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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
18/02/2019
Estimates
ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY PORTFOLIO
Bureau of Meteorology

Bureau of Meteorology

[11:17]

CHAIR: We now call officers from the Bureau of Meteorology. Dr Johnson, welcome back. Do you have an opening statement?

Dr Johnson : No.

CHAIR: We will go straight to questions.

Senator CHISHOLM: Dr Johnson, can we get some key statistics about the records broken over summer?

Dr Johnson : Lots of records have been broken. The most outstanding ones would be heat and rainfall. Right across the country heat records were broken, both at the back end of 2018 and during 2019. January 2019 was the hottest month on record since records have been kept. Also, there was very significant weather in North Queensland during late January and into February and right across that part of the world rainfall records were broken: weekly totals, monthly totals and so on. The list is extensive. I would be happy to provide you on notice, if required, a detailed list, but in the interests of time I will keep my comments at a general level, if that's all right.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is this Australia feeling the impacts of climate change?

Dr Johnson : We certainly know that the heat situation is very strongly driven by climate change. There is a strong drying and warming trend in this country which we can attribute to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The rainfall situation is much more difficult. At this stage the science is still working to attribute specific rainfall events to climate change. But on things like fire and heat the science is strong in terms of the link between recent events and anthropogenic climate change.

Senator CHISHOLM: When was the latest State of the Climate report released?

Dr Johnson : In December. I hope you received a copy, Senator. We sent a copy to all members of parliament.

Senator CHISHOLM: Was the Minister for the Environment briefed on that?

Dr Johnson : She was, as was the minister for industry.

Senator CHISHOLM: When did that brief take place?

Dr Johnson : I would have to double-check the exact date, but that occurred in December.

Senator CHISHOLM: Minister Price has not done any media on the report since its release. As far as the department is aware, Mr Pratt, is there any reason why the minister has not been able to do this?

Senator Birmingham: Senator Chisholm, we took those questions on notice earlier and I didn't agree with your position, or claim. By all means ask the rest of your question, but the introductory assertions about whether Minister Price has done any media—

Senator CHISHOLM: Have we been able to get an answer on that one yet, Mr Pratt?

Mr Pratt : I have nothing to add to our discussion this morning, Senator.

Senator CHISHOLM: There have been significant bushfires and floods across Australia this month. Is the increased incidence of these natural disasters related to the impacts of climate change?

Dr Johnson : I think I answered that in my response to your first question, Senator. To re-affirm, we believe there is a strong link between the heat and fire phenomena that we've observed and climate change. The rainfall situation is a different story. We are still, from a scientific perspective, understanding how the change in the earth's atmosphere is affecting rainfall.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has the government requested any advice from the bureau on the impact of climate change on the incidence of natural disasters?

Dr Johnson : We regularly inform all governments—not just the federal government, but state and local governments—on the climate and its impacts on our communities.

Senator CHISHOLM: So nothing specifically, apart from your ongoing routine.

Dr Johnson : A routine part of the critical role that the bureau plays is advising all three levels of government on what's going on with the climate.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has there been any funding or staffing change to address the expected increase in the incidence of natural disasters?

Dr Johnson : I would have to take that on notice. We have a lot of capability in our underpinning science and climatology. I couldn't give you an answer right now as to what its dynamics have been over recent years, but if you would like that detail, I could provide it for you on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: Have there been any changes in staffing or funding as a result of the change in government policy?

Dr Johnson : Which government policy are you referring to?

Senator CHISHOLM: Just in general.

Dr Johnson : Successive governments have supported the bureau on many different levels. Your question is very general, Senator.

Senator CHISHOLM: Since the last Estimates hearings?

Dr Johnson : Not to my knowledge, no.

Senator CHISHOLM: What engagement has occurred with state emergency services with regard to natural disasters?

Dr Johnson : The bureau has deep and longstanding relationships with state emergency services and with Commonwealth emergency services as well. It's a critical part of our role in terms of providing our information to the community. The nature of those relationships varies across different states. For example, in your home state of Queensland we have a very deep relationship with QFES. During the emergency since the back-end of last year with fires in Queensland we have had staff permanently based at the State Disaster Coordination Centre in Kedron. We have regular engagements with QFES staff so that those decision-makers have access to the latest information on the weather.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is there specific funding for this engagement with the state emergency services?

Dr Johnson : The bureau obviously makes its resources available. In some jurisdictions the state agencies also make a financial contribution to that service. Again, it varies. For example, in Queensland the Queensland government makes a financial contribution to the support that we provide out at Kedron. In other jurisdictions it's not the case.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has the BoM budget increased over the last couple of years?

Dr Johnson : Since I've been director it has increased. That's since September 2016.

Senator CHISHOLM: What was the increase in the last budget?

Dr Johnson : This is a tricky one—part of the increase in budget is not for publication because it relates to some measures the government supported with respect to the security, stability and resilience of our ICT and observing systems. I can assure you that our budget has increased, but I can't give you that figure because it is Cabinet-in-confidence.

Senator CHISHOLM: Was there an increase in the operational budget? I gather that was a one-off?

Dr Johnson : That investment is to provide an overall uplift to our operations over the next five years. But if you are asking if the core underlying budget has increased, the answer is no, it has basically remained stationary.

Senator CHISHOLM: So as the risk of natural disasters has increased, the funding for the bureau to provide advice has not increased?

Dr Johnson : You have to look at the overall funding envelope of the bureau. It is an overall capability that we have to serve the Australian community. As I said a minute ago, the overall funding for the bureau has increased. If you want to disaggregate down to different levels, some have increased, some have remained stationary and some have decreased as we have re-assigned our priorities to what we think are the most important areas that the country expects us to be working in.

Senator Birmingham: Senator Chisholm, some of the areas of significant capital investment over recent years have been major technology upgrades that the bureau has had, which are designed to increase the capability, the productivity, of the existing ongoing budget envelope so that the staff and resources of the bureau are able to achieve higher-level outcomes.

Dr Johnson : Thank you, Senator. For example, just prior to my commencement in 2015, the federal government decided to fund a new super computer to the bureau, which we are in the process of operationalising. That makes a significant difference to our capabilities. Whether you regard that as an underlying investment or a one-off investment—I suppose it's a matter of semantics—examples like that demonstrate how our capabilities have improved over time. But the number of people we have has remained pretty much constant.

Senator CHISHOLM: Does the bureau engage in any adaptation, prevention and research activity?

Dr Johnson : We have a scientific capability that collaborates with agencies like the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, the Antarctic Division. Some of those collaborations have involved climate adaptation studies. I'm not aware today as to whether any of those activities are currently operational, but certainly historically we've been involved in that work.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has there been a specific funding mechanism for that?

Dr Johnson : Again, it has varied. Some of that has been through cooperative research centres or their equivalent. Some of it has been through industry funding. Some of it has been through funding from other government agencies and so on. So there has been a broad range of sources that fund our underpinning scientific effort.

Senator CHISHOLM: Would it be possible to provide more detail on notice?

Dr Johnson : Sure, I'd be happy to do that for you.

Senator CHISHOLM: And if there has been any funding currently for that as well?

Dr Johnson : Sure.

Senator CHISHOLM: I want to talk about the Murray-Darling Basin. Has the bureau provided a briefing to the Minister for the Environment, the Minister for Agriculture and Water or their departments on climate change in the northern basin?

Dr Johnson : We regularly brief both ministers on conditions in the Basin through a range of mechanisms. Probably the most recent mechanisms have been the State of the Climate report that you referred to. We also regularly brief ministers, the Prime Minister and the Joint Agency Drought Taskforce coordinator on conditions in the Basin. We have officers who are assigned to the drought taskforce and the information we prepare for that taskforce is circulated widely across government.

Senator CHISHOLM: What about the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder?

Dr Johnson : I'm not aware of our briefing that office personally; they draw upon the resources we make publicly available. But that doesn't mean that at an officer-to-officer level there hasn't been contact—I would be very surprised if that had not happened. Many of the data and information sources we provide are publicly available and easily accessible by a range of stakeholders.

Senator CHISHOLM: What about the Murray-Darling Basin Authority?

Dr Johnson : We haven't specifically briefed the Basin Authority recently, but we have a long history of providing information products to the MDBA. If you're interested in a list of those, I would be happy to provide it—they go back many years, often provided in collaboration with partners like the CSIRO. We are providing support, in terms of information and the time of officers, for the review that the former director of the bureau, Dr Vertessy, is conducting now, which you would be aware of, and which is to report to Minister Littleproud at the end of March.

Senator CHISHOLM: The Murray-Darling Basin Authority haven't asked for a briefing?

Dr Johnson : They haven't asked for a briefing, to the best of my knowledge, but, as I said, the information about climate and conditions in the basin is widely available, easily accessible, and so I'm working on the assumption that that information meets their needs. They know that we are available. We stand ready to support them any time, and that is there for them if they need us.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has the climate—

Senator Birmingham: Senator Chisholm, obviously it is probably worth your pursuing with the MDBA in terms of the data information sources that they draw upon for their meteorological information and forecasting and projections around river flows, inflows et cetera. I certainly I know that they have quite detailed hydrological modelling themselves which, no doubt, they would work with and share with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder in different ways, I imagine. But of course that would all draw upon some of the bureau's information sources too.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has the climate in the Northern Basin changed?

Dr Johnson : Certainly the climate studies that have been undertaken in that part of the world show an overall drying trend in recent years. That drying trend also is reflected in a trend in terms of decrease in stream flows in the Northern Basin; so, yes.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is that measurable? Have you been able to provide—

Dr Johnson : Absolutely, yes. There are long-standing records of obviously things like soil moisture, river heights, rainfall, temperature—all of those records that are available—and the analysis shows, as I said before, an overall drying trend in the northern part of the basin. And that's the intersection of temperature and soil moisture and other things and land use that then results in what we see in the streams.

Senator CHISHOLM: And what about the basin as a whole?

Dr Johnson : Overall we have seen a drying trend in the basin as a whole. It's been well established that there is quite a significant drying trend in the south-east of Australia. The two sorts of signal points in terms of the drying trend are in the south-east and also in the south-west of Western Australia. And we have certainly seen a drying trend. I'll put a number out there. I can be corrected by my colleagues but around about 11 per cent decrease in rainfall in south-eastern Australia in recent times since the sixties. So it's accurate, yes.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has there been, or is there likely to be, a change in flows to the rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin?

Dr Johnson : That's a complex question that we are probably not best positioned to answer. What we can say is that we expect that overall drying trend that I referred to before to continue. What actually ends up in the river is a manifestation of a whole range of things, including land use and river management policies which the bureau is not responsible for. But in terms of what comes out of the sky and lands on the soil, we're expecting—all other things being equal—for that drying trend to continue.

Senator CHISHOLM: And what would be the impact of this?

Dr Johnson : Impact of the drying trend?

Senator CHISHOLM: Yes.

Dr Johnson : Again, I think these are matters not for the bureau but we know that, when we receive less rainfall or the temperature increases, that has quite a significant impact on the river itself. It has a significant impact on regional communities. It has an impact on the ecosystems in the basin.

Senator CHISHOLM: What about the impact of climate change on evaporation rates? Is that something that can be measured?

Dr Johnson : Certainly we can measure evaporation from our weather stations. So that can be measured, yes.

Senator CHISHOLM: What's the impact of that?

Dr Johnson : The impact of greater evaporation rates? I think, again, the more evaporation there is the less water that's retained in the system.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is that what's occurring? Is that what the measurements are showing?

Dr Johnson : We know that as we get hotter weather that generally drives greater evaporation.

Senator CHISHOLM: What other impacts from climate change or prolonged droughts are expected?

Dr Johnson : I think the areas where we have greatest confidence are that, as we said in State of the Climate report, we know that the fire season is getting longer. We've seen evidence of that this year where we had a lot of fire activity during the spring, which was very unusual. So around fire and heat we have a high degree of confidence in terms of the changes that we are seeing now continuing. As I mentioned before, we have a high degree of confidence around the ongoing drying trend in the south-east of Australia and the south-west of Australia. We see a slightly wettening trend in the north of Australia, particularly in the north-west. They are the major trends. But again, I commend the State of the Climate report to you because that outlines in full detail the major drivers in the climate and how we expect it to play out in future.

Senator CHISHOLM: Just in terms of the dry soil, does that mean less water gets to the rivers because the soil is dry?

Dr Johnson : That's right.

Senator CHISHOLM: What about run-off? Does it leave the system faster?

Dr Johnson : That's the same thing. If the soil's dry it effectively soaks up. But again, how much runs off is also a function of vegetation cover. So with bare soil, generally water will run off faster than soil that has some sort of vegetation cover on it. It is a combination of soil moisture and vegetation cover and slope and a whole range of things that drive what runs off into the rivers.

Senator CHISHOLM: I just have some questions around jobs. I think you are still working through potentially moving forecasting jobs. Is that correct?

Dr Johnson : No. We're not moving forecasting jobs, just to be clear. As per my statement at our previous hearings, the bureau retains an absolutely strong commitment to all our officers in the states and territories. The process we're working through to reform and transform our public services is a work in progress. A business case is under development to be considered by the executive team on the 27th of this month. That process, as I said in December, will see no change in our commitment to our state and territory officers, but what will change is the nature of some of the tasks that go on in those particular locations. So in terms of the overall footprint of the bureau, where our people are located, I am not anticipating any material changes in the organisation.

Senator CHISHOLM: So will it mean, though, that forecasting is centralised in Brisbane and Melbourne?

Dr Johnson : No. I think I couldn't have been any clearer on that last December, and I've been on the public record, including in the great state of Tasmania as recently as Christmas, again affirming that that will not happen.

Senator CHISHOLM: Will any forecasters move?

Dr Johnson : Some forecasters—some meteorologists may choose to move as part of the process, but there will be no forced relocations of staff as part of the process. But if individuals—as they do now—wish to seek relocation in the bureau to suit their family or professional circumstances we are absolutely open to having that conversation with them.

Senator CHISHOLM: So some may indicate they want to move?

Dr Johnson : Absolutely. But that's situation normal, Senator. Like any workforce, we have a high degree of mobility. Mobility is encouraged. If staff members wish to relocate, that's something we'd consider as part of our normal operational considerations.

Senator CHISHOLM: Were there forecasters in the areas involved in the recent summer weather reporting?

Dr Johnson : Were there?

Senator CHISHOLM: Forecasters?

Dr Johnson : Our meteorologists are up to their eyeballs in all the severe weather events issuing warnings, providing forecasts right around the country.

Senator CHISHOLM: And based in those locations?

Dr Johnson : Let me give you a practical example. If you look at the fires in Tasmania, we had meteorologists in Hobart contributing to the warnings and forecasts we put out there. We also had meteorologists in Melbourne contributing. We had meteorologists in the other states in the Queensland floods in recent times. That was a truly national effort. We had staff from Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland all involved in providing the community with advice and guidance during that crisis. So that's how we want to operate more in the bureau about drawing on the full capability of the bureau where the weather and the community really need us to be.

Senator CHISHOLM: Is there a forecaster or more than one forecaster in or near Townsville?

Dr Johnson : We have two meteorologists in Townsville whose primary tasks are supporting Defence Aviation out of the basin in Townsville. Their primary role is, as I said, to support Defence Aviation. We have an agreement with the local authorities in Townsville that during times of crisis we mobilise those folks, again with the agreement of colleagues in Defence, to provide local contact and local guidance. But their primary role is to support Defence Aviation operations.

Senator CHISHOLM: Just finally, you might be aware of a story in the Sunday Mail yesterday about the lack of a radar in the north-west, making it harder to predict the massive water flooding event there. Did you have a comment on that?

Dr Johnson : I have quite a few comments on articles I see in the Courier-Mail about our services. But I think it's important for the community to understand a few things. The warnings and forecasts that we provided were for the Flinders River, for example, which is the main river that has caused so much heartache and pain for communities in the north. Those forecasts were of a very, very high quality. They draw upon a whole range of systems and techniques to issue those forecasts. If there had been a radar in that area, again depending on the type of radar, it may have assisted—it may have assisted—the capacity of our meteorologists to issue forecasts. It certainly would have provided some assistance for local people who are looking for real-time information. But again, it very much depends on the type of radar, because, of the 62 radars we have got, not all of those are able to provide us with information on rainfall rates. Others just detect that there's rainfall there but don't give you information on how much rain's actually falling. You don't really know until it's landed and it's in our automatic weather stations or our weather stations. Some of the latest radars, some of the most up-to-date technology can give us information on rainfall rates. But I stress it's only one of a number of systems that we use.

And you are right, there is a gap in our coverage. I mean, we have to provide a service for a whole continent. We have 62 radars at the moment. That's the fourth largest fleet in the world, after the Chinese, the Russians and the Americans. It's a huge land mass that we have to cover and, with the funding that we have available, we can't cover everywhere. And there are gaps right around the country that exist. We are working hard to close those gaps. We are working very hard with particularly state government agencies to close those gaps.

So in previous hearings here we have alluded to the fact that there are recently three new radars in Western Australia. There will be a new radar going in in the Wimmera in Victoria. We are at very advanced stages of negotiation with the New South Wales government around closing some gaps in western New South Wales. We are in active discussions with the Commonwealth about closing some gaps in Queensland. So it is something I am very attentive to because it's a useful tool for us and also a very useful tool for the community. I should have also added we are in advanced discussions with the Department of Defence about upgrading the radar at Katherine. So right around the country we are doing our best, but it's an enormous area and there are going to be gaps.

Senator CHISHOLM: Just finally, the Longreach radar was down?

Dr Johnson : Yes. We unfortunately had an outage at Longreach during late January, early February. It's an old radar, unfortunately. It's due for upgrade in a couple of years time. We had an outage there for a few days where we had an initial technical fault, and that fault was repaired. And unfortunately we had a power outage. Our radar network is stratified. They are priority 1, priority 2, priority 3s because we have to be able to prioritise from a maintenance point of view. There isn't a back-up power source on the Longreach radar. So unfortunately, with that power outage, that community didn't get that service over that period. But as I said before, there are other systems that we have in place which provide our meteorologists with the support they need to produce the forecasts and warnings that the community relies upon. We are pretty confident—very confident—that the warnings that we issued in that part of the world were not impeded by that Longreach radar outage. But I also understand for the local community that that had an impact. I'm sorry for that.

CHAIR: Senator Whish-Wilson.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Dr Johnson, back in 2016 after we had some severe bushfires in Tasmania I asked the BoM about dry lightning strikes. I know there have been some statistics provided this morning already. You said at the time that you were trialling some new software that helped detect dry lightning strike—

Dr Johnson : Yes, lightning.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Lightning?

Dr Johnson : Lightning, yes.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can you just give us an update on dry lightning?

Dr Johnson : Certainly. First of all, the bureau has released a new lightning service. Again, I'd encourage you to go to our website and have a look at that. And that provides a comprehensive, somewhat scary picture actually of just lightning activity right around Australia on any given day—an enormous amount of lightning occurs.

With respect to dry lightning in Tasmania, I know there is a lot of interest, particularly in the north-west, around this. Senator McKim has asked, as you know, for some specific information around this. We know that dry lightning is a phenomenon right around the country. It is a major ignition source which then drives bushfire behaviour. Yes, we can detect that lightning with our lightning service.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: During this Christmas which has just gone by, and in January, we had multiple events of dry lightning in Tasmania. Were you working across agencies to—

Dr Johnson : Absolutely. We work very closely with fire and emergency services, the SES in Tasmania. As I said before, in answer to Senator Chisholm's question, we also deployed very significant resources from other parts of the bureau, not just our Tasmanian office, to support the effort in Tasmania. As you know, in Tasmania it is a very dangerous situation and we wanted to make sure we had the full horsepower of the bureau behind those folks on the front line in Tasmania.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: This was probably answered this morning, but is this something we can expect—an increased frequency? Is there any science behind that?

Dr Johnson : As I said to Senator McKim, there are no current signals as to whether there's an increase or decrease in dry lightning as a response to climate change. We don't have the science to confirm one way or the other whether there's been an increase. What we do know, though, is that, as the country dries out, under a drying and warming trend, it makes it more susceptible to phenomena like dry lightning as an ignition source. As we know, the north-west of Tasmania is under a drying and warming trend, so there is an increase in vulnerability there, not just from dry lightning ignition sources but from all ignition sources—man-made and natural.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Dr Johnson, I should probably know this: how long have you been in your role now?

Dr Johnson : I started in September 2016.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I might come back to a question on that in a moment. Senator Chisholm asked you about the business case for changes in forecasting arrangements and the executive plan to implement those changes. You mentioned that nothing has been actioned in that.

Dr Johnson : I'm sorry?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I think you mentioned nothing has been actioned in that regard?

Dr Johnson : No. Since we last met, colleagues in the bureau have been working on developing that case. That's been progressing well. We are on track to consider that business case on 27 February.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: So it will be before the federal election. Are you able to say if there will be any changes to Tasmanian staffing and service arrangements?

Dr Johnson : As I said in this chamber and on the public record, our commitment in all states and territories, not just Tasmania, remains rock solid. I am anticipating no material shift in numbers. It's my hope and expectation—I don't want to pre-empt the decision—that we will see an overall increase in our footprint in supporting our meteorological operations in all states and territories. As I said before, there will be no decrease in our footprint in Tasmania or any other state. I don't think I could be any clearer on that.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Will that business case be available for public consumption on 27 February?

Dr Johnson : Absolutely. I think it's important to understand that the business case is about transforming the impact and value that the bureau has on the community for the community. It is around driving a step change in the services that we provide to the Australian community. It is not about a reduction in the services; it is about enhancing the services—making those services more useful, more valuable and fully unlocking the insight and wisdom that exist in the bureau to support our community, particularly during times of need, as we have seen over these last few months. With respect to this notion that somehow the bureau services will be diminished or reduced, I can't be any clearer than saying that's a fallacy. What it does mean is that the way the bureau works needs to change. We will be working really closely with our staff to make sure their knowledge and their insight contribute to the detailed design around how that best happens.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: In terms of that capability in service, you may still be able to deliver that. But the question is: how many jobs are we going to see relocated to Brisbane, Melbourne and other places?

Dr Johnson : There will be no forcible relocation of jobs across the bureau. Again I have answered that already this morning.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: But you may offer voluntary redundancies?

Dr Johnson : That is entirely speculative at this stage. We are at a high-level planning stage. As I said before, my expectation is that the number of operational front-line staff that the bureau deploys to the weather will increase. To be frank, I don't want to have the executive team meeting here in this chamber. I think I've given you a strong-enough signal that I don't see a decline in our numbers. I'm hoping that there will be an increase.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: A last question from me. You've been in the job for a couple of years, Dr Johnson, but Mr Pratt's been around for a while, too. You may have to take this on notice or you may have some kind of inkling: do you remember when BoM first publicly spoke about the weather and the changes we are seeing as climate change?

Dr Johnson : No. There has been commentary in the meteorological community around global atmospheric conditions since the 1960s.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Yes, I'm aware of that.

Dr Johnson : I would be surprised, given the global connection that the bureau has to the global scientific community, if we weren't actively engaged in those discussions. I can't give you that answer. It's a very generic question, to be frank.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: It's a very important question to me and to many people, Dr Johnson, because it seems that we are openly talking about the changes we are seeing around us now as being related to climate change. My own personal experience is that that didn't happen even a few years ago. That's quite a significant change in the public debate.

Dr Johnson : Prior to taking up this role, and one job removed from there, I worked at the CSIRO. The CSIRO and the bureau have been actively talking about climate in this country for decades. The State of the Climate report that we published this December was the fifth biennial, so there are at least 10 years of formal dialogue from the nation's two major climate science agencies.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Indeed; and I followed a lot of that very closely. As you know, I, Senator Carr and others were actively involved in making sure capabilities were not cut in the area of monitoring and observations et cetera. Once again, my understanding is that the frame was, 'This is what we expect the future of climate change to be; this is what the future looks like,' rather than definitively saying, 'It's here now, it's arrived.' Do you think that's a fair—

Dr Johnson : We have been on the record for some considerable time, again particularly around phenomena such as temperature, fire and also in some cases, for example, the drying trend in south-west Western Australia, for many years, saying that these are attributable to changes in the global atmospheric conditions. As the science continues to evolve and continues to shed light on what is a very complex system, we will continue to speak publicly as that scientific information comes to hand.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I want to chase up some of those questions asked by Senator Chisholm in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin. Obviously, the fish kill has focused people's minds on the climate impact on the management of the basin. Has anyone within the minister for water's department or office contacted you in relation to this issue?

Dr Johnson : Contacted me personally?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes.

Dr Johnson : No, but I can't rule out that officers within the bureau may have received contact from either the MDBA—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'm asking about the minister's office.

Dr Johnson : The minister's office has not contacted me personally, no.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the minister's office been in contact with the bureau at all in relation to the—

Dr Johnson : They may have been. I don't have full oversight of every action in any direction in the bureau. We could find that out, if it is something you're interested in.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I would be.

Dr Johnson : I'm not aware of it. That doesn't mean to say that it hasn't happened.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Following the South Australian royal commission's report into the Murray-Darling Basin, where there was pointed criticism that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan did not include climate change, has any government agency or minister contacted the bureau for more information about that?

Dr Johnson : Not that I'm aware of. Are you saying since the release of the royal commission report? Not to my knowledge.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you aware of the comments and analysis in the SA royal commission report?

Dr Johnson : Only very broadly and from what I read in the media. I haven't had a chance to read the report.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Would you agree with the assessment that climate change is not included in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?

Dr Johnson : I haven't memorised the plan, Senator. Having been involved many years ago in the formulation of a plan by providing advice during my time at CSIRO, I do know that the basin authority was provided with a very significant amount of information from both CSIRO and the bureau on climate phenomena in the basin and projections about future climate. Going to Minister Birmingham's commentary before, how they've chosen to use it is really a matter for the department of agriculture and for the basin authority. I know that a lot of information was provided.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the special envoy for drought, Mr Barnaby Joyce, sought a briefing from the bureau at all?

Dr Johnson : Not to my knowledge. Major General Day, who is working closely with Mr Joyce, has been in very close engagement with the bureau. We have provided him with a number of personal briefings. As I said before in response to Senator Chisholm's question, we are providing regular weekly and fortnightly briefings to the task force. Those briefings are being circulated and promulgated right across government.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You're not aware as to whether Mr Joyce has sought a briefing on the impacts of climate change on drought?

Dr Johnson : I'm not aware of any requests from Mr Joyce to the bureau personally, but I know that Major General Day is keeping Mr Joyce very closely briefed on the situation.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Joyce would be receiving information that says that climate change is impacting on—

Dr Johnson : You'd have to ask him. I'm working on the assumption that he has been briefed by Major General Day. You might want to ask him how he is briefing Mr Joyce. It would be a reasonable assumption, given the wide distribution of the bureau's information to the drought task force right across government, that a very large audience is receiving that information.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Would any of that information, on the briefings that you've given to the special envoy for drought via the task force, be available for you to table?

Dr Johnson : We could certainly table all the information that we provided to the task force and to the leader of the task force, Major General Day. If you are interested in that material, we would be very happy to make it available to you.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That would be helpful; thank you.

Dr Johnson : There's a lot.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'm specifically interested in the impact and connection between drought and climate change. Obviously, my home town of Adelaide received a lot of attention for hitting 46.6 degrees in January, which was the hottest day on record. Were the South Australian government in contact with the bureau at all in relation to the impact of those heatwaves?

Dr Johnson : Absolutely. Given the capabilities that we have, we were able to anticipate that heat well in advance. I hope, as a citizen of Adelaide, you would have received our warnings and guidance that a severe heat event was coming. It's something we take very seriously because heat is the single largest killer of Australians in terms of severe weather phenomena. Our heatwave service is a very important part of our overall offering to the community. We worked very closely with emergency services in South Australia in advance of that event to prepare them as best we could.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is it BoM's understanding and analysis that there will be more hot days like that in Adelaide going forward?

Dr Johnson : As I've answered a number of times today, and as we've said on the public record, we expect that warming trend to continue, all other things being equal. So, yes, hot days like that will continue. Where they will exactly be and when they will be is something we can't predict. But we do know that there's an overall warming and drying trend in the southern parts of Australia; so events, like you described in Adelaide will continue to occur.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Going back to the issues in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin, has the bureau been asked to analyse whether there will be more weather events that would create any more fish kills?

Dr Johnson : I think there's an independent review of that particular event you're describing up at Menindee, so I wouldn't want to pre-empt the outcomes of that. As I said before, we're making available officers from the bureau, making available data and other information sources we have, to assist Professor Vertessy's review. Again I don't think it's appropriate to comment or speculate on what actually has happened up there. Also, it's outside my area of expertise. I will leave it to an expert in Professor Vertessy. The bureau stands ready to provide anybody with the information and knowledge we have about what is happening in that part of the world as is needed.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The academy of scientists have released their report today on the impacts and the reasons why the Menindee fish kill occurred. Did the bureau provide any information for that review?

Dr Johnson : I'm not sure. I haven't seen it. I've been here this morning so I haven't had a chance to see it. I would be surprised if they didn't draw upon publicly available information from the bureau.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Information that would then be available for this other review, as you have suggested.

Dr Johnson : Absolutely.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you.

CHAIR: I think that is us done for the bureau. Thank you very much, Dr Johnson and Ms Gale.