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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee


In Attendance

Senator Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment


Mr Finn Pratt, Secretary

Mr Matt Cahill, Deputy Secretary, Strategy and Operations Group

Mr Rob Heferen, Deputy Secretary, Energy

Ms Jo Evans, Deputy Secretary, Climate Change and Energy Innovation Group

Mr Dean Knudson, Deputy Secretary, Environment Protection Group

Corporate Strategies

Ms Helen Bennett, Acting Chief Operating Officer

Ms Giorgina Strangio, Assistant Secretary, People Strategies Branch

Mr Robert Hanlon, Chief Finance Officer, Financial Services Branch

Ms Carlyn Waters, Acting Assistant Secretary, Business and Ministerial Branch

General Counsel

Ms Margaret Tregurtha, General Counsel

Policy Analysis and Implementation Division

Mr James Chisholm, First Assistant Secretary

Ms Allison Ball, Director, Economics and Analysis Branch

Ms Emma Campbell, Assistant Secretary, Strategy and Governance Branch

Mr Travis Bover, Director, Strategy and Governance Branch

Mr Adam Carlon, Assistant Secretary, Communications and Engagement Branch

Outcome 1

Biodiversity Conservation Division

Ms Kylie Jonasson, First Assistant Secretary

Mr Paul Murphy, Assistant Secretary, Wildlife Trade and Biosecurity Branch

Ms Tia Stevens, Acting Assistant Secretary, Biodiversity Policy and Water Science Branch

Mr Geoff Richardson, Assistant Secretary, Protected Species and Communities Branch

Dr Sally Box, Threatened Species Commissioner

Environment Standards Division

Mr James Tregurtha, First Assistant Secretary

Mr Bruce Edwards, Assistant Secretary, Policy and Reform Branch

Mr James Barker, Assistant Secretary, Assessments (QLD, VIC, TAS) and Governance Branch

Ms Kim Farrant, Assistant Secretary, Assessments (NSW, ACT) and Waste Branch

Dr Ilse Kiessling, Assistant Secretary, Waste Strategy Taskforce

Mr Declan O’Connor-Cox, Acting Assistant Secretary, Assessments (WA, SA, NT) and Post Approvals Branch

Mr John Foster, Director, Assessments (WA, SA, NT) and Post Approvals Branch

Mr Andrew McNee, Assistant Secretary, Chemicals Management Branch

Dr Sara Broomhall, Acting Assistant Secretary, Chemicals Management Branch

Ms Monica Collins, Assistant Secretary, Office of Compliance

Knowledge and Technology Division

Ms Beth Brunoro, First Assistant Secretary

Ms Sarah-Jane Hindmarsh, Acting Assistant Secretary, Environmental Accounts and Science Branch

Mr Sebastian Hood, Assistant Secretary, Information Technology Branch

Mr Greg Terrill, Assistant Secretary, Environmental Resources Information Network

Heritage, Reef and Marine Division

Ms Deb Callister, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Heritage, Reef and Marine Division

Ms Paula Perrett, Assistant Secretary, Marine and International Heritage Branch

Mr David Williams, Assistant Secretary, Heritage Branch

Mr Craig Moore, Acting Assistant Secretary, Reef Branch

Ms Kate Turner, Acting Assistant Secretary, Supervising Scientist Branch

Outcome 2

Climate Change Division

Ms Kristin Tilley, First Assistant Secretary

Ms Edwina Johnson, Assistant Secretary, Industrial and Air Quality Branch

Ms Katrina Maguire, Assistant Secretary, Land and Outreach Branch

Mr Chris Johnston, Assistant Secretary, Climate Change Policy Branch

Mr Joe Pryor, Director, Safeguard and Industrial Policy Section

International Climate Change and Energy Innovation Division

Ms Kushla Munro, First Assistant Secretary

Ms Louise Vickery, Assistant Secretary, International Branch

Ms Lesley Dowling, Assistant Secretary, Energy Innovation and Ozone Protection Branch

Mr Rob Sturgiss, Assistant Secretary, National Inventory Systems and International Reporting Branch

Outcome 3

Australian Antarctic Division

Mr Rob Bryson, General Manager, Antarctic Modernisation Branch

Dr Gwen Fenton, Chief Scientist

Mr Charlton Clark, Acting Director, Australian Antarctic Division

Dr Rob Wooding, General Manager, Support and Operations Branch

Outcome 4

Energy Division

Ms Rachel Parry, First Assistant Secretary

Mr James O’Toole, Assistant Secretary, Electricity Branch

Mr James White, Assistant Secretary, Clean Energy Branch

Mr Stuart Richardson, Acting Assistant Secretary, Gas and Governance Branch

Mr Paul Locke, Director, Electricity Branch

Energy Security and Efficiency Division

Mr Sean Sullivan, First Assistant Secretary

Mr Shane Gaddes, Assistant Secretary, International Energy Implementation Branch

Ms Michelle Croker, Assistant Secretary, Appliance and Buildings Energy Efficiency Branch

Mr Tim Wyndham, Acting Assistant Secretary, Energy Security Branch

Mr Richard, Miles, Director, Appliance and Buildings Energy Efficiency Branch

Ms Fiona Beynon, Director, Energy Security Branch

Ms Dayle Stanley, Director, Energy International Implementation Branch

Agencies and Statutory Authorities

Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)

Mr Darren Miller, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Ian Kay, Chief Financial Officer

Bureau of Meteorology

Dr Andrew Johnson, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Meteorology

Ms Jennifer Gale, Group Executive - Corporate Services

Ms Kirsten Garwood, Group Executive - Business Solutions

Dr Karl Braganza, Head of Climate Monitoring

Clean Energy Finance Corporation

Mr Ian Learmonth, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Andrew Powell, Chief Financial Officer

Clean Energy Regulator

Mr David Parker AM, Chair

Ms Shayleen Thompson, Executive General Manager, Scheme Operations Division

Mr Mark Williamson, Executive General Manager, Scheme Support Division

Mr Geoff Purvis-Smith, General Counsel

Director of National Parks

Dr James Findlay, Director of National Parks

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Mr Bruce Elliot, General Manager, Acting Chief Executive Officer

Dr Simon Banks, General Manager, Reef Protection

Ms Margaret Johnson, General Manager, Reef Strategy

Ms Anne Leo, General Manager, Corporate Services

Dr Kirstin Dobbs Acting General Manager, Reef Engagement

Dr David Wachenfeld, Chief Scientist

Snowy Hydro Ltd

Mr Paul Broad, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer

Mr Roger Whitby, Chief Operating Officer

Australian National Audit Office

Ms Lisa Rauter PSM, Group Executive Director, Performance Audit Services Group

Mr Brian Boyd, Executive Director, Performance Audit Services Group

Committee met at 09:00

CHAIR ( Senator Duniam ): I declare open this meeting of the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. The Senate has referred to the committee the particulars of proposed additional expenditure and particulars of certain proposed additional expenditure for the year 2018-19 for the portfolios of environment and energy and communications and the arts and other related documents. The committee has fixed Friday, 29 March 2019 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice. The committee's proceedings today will begin with general questions of the Department of the Environment and Energy and will then follow the order as set out in the program.

Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session; this includes answers to questions taken on notice. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings and, if you need assistance, please see the secretariat for copies of the rules. The Senate has also resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and should be given all reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about how and when policies were adopted.

I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate dated 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised. I incorporate the public immunity statement.

The extract read as follows

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

(a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

(b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer's statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

(13 May 2009 J.1941)

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)

Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or of the document.

Officers called upon for the first time to answer a question should state their full name and position for the Hansard record and witnesses should speak clearly into the microphones and, of course, mobile phones should be turned off or switched to silent. I welcome the minister, Senator Birmingham. Thank you for joining us today. Do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Birmingham: Good morning, Chair. The pleasure is all mine to be here, and no, thank you.

CHAIR: I'm sure it is; excellent. Thank you for that. Welcome back, Mr Pratt, as well. Do you have an opening statement? Also, thank you for your helpful guide to senators, which I'm sure we won't follow today.

Mr Pratt : Thank you, Chair, and I have no opening statement.

CHAIR: Excellent. We will go straight to general questions. Senator Chisholm.

Senator CHISHOLM: Mr Pratt, I am just interested in the split within the department, given that there's now a separate Minister for the Environment and a separate Minister for Energy. How is the department split in terms of responsibility for each minister?

Mr Pratt : I touched on this at last estimates a little bit. Perhaps the easiest way to outline this is for me to look at the respective responsibilities of the deputy secretaries and how they align to ministers with their responsibilities. Starting with Mr Knudson here, he reports—through me, of course—primarily to Minister Price on environment matters. Mr Cahill, as head of the area, including the chief operating officer function, reports to both ministers in terms of departmental support for both ministers and their officers but also to Minister Price primarily on things like Antarctica, national parks and so forth. Mr Heferen, as head of the energy group, reports exclusively to Mr Taylor on energy matters. Ms Evans, with her climate change responsibilities, reports to both ministers: Minister Price and Minister Taylor.

Senator CHISHOLM: I am just interested. The Minister for the Environment, who has responsibility for emissions reductions, has listed on numerous occasions, including in the House last week, that ARENA and CEFC are two of the main climate policies of the coalition government. Does Minister Price have oversight of both of those organisations?

Mr Pratt : My colleagues will correct me if I'm wrong here. Minister Taylor has primary oversight but, of course, those agencies also have interests supporting Minister Price and so report to her as well.

Senator CHISHOLM: But Minister Taylor is the one who's responsible for that?

Mr Pratt : Yes, the primary responsibility.

Senator Birmingham: Just as, Senator Chisholm, the transport minister has primary responsibility for transport levers, some of which would be relevant to emissions control policies.

Senator CHISHOLM: We've had a summer of natural disasters and ecological catastrophes. Has the Minister for the Environment sought a briefing on the fires in Tasmania?

Mr Pratt : I believe so, yes.

Senator CHISHOLM: You believe so, or it has happened?

Mr Pratt : We are endlessly briefing ministers on things which are happening which relate to their responsibilities. I'll just check with my colleagues on whether they can think of a specific brief on that, but certainly there is a lot of material back and forth with officers.

Mr Knudson : When the fires broke out, there was an engagement by the Tasmanian government with the department. As for the specific question about briefing, I would suggest that we come back to you later on in the day when the heritage team is at the table and answer that specifically, because I don't recall whether a specific briefing was either sought or sent, but I do know that there was engagement with the Tasmanian government.

Senator CHISHOLM: But what was the engagement with the minister?

Mr Knudson : That's what I would suggest we come back with later on in the day. I just don't have that at hand at this point.

Senator CHISHOLM: Which one, do you think?

Mr Knudson : My suspicion is that the heritage part of the department—let me just see here; 1.5 will definitely have part of it as well. That's interesting; I don't see heritage here. It's 1.4; thank you.

Senator URQUHART: Mr Knudson, you can tell us that the Tasmanian government had engagement with the department about the fires, but you can't tell us whether the minister had engagement with the department?

Mr Knudson : The reason I know the Tasmanian government had engagement was that they called me directly while I was on leave and I put them onto members of the staff. I wasn't on duty at that time, so I don't know what happened subsequently. That's the only reason.

Senator URQUHART: But wouldn't the minister have picked up the phone, being concerned? It's a World Heritage area and BoM is actually in her portfolio, is it not?

Mr Knudson : I'm very comfortable to come back when the officers, who were here during the time when the fires broke out, are here and to provide guidance on what happened during that period. I was actually on leave at that time.

Ms Evans : Being the Deputy Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Innovation, I look after the Bureau of Meteorology from a departmental perspective as well. It is certainly the case that the bureau routinely briefs the ministers when there are unusual weather events happening. So, in that context, you've brought the bureau up in relation to the fires and there would have been normal routine briefing from the bureau on what was happening.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is there anyone who can advise us on what environmental impacts the bushfires had in Tasmania?

Mr Knudson : As for the last figures I saw, about two per cent of the entire area of Tasmania has been affected by the fires; a significant part of that will be within the World Heritage area. Again, I think my colleagues from the heritage area will be able to give you more specifics on that, but it's quite a significant fire.

Senator Birmingham: Of course, Senator, we would caveat that, acknowledging that it's early days and there are still fires burning and so, of course, full assessment, I'm sure, will take some time. Naturally, of course, given the fact that this is still a live circumstance, I'm sure we will acknowledge priority rests with ensuring every possible assistance—as I know the Bureau of Meteorology would have been doing and would still be doing—is provided to those who are seeking to control and contain those fires.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has the Minister for the Environment made any public comments about the fires in Tasmania or the fires that have occurred in other regions?

Mr Knudson : I'm not aware, but obviously we can come back to you on that as well.

Senator Birmingham: We'll take that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has the Minister for the Environment sought a briefing on the floods that have occurred in northern Queensland and north-west Queensland?

Mr Pratt : The same set of answers as to the fires in Tasmania apply here. I am almost 100 per cent positive that there has been briefing supplied through the department and via relevant agencies like BoM, as Ms Evans has identified, for ministers on these matters.

Senator CHISHOLM: But no-one can actually say that actually is the case?

Ms Evans : I can certainly confirm that the minister was directly briefed by the bureau on the flood situation in Queensland.

Senator CHISHOLM: What about the department?

Ms Evans : That I will have to take on notice; it's not from my own area.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is there anyone who can provide an update on what has been the impact of the floods in northern Queensland and north-west Queensland?

Mr Knudson : All I can offer on that is that obviously one of the things that we're very conscious of is the effects of run-off from that significant rainfall. Its effects on the Great Barrier Reef catchment areas will be something that we're very keen to follow up on. We do have GBRMPA coming to the table shortly. The specific effect that we're concerned about is that, with sediment run-off and nutrient run-off, the sedimentation can have an impact on seagrasses; and, in turn, any sort of effect on seagrasses, as we've seen in the past, can also affect the health of turtles and dugongs going forward, so we're very concerned about monitoring that effect.

Senator CHISHOLM: But I'm sure that there are environmental impacts as well other than those on the reef. Has the department provided or put together some sort of brief regarding what the potential risks are?

Mr Knudson : We'll come back on that when the specific area is at the table. I was just highlighting one of the specific areas that we're concerned about and was just giving you an overview of the specific issues that we are concerned with.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has the Minister for the Environment made public comments about the floods in North Queensland and north-west Queensland?

Mr Pratt : We'll have to take that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has the Minister for the Environment sought a briefing on the mass fish kills in the Murray-Darling Basin?

Mr Knudson : Again, that's an issue that my colleagues in the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office are very aware of. That's outcome 1.3, but I would note that that is part of a Senate estimates process on Friday with the department of agriculture and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. That being said, I will endeavour to get a response to your question beforehand.

Mr Pratt : Once again, we might not have the specific details right here, but I'm aware of much material going back and forth on the fish kill during January and early February.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But nothing from the minister.

Mr Pratt : No, I'm not saying that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: She hasn't been there, has she? She hasn't bothered to show up at Menindee.

Mr Pratt : That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that there has been substantial briefing back and forth on these issues.

Senator CHISHOLM: What's been the substance of those briefings that you talk about, in terms of back and forward?

Mr Pratt : The facts of the situation, the impacts, our responsibilities—

Senator CHISHOLM: What are the facts of the situation?

Mr Pratt : As Mr Knudson has said, when we've got the experts in the room, they can take us through those issues. All I can say is that there's been a great deal of material that has been generated in relevant parts of the department and provided to ministers.

Mr Knudson : The other piece that we're obviously supporting is that there are a couple of inquiries into the events in trying to make sure that we get to the bottom of what are the potential causes, what's the extent of the impacts and what can be done going forward, all of which speak to what Mr Pratt was talking about.

Senator CHISHOLM: I note that the minister has asked the Threatened Species Commissioner to look at Murray cod and silver perch. When was this briefing sought or request made?

Mr Knudson : That would have been after the fish kill events and, when the officers for threatened species—that's outcome 1.4—are here, we can go through the specific dates of that.

Senator CHISHOLM: But are you aware of when the request was made for the Threatened Species Commissioner to look at this issue?

Mr Knudson : As I said, it was part of the considerations after the first fish kill events. Obviously there's a significant amount of concern around the impact on individual species—the Murray cod, for example, being one of those. The specific dates I don't have at hand, but the officers, when they come to outcome 1.4, will be able to give you that information.

Senator CHISHOLM: Was it not on Friday just gone?

Mr Knudson : I don't have that information at hand, but we're happy to provide that later on.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has the Minister for the Environment made any public comments about the fish kills?

Mr Knudson : We would have to come back on notice on that.

Senator CHISHOLM: Nothing springs to mind?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Surely we can get an answer on that today.

Senator Birmingham: We're coming back to you on notice, Senator.

Senator CHISHOLM: But nothing springs to mind? You can't think of anything?

Senator Birmingham: We've taken it on notice so we can give you a thorough answer, Senator.

Senator CHISHOLM: I note that the Minister for the Environment has her media releases on her website. Does the minister put interview transcripts on her website?

Senator Birmingham: We'll have to liaise with her office on that. Are you talking about the departmental website, or her personal website?

Senator CHISHOLM: I think they normally go up on the departmental website. Do you put your transcripts up on the departmental website?

Senator Birmingham: It depends on the content of the transcripts. Transcripts that have more political content do not go up on my departmental website.

Senator CHISHOLM: But the ones related to your portfolio do go up on the departmental one?

Senator Birmingham: Sometimes there are numerous topics in a transcript.

Senator CHISHOLM: But, as a rule, if they're related to your portfolio they go up on the website?

Senator Birmingham: Different departments and different officers have their own policies and protocols.

Senator CHISHOLM: I'm asking you, though.

Senator Birmingham: As Minister for Trade in the DFAT portfolio—which is not what we're here to talk about, but I'm happy to go off on a tangent if you wish—I'm pretty sure that some of my transcripts appear on the DFAT website.

Senator CHISHOLM: I don't think we're going off on a tangent; we're trying to establish—as there have been significant environmental issues in the first two months of this year—whether the minister is doing interviews about what is happening. We've got fires, we've got floods and we've got what's happening in the Murray-Darling Basin. Has the minister done any interviews about these issues?

Senator Birmingham: A minister's work output and contribution is not measured by his or her interviews.

Senator CHISHOLM: I asked a specific question; has the minister done any interviews?

Senator Birmingham: And we've already taken that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: That's the first time I've asked it.

Senator Birmingham: No. You asked whether there were any comments on the public record or the like which are a product of interviews, and we have taken that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: No. I said: does the minister put transcripts on her website?

Senator Birmingham: And, prior to that, you asked about any public comments on the topic.

Senator CHISHOLM: How many interviews has the minister done since she became a minister?

Senator Birmingham: I'll take that on notice. By 'interviews', do you mean all types of interviews?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just if there are disasters.

Senator Birmingham: Any type of media source or just electronic? When I speak to a print journalist, I don't tend to publish a transcript of those remarks.

Senator CHISHOLM: Sure. Any media interviews.

Senator Birmingham: We'll take that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: How many requests for interview has the department passed on to the minister's office?

Mr Pratt : We'd have to take that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: Okay. Did the department provide ministerial briefings on matters to be discussed at the recent climate change conference in Katowice, Poland?

Mr Pratt : Certainly.

Senator CHISHOLM: To which minister were these briefings given?

Mr Pratt : Ms Evans will confirm this, but typically, on issues which have an interest for both ministers, we will provide them to one and cc them to the other.

Senator CHISHOLM: Were these briefings provided before the conference, during or after?

Mr Pratt : They would certainly have been before and during.

Senator CHISHOLM: So, from a departmental standpoint, the environment minister was well advised on the matters arising from the conference?

Mr Pratt : I can confidently say that I think the department did a terrific job of briefing the minister.

Senator Birmingham: Even if you say so yourself, Mr Pratt.

Mr Pratt : Thank you for adding that, Minister.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is there any reason that the department is aware of for the minister not being able to provide any media statements or interviews during that time regarding the conference?

Senator Birmingham: No. It's a matter for ministers to determine when, where and on what topics they undertake interviews.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is the department aware of any reason why the minister wouldn't have done any media regarding the conference?

Mr Pratt : That is a matter for the minister. The department doesn't consider these sorts of issues.

Senator CHISHOLM: When were the latest emission projections completed and ready for release, from the department's point of view?

Ms Evans : All the projections are published in December; I would have to check the exact date.

Senator CHISHOLM: It was the Friday before Christmas, wasn't it?

Ms Evans : That's about right. Only a week or so before that we were finalising them. I recall looking at a draft before I left for Poland, which was around 9 December. It was fairly quickly between then and when they were released.

Senator CHISHOLM: Would it be possible to get the specific dates around that?

Ms Evans : Yes, we can take that on notice and perhaps come back to it just after lunch, when we have the relevant people here and can give you the date of the briefing.

Senator CHISHOLM: Yes; and when they were provided to the minister's office. Were any changes made to the projections, including the public document to be released with the emissions data after they were provided to the minister's office?

Ms Evans : No.

Senator CHISHOLM: When did the minister's office approve the materials to be released?

Ms Evans : They were released, as you said, I think it was, on 21 December. You're looking for when they decided to release them on that date?

Senator CHISHOLM: Yes.

Ms Evans : I'll have to take that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: Okay. Is that the standard process that would be gone through when this sort of information is released?

Ms Evans : Yes. It's a government publication, so we provide the material to the government and then it's up to the minister to decide when it will be published.

Senator CHISHOLM: Does the department personally brief the minister on Australia's 2018 emissions projections?

Ms Evans : Yes.

Senator CHISHOLM: On what date did that occur?

Ms Evans : There were a number of briefings. I personally briefed the minister on it while we were travelling in Katowice; I don't recall exactly which day, but it was during that period.

Senator CHISHOLM: So, the minister was briefed on the projections prior to their release?

Ms Evans : Yes.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is there any reason that the department is aware of, in relation to the release of the projections, for the minister not providing any media statements or interviews?

Mr Pratt : Again, that's not a matter for the department; that's a matter for the minister.

Senator CHISHOLM: My question was: was the department aware of any reasons for the minister not providing any statements or interviews?

Mr Pratt : I'm not sure we can answer that.

Senator Birmingham: Senator, I don't want to accept the premise of your question there, either. We've taken on notice what public comments or interviews the minister has made on the topic. My understanding is that there may have been an interview or interviews. The premise of your question, assuming there were none, is not necessarily correct.

Ms Evans : The minister put out a press release releasing those projections on the 21st.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Pratt, are you informed when the minister is on leave?

Mr Pratt : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the environment minister been on leave over the summer?

Mr Pratt : Yes, the minister had leave over summer.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What were those dates?

Mr Pratt : We have those dates; I'd have to confirm them for you.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could you get back to us on that today?

Mr Pratt : Certainly.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. But she was on leave at some point over the summer?

Mr Pratt : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How many meetings has the minister had with department officials this year?

Mr Pratt : I couldn't tell you the exact number, but multiple.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has she met with your department in the last week since parliament has been back?

Mr Pratt : I've certainly met frequently with the minister in recent times over budget-related matters and the like.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you had any meetings with the minister directly in relation to the environmental disasters in the Murray-Darling Basin?

Mr Pratt : Not personally, no.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is there anyone in your department that you know of who has met with the minister in relation to what has happened in the Murray-Darling Basin this summer?

Mr Pratt : We'll have to take that on notice. I should point out that Minister Price is Western Australia based and has a rather large electorate and so a lot of our briefings and discussions happen electronically, either by video conference or telephone, for obvious reasons. But I meet and discuss many things with Minister Price here in Canberra or in Sydney, wherever is convenient for the minister.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Does the minister seek briefings from you regularly, Mr Pratt, or is it the department offering them?

Mr Pratt : Both.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What's the most recent briefing she has sought from you?

Mr Pratt : The most significant recent one would be budget-related.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did she seek a briefing from you about the environmental impacts of the fish kill in Menindee?

Mr Pratt : No; but then, as we've talked about before, there was material going up anyway and so she didn't need to.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Would you say that this minister is more or less active than the previous minister?

Mr Pratt : That's almost impossible for me to answer. Certainly, all the ministers I've had the pleasure of working with have been very active. Minister Price is very active in many areas.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the minister been given regular reminders to sign documents and make decisions?

Mr Pratt : Not to my knowledge, no.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: No-one in your department has raised concerns with you about tardiness from the minister's office?

Mr Pratt : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the minister missed key meetings with departmental officials recently?

Mr Pratt : Not in my experience.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: No-one has raised that with you?

Mr Pratt : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Does the minister have meetings with stakeholders?

Mr Pratt : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are they facilitated through the department?

Mr Pratt : Sometimes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could you provide us with a list of stakeholders that the minister has met with?

Mr Pratt : We will take that on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you.

Mr Knudson : That's a large request. Is there a time frame you're looking for, for the minister meeting with stakeholders?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Since the minister has been in the job.

Mr Knudson : Okay.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. I don't think the list will be very long, given what we know; but whatever you've got would be helpful. Does the department attend the briefings with stakeholders that the minister has?

Mr Pratt : Sometimes, yes; that's fairly conventional. Ministers often want to meet with stakeholders independent of the department or if it suits their schedule, depending on where they are in the country; at other times they want the department to be there. So we accommodate the minister's preferences.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you would be aware that the minister has not met with the Wilderness Society, for example, even though they've asked on several occasions for a meeting?

Mr Pratt : No, I'm not conscious of that, but we've taken that on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you aware of whether the minister has met with the Wilderness Society?

Mr Knudson : I'm not. As Mr Pratt has said, we'll take that on notice and come back.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you aware that several requests have been made?

Mr Pratt : Certainly I'm aware that stakeholders seek to meet with ministers; that is a never-ending process.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you aware that Greenpeace Australia Pacific have asked to meet with the minister and have not had a response?

Senator Birmingham: Next you'll be telling us that she hasn't met with the Greens political party, too, Senator Hanson-Young.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: No. I'd like to know who she has met with.

Mr Pratt : Certainly. We have taken that on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. Has the minister met with the Minerals Council?

Mr Pratt : I don't know. We will cover that on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Would they be a stakeholder?

Mr Pratt : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you aware that the Humane Society has been asking for a meeting for quite some time from the minister?

Mr Pratt : The same answer applies.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you aware whether the minister's office is currently understaffed?

Mr Pratt : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have there been any requests from the department for extra resources?

Mr Pratt : At different stages that has been the case, but at the moment I suspect that they are fully staffed. I'll correct that on notice if that's not the case, but I think they've got their full complement and have had their full complement of staff over recent months.

Senator CHISHOLM: I think that's something that you need to direct to Finance and Public Administration.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That's a good suggestion; I might just do that.

Senator Birmingham: It's a bit early in the day for tone, Senator.

CHAIR: I'm here, Senator; don't worry.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Pratt, if the minister's office is not understaffed or you haven't had any requests, that couldn't be used as an excuse why stakeholders haven't been having appropriate engagement or responses then, could it?

Mr Pratt : To borrow from the minister's response, I'm not sure that I can agree to the premise of your question, but I believe that the minister's staffing supplement or complement is fully filled or close to it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Does the department consider Twitter an official means of communication with stakeholders?

Mr Pratt : It is a form of communication.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is that something that the department briefs the minister on, what communication comes via Twitter or through Twitter?

Mr Pratt : I'd imagine that would be exceptionally rare but, if there was something significant, we might.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Would you suggest that stakeholders should be engaged with via Twitter?

Mr Pratt : I'm fairly flexible on these things. Whatever works for stakeholders and ministers I'm comfortable with.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So from your perspective, the department's view is that Twitter is an official means of communication, is it?

Mr Pratt : It is certainly a method of communication. I would note that the US President is a—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Come on!

Senator Birmingham: I was just about to say, in relation to your line of questioning, Senator Hanson-Young, that Mr Pratt is expert in many things and, of course, is a departmental secretary largely for his policy skills and executive management skills. I don't know whether your line of questioning about communication strategies is entirely in his field of expertise.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'm more than happy to hear from somebody else in the department whether using Twitter to engage with stakeholders is seen to be sufficient.

Senator Birmingham: I think, essentially, that is a judgement call for, as Mr Pratt has largely said, ministers, stakeholders and anybody else who wishes—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'm asking the department.

Senator Birmingham: Senator Hanson-Young, you're essentially asking for an opinion: is using Twitter sufficient?

Senator KENEALLY: I might be able to help here. Mr Pratt mentioned the President of the United States who has declared that his Twitter is an official form of communication. That has raised legal questions about whether or not he can appropriately block people since he has declared that Twitter is a form of official communication and, therefore, there are legitimate questions to be asked about his use of blocking. So if you're going to raise the President of the United States as an example, Senator Hanson-Young's questions are entirely legitimate in trying to understand the status of Minister Price's tweets.

Senator Birmingham: They are public statements from the minister.

Senator KENEALLY: So you are confirming, Senator Birmingham, that Minister Price's tweets are public statements from the minister and that she uses Twitter as a form of engagement with her stakeholders?

Senator Birmingham: Just as your tweets, I assume, are public statements from you, Senator Keneally.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm not a minister; so I'm seeking to understand the status of Minister Price's tweets, which I think is at the heart of Senator Hanson-Young's questions. Because Mr Pratt raised the example of President Trump, he's actually introduced this notion of whether or not they are official communication from the minister in her capacity as a minister.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That was the question.

Senator Birmingham: Senator Keneally, I assume that tweets from you are public statements from you. I assume that tweets from Senator Hanson-Young are public statements from her, unless described otherwise. And I assume that, unless described otherwise, tweets from Minister Price are public statements from Minister Price.

Senator KENEALLY: In her capacity as a minister, they are intended to be direct communication with stakeholders?

Senator Birmingham: Like all of us who are members of the executive, we hold multiple capacities in our public role and she is, of course, also a local MP.

Senator KENEALLY: That's a good point, Minister Birmingham. She has a separate page, 'Melissa Price MP', where she puts her media releases that relate to her responsibilities as a local member. And she has her media releases from the department that relate to her department. So again, Senator Hanson-Young's questions are: what is the status of Minister Price's tweets?

Senator Birmingham: In that case, I'd better ask for clarification from—

Senator KENEALLY: Is she tweeting in her capacity as a minister or in her personal capacity?

Senator Birmingham: In that case, I'd best ask Senator Hanson-Young or you, Senator Keneally, which Twitter account you are referring to.

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, ''. Actually, I think it's '@melissa.for.durack', to be fair. That is her Twitter handle. My apologies.

CHAIR: Perhaps we can just get some clarification. Are you proposing to take that on notice?

Senator KENEALLY: She doesn't have an ''. That was my mistake. It's '@melissa.for.durack'.

Senator Birmingham: Are you saying that's her ministerial statement or—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That is what the question is; that's the question.

Senator KENEALLY: That's the question; that's the question.

CHAIR: Order!

Senator Birmingham: I'll take it on notice.

CHAIR: Don't both speak at once. Perhaps we could maintain some order, as exciting as this is.

Mr Knudson : One of the things that the department has been focused on is the minister trying to raise awareness through social media, in particular Facebook et cetera, through the Threatened Species Commissioner. So we do definitely use social media in trying to reach other areas of the country et cetera. So I'd just flag that we're not agnostic on the use of social media; we absolutely do engage in it. But the specifics of this, as the minister has said, we'd have to take on notice.

Mr Cahill : We maintain a number of Twitter accounts. As Mr Knudson might have referred to, there is threatened species. We've started the departmental one. We've also got one for national parks. So there are a range of official departmental Twitter accounts. I have to be honest with you, I've never tweeted, myself, but I'm going to go try later today.

Senator Birmingham: We could counsel you, Mr Cahill. There are other things you could do with it.

Mr Cahill : But in terms of any Twitter account of the minister as 'Melissa Price, member for Durack', that would not be something that the department would support, by its nature.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So it's not an official account?

Mr Cahill : It's not a departmental Twitter account. That's not something that we support.

Senator Birmingham: Senator Hanson-Young, Senator Keneally seemed to suggest that Minister Price was operating separate accounts.

Senator KENEALLY: No. I said that I'd made a mistake. I got the name of her Twitter account wrong. She has one '@melissa.for.durack'.

Senator Birmingham: Thanks, Senator Keneally. I see that it, underneath that 'melissa.for.durack', describes Minister for the Environment and Member for Durack authorised by Melissa Price MP—a standard statement that I suspect broadly exists on any of the rest of our Twitter accounts.

Mr Pratt : Senator Hanson-Young, I have the dates when Minister Price was officially on leave: 2 to 18 January. But I am aware that, during that period, Minister Price was also, on at least one occasion, back on duty. She undertook a significant announcement with the Prime Minister in Kakadu on 13 January.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. Back to this question of whether Minister Price's Twitter account is official communication from her as a minister, that's the question I'm asking because it is the only way that some people—stakeholders and others—suggest that they can communicate with her. That seems fairly unaccountable.

Senator Birmingham: What do you mean by 'official communication', Senator?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That's my question to you, whether the statements with her using Twitter are official communication from her as a minister?

Senator Birmingham: Insofar as I assume that any statement I make publicly—whether it is in the parliament, in an interview, in a speech, on Twitter, on Facebook or elsewhere—is then used against me and I'm then held to account for those statements, then, yes, I assume that they are official statements.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So then we can assume that what the minister puts on Twitter has been as a result of briefings or information from the department?

Mr Pratt : That may well be the occasion, but I'm sure that it's not the case in every circumstance that the minister makes communications.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Let's continue. I've asked for a list of stakeholders and you're going to get back to us on that. I've asked for some specifics in relation to that, including the Minerals Council. Has the minister had meetings with stakeholders and organisations about the review of the EPBC Act?

Mr Pratt : Could you ask that question again?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the minister had meetings with stakeholders and organisations about the review of the EPBC Act?

Mr Pratt : I don't know. We would have to ask the minister. We'll take that on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you.

Mr Knudson : The only thing I would add is that it's very common for individuals that are involved with the act from different perspectives certainly to seek to express their views to ministers. That's been the case for as long as I've been in the portfolio. So I suspect that's happened in a number of different ways over the last several years going back, like I said, to many ministers. The only other thing I would flag is that the actual review of the act is statutorily due to commence in October.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It's been reported that the minister spent some $450,000 travelling around her own electorate. How much has the minister spent on ministerial duties across the rest of the country?

Senator Birmingham: That would be a question for the Department of Finance.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I will ask the Department of Finance but, Mr Pratt, is that something that you at any point or your department oversee?

Mr Pratt : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What legislation is the minister working on currently?

Mr Knudson : The most obvious example is the one that I just referred to. While that statutorily mandated review for the EPBC Act needs to begin in October, we'll need to start to engage with the minister fairly soon on how that will unfold. So that would be an example.

Mr Pratt : In fact, I personally briefed the minister on arrangements for the EPBC Act review last year. So we have started that process. I suspect Minister Price is also focusing on some of the legislation that underpins our climate policy.

Ms Evans : And a range of other things. I was going to say that obviously the administrative arrangements order lists all of the pieces of legislation that are within the responsibility of Minister Price. And some of the things that she is working on on the legislation are fairly routine. We've still got work, for example, underway under the equality legislation to do final adjustments to the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Agreement that need to be done to make sure that they can be properly implemented. There are always small things being done right across the board.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'd like a list of them. I'd like a list of what it is that the minister is actually working on.

Ms Evans : I think we'll have to take that on notice. That could be quite a difficult thing for us to produce.

Mr Cahill : As a cabinet minister, we regularly brief Minister Price on broader legislative agendas of the government to ensure that she's fully informed of the department's view on different legislative packages that aren't directly related to the portfolio.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just to clarify, what I'd like is a list of legislation that the minister is responsible for. You can take that on notice.

Senator Birmingham: I'm sorry, Senator Hanson-Young; I'd refer you to the administrative arrangements for that. That's publicly available information.

CHAIR: Senator Urquhart.

Senator URQUHART: I've just got some questions around, certainly, media reports about an alleged organised crime figure in Germany importing hundreds of Australian birds. There was an article in the Guardian entitled 'Australia gave endangered birds to secretive German "zoo", ignoring warnings'. The subheading was 'Exclusive: government issued export permits for more than 200 rare and endangered parrots, despite concerns they were being offered for sale rather than exhibited'. Is the department familiar with that case?

Mr Knudson : Absolutely. What I would suggest is that, when outcome 1.4 is being examined, the officers that are responsible for wildlife trade will be here and they are the ones who would have been involved in the permit process.

Senator URQUHART: I understand that. I am just asking you questions for the department.

Mr Knudson : Yes. Then any compliance action associated with that would be in outcome 1.5.

Senator URQUHART: Yes. Has the department's legal team looked at the export laws, either formally or informally?

Mr Knudson : We absolutely would have had an eye on what was required under the legislation and our international obligations associated with those permits.

Senator URQUHART: Would that have been formally or informally?

Mr Knudson : That would have been formally. Again the officers will be here later on and they can answer your questions specifically.

Senator URQUHART: Is the department concerned about the reports that we've heard through the media?

Mr Knudson : Yes. We are absolutely aware of the issue and we are looking into it.

Senator URQUHART: Has a briefing been provided to the minister in relation to this issue?

Mr Knudson : I don't have that at hand, but the officers will be able to answer that question later on.

Senator KENEALLY: Could we clarify when 'later on' is?

Mr Knudson : Later on today.

Senator KENEALLY: What section?

Mr Knudson : Section 1.4 is for the permits, and 1.5 is for any compliance actions.

Senator URQUHART: You can't answer whether or not the minister has been provided with a briefing?

Mr Knudson : That's correct.

Senator URQUHART: Does the law need to change or is the department looking at whether the law needs to change?

Mr Knudson : That's a question for the government and for parliament. At this point we don't have any particular reason to believe that the legislation isn't being effective, but we can talk about that when those outcomes are at the table.

Senator URQUHART: I understand that there's a complexity around a treaty or international agreements; is that accurate?

Mr Knudson : That question is a bit vague; I can't really give you an answer. I'm not sure which treaty or obligations you are referring to.

Senator URQUHART: You don't know whether there is a treaty or international obligations around whether or not the law can be changed?

Senator Birmingham: Is this in relation to the export or transport of species in particular that you're referring to?

Senator URQUHART: When they get to where they're going.

Mr Knudson : There would be the convention on the international trade in endangered species, which is the international agreement. That would be the head of power for our taking a look at our domestic actions with this. But your question is pretty open ended. We can certainly walk through what that international agreement requires and how our domestic legislation interacts with that, when the appropriate people are at the table later today.

Senator URQUHART: Has the department had discussions with DFAT or the Australian embassy in Germany about this case?

Mr Knudson : I don't know. We'll have to deal with that later on in the session.

Senator URQUHART: I want to move to the pandas at the Adelaide Zoo. Is the department considering funding the proposal from the Adelaide Zoo to keep the two giant pandas?

Mr Knudson : That would be a budget question—therefore inside cabinet confidence, so I can't comment on that.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me when the funding runs out?

Mr Knudson : We'll have to confirm that later on, but I believe that it is 30 June.

Senator URQUHART: 30 June this year?

Mr Knudson : Yes.

Senator Birmingham: Minister Price has already indicated publicly that she is looking at those matters.

Senator URQUHART: I haven't seen anything on the website. Is it a priority?

Senator Birmingham: You've had the answer from Mr Knudson that this is a matter under budget consideration. Obviously, we don't go through—

Senator URQUHART: It's just under consideration?

Senator Birmingham: and attribute star ratings to the priorities of matters under budget consideration; we go through the budget process.

Senator URQUHART: Has the department been in contact with DFAT in relation to the issue of the pandas?

Mr Knudson : Again I'll have to take that on notice. I am not sure.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me—this is a budget update—what recent funding announcements have been made—names and amounts?

Mr Pratt : We have the Jabiru statement on 13 January.

Senator URQUHART: And the amount?

Mr Pratt : $216 million. We might collectively pool our knowledge of various announcements.

Mr Chisholm : As the secretary has indicated, there was an announcement in relation to funding for Jabiru, which comprised a number of measures to assist with the transition of that township in the Northern Territory.

Senator URQUHART: At the moment I'm just after the names and the amounts, rather than the detail.

Senator Birmingham: Going back how far, Senator?

Senator URQUHART: About the pandas?

Mr Chisholm : The pandas?

Senator URQUHART: I'm sorry; I thought you said that you were going back to the pandas.

Senator Birmingham: We want to know how far back you'd like us to go in terms of funding announcements.

Senator URQUHART: I know that you like Adelaide, so I thought you were going back to the pandas.

Senator Birmingham: I'm quite fond of Adelaide, actually.

Senator URQUHART: I knew you were, and I thought you might have a view on the pandas. It would probably be since July last year.

Mr Pratt : Perhaps we can take that on notice and give you a list of funding announcements. There are quite a few relating to the budget, MYEFO and other things.

Senator URQUHART: Are you able to come back with that today?

Mr Pratt : We'll get that to you as soon as we can.

Senator URQUHART: Can you also tell me what funding announcements are expected in the coming months?

Mr Pratt : No.

Senator URQUHART: No?

Senator Birmingham: You ask in such a nice and innocent way, too, Senator Urquhart.

Senator URQUHART: Have regional NRM groups received their funding?

Mr Knudson : We've got contracts in place across almost every region of the country, and we can go through those in great detail, if you wish.

Senator URQUHART: I just want to know how much in total, for how many years and whether that has been contracted.

Mr Knudson : To date, funding of $114 million has been approved for the delivery of core services by the natural resource management units, and $313.3 million has been approved for delivery of on-the-ground projects.

Senator URQUHART: How many years is that for?

Mr Knudson : I believe that is over five years.

Mr Pratt : The total budget over the five years is approximately $1 billion.

Senator URQUHART: Is that contracted?

Mr Knudson : The staff, when they come for outcome 1.1, will be able to walk through the specific details, because it does vary across the country as to what's under contract and what isn't at this point.

Senator URQUHART: What about the Landcare program; can you tell me what's committed and what's uncommitted over the forward estimates?

Mr Knudson : Again, when the staff are here on outcome 1.1, we can walk through the details. As I said, to date, funding of $114 million has been approved for core services and funding of $133.3million has been approved for on-the-ground projects. We can walk through the details. As for your specific question about what's under contract or not, they can give you that detail at that point.

Senator URQUHART: I'll go through a few programs and perhaps you'll be able to tell me whether they're committed or uncommitted. There are target area grants.

Mr Knudson : I won't have that specific individual project level detail, but again—

Senator URQUHART: So that's 1.1?

Mr Knudson : That's correct.

Senator URQUHART: If you can provide this on notice, that will be fine: can we get a list of all government programs, what funding is budgeted, what funding is committed and what funding is uncommitted?

Mr Knudson : Is that for the entire portfolio, the department and Landcare?

Senator URQUHART: Yes.

Mr Cahill : We'll take that on notice.

Senator URQUHART: Yes, I'm happy for you to take that on notice. What about the Green Army; is that still happening?

Mr Knudson : No. The Green Army has finished its rollout. Again, under that same outcome, 1.1, they can walk through where we've got to with respect to the projects delivered.

Senator URQUHART: But that has finished?

Mr Knudson : I believe so.

Senator URQUHART: It's still on the department's website.

Mr Knudson : Yes

Senator URQUHART: Why is it still on the website if it's no longer operating?

Mr Knudson : Again there's always a bit of a tail as you're winding up a program. There may not be new projects being rolled out, but there is still the finalisation and the accounting back of outcomes.

Senator URQUHART: So nothing is active or open?

Mr Knudson : Again I don't want to mislead you. I just don't have that level of detail, but the staff, when they come here for outcome 1.1, can absolutely walk you through where we are on the specifics of Green Army.

Senator URQUHART: We'll come back to that in 1.1. Has the department undertaken any work on the cost of increasingly severe natural disasters?

Senator Birmingham: That's a relatively broad question. Obviously, elements of that were canvassed in Senator Chisholm's questioning earlier this morning. Do you mean at an aggregate, generic sort of level?

Senator URQUHART: I want to know how much the cost compares to the environment budget and the climate change budget. Has the department done any work on costing? We are seeing, increasingly, natural disasters happening. Have any costings been done on the increase in those against the environment budget and the climate change budget?

Ms Evans : There has been work at various points in the past that has looked at the change in the costs of natural disasters. Even through the national resilience task force, which is being run out of the home affairs department, they've certainly been looking at that question very recently. I'm not aware that, as a department, we have commissioned any specific new analysis in the last 12 months on that, but that doesn't mean that the issue isn't a live one for us, in terms of thinking about what is the cost of these impacts into the future and whether we are ready and prepared to deal with them. We are active participants in that national resilience task force and the work that Home Affairs is doing to think about what's the best framework in which Australia can respond in the future.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me what economic analysis the government has done in looking at the risks to the Australian economy from climate change and global market shifts?

Ms Evans : I'll have to take that on notice. Maybe we can come back to it when my team is here after lunch. Again I don't think we, as the department, have commissioned anything specific on that. There is quite a lot of work that is done more generally in the academic world and through places like the IPCC that is looking at those questions. We haven't thought to try to replicate that from within the department.

Senator Birmingham: Certainly, across a number of areas in government, there's analysis that's based upon global academic and other global institution work that provides advice around changing international market trends and behavioural trends that the government would consider as part of normal policymaking. That's the case in my department. I'm sure it is across other economic portfolios and elsewhere.

Mr Knudson : As for Senator Chisholm's questions about briefings that the minister requested in a number of areas, I can tell you that at this point we are aware that the minister, through the office, requested a brief on the floods in Townsville on 4 February. In addition there was another briefing provided on extreme weather events on 11 February, and that brief was provided to the minister's office on the 12th. The minister also requested a brief on 9 January on the fish kills issue. That was sent to the minister's office on 11 January. I'm informed that my heritage colleagues will be able to give you more information also on the Tasmanian fires issue that you asked about.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I am following up on a question on notice asked by Senator Di Natale. It's question 111.

Senator Birmingham: This is a little bit like Senator Storer's question time performance last week, when he was asking for a friend.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I would like to know whether the department is currently drafting legislation to deal with the government's proposal of underwriting new generation investments. Is there any draft legislation in the works?

Mr Heferen : The progress of underwriting new generation is still a subject for cabinet discussion in the budget context. Specifics around that at this stage would need to be taken on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The question is about draft legislation. You can't give us an indication as to whether any legislation is being drafted?

Mr Heferen : I think prior to government coming to decisions about how it's going to take that particular issue, which was broadly recommended by the ACCC, forward, I think I would need to take that on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So does that mean the department hasn't got to a point of writing up contracts yet then—or are any draft contracts being written?

Mr Heferen : Sorry, Senator. When I said I would take it on notice, I meant the whole context of the Underwriting New Generation Investments scheme.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes, I understand that.

Mr Heferen : I will take it all on notice.

Mr Pratt : The sensitivity here is that the program is under active consideration by the government in the budget process.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I understand that.

Mr Pratt : So those elements of it which go to implementation or potential legislation that might be used, amongst other things, are really at this stage budget-in-confidence.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Does the department have advice that legislation would be required?

Mr Pratt : I will deal with this in a hypothetical sense. It will be determined by what the government decides to do in relation to any particular program, whether or not it needs legislative underpinning.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann, has previously given an answer to a question on notice that suggests that existing legislative frameworks are enough to allow these payments to happen. My question to you is whether the environment and energy department is of the same view.

Mr Pratt : It depends on what the government decides to do.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But surely you have to be prepared for these things. I don't understand why you can't give me an answer as to whether you know you need legislation or not.

Mr Pratt : Because I don't want to pre-empt what decisions the government takes. The finance minister is entirely open to talk about budget processes; I am not.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The department hasn't received any applications as such from any interested parties?

Senator Birmingham: Senator Hanson-Young, it is probably a helpful way to address this issue—and of course I'm sure that, insofar as more detail can be provided then program 4.1 would be, I assume, the place to unpick that—but there is not a singular methodology for providing support under the Underwriting New Generation Investments program. The government has sought registrations of interest. Those registrations would cover a range of different possibilities as to how new generation investments might be underwritten. So Mr Pratt has answered that dependent upon government policy in the budget context that would run alongside at least some analysis of these registrations of interest and will then inform what, if any, legislative underpinnings are required.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can I just get clarification on this point: has the government made a decision on how to implement the program? Do you know, Mr Pratt? Are you aware as to whether that decision has been made?

Mr Pratt : That decision is subject to the budget process which we've got under way.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Minister Birmingham, you've said that applications have been sought—

Senator Birmingham: Registrations of interest.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Registrations have been sought. How many applications have been received?

Mr Pratt : Sixty-six.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What is the time frame for responding to those applications? Is that something that you've considered?

Mr Pratt : I really don't want to be uncooperative, but that is ultimately a matter for government to decide on.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is there a time frame?

Mr Pratt : There will be a time frame once the government has determined how it will approach this.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you in the process of doing the background work, Mr Pratt? Obviously this isn't all going to happen on the day that the budget is announced. Obviously there is not much time between the budget and the election.

Senator Birmingham: He does a lot of background work ahead of budgets.

Mr Pratt : We are doing plenty of background work, Senator.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How many staff do you have working on this at the moment?

Mr Heferen : I could probably assist. In relation to background work, I would make the observation that the ACCC spent a long time on this issue. We had plenty of discussions with the ACCC on their recommendation. There was a consultation paper that went out, I think, in October. Outcome 4.1 might be able to be more specific about the date. Several roundtables were held with interested parties and then work was done, as the minister said, for the registration of interest process. So along the way there has been a lot of work done to assist the minister in forming a view to take to his colleagues to consider the outcomes in the budget process. As to the number in the team, both the first assistant secretary and the assistant secretary of the energy division spent some time on it, and there would be staff, possibly four, but we can correct that if I have—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are any of those staff working on the legal challenges in relation to whether or not you need legislation?

Mr Heferen : It would be useful to make the obvious point that if the government chose to go down a path that would result in imposing obligations on people paying money, obviously there would need to be, in relation to money, an appropriation to enable that to occur. But in relation to the mechanics of what would be done, as both the minister and Mr Pratt have said, that's still under consideration by the government.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can I ask whether you're aware of legal advice that has been released today from Fiona McLeod SC suggesting that legislative authority would need to be given because of the Williams case?

Senator Birmingham: Released by whom?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It's in TheGuardian this morning.

Mr Heferen : If it has been released today, no, Senator.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is the Williams case—sorry, Minister—

Senator Birmingham: No, I just want to understand the legal advice you are asking the department to comment on. Is it publicly available yet?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes, it is.

Senator Birmingham: The actual advice?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It is referenced in the papers this morning. That's what I am referring to.

Senator Birmingham: Is it from a particular organisation who commissioned it or—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: My understanding is that it's from the Australia Institute.

Senator Birmingham: And have they provided it to the department yet?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I don't know, Minister. That's a good question.

Senator Birmingham: It doesn't sound like it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What advice has the department got in relation to the legislative requirements to ensure that these underwriting payments can happen? Has the department considered the implications of the Williams case?

Mr Pratt : Sorry, Senator. Again, given that this is part of the budget process, we're not able to talk specifically about this. But going back to the point made earlier, in the event that legislation is required in this area then we will naturally have legal advice in-house and probably from the AGS. But, as yet, this is subject to the budget process, so we can't talk about it.

Senator Birmingham: As a generic statement, Senator Hanson-Young, the constitutional risk of all government expenditure programs or legislative initiatives is considered as part of the cabinet processes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So that would be something that you would need to consider?

Mr Pratt : We would always consider the Williams—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But, Mr Pratt, at this point are you aware as to whether the department has considered the implications of the Williams case?

Mr Pratt : Without wanting to sound like a broken record, subject to what the government decides to do, we would get appropriate legal advice on this. Can I say, as a general comment, that quite often where governments are looking at funding different programs there is always a consideration of the constitutional impacts of that, and the relevance of the Williams case.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Heferen, can I just get clarification: what's your position?

Mr Heferen : I beg your pardon, Senator?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What's your position in the department?

Mr Heferen : The deputy secretary in charge of the energy group.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you would be well aware of all of these implications then?

Mr Heferen : Yes, Senator.

CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young, I am sorry but we have to move to Senator Urquhart. We will have a couple more before we finish.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you. I have just a couple around adaptation to climate change. We didn't call 2.2, but if you can tell me what programs or reports that adapting to climate change is working on and when does the department expect those reports to be published?

Ms Evans : The main report, if you like, that we have been working on is a document called the Climate Compass, which is a tool designed to help government entities look at the climate risk associated with their programs and policies. I will have to check. We can come back and confirm in 2.1—even though you're right that we didn't list 2.2—when we published that, but I believe it's already on the website.

Senator URQUHART: Yes.

Ms Evans : We are actively managing not so much reports but processes through the government. I co-chair with the Department of Home Affairs' disaster and climate risk resilience working group, where we are constantly being briefed and considering the impacts of climate change on the various policies and things that we are responsible for. We are actively involved in the state and territory adaptation working group as well. That gives you a little bit of a sense of what we're working on.

Senator URQUHART: What's the current budget for adaptation?

Ms Evans : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator URQUHART: That's it. Thank you.

CHAIR: As there are no further questions for general we will break for 15 minutes. We will return with outcome 3 on Antarctic science et cetera.

Proceedings suspended from 10:10 to 10 : 30

CHAIR: Welcome to our friends from the program 3.1: Antarctica: Science, Policy and Presence, thank you for joining us via video link. There are no name plates, so officers may just need to introduce themselves as they wouldn't ordinarily to answer questions. Is there an opening statement?

Mr Clark : No. Can we just confirm that you can hear us okay?

CHAIR: We can hear you perfectly. Thanks very much. Senator Urquhart, would you like to start.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you very much. I might just start with the minister. Minister, can you update the committee on the status of negotiations regarding new marine parks or reserves in Antarctica?

Senator Birmingham: I will turn to the officials to look for advice on said status.

Mr Cahill : I might go to the Acting Director of the Australian Antarctic Division to give you an overview of our recent discussions with CCAMLR.

Senator URQUHART: Sorry, what was the officer's name?

Mr Cahill : Charlton Clark who is the Acting Director of the Australian Antarctic Division. We have appointed a new Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Kim Ellis, but he is currently down south on the continent.

Senator URQUHART: Right. Fire away, Mr Clark.

Mr Clark : The question in regards to the outcomes of the XXXVII meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic and Marine Living Resources—sorry, senator, we are receiving a huge amount of background noise here on the speaker system.

Senator URQUHART: I'm not sure whether broadcasting can fix that.

Mr Clark : That's better now.

Senator URQUHART: They are working away in there. We are very quiet here. We have been very quiet this morning.

Mr Clark : In terms of the outcomes from the XXXVII meeting of the CCAMLR in Hobart—it occurred in October to early November last year—as the committee is aware, there has been a long-held priority for progress towards the implementation of a network of marine protected areas in East Antarctica. That proposal at the meeting was not successful, although we did receive strong support from a range of countries. But we haven't progressed to the point where we've received consensus around that proposal. There was a range of other outcomes at the meeting, including the development of a catch management framework for exploratory fisheries, and we also progressed other work with countries at the meeting in regard to consideration of climate impacts incorporated in CCAMLR's work.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me which countries do not agree with the marine park proposal, and what are their reasons for not agreeing?

Mr Clark : Through CCAMLR, there have been two countries who have withheld their support to date, being Russia and China. They've got a range of issues associated with the proposal that they've expressed in various forms at the meeting, and they've also expressed those concerns around some other proposals that are currently on the table within CCAMLR for other MPAs in the Antarctic area. And their concerns traverse a range of issues, through to the methodology being proposed and the compliance measures being proposed and some of the framework for evaluation of the proposals. So after each meeting obviously we consider the feedback from countries at each CCAMLR meeting. The department, with other departments we work with at CCAMLR, are currently considering a strategy for the preparation for the next meeting. That strategy is yet to be finalised but obviously we are keen to progress those high-priority proposals at the next CCAMLR meeting.

Senator URQUHART: So can you tell me what Australia is doing to work with those countries?

Mr Clark : In the CCAMLR context, Australia has obviously a strong working relationship with both China and Russia. With China in particular we have an overarching memorandum of understanding which promotes broad collaboration with our colleagues in China across a range of issues, scientific policy and operational. We've held a number of meetings on a bilateral basis with China to inform them of our approach to marine-protected areas in East Antarctica. We've travelled to Beijing to explain that position, and we obviously take on their commentary about the proposal. In regards to China, in the margins of meetings obviously we progress and attempt to educate and inform China of our position and approach. And we also look for opportunities where there can be exchange of scientific personnel or working on collaborative projects to progress the issue.

Senator URQUHART: Is there a time line on the negotiations for the new marine parks or reserves?

Mr Clark : This has been a long-term commitment to establish the network of marine-protected areas in the CCAMLR area. At each meeting there are a number of countries that are looking to progress marine protected areas. And whilst there's no set time frame for their establishment, we're looking to progress those in a practical and pragmatic way as soon as practical.

Senator URQUHART: In the discussions with both Russia and China, do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?

Mr Clark : You're asking for a sort of speculation. All countries are showing a willingness to understand the various positions of other countries. There are issues that we are yet to resolve but I wouldn't want to speculate in this forum about progress and likelihood of outcomes at upcoming meetings.

Senator URQUHART: I will move on to the relocation to Macquarie Point. And we know that there have been reports around the fact that AAD could be moving into Macquarie Point after the lease expires out at Kingston around 2023-24. Have there been any discussions about moving AAD to Macquarie Point?

Mr Clark : Under the framework of the Hobart City Deal, there have been previous public statements of the potential for an Antarctic and marine science precinct to be established. Previous statements have also said that the CSIRO and AAD would potentially consider being part of that precinct. No decisions have been taken at this point about any move and a case is yet to be put that would assess both the benefits and costs of any move.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me who's been consulted?

Mr Clark : The Hobart City Deal is not led by this portfolio. It comes under the minister for infrastructure. In terms of the broad consultation, there is an existing framework at both the ministerial level and officials' level that coordinates input into that process. It's not something that is led by the Australian Antarctic Division.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know when a decision is likely to be made?

Mr Clark : No, I don't.

Mr Cahill : It wouldn't be appropriate to speculate on any decision or government announcement.

Senator URQUHART: Because it is in that Hobart City Deal?

Mr Cahill : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: Is there a cost estimate to the moving from Kingston to Macquarie Point?

Mr Clark : As I alluded to before, it is very early in consideration of any potential involvement in the precinct and, to inform any future decision, a thorough costing would have to take place. It hasn't yet.

Mr Cahill : Any future decision-making would involve a thorough business case that looks at cost benefits, options, implications more broadly, recognising that we have still got a lease at the Kingston premise until the middle of 2024.

Senator URQUHART: The middle of 2024?

Mr Cahill : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: And just looking for an update for the planning of the new paved runway, can you give me an update on that?

Mr Clark : My colleague, Mr Rob Bryson, to answer questions on the runway.

Mr Bryson : The project is still in its development stage. We have just undertaken another field season in Antarctica looking at the geotech kind of layout of the area that we're investigating. That's going to be factored into a business case and the engineering design of the runway is still ongoing. We intend to bring something to government in the near future.

Senator URQUHART: What's 'the near future', Mr Bryson?

Mr Pratt : I can answer that.

Senator URQUHART: I think Mr Pratt is going to answer that.

Mr Pratt : So I expect at this stage that it would be over the course of this calendar year.

Senator URQUHART: And that would be the business case?

Mr Cahill : That would be one of the stages. As you would appreciate, a business case and analysis for a runway generally can take a couple of years, let alone when you are building it in a location like the Antarctic continent. So it would be the next stage of a business case that would inform a government decision about where do we go for analysis or decision from there.

Senator URQUHART: How many stages are there in the business case, Mr Cahill?

Mr Cahill : You can have a first pass, second pass. Sometimes you can have a second pass B, depending on what the information is. So the nature of the analysis we are taking on that content on the continent is about getting a higher degree of certainty of what does that mean. That includes environmental assessments and the costs and risks associated with building such a runway.

Senator URQUHART: So you haven't started that first pass?

Mr Cahill : We are in the process of doing the next level of analysis.

Senator URQUHART: So you are in the second pass?

Mr Cahill : Yes. So there is a preferred site. There are some temporary shelters located at that site. We've done a number of geotechnical analyses of it and now it's working through a process to say what are the design methods, options, alignment of the runway, environmental impacts—all those elements which take, obviously, a high degree of rigor and, by its nature, some time to do.

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

CHAIR: Senator Wish-Wilson.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Senator Hanson-Young has a couple of questions on China. Could she go first?

CHAIR: Sure.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I won't take long. I just have some questions in relation to the Kunlun and Taishan bases operated by the Chinese in the Australian Antarctic claim. I know you've talked a little bit about going to Beijing and conducting negotiations. What I would like to know is whether you have any plans to inspect those bases?

Mr Clark : The Antarctic Treaty provides provisions for the inspection of Antarctic bases. That's an important part of the transparency of the treaty system. We, on occasion, conduct inspections of a range of bases in Antarctica as part of our program. We have a strategy to continue to do that. It is not something that we do or need to broadcast in advance and we wouldn't necessarily flag any future inspections through this process. But what we do aim to do through the inspection process is ensure that countries that we are inspecting are given sufficient notice to support any visit by the program.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you had any inspections on those two specific bases in recent times?

Mr Clark : No, we have not.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you have any plans to? Have you informed, as you said that you would, China that you would want to be able to inspect those bases?

Mr Clark : As I said before, we don't flag in advance where we may go to conduct inspections. Obviously we do it in a sufficient time frame to let countries know, in particular by the necessary logistics of—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What kind of logistics are required for something like that?

Mr Clark : The logistics required depend on the facility to be inspected. It may be something like overnight accommodation or a ski-way to support aircraft operations. It really depends on the facility being inspected.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'm asking about two specific bases. I'd like to know what logistics would be required. Is that overnight accommodation? I would also like to know what kind of budget would fit, to facilitate an inspection.

Mr Clark : Through this process, I don't think it would be appropriate to say that we are inspecting those locations or to go into the details.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But if you were to do so, how much money would it cost?

Mr Cahill : I'd have to take that on notice because of the timing of the year, the logistics and what you would agree in terms of level of accommodation, and to what extent that would cost. Part of it would be speculative, but we will take it on notice and see what information we can give you, to help with that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If you could, that would be helpful. I'm interested in what the logistics would be for those two specific bases and the indicative cost.

Mr Cahill : Some of it will be speculative because it depends on the nature and the time of year. We will get back to you on that.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can I follow up a few of the questions from Senator Urquhart regarding the runway that is being explored. Can you remind us: was the idea of the runway investing in long-term infrastructure, potentially for cost savings into the future? Do we have any idea at this stage about what kind of outlay we will be looking at?

Mr Pratt : We need to go through the processes that Mr Cahill ran through in order to form judgements on that. The purpose of this strategy, though, is not around cost savings; it's around benefits such as improving our winter science in Antarctica. There are significant safety enhancements available to the division and our operation down there. By having a year-round piece of infrastructure, it means we can get in and out if there are emergencies, which we can't currently do. Those are the drivers behind it.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Basically, it is a commitment, and a serious commitment. The international community sees science as the currency of the Antarctic Treaty and us making a long-term commitment. In terms of your business case, with the first, second and third pass on the business case, has there been any consideration in your numbers around tourism using that runway?

Mr Pratt : That is pretty speculative.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Do you understand the circumstances of the concerns?

Mr Pratt : It is not something that we have done costings on or anything like that. We are aware that, conceivably, there could be tourism options down the track, but that's not what we're on about.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I understand that. At what point in the process do you suspect that a decision would be made that it would be accessible for tourism ventures?

Mr Pratt : That is a question for a government 10 or 15 years into the future.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Ten or 15 years?

Mr Cahill : By its nature, if there was a final decision to embark on building such a runway, you are talking about several years. Any estimates of other types of things that the runway might be used for would not be realistic because the time is so far out. It is just acknowledging that that is a reality or a factor, but trying to estimate would not be reliable.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I note with interest the emerging concerns in the global community about access to the Antarctic by boats, especially large boats, and the cumulative impact that that is having on the Antarctic; so I will watch that with interest. Can I ask some questions on whaling? You are aware that last December Japan announced their intention to withdraw from the IWC. Does the AAD have any information about Japan's current whaling activities in this other nation? Are they still there or have they left?

Mr Cahill : I'm unaware. Usually, it's Australia's border protection, Home Affairs portfolio. I am unaware of any advice I have received from the division about any presence of Japanese whaling activity in the Southern Ocean. I understand that our people that represent that are appearing later today.

Mr Knudson : That area dealing with whaling would come under outcome 1.4. Our understanding is that the Japanese whaling fleet absolutely went to the Southern Ocean this year but have made a commitment, obviously, as part of their process of changing to observer status at the International Whaling Commission, that they intend to not conduct any further whaling in the Southern Ocean in future years. We can deal with the specifics of this year's campaign under 1.4.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I can ask then. Have you done any collaborative monitoring with other departments in relation to their current activities?

Mr Knudson : Again we would have to deal with the specifics at 1.4.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Has there been any communication with the AAD by the Japanese government in relation to their intentions? I have seen the statement they have made out of Tokyo about the IWC, but has there been any—

Mr Pratt : I have had numerous discussions with the Japanese government about their proposals around the commission and their intentions on whaling into the future—with representatives of the Japanese government, and always with the Japanese ambassador here in Canberra.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: It seems interesting that they are pulling out of the IWC's jurisdiction, yet they are discontinuing whaling in the Southern Ocean after many years. What is your understanding, Mr Pratt, as to why they are choosing the Northern Hemisphere and not the Southern Ocean into the future?

Mr Pratt : I am not able to speculate on that. I do know that their focus is on their exclusive economic zone. Certainly, we've had significant discussions around the fact that they will no longer conduct whaling exercises in the Southern Hemisphere, which we think is a terrific outcome.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Absolutely; it would be a good outcome. Of course, they will go and whale somewhere else, though. For us, it is a chance for you perhaps to claim some credit here as well, Mr Pratt: is this because of the years of action by the Australian government, letting them know that we weren't happy with them whaling in the Southern Ocean?

Mr Pratt : I'd hate to speculate. Certainly, my colleagues have done a terrific job in representing Australia's position—not only this department but also Foreign Affairs and Trade. Ministers have been very active in that for a long time. I think it is an excellent outcome for the Southern Hemisphere.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have a couple of quick questions on krill, if you don't mind. I note that your researchers are following blue whales in the Southern Ocean in an attempt to learn more about krill. At what point will we be able to, in terms of this study, get better information on the impacts of ocean acidification on krill populations? Is this a long-term collaborative project or are you expecting to have some results?

Dr Fenton : In terms of the voyage that is out there right now, with a lot of the work that they are doing, which is on the RV Investigator, the CSIRO national marine facility vessel, you will have seen quite a bit of media in the last week showing the super-swarm. They gave some amazing imagery of that, and the blue whales as well. This opportunity to be in the Southern Ocean is giving us a view of the krill swarms that we have never been able to have on our existing Aurora Australis, although I note that our new ship will have equivalent capabilities to do this type of work into the future. There has been a great deal of work done in the aquarium here at the division around ocean acidification. It has shown some incredibly interesting results. While the adults have some very clever mechanisms built into them that can adjust to ocean acidification quite well from experiments we have done, it is the egg and larval stages that are most at risk with that. That work is being done in an aquarium situation so far, but they are also testing up some of this on board right now. I haven't heard their results at this point. The work is continuing and it is a combination of experimental in the field and in the aquarium. This is really critical work for our understanding of krill into the future, and ocean acidification. We will update when we can.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: This committee a few years ago saw the work being done down in the AAD's laboratory in Hobart. How sensitive were the larvae and the small krill to very small changes in ocean acidification? Can you tell us at least that much?

Dr Fenton : We can send you more detail. We can send a copy of the paper to you, if you'd like that. They were quite sensitive. Hatching rates were quite a concern at the higher levels of where CO2 could go in the IPCC scenarios. For the moment it's okay under the conditions that we are seeing in the ocean. We can send you more detail, if that would be of use.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay. I understand that the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies released a report only a few weeks ago about new research looking at seismic surveys on zooplankton. Have you been involved in that research paper at all, or with any of that work?

Dr Fenton : I'd have to take on notice whether they've worked with us directly. I am aware of the work but I haven't followed it quite as closely as might be useful. If there is anything in particular that I can take on notice, I'm happy to do so.

Senator PATRICK: My questions are to Mr Bryson. I think he will be prepared for them. Could you give me some advice as to some of the milestones associated with the icebreaker? I'm trying to catch up on where we are up to. We were due to have the placement of the wheelhouse sections on 30 August as a new date; has that occurred?

Mr Bryson : Yes, that has occurred.

Senator PATRICK: All assembly blocks installed by 15 November?

Mr Bryson : No, that hasn't occurred.

Senator PATRICK: When do you think that will occur?

Mr Bryson : Technically, it has occurred. All the blocks are in place. We just have some steelwork that we want to be finished off before recognition, and we expect that to be completed by the end of March.

Senator PATRICK: Let's say 30 March. Noting that the original contract time frame for that was October, that puts you five months behind. I appreciate you said that a lot of the work has been done, but obviously these are payment milestones or significant project milestones. Would you like to comment on that? Are we sitting at five months delay across the project? Obviously, one milestone feeds into another and so forth.

Mr Bryson : With that particular milestone, although significant as a payment milestone, if you look at the next milestone, 14, which is the placement of the first crane, both cranes have been installed on the vessel. We are also significantly well advanced in the fitout of the spaces below deck 4. We're pretty comfortable with that. At the same time, my last estimation was a 13-week delay, and we're pretty confident that that is actually what we are dealing with at the moment.

Senator PATRICK: I think you said a 12-week delay, but I won't split hairs over that. With all blocks to be assembled, that milestone is to be completed on 30 March. Do you think you will be commencing harbour acceptance testing on 5 June?

Mr Bryson : At this stage the rest of the program looks pretty stable, from the information we are getting from both Serco and Damen. We intend to start set-to-work on some of the ship systems commencing in the middle of March, so everything flows out of that. At this stage we are reasonably confident that that will happen.

Senator PATRICK: I know we've discussed in the past that the cost of these delays will be borne by the contractor, but there are costs on the Commonwealth side, in that you have a project team that is running on. Could you give me the size of the team that you have that are Commonwealth employees or Commonwealth contractors that are not covered by the Damen contract?

Mr Bryson : At the moment we have a small project team of five people that are Commonwealth employees, and part of my time as well is attributed to the project.

Senator PATRICK: Could you perhaps estimate at this stage, projecting out to the end of the project, how much additional cost will be borne by the Commonwealth for your own internal personnel team? If you could take that on notice?

Mr Bryson : I will take that on notice.

Senator PATRICK: Obviously if this ends up resulting in a delay—and in my life in project management very rarely do you see something come back on time once it's slipped—there will be a cost of keeping Aurora Australis running for longer. Are you in a position, on notice, to calculate what you estimate the cost will be for running the Aurora Australis for longer?

Mr Bryson : I will take that on notice. It's a pretty broad question because Aurora Australis comes to the end of her life in April 2020 and there will be significant work associated with keeping her in survey, which we're not privy to, but at the same time we are also looking at other contingencies to cover any capability gap that we have at the moment, or expect.

Senator PATRICK: That's a leased vessel, isn't it, Aurora Australis? Is that how it works?

Mr Bryson : That's correct. It's chartered from P&O Maritime.

Senator PATRICK: If you were to extend the life of that to match up with the acceptance into service of the new icebreaker, one presumes you are going to get charged for that?

Mr Bryson : That would be correct, if that was the option we took up, but again that's a bit of speculation at the moment because it's one of our many options.

Mr Cahill : Proof of project technology includes looking at the market more broadly about what capabilities exist, which includes the Aurora Australis and other capabilities, and what could be put in place. That will not only give us the option, if the ship is materially late and affects the first season, the 2021 season, but also extra capacity, given the nature of traverse and other capabilities that we may need. It is something that we're looking at the market to see what is out there and what can be used. That's traditional operational planning that we do quite regularly.

Senator PATRICK: With a contract of this size, a five-month delay—I'm not going to forgive you, but I will say, as a former project manager, that there has been a lot worse—it does have a cost. I note that you alluded to this and you had $8.2 million in contingency for this project. I thought it was a little bit small, noting the ambitious nature of this vessel. Is it intended to cover those additional costs for Aurora Australis from the contingency budget of the project, or is that going to come from a contingency budget somewhere in the department?

Mr Cahill : There is that; there is the contingency element, which I think is slightly higher, depending on exchange rates—it's more than eight million at the moment—but also there's liquidated damages and other implications under the contractual arrangement that will address any lateness in the delivery of the ship as well.

Senator PATRICK: And that's something you would consider exercising to protect the Commonwealth?

Mr Cahill : We're looking at everything to protect our interests under the contract.

Senator PATRICK: Lastly I will look at the minister and say, 'Wouldn't it have been much better to have built this ship in Adelaide, rather than Romania?' That's a rhetorical question.

Senator Birmingham: There's a whole lot of evidence and analysis underpinning these decisions that I know you have explored with officials and others over a very long period of time. Clearly, the premise underpinning your statement would require an assumption that it would have been done more cost-effectively, more efficiently and better on time. All of those issues have been explored with you previously as to the reasons why there were higher risk possibilities in doing that.

Senator PATRICK: But it still would have been better to build it in Adelaide, wouldn't it?

Senator Birmingham: Well, it is always nice to dream.

Senator KIM CARR: To follow on from some of the points that Senator Patrick has been making, I'm interested to know what has been the proportionate share of the funding arrangements under the funding agreement, the five-year funding agreement, between the Antarctic Division and the Department of Science from its inception, which I understand is due to come to an end. Is that the case?

Mr Cahill : Can I clarify: are you talking about science funding?

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, the science funding. There was a funding agreement that was put in place, with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science putting in five million a year.

Mr Cahill : Through the CRC.

Senator KIM CARR: Through the CRC. The CRC finishes up in June 2019. What was the environment department's funding contribution through the Antarctic Division to that funding agreement?

Mr Cahill : I might get Mr Clark to expand on that. The government recently announced the continuation of the $5 million of CRC funding in terms of a new partnership, a science partnership—

Senator KIM CARR: And who would be funding that?

Mr Cahill : That's coming through the industry portfolio.

Senator KIM CARR: So it's a departmental appropriation, is it?

Mr Cahill : I don't have it. I will have to get one of the others to answer the detail. There was also $8 million worth of ARC funding, collating to a total of $13 million, and the government announced that that would be continued.

Senator KIM CARR: And how much is the—

Mr Cahill : Sorry, I will just clarify: it's not ARC anymore, but there was in total $13 million worth of funding continued.

Senator KIM CARR: Thirteen?

Mr Cahill : Yes, five from the industry portfolio and another $8 million through the education portfolio.

Senator KIM CARR: How much is the Antarctic Division putting in?

Mr Cahill : I will get Charlton Clark to answer that.

Mr Clark : Those figures of $5.1 and $8 million are the contributions of Industry and Education respectively. The contribution of the AAD to Antarctic science is far broader than just simply these measures. When you ask what is the contribution to that specific proposal, much of our contribution is determined by which science projects are eventually supported. So our contribution flows through not just the work of our science branch but the logistics of the operations and the capacity on our stations to support it. To put a value cost on that really depends on which projects eventually are agreed by those initiatives to be undertaken.

Senator KIM CARR: So you can't tell me how much you're putting in?

Mr Clark : Until the specifics of each of the research projects are confirmed. That process at the moment is under way, and I think it's the sort of question that we could provide quite some detail to you on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Sure. I appreciate you'd like to take it on notice, but I'm looking for a specific figure. What you're saying is you can't give me one.

Mr Cahill : The Australian Antarctic Division, which is over a $100 million a year—I think it's an operation in the vicinity of $120 million a year—solely exists to advance Australia's scientific interests. To what degree is it direct funding to science versus support versus running the bases, versus the ship time, versus the aircraft: all of those assets are deployed for the purposes of supporting Antarctic science.

Senator KIM CARR: So it is in kind, in effect, is it? Is that how it works?

Mr Cahill : A lot of it is in kind. Some of it is we direct-fund our own scientists to participate in some of the collaborative research we do both with those partners who are funded through the education and industry portfolios, but also international collaborations.

Senator KIM CARR: The logistical question that has been put to me is that there have been disproportionate amounts of money paid through the CRC to support the Antarctic Division—a disproportionate share of this agreement. Would you agree with that?

Mr Cahill : No, I don't agree with that.

Senator KIM CARR: How can you refute that when you can't give me a figure?

Mr Cahill : In terms of our arrangements with the CRC—and I am on the CRC board—and a lot of the support for CRC projects, if we are doing voyages or activities in the Antarctic continent and they can join those activities at no cost to the Antarctic Division, we don't charge them in any form or sense. It's only when there is a major change in the course of our operations that we look at what is the appropriate charge.

Senator KIM CARR: So how do you respond to the charge of somewhat rubbery figures coming out of the Antarctic Division on this matter?

Mr Cahill : I disagree with it.

Senator KIM CARR: So you will take on notice what the actual charges are?

Mr Cahill : We will take on notice our costings to support our—

Senator KIM CARR: What about the allegation that there is actually going to be a gap in the capabilities given that the new vessel won't come on stream until—what is it?—2021. The new icebreaker won't come into operation until 2021 and there will be a capability gap in the Australian research science. What do you say to that proposition?

Mr Cahill : I think that's not the right phrasing. There will be changes in terms of the access to science over a period of five years as we commission and bring on board a new icebreaker that will give access to scientific capability unprecedented in terms of Australia's Antarctic capability. By its nature, you have to test the ship; you have to change some of the access to science. So there will be a change in the level of access across the whole spectrum over a number of years, culminating in what is going to be a significant leapfrog and step forward in terms of the science that we can conduct down in the Antarctic continent and in the Southern Ocean.

Senator KIM CARR: So you're saying that we will be able to measure this, will we?

Mr Cahill : Consistent with the science governance measures, we are looking through the measures to be able to track our science work and the key measures that indicate our capability.

Senator KIM CARR: Tell me: how are we going to measure this?

Mr Cahill : We will work through that. That's part of the process.

Senator KIM CARR: Perhaps you can specify what these measurements will be?

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

Senator KIM CARR: It's put to me that there are, in fact, a range of grant application processes, there are a range of review processes under way, there are different funding schedules being put in place which will lead to a great variety of outcomes as a consequence of this change in science delivery, and there may be gross inefficiencies as a result of these changes. How do you respond to those types of suggestions?

Mr Cahill : I disagree with those. We have commissioned a review by Drew Clarke of science governance, where we are in the process of streamlining and addressing the multiple sources of funding, looking at how you can make more holistic logistics decisions and get better cost-effective outcomes from the Australian government's investment in science.

Senator KIM CARR: Drew Clarke has got this review under way?

Mr Cahill : It has concluded and the government has responded to it.

Senator KIM CARR: When is that concluded?

Mr Cahill : We are in the process of implementing it.

Senator KIM CARR: What peer review process was put in place along with the so-called Clarke review? What peer review process was put in place to evaluate that approach to ensure that that was a proper process?

Mr Cahill : There was wide consultation by Dr Clarke across all the portfolios and key stakeholders, including CRC's esteemed people in the scientific community. The report was then submitted to government and they responded and agreed or agreed in principle to all recommendations, and we are in the process of implementing that review.

Senator KIM CARR: And you say that's all accepted?

Mr Cahill : All agreed or agreed in principle and we're working through the implementation.

Senator KIM CARR: Agreed with whom?

Mr Cahill : Agreed by the Australian government, the report. We went to the Minister for the Environment.

Senator KIM CARR: My point is: it's government policy. I'm saying: with the scientific community, is it agreed?

Mr Cahill : The scientific community were consulted and the feedback I've got from the scientific community I'm engaged with is that they're comfortable with the direction that we are taking the implementation.

Senator KIM CARR: Perhaps you can take on notice as well the evidence to support that statement?

Mr Cahill : I'll take on notice where we are with implementing it and the feedback we've got on the report.

Senator KIM CARR: In your judgement, what's the process to replace the work that was undertaken by the ACRC?

Mr Cahill : There is a transition plan, overseen by the ACECRC board, looking at ensuring that we secure the scientific capability as part of the broader science community, as well as any projects that will still be active at the end of 30 June and how they transition to the University of Tasmania or other entities in the Hobart community.

Senator KIM CARR: This is because the CRC program now prohibits public benefit research.

Mr Cahill : That would be a matter for you to refer to the Industry portfolio.

Senator KIM CARR: That's the case, though, isn't it? You're on the board and would know this.

Mr Cahill : I'm not an expert in CRC.

Senator KIM CARR: But you're on the board. That would have been discussed, wouldn't it?

Mr Cahill : Elements of it were discussed, but the rules of why CRC funding has changed are a matter for the Industry portfolio.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, but you would be aware, as a member of the board, that the CRC was required to wind up because it didn't have ongoing funding.

Mr Cahill : By its nature, when the CRC board is notified by the Industry portfolio that its funding is ceasing, we must work through that process. But the reason behind that is a matter to be asked of the Industry portfolio.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Carr. Thank you, friends from the Antarctic. Mr Clark, do you have something else to add? Fire away.

Mr Clark : Chair, sorry to interrupt, but given the connection we have today and the difficulty of clarifying things later: a question was asked by Senator Urquhart earlier and my answer may have confused two issues regarding the outcomes from CCAMLR. I would like to correct that answer now for convenience.

CHAIR: Go for gold.

Mr Clark : In terms of outcomes, I mentioned that mechanisms were adopted to better manage the catch and fisheries closures, that there was broad consideration of climate change impacting how that works, but that initiatives to seek agreement on those initiatives were not successful. I may have rolled both those two answers together, previously.

CHAIR: Senator Urquhart looks satisfied. So thank you for that and thank you for your appearance today.