present.

Senator URQUHART: Okay. So in terms of industry, have any refineries been involved in those discussions?

Ms Farrant : Yes. Through the Australian Institute of Petroleum, which represents the four refineries, they have been involved in those consultations.

Senator URQUHART: Are you confident in the options put forward in the consultation report?

Ms Farrant : Those options, the five policy alternatives, are very much just a place to start the discussion. We have been calling for comments from industry on everything in that discussion paper, including on the options themselves. Stakeholders are free to present other options if they think there are other options as well.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is this the appropriate place to ask about container deposit schemes for waste?

Mr McNee : Yes.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would be interested to know if there have been any recent updates at all in relation to COAG or any other process around a national scheme. I hear very positive things—that the states themselves are looking at going it alone without a national scheme—but could you give us a very quick update?

Mr McNee : You are, in essence, correct. This matter was last considered by ministers several years ago. A decision was taken—and I think we have talked about that before—not to pursue a national scheme. Since that time, New South Wales, Queensland, the ACT and potentially Western Australia have actually considered adopting state-based schemes. Ministers are interested in reports back from that, and that is expected in June. They will hear the status of those.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: As a matter of interest, would state-based schemes be fairly similar? Would they be talking to each other about synchronising their schemes or do you think they may be different in terms of structure and process?

Mr McNee : That is a very good question, Senator. Certainly New South Wales and Queensland have been talking about how to align their schemes. Also, there is the ACT and New South Wales. I am also aware of some discussions whereby, due to particular differences in how they might want to roll them out, there may be some differences that are tuning them to the particular circumstances that they find in rural Queensland versus the city.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Were you aware, Mr McNee, that Coca-Cola has decided to support a scheme in Scotland? It was announced only two days ago; it is first time ever.

Mr McNee : Yes.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would like to think that this committee, chaired by Senator Urquhart, making a very strong recommendation for a national scheme in 2018 if the states did not play ball is what motivated them. I am sure it is not the case; but it was a good report.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to ask about what I understand is the proposed PFAS summit. The summit will be led by the heads of the environment protection authorities—the EPAs—in Australia and New Zealand?

Mr Cahill : Yes. There was agreement with the heads of the environmental protection agencies late last year to work together to be able to work out a common approach to regulating PFOS and PFOA. We are working closely with the Victorian EPA, who have agreed to take the lead with the states and territories, and with input from the Commonwealth on our draft guidance. That has been supported by the environment ministers. We are still planning the timing of that. A PFAS summit may not be the right language that will ultimately be used. It is actually about the regulators having a round table and getting input from experts to see what is the best way for the states and territories and the Commonwealth to regulate on a consistent basis.

Senator RHIANNON: You talked about a common approach to regulating. Are there plans to discuss how to manage the pollution once it is already in the environment? Will it be wider than just regulation?

Mr Cahill : The draft Commonwealth guidelines, which are for the management of PFOS, PFOA—the environmental guidelines—were a key input that the minister wrote to his environmental colleagues. In essence, it has three simple elements to it. It talks about: how do you inspect a site to be able to see if there is potential for the chemicals, then diagnose it in terms of what levels of concentration will have what impact on what species level and then how do you respond to that. That is part of the framework. What we are looking to do is get the states and territories together to agree on: what is our common approach to do that and what is the framework? Victoria has undertaken to take that lead.

Senator RHIANNON: So Victoria is taking the lead. It will be state and federal governments and New Zealand? That is the plan is it?

Mr Cahill : State and federal governments. New Zealand have asked to attend that. It obviously has a different jurisdiction, but they are very mindful that they would like to learn from what the Australian experience is.

Senator RHIANNON: As well as the environmental agencies, considering that a lot of this pollution is on airport land and defence land are you involving any of them in the process?

Mr Cahill : We are finalising who is going to be involved in the conversation, but we are mindful that it needs to step beyond just the regulators.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'beyond just the regulators', can you outline what groupings you are looking at? Are you looking at civil society, unions, people who cover the workforce—

Mr Cahill : It is too early to say. We are just finalising that with Victoria.

Senator RHIANNON: Wouldn't you already have the categories? You have named regulators. Wouldn't you have other categories that you would definitely be involving?

Mr Cahill : We are looking to get international experts in environmental regulation from overseas. So we want to look to the overseas experience. But in terms of which other stakeholders are being invited, that is still being finalised with Victoria.

Senator RHIANNON: We have people who sit on the bodies that look over the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants—people from Australia, chemical experts, who work in that area. Would you be looking at those sorts of people?

Mr Cahill : I might ask Mr McNee, but the branch that has our experts who do the processes under Stockholm actually sits within my division. Mr McNee will be participating in that, and his relevant experts will be participating with the regulators in getting together on this round table when it is planned.

Senator RHIANNON: You said, 'the regulators', again. Is it just the regulators?

Mr Cahill : It is predominantly regulators, but there will be other experts involved. They include our own chemical experts in the chemicals branch.

Mr McNee : There are two issues there and I will touch on both of those. I think the work that is being done with regulators is really the starting point for the conversation about what a national PFAS management plan looks like. Inevitably, it is going to have to involve a wide range of stakeholders, scientific and technical experts to actually ensure that it is comprehensive and does what it is meant to do. As Mr Cahill said, the work about how that engagement will unfold and exactly who will be involved is still part of the conversation. On the national management plan side, we are at the start of that process. With the Stockholm Convention discussion around the listing of PFOS, we are very engaged with experts and civil society and others in finalising a regulatory impact statement on the ratification of PFOS under the Stockholm Convention. We anticipate that in the coming months that will be released for public comment and then will form the basis of very significant engagement.

Senator RHIANNON: So, 'in coming months'—in three months or the end of the year?

Mr McNee : I am hesitant to put a specific date on it because it is a complex document and we are working through it, but our intention is that it will be as rapidly as we can—so in the first two or three months of this year.

Mr Knudson : The draft Commonwealth guidelines on PFOS and PFOA are up on our website. If there are individuals who you think are particularly concerned and want to take a look at those and provide us with comments on them then we are absolutely happy to receive those now. There is absolutely nothing that prohibits that. Please feel free to encourage people.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. That is very useful. On this issue of participation, I want to clarify this, because I noticed that article 10 of the Stockholm Convention—this is 10.1—has the heading:

Each Party shall, within its capabilities, promote and facilitate:

And part (d) says:

Public participation in addressing persistent organic pollutants and their health and environmental effects and in developing adequate responses, including opportunities for providing input at the national level regarding implementation of this Convention;

That seems to me to really clearly cover this important summit that you are calling. Mr Cahill, I did notice that you used the term 'predominantly regulators', but Mr McNee seemed to be broadening that out somewhat. I think it would be good to clarify this on the record because it is concerning communities across the country. I and many of my colleagues are getting many people approaching us. They are feeling very much on their own and they are feeling distressed. I think it would restore and help build confidence if they knew that it is not just the regulators who have an interest in it but it is also people who may be seen as more objective or coming from different viewpoints, representing the public or representing the workers who are often hit by this. Can we just clarify: are there different categories of people who you will clearly be looking at so you can be consistent with article 10 of the Stockholm Convention?

Mr Cahill : This will be one meeting in a series of meetings, going to Mr McNee's point. All the states and territories already have had a lot of consultation over these chemicals. This is about us looking not only at what is the best approach to regulation but at how we actually engage with communities and how we approach them. It is not necessarily going to be the answer. It is working as the next step in the process about how we regulate, and that will include how we engage and how we consult with communities in terms of the regulatory approach.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware that the previous development of national management plans for persistent organic pollutants that was undertaken by the national advisory body consisted of equitable representatives of industry, academics, NGOs and unions?

Mr McNee : Yes, we are aware of that. In fact, we have been looking at some of those models in terms of how we might think about PFOS.

Senator RHIANNON: Excellent.

Mr Cahill : The other thing which is probably relevant is that in the next few months we will also be holding the meetings of the Stockholm Technical Committee and the Stockholm Reference Group in the lead-in to this year's conference of the parties to the Stockholm Convention. Certainly, that is a mechanism where will be briefing them on where we have got to on the status of PFOS and other things, and that provides an excellent opportunity to get very substantial feedback.

Senator RHIANNON: Excellent. So you are looking at that as a model for the equitable representatives of all those groupings.

Mr McNee : There were a number of plans that were set out for a range of different POPs and some of them have been more successful than others. What we are hoping is to look at the elements that have made those successful and ensure that we are as successful in dealing with PFOS.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Whish-Wilson.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I just have a few quick questions. Tyre Stewardship Australia, TSA, was set up to increase domestic tyre recycling, expand the market for tyre derived products and reduce the number of Australian end-of-life tyres that I was sent to landfill. How are going with all that?

Mr McNee : I think you are aware that a lot of effort was put in by Australian governments including the Commonwealth government on developing Tyre Stewardship Australia and that scheme, so that is now up and running. The scheme has received authorisation from the ACCC to undertake its activities.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Feel free to take it on notice if you wish.

Mr McNee : One condition of that was that there was a review, and in fact a review has been initiated into that so we will be in a better position to report back on that in the future.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I do ask about it regularly, but I understand it is always just starting up so I will be keen to see how it is going. Could you clear up about the e-waste scheme. Is it still operating? I know it is funded through industry through a levy on the products, but is it going all right?

Mr McNee : Yes, it is still operating and it is reaching its targets. We are tweaking it at the moment to improve it but it is achieving its objectives, and that also is due for a review in the next six to 12 months.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: The targets had not been lowered at all. They were too easily exceeded. I understand it was very successful, too successful almost,

Mr McNee : In fact the targets were increased, I think. In getting the reporting back from this current period what we have been able to see is that the targets have been able to be achieved this year as well.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. We now move to program 1.2 environmental information and research.

Dr de Brouwer : Excuse me, Chair, while those officers are coming to the table is it okay if Mr Cahill reads a very short statement. There was a bit of confusion following the interaction with Senator Ludlam and we want to clarify for the record.

CHAIR: Please.

Mr Cahill : Chair, I would like to clarify a few points. The minister and the department have always sought to respond to the senator's request for information. Firstly, in response to the order for the production of documents seeking information on the Roe Highway on 13 February, we provided information regarding condition 4 and undertook to provide any further information that the department received from the WA government. The investigation was not complete at that point, therefore the department committed to provide that information once the investigation was complete which was at the time expected to be 17 February.

As background the department had two compliance officers investigate the site on 7 February 2017. Our two compliance officers were accompanied by the WA EPA, WA Department of Main Roads and the consultants who conducted the tree investigation. That site visit included a visit to two offset sites, the site where the clearing occurred in December 2016 and the areas where clearing has occurred this year. Since that site visit we have sought additional information from the WA government. Some of that material was received as late as last Thursday.

The investigation report, which addresses all of the relevant conditions, is currently being finalised. By the end of this week we expect to write to the senator with the outcome of our investigation and the relevant information supplied by the WA government.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I appreciate that and we will make sure that Senator Ludlam's attention is drawn to that. Now, program 1.2. Senator Urquhart.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you very much. I have about four really quick questions on this, so hopefully we can make up some time. I was just wondering if you could tell me when the next State of the Environment report would be released. I understand it is to be early 2017. Is that correct?

Mr Whitfort : That is correct. I will just give you an update on the report. The report is the combination of two years worth of independent work by a number of independent authors, with several hundred other scientists in supporting and peer review roles. The report has been provided to the minister and we expect it to be released in the near future. In addition to the report itself, one of the key changes this year will be a digital state-of-the-environment platform. That is a very innovative data focused element. People will be able to go online and see all of the data sets which underpin the State of the Environment report and those data sets will be available for people to download. They will also be able to look at trends in assessments, interrogate maps and graphs, and filter content by theme and other elements on the digital platform. The other key thing with the State of the Environment report this year is that it is following the same methodology as the one five years ago, so people will actually be able to look at trends over time.

Senator URQUHART: I have some questions about wombat mange, particularly in Tasmania. What role does the federal government have in researching and treating sarcoptic mange in Tasmania's wombat population?

Ms Cherry : Off the top of my head, I think we will have to take that on notice. There are 152 projects under the National Environmental Science program. A number of those are dealing with threatened species, but off the top of my head I could not tell you if one of them deals with treating mange.

Senator URQUHART: I have a couple of other questions. If you need to take them on notice, that is fine, but I would appreciate a quick response if possible. What funding has the federal government provided to help combat the outbreak of mange in Tasmania? If there has been any funding, who has it been provided to? Has the federal government been approached by the state government or any other organisation for funding for mange?

Mr Thompson : I do not think we have that information on us, so we will take those questions on notice. We obviously invest in supporting threatened species, as Ms Cherry said, in particular through the National Environmental Science program which supports six hubs, one of which is a threatened species recovery hub. It may have made some investments or done some work, including with the Tasmanian government, on that issue. But we will confirm that.

Senator URQUHART: I understand there are a number of simple solutions for tackling the issue of mange in wombats. I am just interested in knowing if there is funding allocated to that so that it can get on, particularly out in some of the parks where there used to be many wombats—but where there are not many left at all.


CHAIR: We will now move on to program 1.3: carbon pollution reduction land sector initiatives.

Senator CHISHOLM: My understanding is that the government is reviewing its land-clearing data and will publish updated figures in a couple of months time. Is that correct?

Dr de Brouwer : Yes. That falls under outcome 2.1 which relates to emissions projections. This program only relates to the biodiversity program, which is now a remnant program. Anything around land clearing on the emissions side is under 2.1, which is coming up very soon.


CHAIR: Now we move to program 1.1.

Senator URQUHART: What are the funding projections for the National Landcare Program following the backpacker deal last year between the government and the Greens which included an additional $100 million to the National Landcare Program?

Mr Dadswell : The forward appropriations for the National Landcare Program are: in 2016-17, $265 million; in 2017-18, $293 million; in 2018-2019, $254 million; and, in 2019-20, $258 million. That is in rounded terms.

Senator URQUHART: For what purpose will that additional $100 million be spent? It does not actually work out to be $100 million.

Mr Dadswell : Since the announcement of that funding at the end of last year, the department has been consulting with a range of stakeholders on the priority areas for investment and delivery options under the National Landcare Program with that funding. We have been speaking to Landcare Australia Ltd and National Landcare Networks and consulting with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. No announcements have been made yet at this stage on the nature of programs to be funded under that funding, but they will come within the objectives of the National Landcare Program.

Senator URQUHART: How much money has been saved by the axing of the Green Army program?

Mr Dadswell : There were savings of $224.7 million over four years from 2016-17.

Senator URQUHART: Of the money saved by the abolition of the Green Army, what amount of this has gone to other environment programs and how much has gone to other purposes?

Mr Dadswell : At the time of the announcement of that saving, the government indicated that savings would be taken into the budget, and $100 million of it went to the National Landcare Program as part of that December announcement.

Senator URQUHART: That is $100 million out of the $224 million, so has the other $124.7 million gone back into the budget?

Mr Dadswell : Yes, it has gone into the budget.

Senator URQUHART: What has been the annual level of funding for the environment department from 2012-13 to 2017-18 and what is the percentage decline in funding over that period?

Mr Dadswell : In relation to a specific program?

Senator URQUHART: No, for the environment department.

Dr de Brouwer : I thought we went through some of that in the corporate or the general discussion this morning.

Senator URQUHART: Yes, we did too—sorry, it has been a long day! I do not think I asked this one this morning. What has been the annual level for funding for the biodiversity related program from 2012-13 to 2017-18?

Mr Dadswell : Are you talking about bio fund?

Senator URQUHART: The annual level of funding for biodiversity from 2012-13 to 2017-18.

Mr Dadswell : I do not have those figures with me.

Mr Knudson : We can certainly come back on notice. I want to understand the reach of your question. You want to understand what departmental and administered funding we have with respect to biodiversity over those years?

Senator URQUHART: Yes. With the axing of the Green Army program, I understand there will be a final audit review of what was achieved under the program, particularly the environmental benefits, including in terms of such criteria as the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030. Is that correct?

Mr Dadswell : Not under the Green Army program.

Senator URQUHART: No, but with the axing of that program.

Mr Dadswell : Sorry, what strategy are you referring to?

Senator URQUHART: Given the Green Army program has been axed, will there be a final audit review of what was achieved under the program, particularly the environmental benefits? Will that include terms of the criteria such as the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030?

Mr Dadswell : There is an evaluation of the Green Army program underway. It was a three-year evaluation of the program and will subsequently be the final evaluation of the program. It will evaluate against the objectives of the Green Army program, but it will not specifically go to the matter that you talked about.

Senator URQUHART: So it will not specifically go to the biodiversity conservation strategy. Can you say anything about what was achieved in terms of environmental benefits under the Green Army program?

Mr Dadswell : There will be further details coming out in evaluation, where we get to look at the contribution of the program to broad environmental outcomes. I think the nature of the Green Army program is that each project seeks to address very localised environmental outcomes, which may contribute in part to the recovery of a particular species or improvement of heritage values. To date, what we can say is that some 642 projects have undertaken activities that were aimed at protecting threatened species, 304 projects involved activities aimed at increasing native vegetation and 203 projects included activities that protected National Heritage and World Heritage sites. There are still 119 election commitment projects from 2016 that are yet to be commissioned, so those figures do not include those projects.

Dr de Brouwer : I have a clarification of an issue that was raised earlier on, when you were talking about the $224 million. Some of that $100 million was redirected to the Landcare program over the forward estimates, but there were two additional environmental priorities that that funding went to. One was to provide additional funding for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—that was discussed with the authority this morning—and that was $34.1 million over the four years, and the other was for the new facilities at Macquarie Island research station which was $27.2 million over the four years. There were three environmental activities that that funding was to redirected to.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you. A significant number of projects achieved environment benefits under the Green Army. What is the explanation for axing that program?

Mr Dadswell : I cannot comment on that. That was a decision of government.

Senator URQUHART: There does not seem to be any reasoned cause, given the number of projects they were involved in. Can the department provide a list of the 119 projects that have been listed as election commitment projects in the MYEFO update?

Mr Dadswell : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator URQUHART: Can you also provide their location?

Mr Dadswell : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: In relation to the shutdown of the Green Army program, what are the closure or transition arrangements for Green Army service providers?

Mr Dadswell : The program will end at the end of June 2018. There are still almost some 300 projects to be rolled out up to a point. They are projects that were—

Senator URQUHART: Sorry, is that between now and June this year?

Mr Dadswell : June 2018.

Senator URQUHART: Sorry, 2018.

Mr Dadswell : It is 30 June 2018. There are still somewhere around 300 projects to be rolled out, 119 of which are election commitments and the remainder of which are projects that were already approved at the time of the government's decision but had not yet been rolled out. So there will be, I guess, a decline over time of the projects on the ground. There are five service providers engaged in the Green Army. We have been in close consultations with them about managing the reduction in projects that they will get. Certainly, they are still very busy with many of those existing projects, and will be for a little while yet. They will reduce their operations over time. They did bring on additional staff to assist with recruitment and organising projects, so they will face some reduction of staffing levels. Much of those people are on six-month contracts, largely associated with the management of the six-month Green Army projects. Those service providers will also need to cancel vehicle leases over the coming months. I think one thing worth saying is that the service providers are diversified organisations and they do have other areas of business. So whilst they are very disappointed that the Green Army program is ending, they will nevertheless have other business to continue.

Senator URQUHART: The National Audit Office has flagged a potential audit of the Green Army program. Do you know if that will proceed in 2017?

Mr Dadswell : Not that I am aware.

Senator URQUHART: Mr Knudson?

Mr Knudson : We can come back if we have any additional information on that.

Senator URQUHART: Thanks. I am just going to have a break there, Chair. Senator Chisholm still has some questions.

CHAIR: I was not expecting you to finish for a while yet.

Senator URQUHART: He still has some for us, so if he can follow on that would be great.

CHAIR: Absolutely. Senator Rice?

Senator URQUHART: Sorry, I meant follow on now.

Senator RICE: I have some questions about the regional forest agreements, and in particular about the efficacy of the agreements. What measures has the Commonwealth taken to monitor the effectiveness of the protection provided under the RFAs to ensure that they do, as claimed, provide the equivalent protection as if they were covered under the EPBC Act?

Mr Dadswell : As Mr Knudson mentioned earlier, I should just note that the regional forest agreements are the responsibility of Senator Ruston and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. What I can indicate is that part of the regional forest agreements is a process of five-yearly reviews that evaluate the effectiveness of those agreements. They are generally undertaken by an independent reviewer and involve public consultation. Those recommendations are then provided to both governments and the governments then provide a joint response. Typically, those recommendations go towards incremental improvements in the RFAs.

Senator RICE: I know the five-year reviews. Is that the extent of the monitoring of the effectiveness of them?

Senator Ruston: Senator Rice, probably what would be useful here is that whilst I can give you the same broad brush answer I would normally give you, in terms of the absolute details in relation to the monitoring processes that are undertaken though the department of agriculture, tomorrow night we will have the opportunity.

Senator RICE: I was going to come and ask you some questions, as you probably would have been expecting.

Senator Ruston: Absolutely. We have the department thoroughly briefed because I can anticipate your questions. So unless there is something particularly for Environment and Energy I am quite happy to make all of that information available to you tomorrow through that process.

Senator RICE: With regard to that, that would be good. But from Environment and Energy's perspective, have the state forestry agencies ever been asked to provide evidence or reassurance that equivalent protection has been provided? You have your five-yearly reviews, but what is claimed is that the RFAs are providing equivalent protection as would otherwise occur under the EPBC Act. So I am interested to know from the department's perspective what certainty or assurance you have that that indeed has been the case over the last 20 years.

Mr Dadswell : I think that the regional forest agreements are quite different to the EPBC Act, so I do not think there is any comparison. Again, they would be questions relating purely to the regional forest agreements for those areas that they cover.

Senator RICE: Basically, because the RFAs have been in placed you have washed your hands of them and said that the EPBC Act does not apply, so you do not have to do any further monitoring to ensure that they are providing equivalent protection?

Senator Ruston: Obviously our requirement, through the department of agriculture, was to ensure that the provisions are written into the RFA such that there are no lesser protections in place than would exist under the EPBC Act. That was the principal act, which implied quite clearly the guidelines under which we have to operate in this space.

Senator RICE: But quite clearly the area of debate is that in fact for the last 20 years we have not had the equivalent protection.

Senator Ruston: That is the debate, and you and I are going to agree to disagree on that, all the way through discussions tonight and tomorrow. All of the questions you are asking here can be answered—probably not to your satisfaction—tomorrow night.

Senator RICE: I will take that on board, absolutely. In terms of federally listed species in RFA areas, what measures are in place to protect them where a state lists a particular species at a lower level than the federal listing? What level of protection does the Commonwealth require the RFA to provide?

Mr Dadswell : Under the regional forest agreements, in addition to the comprehensive and adequate representative reserve system that was established with each agreement, each state agency is bound through their forest management practices to protect threatened species, and they have regard to both state and federal recovery plans and conservation advice.

Senator RICE: But, specifically, if the state has it listed at a lower level than the federal listing, what level of protection is required?

Senator Ruston: The higher level applies, doesn't it?

Mr Dadswell : It is up to the state in terms of looking at their conservation advice, but I will have to take it on notice for further detail.

Senator RICE: The Australian government is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity and has agreed to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. We know that within the RFA area there are many important aspects of species in biodiversity conservation, including habitat protection, that are covered under the RFAs and are matters for the states. That is what you are saying. It is up to the states to decide. So how is the Commonwealth able to ensure that it is able to meet those international targets according to the convention that it signed up to? In particular, target 7 says:

By 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.

Target 12:

By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.

Target 14:

By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

Ms Campbell : Australia has committed to the range of commitments under this Convention on Biological Diversity, including the Aichi targets. We work very cooperatively with the state governments through all of those targets. In a federation like ours, state management of threatened species, either within the RFA or out of the RFA, are critical for us meeting those targets. We work cooperatively with them. The regional forest agreements do provide a framework that allows that protection, with the reserves that were created under the forest agreement and the forest management practices in line with the states.

Senator RICE: Despite the fact of the experience that we have had under the last 20 years of the RFAs. For example, Leadbeater's possums are becoming critically endangered in those forest areas. Greater gliders were once common and are now vulnerable or endangered—I am not quite sure of their classification. The swift parrot is similarly being affected by forestry, as is the giant freshwater lobster in Tasmania. All of these areas under the RFAs over the last 20 years have gone backwards. I am wondering: how can the Commonwealth actually commit to fulfilling those targets while the RFAs have been in place?

Senator Ruston: Senator Rice, can I just put something on the record here. The inference you are making is that everything that relates to the classification of a species in terms of its existence is completely determined by, say, the six per cent—in Victoria—of a state that is under forestry.

Senator RICE: For all of those species that I have mentioned, their threatened species recovery plans have acknowledged that forestry is a key threatening process.

Senator Ruston: Threatened species recovery plans are the key point here. They have been identified. Leadbeater's possum is a very good example, as you would well know. We have had 436 identifications of Leadbeater's possum since the recovery plan has been put in place. I think we can take some pride in the fact that it was identified and that the actions that have been taken have seen an increase in the numbers of these animals being sighted.

Senator RICE: There have been more citizen scientists out there looking for them. But it remains a fact that the key threatening process for these species is forestry. We have had 20 years of the Regional Forest Agreements, where the conservation—

Senator Ruston: That is your opinion.

Senator RICE: No, it is not my opinion.

CHAIR: Senator Rice, it is starting to turn into a bit of a debate. Do you have a question?

Mr Andrews : Excuse me, Minister Ruston and Senator Rice. I might be able to help you here. I have got some data on the science. This is from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and it was written by Professor John Woinarski, who I call Australia's leading mammal scientist—and I think most mammal scientists would agree indeed. He is on the drafting team for the Leadbeater's possum recovery plan, which is being done by the government. These were the threat factors for Australia's mammals. The threat factor for timber harvesting, according to Prof Woinarski, is 32 times less than the threat factor for feral cats. Timber harvesting affects eight of our mammals—that is, eight out of 138 endangered mammals. Feral cats affect 97 out of 138, the red fox affects 58, fire affects 63 and climate change affects 26. So the data is that timber harvesting is actually one of the lower threats to Australia's mammals.

Senator RICE: With the greatest respect, Mr Andrews, we are talking particularly about forest dependent threatened species. I know there are a lot of other threatened species that are not forest dependent, but for the ones which are primarily in forest areas—such as Leadbeater's possum, the greater glider, the giant freshwater crayfish and swift parrots—timber harvesting is acknowledged as the key threatening process. We have got the government, which has signed up to international conventions, saying that the way it is going to meet them is through the RFAs. You are telling me that the RFAs are basically up to the states. Clearly the evidence of the last 20 years is that because of timber harvesting the conservation status for of all of these species has declined.

CHAIR: Senator Rice, is a question here? It sounds as if it is going to a debate.

Senator RICE: The question goes back to: having signed up to these international conventions how, under the current management regime, are you going to meet those conventions?

Senator Ruston: Senator Rice, as you well know, the negotiations and reviews that are being undertaken in relation to the RFAs are to ensure that the protections are in place to enable the states to manage the forests, but with the overarching protections that get put in by the RFAs. What we are seeking to do in rolling over the RFAs is to ensure that those levels of protection are in place so that we can allow the states to get on with it.

Senator RICE: Do you expect the RFAs to substantially change? We can have this debate tomorrow and—

Senator Ruston: Certainly, Senator Rice, if there are clearly things that can be changed in the RFAs that will give the kinds of protections that will satisfy the things that Mr Andrews is obviously looking for when he does his job, and our international obligations, then of course they are the things that will be looked at. But to suggest that we are just letting the states do whatever they like when it comes to forestry is a false statement on your part. What the RFAs seek to do is enable the states to manage their forests with the protections that are provided in the EPBC Act, but under RFAs.

Senator RICE: Except that you have not got that monitoring in place to know whether they are the equivalent of the EPBC Act.

Senator Ruston: The details of that we will discuss tomorrow night. You are just making blanket assumptions that what you are saying is correct—

Senator RICE: No, I am making statements based on the evidence.

Senator Ruston: and I am disputing that.

CHAIR: Senator Rice, you have identified that you are making statements. That is it?

Senator RICE: Yes, that is it.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Senator Chisholm.

Senator CHISHOLM: In regard to the Great Barrier Reef, I am keen to get an understanding of what actions and programs the federal government is supporting, particularly in regard to water quality and run-off into the reef.

Ms Parry : Can I take the first part of your question again, please? Is it to do with funding or specifically the water quality programs?

Senator CHISHOLM: I was interested in both. What funding is there and what programs does it support?

Ms Parry : Let us start with the funding. The Queensland and Australian government will commit over $2 billion to reef health over the course of the next decade. In particular, the Australian government will commit $454 million through a variety of different programs. I am going to break those programs down for you: $210 million is through the Reef Trust from 2014-15 through to 2021-22; $101 million was announced in the May 2016 budget to support the implementation of the Reef 2050 plan through the National Landcare Program; $117.2 million is delivered through reef program and associated initiatives under the National Landcare Program, and that goes from 2014-15 through to 2017-18; and $32 million through National Environmental Science Program's Tropical Water Quality Hub. That is the programmable funding.

On top of that, as indicated this morning, $124 million was announced in MYEFO to support the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. In addition to that, the government announced the establishment of the reef funding program through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This is $1 billion over 10 years to support initiatives that have both clean energy and emissions reductions outcomes as well as water quality benefits. This is debt and equity financing available for those types of projects.

Senator CHISHOLM: In terms of the specific programs around water quality, what can you point to there?

Ms Parry : Breaking it down again, we have the Reef Trust. A significant component of funding from the Reef Trust goes to water quality. For water quality, there is a total of $176 million from the Australian government dedicated to water quality. That is through reef program grants. That is through Reef Trust investments, through reverse tenders, gullies and stream-bank erosion and through the phase III water quality grants.

Senator CHISHOLM: That is over?

Ms Parry : That is from 2014-15 out to 2021-22. Those figures are allocated in committed funding. That does not take into account future funding considerations under the CEFC reef program or any of the Reef 2050 implementation activities.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is there additional funding from the state government on top of this?

Ms Parry : That is right. The Queensland government has quite an extensive water quality investment program as well.

Senator CHISHOLM: I imagine farmers participate in some of the programs.

Ms Parry : Yes.

Senator CHISHOLM: Are they fully subscribed?

Ms Parry : Yes, they are.

Senator CHISHOLM: If there was more money available, would more farmers sign up?

Ms Parry : It is slightly different with slightly different programs. Reef program is fully allocated and fully committed. Reef Trust is implemented through a variety of different phases depending on the nature of the threat that the trust is looking to address. Depending on whether it is particular grants, whether it is a procurement, it is a variety of different processes which we deliver on-ground activities.

Senator CHISHOLM: If there was more money available for some of the programs, would more farmers be able to sign up?

Ms Parry : Not all of the programs are direct to farmers. Certainly in the case of the reverse auctions, for instance, those are directly targeted towards farmers in the wet tropics and the Burdekin. But other investments, for instance, are through gully and stream-bank erosion or remediation efforts, which can be working in conjunction with landholders, but they can often just be direct, on-ground rehabilitation.

Senator CHISHOLM: We heard some evidence this morning from Dr Reichelt around some recent examples of bleaching and the concern about what is going to happen over the next couple of months given the high sea temperatures. If more money was available for these programs so more people could participate, surely that would benefit the reef.

Ms Parry : It is very clear through the number of reports that we produce that water quality certainly is second only to climate change impacts on the reef. That is why the Australian government commits the largest proportion of its funding to improving water quality benefits. The investment framework that was released alongside the 1 December update and progress report indicated that of all the actions within the Reef 2050 Plan, of which there are 151, by far the greatest expenditure goes towards water quality outcomes, from both the state and federal perspectives. So certainly there is a high degree of funding—that is, joint funding levels of $573.5 million over five years, directed exactly towards water quality, because it is the biggest threat over which we have the most control.

Mr Knudson : Ms Parry talked about the investment framework. That framework lays out what various entities have committed. So, in addition to the Commonwealth government's $716 million you do have $409 million that has come from the state government and also $161 million from other sources—the private sector et cetera. That is an important component to take a look at this from a range of possible sources of funds. It will not necessarily be exclusively one level of government that is going to be able to be the solution or the complete funder behind this. That is why we are very explicitly looking at a range of funding sources. But even in addition to that, which was not included when the framework was done, was that $124 million additional for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that we talked about this morning. Already the figures have gone beyond that, but I just wanted to point out that it will not just be governments that will be part of the solution going forward on this—and aren't today.

Ms Parry : The investment framework identifies that, and a variety of different strategies to diversify those funding sources.

Senator CHISHOLM: I am aware of a report last week by a number of scientists that detailed that more funding is required for reef programs. Are you aware that report?

Ms Parry : There have been a variety of different reports. Could you narrow down which one for me? It might be the progress on implementation by the independent review group. Is that the one specifically you are referring to? That was released on Friday of last week. That is review group reviewed the update on progress as well as the investment framework. In their opinion, they do call for more funding for the Great Barrier Reef. Again, I reiterate that the government and the Queensland state government have committed over $2 billion over the coming decade for the reef. Through the investment framework we have identified a variety of different areas that will be a focus for future funding means. We have identified six priority areas in consultation with scientists and stakeholders so that we can direct future funding towards those areas that will have greatest impact for the reef, and that is based on scientific and stakeholder advice.

Senator CHISHOLM: Regarding the reef catchments, do we actually have a figure on how many farms there are that would be considered to be in the catchment area?

Ms Parry : We can have access to those figures, but I would need to take that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: This will probably be on notice: what percentage of those farmers have been involved in programs?

Ms Parry : I will take that on notice as well, but I have a sneaking suspicion we were asked a very similar question in last estimates and we provided a written response. I will just make a quick check. Given that some of our other reef trust investments have come online since last estimates, I might again take that question on notice so that I can provide you with the most up-to-date figures.

Senator CHISHOLM: Thanks. These programs are helping and a percentage of farmers have signed up, and that is helping the reef. Why hasn't more been done, given its success rate, so that all farmers have signed up to participate?

Ms Parry : My observation would be that we are working on a variety of different fronts to implement the Reef 2050 Plan. There is a variety of different mechanisms that we can use to get outcomes of the reef. Funding is one of them. But there are also different leaders that we can use. We are in partnership with the Queensland government and they are engaging in quite extensive behavioural change programs. We are looking at education campaigns, through partnerships with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and Citizens for the Great Barrier Reef, for instance. So there is a variety of different mechanisms. Queensland is looking at the regulation of the cane and grazing industries. So there are different tools that can be used and different strategies that we can use, in fact, to meet our funding requirements. Mr Knudson pointed out that while certainly the vast majority of investment in the reef is government funding, there certainly is room to grow the pool of funding through partnerships with private and philanthropics, leveraging government funding like we are doing through the reef trust—where we are having matching investments with organisations like Greening Australia, where we are matching dollar to dollar investments. And through the reef fund and CEFC we are looking at what kind of debt and equity investments can be made for certain projects that can have that dual benefit. So we certainly think there is a variety of strategies, which we are pursuing quite aggressively, that can help meet the funding needs of the reef.

Mr Knudson : On the regulatory side the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority currently is in the process of working towards final guidance to people who want to do economic development around the reef about how they should be working towards a net benefit for the reef in doing that type of activity. That policy is currently in development. They are also developing a guidance to proponents on how to deal more effectively with cumulative impacts, which are often one of the key stressor points on the reef. Those also help to complement what we are trying to do on the spending side, also to have a stronger position with respect to the regulatory decision-making framework.

Senator CHISHOLM: I want to get to the bottom of the so-called watch list and whether or not the Great Barrier Reef was on a watch list. Is it possible to get a copy of the document from the World Heritage Committee that says the Barrier Reef is on a watch list?

Ms Parry : I think that question was covered by Mr Oxley this morning, in that the watch list is a colloquial term that covers the different reporting cycles for UNESCO. As Mr Oxley reiterated this morning, the Australian government has certainly submitted previous data conservation reporting. We have submitted an update on progress report to UNESCO on 1 December 2016, at their request. So there is not a 'watch list' per se. It is just a colloquial term referring to the different reporting cycles required by the World Heritage Committee.

Senator CHISHOLM: I have some questions for the Threatened Species Commissioner. Commissioner, could you give us an update on the amount of government money that has been allocated towards the Threatened Species Commissioner.

Mr Andrews : The way the Threatened Species Commissioner model works is that we have the commissioner, we have a science based strategy that was launched at the Threatened Species Summit about 20 months ago, which directs investments and has a set of ambitious but achievable targets to incentivise resources and effort from across governments and the private sector. Then, also, from there the launch of a threatened species prospectus, which Minister Frydenberg launched, which has a $50 million suite of activities that can be invested in from the private sector. Then, also next month I am expecting Minister Frydenberg to launch the first round of the Threatened Species Recovery Fund, which is a $5 million fund that was announced during the last election. So, to date, under that model $211,375,018 has been mobilised by the Australian government in support of threatened species. That comes from a range of programs, such as the National Landcare Program, the Green Army, the 20 Million Trees, a number of marine threatened species initiatives, and a number of threatened species projects that were directed out of my office from funding that was secured from various programs.

So, that is it to date: $211,375,000 mobilised by the Australian government in support of threatened species. Some of those projects are directly targeted to particular species. As an example, I think it is $600,000 here in Canberra that is being co-invested, with a similar amount from the ACT government and leveraged with two Green Army projects, a number of national Landcare program grants and also local community fundraising through a Brian the Bettong initiative, which is a crowdfunding initiative. All of those together are helping to build and expand a feral-predator-proof fence at Mulligans Flat, and that supported the recovery of the eastern bettong and also enabled us to bring quolls and bush stone-curlews back. All three of those species cannot survive in this part of Australia with a level of predation by feral cats and foxes. It is also accessible to the public, so people can come and go and engage and connect with nature.

And I am on the record as saying that the Kardashians are one of the biggest threats to Australia's wildlife, because everybody recognises the Kardashians but very few people can recognise a kowari or a quoll. So the community engagement and participation that these projects have is really important, because it is allowing Australians to connect with the wildlife that we are saving, and actually that builds more community support for it.

Senator CHISHOLM: I am not sure I could recognise either of them. How much private sector funding has been received so far?

Mr Andrews : I cannot give you a figure off the top of my head, but I can tell you that BHP Billiton has co-invested $5.45 million, with another $2½ million from the Australian government and the Queensland government, to support the recovery of the world's biggest green sea turtle hatchery, Raine Island, at the top of the Great Barrier Reef, where erosion and changing tidal patterns meant that the mum turtles were falling off a small cliff and landing on their backs and dying or getting heat exhaustion trying to get back into the water and getting eaten by tiger sharks. But also the baby turtles were not hatching, because the mum turtles could not get up high enough and their eggs were being inundated with salt water. That is one example where we have co-invested.

I mentioned Mulligans Flat. There is private sector investment there from the community. And I was absolutely delighted last week when San Diego Zoo announced that it will be investing $½ million in a platypus science eDNA project under the Threatened Species Strategy. That was the first project in the threatened species prospectus, which I mentioned before and which I can table if you want. That has $50 million worth of projects in which we are inviting participation from the private sector. If we limited ourselves to government funding we would not be doing our species justice, and the animals and plants do not really care where the money comes from, as I often hear people say when I am out in the field. So this $½ million platypus science project is going to help avoid the platypus going on the threatened species list, because changing water regimes are its biggest threat—either too much water or not enough water. We have to do our best to help it manage potential impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided, and this science will help us do that through eDNA. The project will also support at least five endangered fish, including the majestic Macquarie perch and I think two species of galaxias.

Senator CHISHOLM: Perhaps I could ask that you take on notice how much funding has been received from the private sector.

Mr Andrews : I would be delighted to do that for you.

Senator CHISHOLM: Thank you. In terms of the prospectus—and you mentioned what you are doing to incentivise private companies getting involved—what is the actual program in that regard? For instance, BHP signed on up in the Cape for the turtles. What would someone like them get out of that?

Mr Andrews : That is a really good question, and it is one that I answered in the Threatened Species Strategy prospectus. The prospectus is an opportunity and it is building on success. To the launch of the prospectus we invited Rio Tinto, Qantas and Sustainable Business Australia, and Ferrero Rocher was there—the people who make those round chocolates with the hazelnuts in the middle. To give you an example of something that might be in their interests, they want to grow a lot of hazelnuts, because Australians enjoy eating their chocolates, so they are interested in establishing hazelnut forests to grow the hazelnuts for production but doing it in a way that can be friendly to our wildlife. As an example, bilbies turn over at least the equivalent of three Honda Jazzes a year—about three to four tonnes of earth. They are like little composters, and they dig nutrients into the soil, and they also dig holes so that the water percolates down rather than running off in arid Australia.

At the very early stages my team was having a discussion with Ferrero Rocher about whether or not, when they build they build their hazelnut plantations, they could build a predator-proof fence around the hazelnut plantations, and the bilbies and some of our small mammals that do a lot of land care work for us for free and that are now absent because of feral cats and foxes in the environment could actually be recovering in Ferrero Rocher's properties but also increasing the drought resilience and increasing the productivity of their hazelnut production by improving the soil quality and the water retention. So, it is a win-win.

The Threatened Species Strategy prospectus has 50 projects, worth a little bit over $50 million. We are basically saying that we have mobilised $210 million to date from the Commonwealth to support species and we have 1,000 projects occurring around Australia, supporting threatened species. The states are playing their role, but we all have a role to play. For example, there are projects in there like a feral cat strike force: $300,000 to help Indigenous people tackle feral cats in the Gibson Desert. There is a project to insure every known eucalyptus tree from extinction. We have over 70 eucalyptus trees in Australia that are at risk of extinction. So, there are a number of projects, and our goal is to match those up with opportunities from the private sector and bring them on board. The prospectus cost $11,000 to produce, so I think it is a low-cost, high-return potential investment for the Australian government.

Senator CHISHOLM: The department recently announced $5 million for feral cat community grant programs. I think that has been in the past fortnight. Is that new money? Or is that just funding that was announced from the threatened species fund during the 2016 election campaign by the government.

Mr Andrews : That is a good question, and actually the media misreported the $5 million. As you are suggesting, that is the Threatened Species Recovery Fund. That can be used for feral cat measures but it could also be used to protect, for community groups to support birds or plants or frogs or other priorities in the strategy. But some of the reporting in the media—and I can assure you that my reporting on my Facebook, which I use as my primary mechanism to communicate with Australians, and I connected with 2.7 million Australians last year using Facebook—but there I have been very clear about that. That is the fund as a whole. It is not a new fund for feral cats, but it was misreported that way in the media.

Senator CHISHOLM: The announcement was that that would cull two million feral cats, which works out, by my calculations, at $2.50 a cat, which seems pretty good value for money.

Mr Andrews : As I said, that is not actually accurate, because that fund is not what is funding our feral cat target. Feral cats are the single-biggest driver of extinction of our mid-size and small ground dwelling animals in Australia and put 124 species at risk and have already directly contributed to at least 20 mammal extinctions alone.

Our targets are: two million cats culled; feral cats culled humanely, effectively and justifiably by 2020; establishment of five feral-cat-free islands; establishment of 10 large predator-proof fenced areas like the Mulligans Flat initiative that I mentioned; and also 12 million hectares of open landscape feral cat management similar to the Indigenous hunting that I was talking about or the work that we are doing in Kosciuszko using sniffer dogs where we have knocked out 90 feral cats and over 30 foxes, and the mountain pigmy possums and the konooms are recovering. That is our comprehensive set of targets.

Today I will do my best to attribute what funding has been mobilised. Thirty million dollars has been directly mobilised to tackle feral cats. You mentioned the $5 million recovery fund. I expect that feral cat action and applications in that fund will be very competitive. In addition to that the Australian government has also invested $4.4 million over quite a few years in the development of the Curiosity bait which is a new cat-specific bait that is humane. It has a compound called PAPP in it which used to be an antidote for strychnine poisoning. We have put $4.4 million into that bait, and that can be distributed out of aeroplanes or Toyota Land Cruisers once it is fully registered with the APVMA. The compound in it and the design of the technology and delivery means that it is cat specific. If used properly it will not affect our bilbies or our bandicoots or the species that we are saving. It will be the first opportunity in south-eastern Australia for a broad-scale feral cat management tool.

CHAIR: Senator Chisholm, was that your last question?

Senator CHISHOLM: I am happy to put the rest on notice.

Senator URQUHART: I have some for this area, not for threatened species, but in terms of this area.

CHAIR: I think you have already had some. So you have questions in addition to your first lot of questions?

Senator URQUHART: Yes.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have not asked any questions yet.

CHAIR: I know that, and you are being very patient, so I will come to Senator Whish-Wilson.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Actually, following along similar lines I was interested in an update on the swift parrot recovery and what were the outcomes of the November 2016 teleconference?

Mr Andrews : Senator, I was not part of that teleconference. The people in the Wildlife and Marine Division in outcome 1.4 attend those meetings. I would have to get back to you on that and take it on notice.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can you more broadly tell us about the recovery program? I think we got some answers back to questions on notice that a new revised recovery plan was underway. That was October last year. Has there been any developments in relation to that?

Mr Andrews : Again, I would need to take that on notice so that Mr Richardson, who was here this morning, could answer it. I can tell you, and you would obviously be aware as a Tasmanian, that the single biggest driver, the single biggest thing we can do to save the swift parrot is to stop introduced sugar gliders from devouring the mums and their eggs. Sugar gliders are an introduced species in Tasmania.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have you been down there, Mr Andrews, working with Landcare and the Green Army building shelters?

Mr Andrews : I have been down there and met the people. I have not built the shelters but I have been strongly encouraging that work and, also importantly, encouraging the National Environmental Science Program scientists to work on the sugar glider project, which is not going to be an easy project, because we are going to need to manage an Australian species. In Canberra the ACT government has to cull eastern grey kangaroos to protect the wildlife and a number of endangered species here. Most Australians understand that is necessary, but people are concerned and we have a responsibility to explain that. The NESP project will be looking at how we can manage the invasive sugar gliders to stop them devouring the eggs and the mums, and I have been talking to the scientists about that.

Also with my colleagues in the department, in total $8 million in 52 projects has been invested through NRMs, through the Green Army, and the 20 Million Trees national Landcare program. Although it is a Tasmanian species, as you know, it is one of only two migratory parrots in the world. We share the swift parrot sometimes here in the ACT, and New South Wales and Victoria shares it with Tasmania. The actions to support its habitat and its winter habitat here on the mainland are important too.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have two more questions. One is about astrocopsis caldi, the freshwater crayfish or lobster. I managed to see a blue one recently. Apparently there is only one stream in the world where they are blue. It happens to also have been a river catchment where Forestry Tasmania is planning to clear-fell rainforest and go back in there. I understand there has not been any work done on recovery plans or studying that species since 2016. I know, sadly, there are too many threatened endangered species for you guys at the moment to be dealing with but do you know if there has been any work at all on that species?

Mr Andrews : I need to take that on notice because there are 1,900 species and I do not have any notes on that one.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That is all right. I will forgive you for that. If you could take that on notice.

Mr Andrews : I did meet the Wilderness Society about that species.

CHAIR: Sorry, I think you did take that question on notice and in deference to time—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: In relation to marine plastics who is best for me to ask my standard estimates question?

Dr de Brouwer : That was really a waste one, Senator, but if you want to ask the question then we can find out.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Previously we have strictly been told to ask questions around recycling schemes in the others. In terms of what we are doing in marine plastics I know that Four Corners has a program on right at the moment, which I cannot see unfortunately. There was the World Ocean Summit in Bali last week. Did we have anyone there and have there been any outcomes from that conference that you would like to share with us?

Mr Knudson : Unfortunately I am not aware whether we had officers on the ground, but that is something obviously that we can take on notice and come back on what we are trying to do on ocean plastics et cetera.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: There is a report that the Indonesian environment minister was declaring war on plastics in the ocean. I am glad to hear that because they are a big source of it, unfortunately. I would be very interested to know if there have been any developments in the threat abatement plans. This committee had a fantastic inquiry last year into the threat of marine plastics. The plans still have not been finalised or were certainly being completely redone. Has there been any work completed on that at all?

Mr Knudson : Unfortunately I do not know the specifics on that, so we would have to come back, like you said, to answer the question.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would urge you to watch Four Corners when you get a chance. I certainly will be. It is one of the biggest pollution issues on the planet. I have been asking this question for the five years that I have been in the Senate and no-one seems to know what is going on with the threat abatement plan. I would be interested if there have been any developments there at all and whether you are providing any guidelines to the states in relation to policy outcomes as well. In relation to the Great Barrier Reef, is there still federal funding being contributed towards the Great Barrier Reef marine plastics program?

Ms Parry : As you would be aware there was the Marine Debris Program phase II of Reef Trust Investments. There has not been another marine debris investment through the reef trust. I do know, but I do not have the information to hand so I can take it on notice, that there was an election commitment to fund some further marine debris in the Great Barrier Reef catchments directly to Tangaroa Blue. The funding went to them directly as part of election commitments, but I can get the details of that program back for you on notice.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, you had a quick question.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. It is about platypuses possibly being exported. Are there plans to export platypus from Taronga Zoo to San Diego Zoo?

Mr Andrews : I can answer that question. I should be very clear that the Australian government does not have plans to export platypus, however, Taronga Zoo and San Diego Zoo, which are two of the best zoos in the world, do have a species exchange proposal. Minister Frydenberg mentioned that when he was launching a threatened species strategy prospectus. I can give you his exact words. He said, 'I'm proud to have two of the world's great zoos—our very own Taronga Zoo and the San Diego Zoo—here as partners in the prospectus, and I'm delighted to learn of their proposal to exchange two remarkable animals: the Australian platypus and the African okapi. He then said, 'Of course'—and he was actually quite emphatic about this too in his speech at the launch—'this exchange will be subject to assessment against Australia's strict regulatory processes that protect our biosecurity and our animals' wellbeing.'

If I could give you some background on the proposal: San Diego Zoo and Taronga Zoo both turn 100 this year. San Diego Zoo was the first zoo in the world to get koalas—they have had koalas since the 1920s, I believe. They have four Tasmanian devils at the moment. In return for displaying those devils and educating seven times Tasmania's population every year in San Diego about the Tasmanian devil and the plight of the facial tumour disease, San Diego Zoo is investing half a million dollars in Tasmanian devil science back here in Australia. The US zoos invest $200 million a year in threatened species conservation. Zoos play an integral role not only for critically endangered species but also in educating the public about the loss of biodiversity and the importance of saving species and fighting extinction.

Under the Threatened Species Strategy prospectus, I have been working with San Diego Zoo and Taronga Zoo. Two platypuses are proposed to go from Taronga Zoo to San Diego Zoo.

CHAIR: Mr Andrews, I am sorry to interrupt, but we are starting to run out of time a little bit. Would you mind tabling some of that information, because it is fantastic information. But we might need to just bring it down because, in this program, Senator Rhiannon and also Senator Urquhart have some more questions.

Mr Andrews : Sorry, Senator.

CHAIR: No, please do not apologise.

Senator RHIANNON: It would help me with further questions, which I can probably put on notice, to understand if Taronga Zoo can just do this on its own. What do they have to do to get this approval? You are probably aware that it is quite a controversial area, and it is often called 'native animal diplomacy'. There was a platypus called Winston that actually died when it was about to be given to Winston Churchill. It was about diplomacy; it was not about protecting the animals.

Mr Andrews : I can definitely help you with that. Exchanging animals, I should say, is BAU. For examples, China has all of the giant pandas that are overseas on novated leases. The zoos that have them, like Adelaide Zoo, have to pay a lease fee, have to send the panda back with the utmost of care at the end of the lease and have to look after the panda. All the money from the novated leases goes into conservation back in the wild in situ. That is one of the reasons the giant panda recently has been down listed and is not as threatened as it used to be. As long as our animals' welfare is put at the highest level, which zoos like Taronga Zoo and San Diego Zoo do, Australia's regulations and the regulatory requirements of our department and also the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources are met and that the regulations in the EPBC Act oblige our department to advise the minister before he makes a decision to ensure that the transport of the animals is done with the utmost care and also that the animal's care at their new home is equally good then exchanging animals can be about protecting the animals.

Senator RHIANNON: So it is the minister who gives the final decision?

Mr Andrews : Correct. The people at San Diego Zoo love the Tasmanian devils so much that they actually gave one of them, Bradley, a pacemaker, so I can assure you that it is one of the best zoos in the world and no zoo would take platypuses from the wild. These are platypuses that are bred in captivity and—

Senator RHIANNON: Is it true, also, that they do not go back—

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Rhiannon. Can I just remind you, Mr Andrews, that we are coming up against the tea break, so could you just keep it a little bit shorter so Senator Rhiannon can get her questions in.

Mr Knudson : If I can just add to that, what we can do is provide on notice what the regulatory requirements are for the approval and what the process is for that.

Senator RHIANNON: That would be good. Thank you, Mr Andrews.

Mr Andrews : Thank you. I have those here.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Any questions senators have for program 2.1 will go on notice. After the tea break we will come right into program 2.2.

Senator URQUHART: How much of the $30 million allocated to the Improving Your Local Parks and Environment program is environment department money?

Mr Costello : All of that appropriation is for the department of the environment.

Senator URQUHART: The program specifies which organisations can be funded and how much funding they can receive. Has this approach to funding been approved by the ANAO?

Mr Costello : There are a number of components to that $30 million, but there are some specific commitments that were made during the 2016 election campaign, if they are the components you are referring to. That approach has not been approved by the ANAO. They would not typically do that. They would do audits on programs after the event as they see fit, but they would not give prior approval to an approach.

Senator URQUHART: Does that happen in other areas of government?

Mr Costello : Can you clarify the question?

Senator URQUHART: The process of funding. How much funding they can receive.

Mr Costello : Absolutely. In terms of projects that are specifically announced by a government in an election campaign, that is not unusual.

Senator URQUHART: Is it a best practice program?

Mr Costello : It will meet all of the Commonwealth grant program requirements, I can assure you.

Senator URQUHART: Why is it necessary to run a program when you have already identified which groups will be funded and their funding amounts? What is the purpose of doing it this way?

Mr Costello : There is still a requirement under the Commonwealth grant requirements to assess proposals for value for money.

Senator URQUHART: That is under the Commonwealth grants program?

Mr Costello : Under the Commonwealth Grants Rules.

Senator URQUHART: Are you aware of the split between the states?

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

Senator URQUHART: My understanding is that South Australia gets a program worth around $14 million and South Australian projects receive 0.7 per cent of the funds, or about $100,000. Do you know if that is correct?

Mr Costello : Out of that component, of the $14 million of those specific election commitment programs, that is correct.

Senator URQUHART: And Tasmania gets 2.16 per cent?

Mr Costello : I would have to take the details on notice in terms of the percentages. I have not got those in front of me.

Senator URQUHART: If you could take those on notice and provide them, with a breakdown of what that is allocated out to be, that would be great.

Mr Costello : Certainly.

CHAIR: The committee will now suspend for a tea break. We will come back with program 2.2.

Proceedings suspended from 21:03 to 21 : 15

CHAIR: We now move to program 2.2.

Senator URQUHART: I think we are happy to put 2.2 on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. We now move to program 4.1: water reform.

Senator URQUHART: I have got a number of questions here around water, but I understand that the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources now has the lead on the Murray-Darling Basin.

Senator Ruston: Correct.

Senator URQUHART: But, given that this department has had a long lead on water, I am interested in your work moving forward in this space. I am going to ask a few questions. You may flick me to Ag; I do not know.

Senator Ruston: If it is of any assistance to you, when the change occurred, moving water from Environment to Agriculture, the entire section of the department moved. It was not just re-setting up in the other department. All officials were moved to Agriculture.

Senator URQUHART: Right.

Mr Thompson : To add to the minister's answer: just to be clear, that outcome for water now has two programs. One of those is around the science regarding water-related impacts of coal seam gas and coalmining, and you have the officers at the table for that. The other element is the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.

Senator URQUHART: I have actually got some questions for the CEWH regarding dams, but these were specifically around the Murray-Darling Basin—around the plan, transitional funding and those sorts of things.

Mr Thompson : That is probably 4.2. We could get the officer to the table for that.

Senator URQUHART: Alright. Great.

Senator Ruston: But only in relation to the CEWH funding. The majority of the—

Senator URQUHART: Oh, the CEWH.

Senator Ruston: Yes. The rest is Agriculture.

CHAIR: Subject to it being okay with the Secretary, I am happy for us to deal with 4.1 and 4.2 concurrently.

Dr de Brouwer : That is fine. That is great.

Senator URQUHART: I also have some other water and storage related issues. I thought they were under Infrastructure Australia. I went in there today and they sent me away.

Senator Ruston: Is it dams that you are talking about?

Senator URQUHART: No, not dams. These are about water and sewerage, and specifically in relation to whether or not there has been any contact to the minister or the department by TasWater for Commonwealth funding for water and sewerage infrastructure in Tasmania.

Mr Thompson : That is urban water. There is a small urban water unit in the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, so it is probably more for Agriculture.

Senator Ruston: I will make sure that they are ready to answer those questions tomorrow for you, Senator Urquhart.

Senator URQUHART: Because they sent me out of the infrastructure hearing, which is where I thought they would be.

Senator Ruston: It is TasWater? And in relation to?

Senator URQUHART: It is related to water and sewerage.

Senator Ruston: And infrastructure?

Senator URQUHART: Yes. And the other is the MDB.

Senator Ruston: Yes. That is definitely us.

Senator URQUHART: Alright. Well, I will kick off on CEWH and dams. How long does the average feasibility study for a dam take?

Senator Ruston: That is also asked in Ag.

Senator URQUHART: No!

Senator Ruston: The dams policy was actually part of the agricultural white paper, and that is where the $2 billion of dams money went. The feasibility studies—

Senator URQUHART: So that also covers funding under the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund?

Senator Ruston: Yes. That is the national—

Senator URQUHART: So that is all in ag?

Senator Ruston: Yes.

Senator URQUHART: That being the case, I have no further questions. I could have asked my 2.2, or whatever it was. Can you grab those people back quick?

Senator Ruston: They have gone. They have left the building.

Senator URQUHART: I reckon they have flown.

Senator HUME: I have just one question. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is obviously a large holder in the Murray-Darling Basin system, with 2,400 gigalitres. Do you have the capacity to deliver any increases on the amount of water being released in future years, and, if not, what are the constraints for that?

Mr Taylor : I am the acting Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. Mr David Papps, the substantive officer, is travelling for work at the moment and is unable to be here, so I will endeavour to answer all the questions I can and take those I cannot on notice.

Our entitlements that are held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder at the moment are around 2,400 gigalitres, as you indicated. Under the basin plan that is expected to go to 2,750. As you are probably aware, the entitlement does not actually equal the allocation that is available each year, depending on how wet or dry the seasons are. Our current allocations are around about 1,600 to 1,700 gigalitres per year. The way it has been going over the last few years is that we have been delivering probably around 70 per cent of that and intentionally carrying forward a buffer into each year and the next year. The allocations come on as the season develops, but our watering requirements start early in the water season. It coincides with the financial year from year to year. As our systems improve and our relationships with our water delivery partners in the states improve, I think we will be able to deliver the water. We have been able to to date, and I expect we will continue to.

Senator HUME: So the relations with your water delivery partners are good, happy and professional?

Mr Taylor : I think they are very good. We work very closely with the Office of Environment and Heritage in New South Wales, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder and DEWNR, the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, in South Australia. Those are our major state partners, but we also work very closely and increasingly with some smaller, private partners as well where we are developing partnerships for them to deliver water on private land adjacent to irrigation areas and things like that.

Senator HUME: Can you give us an example of one of those?

Mr Taylor : I think this was in the press today, actually. The Renmark Irrigation Trust in South Australia have signed a partnership agreement with us to use their infrastructure to deliver water at the ends of their infrastructure onto either common land, community land, or even, in some cases, private land to rehabilitate wetlands and small streams in some of the areas adjacent to the irrigation land there. It is getting quite good community buy in. It is demonstrating a compatibility between the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and the irrigation sector as well. I think it is a bit of a win-win in that sense.

Senator URQUHART: Although it has been a wet year in some areas, are you using environmental water?

Mr Taylor : Absolutely. Even though this year is probably our biggest allocation to date—it has been gradually increasing as our entitlements gradually increase—we are just a little over half way through what has been a very wet year and we have used almost half of our allocation already this year.

Senator URQUHART: So, even when there is not a drought, you still use a significant amount.

Mr Taylor : This year a couple of the big uses of our water have been to provide refuge flows of fresh water into the back of some of the high stream levels that have caused hypoxic blackwater, where fish have become distressed with the deoxygenation of the water. We have been able to use our water through some of the irrigation company infrastructure to deliver refuges for fish to move into to help maintain those populations.

We have also shaped the end of the floods. As the high flows taper off, with the structures that are in the dam it is easy for the water to be captured to ensure the dams are full, and this can bring quite an abrupt end to a flood. If birds have started nesting or fish have started breeding and things like that, it is good to have a tail on the end of those floods. Ensuring that we do not increase the flood levels in any way, on the back of floods we are able to shape those recessions. This has had an amazing effect for bird-breeding events in the Murrumbidgee, the Lachlan and the Murray catchments.

Senator URQUHART: Where have you seen success, and where do you need more water?

Mr Taylor : The success has been recorded over the years in a range of catchments from the north right through, particularly in fish spawning and bird-breeding events. They are probably the most obvious large-scale ones. With a lot of the actions where water goes out on to the flood plain and rejuvenates wetlands and things, it will take time to see the changes in those ecosystems, but some of the bird and fish responses are pretty quick. They are being observed anecdotally, and now that data is starting to be captured in the long-term monitoring programs as well.

Senator URQUHART: Geographically, which areas have been successful?

Mr Taylor : Just before Christmas, there was environmental water used in the Lower Darling to stimulate. It was timed to coincide with a Murray cod spawning program. It has been written up as probably one of the best Murray cod spawning events in decades. The anecdotal stories around it say 20 years or something. We have researchers looking at that as we speak. We have also, after a couple of attempts, managed to get some pretty good fish spawning outcomes in the Goulburn River in Victoria. We have had major bird-breeding events where we have managed to taper water through—again, the floods in the Booligal Wetlands, in the Lachlan area and also in the mid-Murray area, in the Milawa and Barmah Forest areas.

Senator URQUHART: You mentioned Renmark earlier in relation to a question from Senator Hume. What about South Australia—obviously, some parts of the Murray, I guess?

Mr Taylor : There are some key icon sites in South Australia. It goes from some of the largest and most important sites down to some of the small private sites adjacent to Renmark Irrigation Trust. The large sites include Chowilla, which is one of the living Murray icon sites. That is just over the border west of Mildura or west of Wentworth. There has been infrastructure put in there and environmental water. It is the Living Murray environmental water, not ours. However, sometimes our water goes in there as well. They are getting great responses on the flood plain there by being able to divert water out on to the flood plain, at flow levels much lower than it would naturally get there, via this infrastructure that has been put in under these environmental watering projects.

Similarly, the Coorong was pretty badly affected during the drought. With the increased flows that are getting down to that bottom end of the river now, and with water getting out through the barrages for most months in most years now, there is starting to be some improvement in the Coorong as well. But it was pretty badly affected and it will take some time.

Mr Knudson : To pick up on this point a little bit, the fact that the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is investing $30 million in developing this monitoring system that over the next couple of years will comprehensively report on environmental outcomes in the seven river basins in the system—and do that in collaboration with over 40 research bodies around the country—gets to exactly the type of question you are asking. It is one of the things that is very difficult for us to quantify but it is absolutely essential to tell what is a story, in terms of the payback for that region from this very large investment by successive governments.

Senator URQUHART: How much funding is allocated for the CEHW for this year and future years?

Mr Taylor : Funding for the CEWH has just been revisited as part of the recent MYEFO project. The out years for departmental funding for operation of the thing is $13.5 million, $10.4 million, $10.4 million and $10.7 million in round figures. In addition to that there is administered funding that is primarily used for managing the water entitlements, the cost of the delivery, supporting the research and things like that. For this current year there is $32.6 million. Next year there is $44.5 million, but that is a bit of an aberration; there is about $9 million in there of funds that were transferred forward from a sale of some water last year. Then it goes back to $38 million and then gradually climbs up to $43.7 million in the out years.

Senator URQUHART: Is the demand for your work and services increasing or decreasing?

Mr Taylor : Both, it would be fair to say. There is more water and, I guess, more complexity over time, but I think our systems are improving and our relationships with our water delivery partners are getting smoother, so there are some efficiencies coming in. Literally, it is both increasing and decreasing.

Senator URQUHART: How much water do you manage now?

Mr Taylor : As I was saying at the beginning, we have entitlements for the 2016-17 year of 2,485 gigalitres.

Senator URQUHART: So that is 2016-17.

Mr Taylor : Against those entitlements, our allocation as of 31 January was 1,671 gigalitres.

Senator URQUHART: Is the portfolio that you manage increasing in size?

Mr Taylor : It is.

Senator URQUHART: It had better be!

Mr Taylor : It should increase to 2,750 under the Basin Plan—that is the target number.

Senator URQUHART: I am happy for you to take this on notice: can you give us a year-by-year breakdown in percentage terms from 2010 onwards? Or as far back as you can; obviously you are relatively new.

Mr Taylor : I have annual allocation—

Senator URQUHART: I am happy for you to take it on notice.

Mr Taylor : I can give it to you here if you like. In 2010-11 we had 993 gigalitres. These are entitlements, not allocations; allocations are always roughly 70 per cent of the entitlements. In 2011-12 it was 1,368 gigalitres. In 2012-13 it was 1,632 gigalitres. In 2013-14 it was 2,126 gigalitres. In 2014-15 it was 2,309 gigalitres. In 2015-16 it was 2,432 gigalitres. In 2016-17 it was 2,485 gigalitres. So it has steadily increased each year.

Senator URQUHART: Do you expect to need more resources as the amount of water in the portfolio increases? It has been coming up pretty steadily.

Mr Taylor : Potentially. It will be interesting to see, with this improved efficiency. This is a pretty new activity on a government standard. It will be interesting to see how the efficiencies offset the additional demand of managing a larger portfolio. That is something we have a watching brief on.

Senator URQUHART: I guess that managing a smaller amount of water means that the actions you take are reasonably simple. As that amount of water increases are you managing a more complex system?

Mr Taylor : Yes, we are.

Senator URQUHART: Are there more management issues and more water in larger assets? Is that how the picture goes?

Mr Taylor : It is a combination of sometimes more water in a single event or perhaps more inundation as a larger event might happen. It can be also about more coordination. We might have enough water to be able to do a stream length and bend, sort of mountains-to-the-sea style connectivity along rivers, and there is a lot more coordination in implementing our good-neighbour policy, ensuring that we do not create problems for third parties by doing those actions. It is that coordination work that becomes quite logistically challenging as the operations get larger.

Senator URQUHART: Does that mean that the risk of an error in planning or water management is increasing?

Mr Taylor : Inherently that would be the way, but hopefully with our increased experience we can mitigate those risks.

Senator URQUHART: What about resources for planning and management? Will they need to be increased?

Mr Taylor : The planning is done on an annual cycle, which we are kicking off now for 2017-18 water year. We do that both internally and also pretty much in lock step with our major delivery partners. There are bilateral meetings with our delivery partners, but there are more formal committees that have membership from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and ourselves so that we can coordinate these things and ensure that flows are coming in. There are no new tributaries being added. There are no new sites. The geography stays the same. It is really only the scale that is changing.

Senator URQUHART: The basin plan includes a project to use water more efficiently or save water through management. How are your environmental water plans being integrated into those projects?

Mr Taylor : I am not 100 per cent sure I understand the question, but, as I understand it, the efficiency measures to save water are in part to generate water that becomes available to add into our portfolio. Once that water has been secured and added into the portfolio we bring it into our overall planning and management, so it is integrated in that way. That is the sort of thing you are seeing in the annual increase in entitlements. As that work is done on the efficiencies and other measures, some of that water is what is appearing in our accounts each year.

Senator URQUHART: Is there some mechanism to ensure that a project that is, say, proposed by a state, an irrigation organisation or an irrigator does not then conflict with watering plans, strategies and actions undertaken by CEWH?

Mr Taylor : That goes to river operations, to a large extent, which is managed by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in the Murray and by the state agencies in the various states. We have to place orders through our water delivery partners, who then work with the river operators in each case to ensure that these things can occur. Occasionally there could be a conflict for space in the river if there is high demand for irrigation. That has to be balanced, and whether we take a step back and say, 'We'll do it next month,' there is some balancing. That is all coordinated. It is a major—

Senator URQUHART: So there is a process for dealing with that.

Mr Taylor : Yes, there is.

Senator URQUHART: I know the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has an allowance for 650 gigalitres of virtual water—it is known as downwater, I think. How does that fit with the over 2,400 gigalitres that you have?

Mr Taylor : I think the issues around the downwater and the 450 upwater are really matters for the—

Senator URQUHART: Is it 450 or 650?

Mr Taylor : The water you are talking about is 650, and then there is another 450 of upwater. They are matters that are dealt with by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. I think it is best that you save those questions for tomorrow.

Senator URQUHART: I know that this is complex, and it seems to change, depending on who you talk to, but can you explain how the water that you have and manage—the 2,400 gigalitres, I think—fits with the 450 gigalitres of upwater and the 650 gigalitres of downwater.

Senator Ruston: If you can answer that one we are going to burst into applause.

Senator URQUHART: Do you hold 2,750 gigalitres of actual water? Is that a reasonable way to explain it?

Mr Taylor : That's not—

Senator URQUHART: It is not that simple?

Mr Taylor : No, it is not that simple.

Senator Ruston: I will give you two seconds; see if this makes any sense. It has taken me two years to get to this part. Basically, legislated in the act is 2,750 gigalitres of physical water. What was agreed as part of the process of negotiation was that if you could deliver the same environmental outcomes with less water, we allowed 650 gigalitres of that 2,750 gigalitres, that could be achieved by means other than physically taking the water out of the river. It could be a series of constraints measures, supply measures—there are a whole heap of things that could go towards that. Each of the states had to agree that those measures would still deliver the environmental outcome without taking the water out of the river. That is what the 650 downwater is. The 450 upwater was an additional amount of water that was negotiated by the South Australian government to agree to sign on to the plan. It took the total amount of water up to 3,200. However, the condition that surrounded that 450 was that if they took that water there could be no negative social or economic impact on the river communities. This is where we are starting to have to get into some very complex negotiations about what projects can possible fit into that 450 that meet the criteria of the agreement but still deliver the water. It is a bit of one of those 'this plus this minus that times this divided by that' things.

Senator URQUHART: Does that mean that the CEWH would hold about 3,200?

Mr Taylor : Minus the 650.

Senator Ruston: Yes, minus 650. Potentially, that 450 might not be actual water either. So it could be as low as 2,100—

Senator URQUHART: Or as high as 2,550 gigalitres if it meets the criteria.

Senator Ruston: Yes.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you.

Senator Ruston: See, I did maths!

Senator URQUHART: That is it from me.

CHAIR: I am delighted to advise that that concludes the committee's examination of the Environment and Energy portfolio for today. Senators are reminded that written questions on notice should be provided to the secretariat by close of business, Friday, 10 March. I thank warmly both minister for their attendance here today and, in particular, the secretary and all your staff. Thank you to the secretariat staff and of course to Broadcasting and Hansard. Enjoy the evening.

Committee adjourned at 21:42