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RURAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
20/10/2010
AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO
Department of Climate Change

CHAIR —I welcome officers from climate change. The committee has decided that we would like to start with Senator Siewert questioning on climate change.

Senator SIEWERT —I want to go to the drought pilot in Western Australia. How is it going? What is the uptake? I understand there is a waiting list. Here is Senator Back, so we will tag team on WA.

Senator Ludwig —There is no need to gang up.

Senator SIEWERT —You are lucky Senator Adams is not here as well.

Senator COLBECK —I do not mind waiting until later.

Mr Noble —Progress on the drought pilot to date has been fairly strong. If the committee would like, I can run through measure by measure to give a sense of the level of take-up of the different measures.

Senator SIEWERT —That would be good.

Mr Noble —For the farm-planning measure, which is the program providing the training to farm businesses, the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia advice to 30 September 2010 is that there have been 341 farm business applications approved and over 375 applications received. For that program, 11 of the training groups are actually underway—those are groups of 10 to 15 farm businesses running through the program and—25 participants have completed the training. That represents 10 farm businesses. So that is the farm-planning program. With the Building Farm Businesses grants, the first applications for that particular program are expected in October as the farm businesses complete the prerequisite farm-planning program. I think our advice earlier in the week from the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia was that so far they have received three applications for that. Clearly, it is very early days for that program. The Farm Family Support Program—the income support program delivered by Centrelink in the region—to 1 October 2010, Centrelink advised that they had received 169 applications for that program. The Stronger Rural Communities Program—

Senator SIEWERT —They have received those applications. Have they all been approved?

Mr Noble —To date, 21 claims have been granted and 90 are being assessed.

Senator SIEWERT —So 21 granted?

Mr Noble —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —And 19 assessed?

Mr Noble —And 90 are being assessed.

Senator SIEWERT —So there is still 50-odd, or a bit under 50-odd, that have not been dealt with?

Mr Noble —They have either been dealt with or rejected. We are advised by Centrelink that the rejection rate is equivalent to similar rural programs delivered by Centrelink.

Senator SIEWERT —How many of those remaining have been rejected and how many have not been dealt with?

Mr Noble —I think approximately 50 of the applications received have been rejected.

Senator SIEWERT —And why would they have been rejected?

Mr Noble —There is a range of reasons. I can take on notice, if you would like, a breakdown.

Senator SIEWERT —That would be good.

Mr Noble —For example, it is things such as farmers not meeting the eligibility criteria or the insufficient provision of information and so forth.

Senator SIEWERT —If you could take that on notice, that would be good. Thank you.

Mr Noble —For the Stronger Rural Communities Program—that is a program providing grants of up to $300,000 to local government authorities—the applications for that program closed on 15 September. The National Rural Advisory Council is meeting today to go through the assessment of those applications. They will then make the recommendations to the minister about the particular programs to fund.

Senator SIEWERT —I want to go back to the farming families support. Senator Back, jump in. Is there a closing date on that?

Mr Noble —That particular program closes at the end of the pilot. So the pilot goes to 30 June 2011. And that particular measure is not capped.

Senator SIEWERT —So that is not capped and it just goes to June next year?

Mr Noble —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you. In terms of the stronger regional communities, how many applications did you have?

Mr Noble —There were 42 applications covering 33 local government areas in the pilot region.

Senator SIEWERT —I am going to flip back to the farming families support process. In terms of the pilot area, have there been applications received from outside the pilot area?

Mr Noble —I am not aware. Again, I can double-check whether one of the rejection reasons has been because the applicants were outside the pilot region. I would think that is a very low number. Centrelink provides a range of other services to people outside of the pilot region as well.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you.

Senator BACK —I want to put the Western Australia perspective and perhaps give some understanding. The minister was in WA a couple of weeks ago—and farmers were appreciative of that, Minister. In a normal year we would receive about 14 million to 16 million tonnes of wheat. This year, last Friday, Co-operative Bulk Handling’s assessment upgraded was four million tonnes for the year. That is the level. As of two weeks ago, they announced they would not be opening 100 receiving points, so that figure has probably gone up since then. That is the first time in the history of the state. With regard to the program, there were agricultural advisers to the drought reform scheme; that is the term I will use. Is that a reasonable term, drought reform scheme?

Mr Noble —The drought reform pilot.

Senator BACK —My understanding is that agricultural advisers were effectively excluded in the planning program, as has been told to me by two of the largest ones. Is there any reason why they did not participate in the planning phase?

Mr Mortimer —There is no specific reason on that, Senator. The Commonwealth discussed the arrangements for the program with the WA state government and it was settled between the two governments with the support of the two agencies—the WA agricultural department and ours. As I understand it, WA agriculture developed a specific training scheme for this pilot, which is being delivered by Curtin University. So it was not specifically excluding advisers. Rather, it was developing a new set of modules to provide a comprehensive farm-planning and training scheme, which was to be a key part of the pilot. That is the way it was developed, as far as we understand.

Dr O’Connell —Senator, the farm-planning component is funded and delivered by the WA department. So this is a partnership where they deliver some components and fund some components and we do others. If you want further information, we can certainly get what we can.

Senator BACK —I ask the question really on the basis that I would have thought since the farm management consultants or financial advisers to agriculture probably have the portfolio of the most successful farmers in the state, there would have been a lot of merit and wisdom in including those people who could have actually given some guidance to the planning for the program, and particularly the type of information that would be required by the people who are going to participate.

Mr Mortimer —I understand what you are saying, Senator. As I said earlier, this was designed as a new measure to test a new approach. That is why the modules were put together—to try to be comprehensive. How ag WA pulled that together and who they got advice from is not something I can speak about here and now. But I am happy to take that on notice, as Dr O’Connell suggested, and provide any further comment on that.

Senator BACK —My understanding is that the Commonwealth contributed $15 million and the state government contributed $5 million. Is that right?

Mr Mortimer —They are not quite the exact numbers, but it is close. The Commonwealth contribution is $17.9 million and the WA contribution is $5 million to provide a total of $22.9 million.

Senator BACK —And based on the data you were kind enough to provide to us, is there now an update as to whether those funds will be sufficient to service all those who have actually made application in the various areas that you have described?

Mr Mortimer —That is something that we have not come to any particular view on. It is a pilot, so it is being rolled out as such. I am conscious that there have been discussions about the access to the farm training measure, but that is something that no decision has been made on at this stage. The funding is there. It was agreed between the Commonwealth and WA, so I guess we will see what comes when the current funds are expended. Then there will be discussions between the two governments as to whether there is anything different needed.

Senator BACK —Officers from your department have not actually participated. I understand that it is actually conducted from the state level.

Mr Mortimer —That is right. That was the nature of the agreement, yes.

Senator BACK —Some of the feedback that has come back is that obviously it has been complimentary to the facilitators in terms of their efforts in presenting material. There have been comments that they feel that Curtin University people just do not have sufficient familiarity with agriculture or with the farming challenges, but I do not think these are questions I can put to you. But the overwhelming view in the agricultural community is that if part of the program was designed for those who are going to exit from farming, that is fine. But for those who want to continue in farming, some form of EC or other funding is going to be essential. Minister, I think you probably had that view put to you fairly strongly from those to whom you spoke in WA in the last couple of weeks?

Senator Ludwig —There was a range of views expressed to me. But what I did say is that this is a trial that we have put in place. It is a pilot. It is not designed to address the current circumstances. But we do recognise that WA is going through a very dry period. Can I say that my sympathy goes to a lot of the people whom I saw and spoke to in some of the tough conditions that they were facing. But the trial is designed to elicit responses, to let the trial run its course and provide feedback and information about this. If you look at the current EC, exceptional circumstances, that has been in place for some time across the eastern seaboard. Of course, it remains as one of those programs that is there. What we are looking to do is to provide a pilot and to provide feedback in relation to that pilot so that we can look at how we can build resilience and support into rural communities to deal with variable climate conditions—the whole gamut of variability of climate that the agricultural community or regional communities face. So all of those matters were put to me and Minister Redman when we visited. I had an opportunity to speak to him in his office in Perth and visit the rural communities. I am not sure whether you were here this morning when I was asked where I went. I have been to Mukinbudin, or Muka, as they preferably call it, right throughout to—

Senator BACK —Narembeen and Hyden, I think.

Senator Ludwig —Lake Grace and spoke to some people who were farming community members there. I also had an opportunity at Wagin to speak to the people who are in the latter part of the process of being delivered information by Curtin University. Of course, we did field questions, Minister Redman and I, there across the community dealing with a whole gamut of issues that I am sure you are familiar with. But the import that I wanted to ensure was that this is a trial and we do want feedback from both the WA government and the participants in the system to see how we can ensure that there is resilience built into the communities there that experience a variable climate. I hope that answers your question without taking too much time.

CHAIR —Thank you, Minister. Sorry, Senator Back, but it is 10.30. We do have a private meeting; I am very conscious of that. We will take a 15-minute break.

Proceedings suspended from 10.29 am to 10.46 am

CHAIR —We are asking questions of the climate change area in terms of the Western Australian drought pilot assistance program. Senator Back is in continuation.

Senator BACK —As part of this process, I would like to move beyond the pilot and ask: is there any consideration or capacity for government support for drought stricken Western Australian farmers whilst the pilot is underway and funds have been committed to it, or has the expenditure on the pilot effectively removed any further opportunity of EC funding for Western Australian farmers?

Mr Mortimer —Senator, what was agreed with the WA government was that the pilot would run from 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011. To ensure that that was an effective pilot, it was agreed by WA that no EC claims or applications would be made for that region for that period of time. So there is an agreement there between the two governments about the conduct of that and the framework around it. In terms of the rest of WA, there is no such agreement in place. We could reasonably expect that an application could be made for areas in WA outside the pilot area if the WA government so wished.

Senator BACK —The pilot area is a specific geographic area, is it?

Mr Mortimer —That is right. I will define the boundaries for it, which was settled between the Commonwealth and the state. We can get you a map that shows you those.

Senator BACK —Obviously negotiations for the pilot would have been conducted in the early part of this year before we knew we were not going to have a season. Putting it into perspective and perhaps somewhat personally, Senator Mary Jo Fisher’s family have farmed for 99 years at Beverley, which would be one of the safest areas in the Avon Valley in WA. Her brother told me the other day that they had to go back to 1914 to find rainfall as low as 2010. There is a lot of discussion going on, and the minister would have been appraised of this, of the prospect of examining yet again a risk managed or multi-peril insurance scheme for crop protection not on the profit of the crop but the cost of production. Has the department addressed itself at all to issues associated with possible support for such a feasibility study at least?

Mr Mortimer —For multi-peril crop insurance?

Senator BACK —Multi-peril crop insurance.

Mr Mortimer —Look, Senator, there was a major study on that done a few years ago, which the department was engaged in. I think it was when Minister Truss was minister for the portfolio. It was done in conjunction with industry organisations and with the insurance industry. I think it has been provided and made public over time. That was a very significant analysis of multi-peril crop insurance which found that there are considerable problems with implementing multi-peril crop insurance in Australia. I suppose to cut to the chase, it found that there are a lot of problems and risks, particularly around data and the availability of data and what that might mean for farmers but also that the costing did not stack up in terms of a commercial proposition. The only way it could be expected that a multi-peril crop insurance scheme could operate in Australia would be with considerable government support. So, at the time, the government decided not to proceed with that. We have the study. I think it is still current. We draw on that material and analysis when need be.

Senator BACK —I can perhaps advise you that industry at the moment is trying to finalise funding for a comprehensive feasibility study, with input from those most likely to be affected by continuing failure, including the banks, the bulk handling groups, the grain handlers et cetera. The average cost of putting in a crop in Western Australia now is about $1 million. It is likely that up to 50 per cent of Western Australian grain growers next year will not be able to get the finance to put a crop in unless there is some degree of assistance. I will perhaps provide that for information rather than question. Whilst Minister Redman is certainly being canvassed, do I take it from here that there would not be capacity for support from your department to assist with that feasibility study? Again, remember that previous studies, Mr Mortimer, have been conducted based on profit of the crop whereas the current study is based on a cost of production recovery.

Dr O'Connell —I think you were talking a little hypothetically in one sense. Before we took a definitive position, it would be something that I would want to discuss with the minister and brief the minister on. I think there is a fundamental issue with multi-peril crop insurance that is subsidised by government, and that is the degree to which it potentially creates perverse results in terms of risk management by the subsidised farmer. And that comes out regularly as one of the driving concerns. If you are clear that you will be subsidised essentially for the risk of your crop production, you may well take different risks. You have a different risk profile, essentially.

Senator BACK —I concur with that, Dr O’Connell, except to say that there may be a case for support for a limited number of years—maybe three to five years—to establish a sufficient pool of farmers who can then carry that program on. I agree with you about it as a permanent arrangement. I am well aware of the circumstances in Canada and the United States, where you are correct. If a feasibility study were to support the assertion that premiums and a sufficient pool of farmers could keep it going without government support over time, I would urge that such consideration be given to support it by federal and state, for that matter, governments.

Mr Mortimer —We are happy to provide that study again, subject to any issues that the minister might have. I think it has been provided to senators previously. That will be helpful. It was a very thorough analysis. It sets out all the issues. It might be beneficial to both you and the farmers in WA, although my memory was that there was representation from WA farmers on the working group for that at the time. I cannot remember the exact names of the people.

Senator BACK —Thank you.

Senator COLBECK —Have there been any requests to reopen EC assistance in WA?

Mr Mortimer —No. We have not received any requests to reopen EC assistance in WA.

Senator COLBECK —Obviously the minister has had some conversations with the state minister in recent times to look at the issues over there. Is EC specifically ruled out at the current moment?

Mr Mortimer —There was an agreement made between the Commonwealth and the state government, which was captured in a national partnership agreement. It was that the trial would operate within a defined area within WA with specified boundaries. For the period of the trial, WA agreed not to make a claim for EC. That was essentially to ensure that the pilot could operate—

Senator COLBECK —So that is for that 12 months in the pilot?

Mr Mortimer —Yes. And the pilot could be a true pilot and test new measures as opposed to being confused and muddied, if I can use that expression, with EC.

Senator COLBECK —How many farmers have received $60,000 grants?

Mr Noble —For the building farm business groups, to date, approximately three applications have been received. But a prerequisite for people to access that program is for them to complete the farm planning program. We would expect over the next month or two to start receiving a steady stream of applicants for the grants program. But to date no-one has received any of the grants.

Senator COLBECK —No-one has received any money yet?

Mr Noble —No.

Senator COLBECK —I want to go right back to a question. I submitted at question CC28 a fairly detailed question on notice, which may have actually helped. Can you tell me where that question is actually at?

Mr Mortimer —It was a long one, Senator, with a lot of details. My current advice is that it has not been finalised, but I would need to check with the people in our corporate policy area.

Senator Ludwig —It has been submitted.

Senator COLBECK —Well, I just asked the secretariat during this morning’s hearings where it was and they do not have any advice on it.

Senator Ludwig —CC28?

Senator COLBECK —Yes.

Senator Ludwig —It looks like it has. It seems to be on paper that it shows that it has been.

Senator COLBECK —I had a question in my notes to ask about it—

Senator Ludwig —We will take it on notice and get back to you.

Senator COLBECK —and consequently did not make a fuss earlier when you claimed that you had answered all the questions.

Senator Ludwig —No. I may not have answered all the questions.

Senator COLBECK —I think that was the conversation and the impression that Senator Macdonald had, and it is certainly the impression that I had. While you are looking, there is CC29 as well, which is also quite a detailed question.

Dr O’Connell —We can clarify that very quickly, Senator. It is just a question to ensure what date it would have gone through.

Senator NASH —Minister, I am encouraged by your earlier comments when you referred to your excellent previous record in terms of questions on notice. We look forward to being—

Senator Ludwig —Well, I did not say it was excellent. I said—

Senator NASH —No. Let me finish.

Senator Ludwig —it was pretty good.

Senator NASH —Sorry, I did not mean to put words in your mouth. I was perhaps just hoping that might be the case. But you certainly did indicate your track record was good.

Senator Ludwig —Yes.

Senator NASH —This has been perennial. I understand it is nothing to do with you, Minister. This has been perennial in this committee and it is getting beyond a joke. To actually have the situation now where, at 11 o’clock on the morning of estimates, we are arguing about whether or not it has been submitted is appalling. I know, Minister—

Senator Ludwig —Can I agree with you?

Senator NASH —Just let me finish, please. I know you will now undertake to improve the track record of questions coming to this committee because, when asking about a question that has been taken on notice—whether or not we have got it—to be told you are going to take that on notice is a little difficult for this committee.

Senator Ludwig —I completely agree, Senator Nash. It is one of those areas where I intend to improve.

Senator NASH —Thank you.

Senator Ludwig —It is very important.

Senator NASH —Marvellous. We will so look forward to that. Thank you, Minister.

Senator Ludwig —I can confirm that 29 has not been tabled as yet. It was one of the ones that—

Senator NASH —It was in your too-hard pile?

Senator Ludwig —No. It is not far away, as I am advised.

Senator COLBECK —My understanding is that the committee has not received anything on either of those two—28 or 29. Effectively, the rationale is that it is a complex question or detailed, yes? It is a detailed question; there are 17 points in it.

Senator Ludwig —Just so you are aware: as I understand it, they came up either last night or this morning to my office. Given that I am here—

Senator COLBECK —It is something for you to look for when you get back.

Senator Ludwig —I will try to do it when I get the next opportunity.

Senator COLBECK —If the program is to be rolled out nationally—and I suppose that is a hypothetical, which does place some qualification on it—what is the time period a farmer must wait before applying for a new grant?

Mr Mortimer —The issue of rollout nationally is yet to be settled. There will be an evaluation of the pilot program before that is determined. But in terms of the current pilot—perhaps Mr Noble might be able to answer in part—

Senator COLBECK —Well, I do not think there were any EC areas in Western Australia anyway, were there?

Mr Mortimer —No. There were not at that time.

Senator COLBECK —Was there a qualification period from someone receiving previous payments coming on to the new program?

Mr Noble —For the building farm business grants, the up to $60,000 grants, there is an eligibility criterion that a farm business cannot receive both a farm business grant and an exceptional circumstances interest rate subsidy in subsequent years. The payments under the building farm business program are provided over four years to the successful farm businesses.

Senator COLBECK —So what funding has been expended to date? Have we already done that?

Mr Mortimer —Yes. I think you have done it in terms of the number of farmers uptake, so that might answer that.

Senator COLBECK —So does number of farmers equate to a figure, does it, specifically?

Mr Mortimer —That quantum of expenditure?

Senator COLBECK —Yes.

Mr Noble —Senator, we would need to take that on notice, if you would like expenditure figures to the end of September, for example. Is that the sort of figure?

Senator NASH —I want to clarify something. I apologise if it has already been asked. What is the time period from the tick-off on the application to when the project has to be completed?

Mr Noble —The application for which element of the pilot are we talking about? Are we talking about the Building Farm Businesses grants?

Senator NASH —Yes. Those ones, yes.

Mr Noble —The activities that a farm business may apply for can occur over a period of four years. Once the application is received, the first payment will be paid this financial year. That is a prepayment. Payments in subsequent financial years are paid on a reimbursement basis.

Senator NASH —Correct me if I am wrong, but is it the Stronger Rural Communities grants?

Mr Noble —Yes.

Senator NASH —Are they the ones that are due to be completed by the middle of next year?

Mr Noble —Yes. The activities that are funded through that program need to be completed before the end of June 2011.

Senator NASH —So at what stage are those projects? Have they all been ticked off and are they underway?

Mr Noble —The applications for that program closed on 15 September, and the National Rural Advisory Council is meeting today to assess those applications. They will then recommend the projects to be funded to the minister. The minister will then make a decision about which projects to fund in that program.

Senator NASH —Is that a fairly short time period, though, to have to have them completed by the end of June? What sort of projects are going to be in this? It seems like a pretty short time if the minister is only looking at them at the moment and it all has to be completed by 30 June next year. What sort of projects are going to be able to be completed in that short time frame?

Mr Noble —I will be able to provide you with advice on the detail of the projects.

Mr Mortimer —The projects tend to envisage expenditure on I suppose what you would call minor capital works—to buildings, fitting out of buildings and renovating buildings for different purposes, as well as expenditure on staff et cetera. So prima facie there is a reasonable expectation that the funding could be spent.

Senator NASH —If it turns out that there is a bit of a time lag, is there any capacity to push that date out, or are you going to stick hard and fast to that date?

Mr Mortimer —Well, we will come to that if the issue arises. At this stage, it is too early to really come to that. But we will just keep a watch on it as it is rolled out.

Senator NASH —I am just a little mindful that things tend to shut down over December and January.

Mr Mortimer —I understand that. Certainly the schedule has the minister announcing the decision well before Christmas.

Senator NASH —And when they are approved, would you provide for the committee a list of those projects?

Mr Mortimer —Yes. Absolutely.

Senator NASH —That would be great.

Mr Mortimer —They will be provided on the normal government websites in the normal way.

Senator NASH —Thanks.

Senator COLBECK —I think that will have to do us on the drought trial. We will look forward to receiving the information that the minister has for us. Senator Williams has a one-minute question, I understand.

Senator WILLIAMS —It will be less than that.

Senator COLBECK —The stopwatch is going.

Turn 12

[11.06]

Senator WILLIAMS —Thank you, Senator Colbeck. Minister, just in relation to the very pleasing result of the exceptional circumstances granted to the Bundarra area, there is a buffer zone that was rejected from that. I raise the concern of two parishes—the parish of Ironbark and Gundamulda parish. They are actually drier than the Bundarra area. They were in the red zone under the maps. The nought to five percentile criteria they certainly meet. Minister, are you aware of those two parishes? Have you been briefed on that since your appointment to this position?

Mr McDonald —Those two parishes are currently before the government for consideration.

Senator WILLIAMS —So before Minister Ludwig?

Mr McDonald —Yes.

Senator WILLIAMS —Is there any idea when we may get a decision by the government on those two parishes?

Mr McDonald —I would not hazard a guess, Senator.

Senator WILLIAMS —Perhaps Senator Ludwig might let us know.

Senator Ludwig —It is currently before me. I will expedite it as quickly as I can. There is a range of work, obviously, on my table at the moment, but I will establish where that one is.

Senator WILLIAMS —That would be wonderful, Minister, because these people in these parishes not only had extremely severe drought but were actually burnt out as well, some of them, in a fire last December. So they have not only lost what little bit of dry feed they had then but they have lost a lot of fencing et cetera. They are in a desperate state, so I would appreciate it if you could bring that to your attention as soon as possible.

Senator Ludwig —Look, I will take your representation as one on behalf of the two parishes. I will check with my office, but I am going to ask them to see if they can finalise it today to get back to the department so we can expedite it on that basis.

Senator WILLIAMS —That would be wonderful.

Senator Ludwig —Hopefully my office will email you back shortly and say yes.

Senator WILLIAMS —That would be wonderful, Minister. Thank you very much for that.

Senator COLBECK —I just want to make a complete pain in the neck of myself, Minister, and go back to that question No. 28. We have checked our records on that from the last estimates and the department told us that they could have that information on the day. I am not going to labour the point, but it is five months down the track. We asked that series of questions at the last estimates. I fully accept your commitment to improving the process. But, having checked our data, you said we would have that information back on the day. Senator Macdonald, I think you have a question about EC in your neck of the words.

Dr O’Connell —Senator, just to cap that, I guess, it is right that we certainly tried to answer as many questions as possible during the day. We have made a habit of trying to table them as well.

Senator COLBECK —And I acknowledge that.

Dr O’Connell —I do apologise for the fact that this one obviously is now quite late and has been left to the last moment.

Senator COLBECK —I am trying to temper my grumpiness.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —There is rather unusual—I think first of its kind—exceptional circumstances funding for floods in the gulf country of north-west Queensland. Could someone just give me a quick update on where that is at?

Mr Mortimer —The declaration runs to June of next year and it will be reviewed by NRAC in the run-up to expire in the normal fashion.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Can you indicate to me how many land owners have taken advantage of the declaration and what in financial terms has been made available in whatever form?

Mr McDonald —There are currently 23 farm families in receipt of the income support payment and there are a further 10 farm businesses that have had their applications approved for the interest rate subsidy.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Are any of those 10 part of the 23, or are they the same people?

Mr McDonald —I could not say here. I can take that on notice.

Dr O’Connell —It probably would be in some cases. The businesses and the families would cross over.

Mr McDonald —It is a possibility, but I could not say.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Have we learnt any lessons out of this particular exercise at all? Are there things that we might do better in the future or that we have overdone this time?

Mr Mortimer —I think probably the key thing is that the EC arrangements were helpful in a particularly difficult situation, but that is probably about as much as I could say. I am not quite sure whether you are looking for learnings in the policy sense or the administrative sense. In an administrative sense, the systems would seem to work fine. The farmers were able to access the measures in place, and that was fine. Otherwise, the policy provided the assistance.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It was the first ever instance, was it not, of an exceptional circumstance? It usually relates to drought, but this was floods, which have to be exceptional, and this one was.

Mr Mortimer —You are right, Senator. On that, we tend to think of EC as a drought program because over the last 10 years the rural landscape really has been dominated by drought. But before that there have been other EC applications which have given assistance. For example, I can remember one for the apple crop around Batlow and Tumbarumba. I think it was in the 1990s when the crop got frosted and the orchardists lost their crop. They successfully received EC. So that is just one example that comes to mind. There may be others that I cannot think of.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Have there been any complaints that the boundaries are too constrained or too wide?

Mr Mortimer —Not since the EC was declared, I have to say. I am pretty confident we have had no formal complaints. Certainly I am not aware of any grumbling about the boundaries.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Have there been applications that have not been successful?

Mr Mortimer —For people within the region?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Yes.

Mr McDonald —I would have to take that on notice.

Mr Mortimer —We would have to check with the state authorities in terms of interest rate subsidies and Centrelink in terms of the relief payment applications. Typically, there is a rejection rate in terms of not meeting the eligibility criteria, but we can take that on notice, if you like, and get you some details.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —We will come on to this shortly. My assessment of the Caring for Our Country announcements made by the minister two days ago is that this area has not been treated as beneficially as we might have hoped. Can you just remind me if any funds have been made available—it may be that I should be asking this later—to that area to reseed vast tracts of land which were under water for six or eight weeks? I know there was the announcement two days ago that talked about reseeding, but from my assessment—and I have not been able to speak to anyone yet—it was a mere pittance compared to what might have been needed.

Mr Mortimer —I think that is one for SRM division when it comes to the table, Senator.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thanks, anyhow, and good work on the exceptional circumstances.

Senator COLBECK —You might have to take this one on notice. In fact, it is probably quicker to do this than go through it now. Can you give us a list of regions currently under reseed and the date for expiry of the regions?

Mr Mortimer —I think it is actually on our website, but we can give it to you.

Senator COLBECK —If that is the answer, that is the best answer. Those who have no life and are following us today can go straight to the website.

Mr Mortimer —It is entirely public. There are no secrets about it.

Senator COLBECK —When is the next cycle of expiry dates?

Senator Ludwig —We have them on the website.

Mr Mortimer —There are three areas that are due to expire in mid-December in Queensland and then there is a larger group—about 20—in southern New South Wales, northern Victoria and into eastern South Australia due to expire on 31 March next year. Then there is a group of about eight or 10 that come in after that around, I think, the Cooma-Monaro and Gippsland area. There are a few others, which I cannot remember off the top of my head.

Senator COLBECK —Are there any live applications at the moment?

Mr Mortimer —There is one being considered by NRAC at the moment for Delungra in northern New South Wales, which adjoins the Bundarra area.

Senator Ludwig —It is the extension that Senator Williams mentioned. No, there are two.

Dr O’Connell —There are those two things being looked at.

Mr McDonald —If it might help, I can add some clarification to that. The National Rural Advisory Council is deliberating on one new EC application. That is for the Delungra area in northern New South Wales. In terms of the expiries, there are 32 areas. We have three with assistance available to 15 December 2010 and 21 areas available until 31 March 2011. There are three areas with assistance available until 30 April 2011 and then there are another three areas with assistance available until 15 June 2011.

Senator COLBECK —Thanks. We are starting to get through it. There are some other issues that I want to spend a bit of time on, so I will move on from EC and just do some quick stuff on climate change.

Senator RONALDSON —Just so I am clear, the drought declarations are made by whom?

Mr Mortimer —They are made by the Commonwealth.

Senator RONALDSON —Do the drought declarations and the EC applications automatically follow each other?

Mr Mortimer —I think we should be clear that there is not a separate drought declaration as opposed to an EC declaration. An EC declaration encompasses drought as a potential cause and issue of an EC declaration, but there is no separate declaration for drought. What you might be thinking of is some of the state declarations.

Senator RONALDSON —Yes.

Mr Mortimer —Most of the states have drought declarations, which they instigate. They are based on a different set of criteria and they trigger certain measures of assistance from the state government. But they are entirely separate and not administered in conjunction with the Commonwealth.

Senator RONALDSON —So you can have state drought declarations, but you will not necessarily have a Commonwealth drought declaration which would form part of the potential EC criteria?

Mr Mortimer —That is right. In fact, the Commonwealth does not use the word  ‘drought’. The Commonwealth made a decision some years ago when looking at these policies that it was not defining the problem as drought per se, but rather it set up a policy which was designed to deal with what was exceptional and beyond the capability of farmers to manage within their normal practices and risk management strategies. That includes drought. As I mentioned a minute ago, for the last eight to 10 years, the exceptional circumstances arrangements have been very much dominated by drought, which has been the major issue that has affected farmers adversely and that they have not been able to manage within their own risk management frameworks.

Senator RONALDSON —Drought is a fairly commonly accepted description, I would have thought.

Mr Mortimer —I understand that.

Senator COLBECK —I prefer dryness.

Senator RONALDSON —Dryness as opposed to drought. Thank you. Can I just finish on this?

Senator COLBECK —Thirty seconds.

Senator RONALDSON —Dryness equals drought or drought equals dryness. I might have a closer look at that for next time around. Mr Mortimer, does the Commonwealth use the data that the state governments use for drought declaration? Does that form part of your decision making or not?

Mr Mortimer —The Commonwealth uses a range of data. It gets data from the states. So the states, under the current arrangements, have the responsibility of putting in an application for an EC declaration. So indeed they provide us with that sort of information. The Commonwealth also uses data from the Bureau of Meteorology. That is key data in terms of establishing an historical record for rainfall in the instance of drought. That is important because one of the key criteria for EC in the case of a rainfall issue is that the rainfall falls within the nought to five percentile—in other words, the bottom 20th percentile—of historical record. And that is consistent with the policy principle behind EC and seasonal conditions that the event be of the order of a one in 20- to 25-year event.

Senator RONALDSON —Thank you very much. Thank you, Senator Colbeck. Thank you, Chair.

Senator COLBECK —What role is the climate change section playing in the roundtables from the PM’s climate change committee? 

Mr Gibbs —The committees have not been established yet. There are two committees. There is a business roundtable and there is an environment and NGO one.

Senator COLBECK —They have been announced, though?

Mr Gibbs —They have been announced, but they have not met. The minister is on the environment and NGO committee, but at this stage there have not been any preparations or briefings or any work done for that committee.

Senator COLBECK —But what role is the department going to play?

Mr Gibbs —We would work with the Department of Climate Change in preparing advice and working through with issues as they come to hand in terms of consulting with those groups. There is an interest, I guess, from industry on the business roundtable. The NFF have a position on that business roundtable as well. So we will be working through with the Department of Climate Change. There is also another group, a secretaries group, which has been formed to advise the work going towards the multiparty committee. Dr O’Connell sits on that committee as well.

Senator COLBECK —So did the department give any advice to PM&C about the make-up of the roundtables?

Mr Gibbs —Not to my knowledge.

Dr O’Connell —Are you talking about the two roundtables?

Senator COLBECK —The roundtables. Were they consulted about the make-up of the roundtables?

Dr O’Connell —There certainly have been discussions. For example, the NFF was an obvious suggestion from our perspective. But the make-up of those committees was a matter for ministers to deal with.

Senator COLBECK —No, I understand that. I am just trying to find out what role the agency played in that process. I recognise that the NFF is represented on the NGO committee. Is that right? 

Mr Gibbs —No.

Dr O’Connell —No. It is on the business committee.

Senator COLBECK —Is there any reason why the forest sector is not represented in those talks, given it is the only climate carbon positive industry that exists in the country?

Dr O’Connell —I think that would need to be put to the Department of Climate Change. The policy issues and the management of that whole exercise is between the Department of Climate Change, essentially, the Treasury and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator COLBECK —But we have already established that we recommended that the NFF be a part.

Dr O’Connell —No. What I have said is that there were discussions around, as you would expect in these things, rather than formal recommendations.

Senator COLBECK —I am not suggesting they were formal. I am acknowledging the discussion.

Dr O’Connell —But I guess what I am saying is that the reasoning that went around that would be best asked of the Department of Climate Change because they are dealing with that matter.

Senator COLBECK —I understand that. But this portfolio represents those particular industries.

Dr O’Connell —But I would be speculating as to what the discussion had been amongst ministers to settle those groups, and I cannot do that.

Senator COLBECK —Minister, can you enlighten us at all?

Senator Ludwig —No. I am not going to go into discussions that ministers might have about that, quite frankly. You have the representation. That has been announced.

Senator COLBECK —So you are not concerned that some of the portfolio areas that you represent, which would like to be involved, having had discussions with them—I can confirm that that is the case—are not part of it, particularly given the major role that they are going to be required to take in any mitigation of CO2?

Senator Ludwig —Can we start from the first position? I have not had any representation about it from stakeholders who are concerned to date. If you have had that, I am sure you can pass that on.

Senator COLBECK —I will flick you a copy of their press release.

Senator Ludwig —I am sure you can pass that on to me.

Senator COLBECK —In fact, I am sure someone will flick it to you very quickly.

Senator Ludwig —I have no doubt about that. What I can say is that we will of course talk to stakeholders about climate change. This department does have a section, as you are aware, that deals with climate change.

Senator COLBECK —Yes. We have had plenty of experience with that.

Senator Ludwig —Thank you. After all, we do believe in it.

Senator COLBECK —Well, that is good of you, Minister.

Senator Ludwig —Have you changed your position that you are actually concerned about it now?

Senator COLBECK —Perhaps you might like to read the report of the committee I chaired. Is the representation on the roundtables fixed or is it flexible? Look, I understand there are other—

Dr O’Connell —Senator, I think you are asking the wrong portfolio. It is quite clearly being managed by—

Senator COLBECK —Well, it was probably more directed to the minister since he has obviously been involved in the discussions but is not prepared to divulge. I get that. But I just want to know whether he can indicate whether the representation on the roundtables is fixed.

Senator Ludwig —What I am prepared to say is of course I would be extremely interested to talk to a range of stakeholders and people about climate change. Of course, my door is always open for representations about these issues. This is a government that believes in climate change, unlike the coalition.

Senator COLBECK —It would be nice if it was a government that turned up to meetings of farmers concerned about their water.

Senator NASH —That is a very, very good thought, Senator Colbeck.

Senator Ludwig —In fact, I did take the opportunity to talk to stakeholders last night about issues such as that.

Senator COLBECK —Well, we look forward to your attendance at some of the public meetings in the Murray-Darling.

Senator NASH —It is interesting that Minister Burke could not go out to the communities to hear representations about water.

Senator COLBECK —They have got to come here.

Senator NASH —They had to come here.

Senator Ludwig —I am sure there is a question there, Senator Nash.

Senator NASH —Why can he not meet them out there and they have to come here?

Senator Ludwig —I am sure there is a question there, Senator Nash.

CHAIR —Your time is limited, and I think you appreciate that.

Senator NASH —I hope you do not mean that.

CHAIR —So I think you should use it honestly. Any questions, Senator Colbeck?

Senator COLBECK —Yes, thanks. What role has or will DAFF play in the implementation of the carbon farming election policy?

Dr Dickson —We were talking about that earlier this morning. We have been having discussions with the Department of Climate Change to engage in some joint activities. These arrangements are still being settled by government, though.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Does that extend to sequestration farming? Under Kyoto, what we have signed up to—

Senator COLBECK —Bill, do not start with that because—

Senator HEFFERNAN —We cannot get a credit.

Senator COLBECK —We all know that that is not part of the accounting system at this stage. So you cannot tell us what role you will play yet or what resources you will have allocated to you? That is still being determined between departments?

Dr Dickson —That is as I said before, yes.

Senator COLBECK —Has DAFF conducted any analysis of the program and its potential effectiveness, or has that been left? So you do not know anything about that, Mr Gibbs?

Dr Dickson —This is part of the work that we are currently underway discussing with Climate Change about the most effective way of implementing the program.

Senator COLBECK —So effectively what we are talking about is that the departments are still sorting themselves out after the election about how the policy will be implemented and you will effectively implement the policy you have been directed to implement?

Dr Dickson —We had discussions, obviously, in preparing incoming government briefs on how the departments would work together. We provided—

Senator COLBECK —And if the FOIs work, we are going to have a look at those.

Dr Dickson —But none of these arrangements are settled. The government needs to consider the arrangements and the resourcing.

Dr O’Connell —We were commenting earlier that this still has to go through MYEFO and be confirmed and then we will be in a position to move on.

Senator COLBECK —Yes. I do want to get off climate change now. We have a couple of minutes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is the department doing any work to ascertain what impact any carbon price in Australia will have on the changing climate of the world? Are you doing any work on that? And are you doing any work on what a carbon price might mean to our competitiveness for the export of primary produce from Australia in competition with countries that will not have a carbon price? Are you doing any work on that?

Dr Dickson —As far as I am aware, we are not. But perhaps these are questions you might want to put to ABARE-BRS and they can outline what they are doing in relation to climate change.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Senator Macdonald, it is like you ask the butcher, not the block, and you are the butcher. Are you or are you not?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I think Dr O’Connell was just about to answer, was he? I see from the body language you were going to answer, Dr O’Connell.

Dr O’Connell —I could sit back and see how that goes. Look, you were talking there about the effect of a domestic carbon price in Australia on climate change globally. No, that is not part of our responsibility.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Whose responsibility is it?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Hang on. That was whether it would have any impact on the changing climate of the world. On the portfolio you represent, agriculture, will the imposition of a carbon price on Australian agriculture have any impact on competitiveness against the agriculture of other countries that do not have a carbon price?

Dr O’Connell —That would depend on a whole range of variables. When and if the government asks us to look at any modelling in that area to contribute to this process, we will certainly be in a position to do that. But, as you know, the discussions around carbon price are going to occur primarily in the multiparty committee. We stand ready and able to provide support to our colleagues in the Department of Climate Change and Treasury, who will take the lead in terms of providing both the policy direction and the modelling capacity. But if it comes down to issues directly related to our portfolio interests, we are able to provide some work in the context of the sort of modelling work that ABARE can do. But that requires that we do have a sense of the settings of the parameters around the carbon price issues.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Dr O’Connell, thank you. You have answered a question I did not ask. My question was simply: are you currently doing any work? I take it from what you say the answer is no. But if someone asked you, you would stand ready to do it. Is that what you are saying?

Dr O’Connell —Well, you were talking about a hypothetical carbon price, because we do not have a carbon price that is currently being proposed. Rather that whole policy question—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But are you doing any work to feed into these committees to say, ‘If you have a carbon price of X and you are competing with Europe or Japan, this is the impact it will have on Australian farmers because they will not be competitive’? That is really what I am saying.

Dr O’Connell —Certainly when those sort of issues come up, we will be ready and able to do that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But you are not doing any work now?

Dr O’Connell —No. We have not. It actually has not arisen.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That was my question. But you stand ready to do that, if asked?

Dr O’Connell —If we need to, yes.

Senator HEFFERNAN —But do you accept that if the US is in on the credit side and out on the debit side, we will be disadvantaged?

Senator Ludwig —I do not think it is a matter for Dr O’Connell to answer that.

Senator HEFFERNAN —This is just a statement. Minister, you might choose to answer it. I know the answer. Surely you know the answer. Of course we will be disadvantaged.

Senator Ludwig —Senator Nash, if you think you can answer it, feel free.

Senator NASH —You are on the other side of the table. When I am over there, I will have a crack at it.

Senator Ludwig —I look forward to that.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Come on. Let’s get serious about this. The US has decided for a number of reasons—and I have not got time to go through here today why we should adopt the same attitude—that they are going to be in on the credit and out on the debit. Do you think for the emissions test that a squillion accountants, solicitors and lawyers and God knows what are going to go around counting whether a cow is eating lucerne or dry hay? The yanks have decided that they are going to be in on credit and out on debit. If they are in on credit and out on debit and we have a different position, will that not seriously disadvantage us in the marketplace, especially with the currency and China not having a market currency?

Senator Ludwig —As I thought, it is still a hypothetical question. Can you answer me this hypothetical question: when will the coalition realise that climate change is real?

Senator HEFFERNAN —Listen, mate, if you go back to my maiden speech, you will see that I talked about this in bloody 1996. That is one swear word.

CHAIR —You have broken the barrier now, Senator.

Senator Ludwig —I certainly appreciate that from your perspective. It is your colleagues that might be a bit—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —We all accept that the climate is changing, Minister. It is just that we are not sure that Australia doing anything is going to make any difference one way or the other.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So I am asking the butcher and not the block. Do you accept that if we take a different position in agriculture to the United States we will be seriously disadvantaged in the export market against all the other challenges, such as parity for the dollar et cetera? Surely to God it makes sense, and especially against the background that under the Kyoto arrangements now we cannot get a credit for carbon sequestration anyhow.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —And it will not make one iota of difference to the changing climate of the world either.

CHAIR —Senator Macdonald, Senator Heffernan has asked a question and the minister is trying to answer it.

Senator Ludwig —What I said earlier was that I was not going to respond to complex questions that particularly deal with hypothetical answers to those complex questions. If you have an interest in the issue, I suggest you join the parliamentary committee.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Hear, hear! Will you support that committee?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —You are not invited to it. You have to agree to the outcome before you come.

CHAIR —Your boss will not let you. The bloke you voted in by one vote will not let you, right, so move on.

Senator COLBECK —It is the first committee in the history of the parliament with preconditions attached to joining it.

Senator HEFFERNAN —We will see about that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —You get into the outcome before you start inquiring.

CHAIR —First, you do not get a choice. Mr Abbott has made sure of that.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So, finally, just on climate change, it is fair to say that, to the best of your knowledge, Dr O’Connell, there have not been assumptions given to ABARE on what they hope to build their response on? There is no need to whisper.

Senator Ludwig —Well, I can answer it. ABARE will be able to appear before the committee shortly and you can put your question to ABARE. That would be the logical place to ask.

Senator COLBECK —Let’s move on, because I need to ask the minister about some trees. Quickly, before we go to forestry, on the EPBC Act review, has DAFF received any advice from DSEWPC, or whatever they are called now? I do not want to belittle that, but the acronym is something from another language. Or had advice been requested from that agency about a response to the Hawke review?

Mr Mortimer —Broadly speaking.

Dr Dickson —The department of environment, before the election, had undertaken quite an extensive consultation process with agencies, so DAFF was involved in that along with all the other relevant agencies. The government is yet to consider its response, so at the moment there has just been official discussion. So DAFF provided—

Senator COLBECK —Can you indicate in which areas?

Dr Dickson —It is a whole range of issues.

Dr O’Connell —There have been discussions. Since Allan Hawke provided the report, there have obviously been discussions right across the board. The matter now really is a matter for Minister Burke to take forward in government. As one of the agencies that is closely interested in the EPBC Act, we have had extensive conversations with our environment colleagues on the handling of the review. But that was all essentially completed a while ago. Really it is now a question for Minister Burke to address.

Senator COLBECK —I understand that the final response will come through Minister Burke. I am just trying to get a sense—and I think we have had these conversations before—of representations or advocacy, or whatever you want to call it, on behalf of various sectors that this portfolio represents, particularly in some conversations with the department of environment, that have brought out negative impacts for those particular sectors. So that is the focus of what I am trying to get at. I am just wanting to see that there has been a strong level of engagement—

Dr O’Connell —Yes, there has.

Senator COLBECK —on behalf of those particular sectors in the response to the Hawke review. So you are effectively saying there has been a pretty close working relationship?

Dr O’Connell —Yes. There has been a significant exchange of views on the Hawke review, yes.

Senator COLBECK —Thanks. I want to move now to forestry, particularly negotiations and events in Tasmania over the last four or five months. I will start with forest contractors. Minister, can you give me a sense of the status of funding for forest contractors?

Senator Ludwig —That is the $20 million, I take it, you are responding to. What I had the opportunity of doing is, obviously, meeting a range of stakeholders in Tasmania when I went there. I am finalising some advice. I asked them to provide me with some detail. Discussions are continuing. In addition, I do need to finalise some of the information that I have currently before me. So it is a matter that is still ongoing.

Senator COLBECK —I understand that.

Senator Ludwig —I certainly hope to finalise it before Christmas.

Senator COLBECK —Is it impacted at all by yesterday’s signing or announcement of the statement of principles?

Senator Ludwig —I still have not gone through all of that, but I will certainly have a look at that.

Senator COLBECK —My understanding, from talking to the contractors, is that they were told prior to the election by Minister Burke that, if there was no agreement on the statement of principles, there would be no funding to the contractors. Now, we know that that circumstance has changed. I just want to get a sense of whether Is the funding available to contractors going to be limited to the $20 million?

Senator Ludwig —The election commitment was for $20 million. That was the election commitment. We will meet that commitment.

Senator COLBECK —No. That is not the question I am asking. Is funding available to forest contractors limited to $20 million?

Senator Ludwig —And my answer to that question is the election commitment was for $20 million. It went towards recognising that the native forest harvesting and haulage contractors in Tasmania are facing—as I heard many of the stakeholders indicate—severe financial difficulties, particularly around the downturn, in the demand for hardwood chips or through native forests and reflecting a shifting consumer preferences. Of course, I have indicated that we will meet our election commitment to provide $20 million to help forest contractors and their employees meet those challenges. As you are aware, I met with a range of stakeholders in September and consulted with the Tasmanian forestry contractors and other key stakeholders, including the state government, environment NGOs and, of course, industry together with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. These were important first steps in building the relationship with key industry representatives. Of course, we will be working with those stakeholders in respect of that $20 million. I will meet that as quickly as possible.

Senator COLBECK —In those conversations the contractors would also have told you that $20 million would not go anywhere near satisfying what they would need as part of the process to restructure the industry and to deal with the concerns that they have. So is the funding available to contractors limited to $20 million?

Senator Ludwig —What I have said is we have made available $20 million, and that is the response to your question.

Senator COLBECK —I know what you have made available and I know why it was made available. I go back to my previous comment that the contractors have been told there would be no money until there was a deal signed. It was two hours after the coalition released their policy, which said there would be $20 million to commence the process with contractors. So contractors were led to believe that to begin a restructure—that is the terminology in the coalition policy—the government was matching the policy of the coalition in the lead-up to the election. So, within two hours, the government found $20 million after telling contractors they would not get a cracker. The coalition policy says:

  • The Coalition will provide $20 million to forest contractors to begin a restructure within the sector. We will engage immediately with forest contracting organisations to determine the measures needed to undertake the restructure.

So are we saying from a government perspective that there is only $20 million?

Senator Ludwig —The election commitment was $20 million. I have $20 million to deal with the issues that I have outlined.

Senator COLBECK —But we all know—you know, Minister, and I know—that the concerns of the forest contractors in Tasmania will cost a lot more than $20 million. Their initial ask was $50 million. There are figures up around $300 million. The next question is: does yesterday’s signing impact on the amount that might be available?

Senator Ludwig —Let me work through the detail of yesterday’s signing. It is not connected with the election commitment of $20 million.

Senator COLBECK —I can assure you, that that is not the contractors’ understanding.

Senator Ludwig —I am sure they can make those representations.

Senator COLBECK —So what is the focus of the funding that you will be providing to the contractors? Will it be for assistance, restructure or exit?

Senator Ludwig —What I have asked them to do is come back and advise me about some of the issues. But it is about those broad issues that you have mentioned. It certainly makes that plain in the election commitment statement. I also go back to the principle itself that you mentioned. Of course, I am encouraged about the principle that is being signed today.

Senator COLBECK —I was going to come to that.

Senator Ludwig —I look forward to working through the process with all parties. But at the moment I am focused on delivering the $20 million. I have asked industry stakeholders to respond to me about how they see that money would be most usefully expended.

Senator COLBECK —But the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are inextricably linked. The statement of principles that was signed yesterday is inextricably linked. You know that and I know that. Everyone involved with the negotiations knows that. The two are inextricably linked. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

Senator Ludwig —I am sure that is your policy.

Senator COLBECK —It is not my policy. It is a fact.

Senator Ludwig —What I know is that the government has $20 million available, which is an election commitment that I am working through the detail of.

Senator COLBECK —And you are not prepared to consider that there might be more funding that is required, as our policy did acknowledge?

Senator Ludwig —Well, that is what you are now saying. But what I can say is that—

Senator COLBECK —It actually says that in the policy—to begin a restructure. So it is not what I am now saying. It is what I said in my policy when I drafted it. It is $20 million to begin a restructure. So there was a very, very clear implication. And the contractors actually do understand what I am talking about because I have had the conversations with them. They know. What they want to know is what the government is going to do for them, given the fact that the negotiations that were signed off on yesterday or handed to the Tasmanian government yesterday are inextricably linked. You are going to have a major catastrophe in Tasmania within weeks unless you sort something out on this.

Senator Ludwig —Is there a question in there, or are you just happy to continue to make a statement? What I said—

Senator COLBECK —Some acknowledgement of your understanding of that might be a start, Minister. Would you acknowledge that that is the case?

Senator Ludwig —What, do you want me to acknowledge your coalition policy?

Senator COLBECK —No. I am not asking you to acknowledge that. Would you acknowledge—

Senator Ludwig —Let me answer the question, if I can discern whether there is a question within that. I have said that the government has made during the election campaign an election commitment of $20 million available for the restructure within the contractors. As to how that money is going to be spent, I am not going to speculate on how that is going to be expended. I am working through the stakeholders who are interested in the restructuring of the timber contractors, and that is what I will do between now and when it is finally settled. So I am not going to speculate as to how that will finally be settled or what the shape of that will look like.

Senator COLBECK —So you have not told the contractors—

Senator Ludwig —So, therefore, in terms of the principles that were signed off yesterday, as I have indicated, I welcome them. They have been provided to the Tasmanian government. I will certainly take the opportunity when I can to see what that entails. At this point in time, I am certainly also not going to speculate on what that might bring.

Senator COLBECK —So you or anyone from the department have not told the contractors that this is an exit package and nothing else?

Senator Ludwig —What I am not going to do is speculate on the outcomes of the election commitment. I have asked the stakeholders to get back to me.

Senator COLBECK —No. I am asking you whether you or anyone from the department told the contractors that this is purely an exit package and nothing else?

Dr O'Connell —From the department’s perspective, no.

Senator COLBECK —I am just trying to explore what has been put to me as an understanding from the contractors. So if you are saying that that is not the case, I am happy to accept that that is not the case, thank you. Is there any restriction to which contractors will be eligible for for funding as part of this package? Is it harvest and haulage or silviculture, for example? Is there any restriction within that range?

Senator Ludwig —It depends on how the overall package looks. I am not going to speculate on it. We are working through the stakeholders. I think it is important that the stakeholders have a valuable input to it. I am not going to announce it in advance of the stakeholders’ engagement.

Senator COLBECK —I am not asking you to announce it; I am just asking you to give me an answer. The Tasmanian government has a package that is broken up into sections and it includes harvest and haulage. There is a separate and smaller section for silviculture contractors. I am just asking you to give a sense of what the range is, that is all. I am not asking you to speculate on the format of the package.

Senator Ludwig —By the very nature of the question, you are.

Senator COLBECK —No, I am not. I just want to know who is in and who is out. They want to know who is in and who is out.

Senator Ludwig —If you go back to the original commitment, it was to help Tasmanian contractors and their employees respond.

Senator COLBECK —There is no design, Minister. Let us be clear about that. There was no design behind it. It was a match for a coalition policy.

Senator Ludwig —If you do not want me to answer, I will just sit here and let you talk.

Senator COLBECK —Don’t tell me it was designed, then. Just tell me what—

Senator Ludwig —If you do not want me to answer your question, then just talk over the top of me.

Senator COLBECK —It is unlike you, Senator Ludwig, to do that, but you have been doing that.

Senator Ludwig —We committed $20 million.

Senator COLBECK —It is really unlike you.

Senator Ludwig —We committed $20 million to help Tasmanian contractors and their employees respond to the challenges facing the Tasmanian forestry industry. If we were re-elected, as we have been, the Gillard Labor government will meet the Tasmanian forestry contractors, which I have done, and the Australian Forest Contractors Association within the first month. I think I did that within a certainly lesser period. We worked through the detail of the $20 million package.

Senator COLBECK —I did ask a question this morning. At the risk of being told that you do not want to answer again, the amount is budgeted to be spent this financial year. Is that the government’s intention?

Senator Ludwig —Two issues really come in. MYEFO will settle that. But the commitment was to certainly provide it in a very short space of time this year.

Senator COLBECK —This year? Can I be bold enough to ask whether I am talking calendar or financial? I just do not want there to be any question. If you want to say one or the other, that is fine with me.

Senator Ludwig —I will take it on notice to provide. The difficulty as always is that (a) I cannot announce these things in advance—

Senator COLBECK —I understand it is very fluid, Minister.

Senator Ludwig —so I do not want to do that; (b) I have not finalised the consultation with the stakeholders as to how it will be expended. There may be a view about the timing of that as part of that as well, so I do not want to then also find out that I have committed to something that stakeholders and people who are part of industry do not want. And (c) because it is part of the MYEFO process, I cannot provide you with a response until MYEFO is finalised and then produced. If you were in the same position—

Senator COLBECK —You could make a commitment as a minister.

Senator Ludwig —We have made the commitment during the election. I have confirmed that there is $20 million available. So it is a significant issue. Certainly we are alive to it. I did provide that I would go down to Tasmania—I think Minister Burke has taken—

Senator COLBECK —Minister Burke provided that you would go down and you did?

Senator Ludwig —No. Let me finish my question before you jump in. Minister Burke had committed in the first month. I went down in the first week because it is a serious issue—

Senator COLBECK —Absolutely. I acknowledge and recognise the fact that you did that.

Senator Ludwig —facing timber contractors. We are working as expeditiously as we can to finalise the process. But I am not going to a speculate on those matters that I went to: (a) the outcome, (b) the timing and (c) the details.

Senator COLBECK —Let us just slide across to the negotiations and the statement of principles that were agreed to or released yesterday. Has the government received the statement formally?

Senator Ludwig —I am not aware of it, no.

Senator COLBECK —Is there any intention to respond to the negotiating parties or to respond to the statement? I know Minister Burke made a statement in the House yesterday, and I was disappointed that it was left to the environment minister, I have to say, rather than the minister that is responsible for the industry to make the statement. But let us leave it at that.

Senator Ludwig —A press release was put out by all three, including Minister Burke, and me and Minister Crean. And the Australian government today welcomed—

Senator COLBECK —Was that today or yesterday?

Senator Ludwig —Yesterday. We were not sitting, obviously, in the parliament. We have been in the estimates process. But the Australian government welcomed the landmark agreement between industry and environmental NGOs in Tasmania on the future of the Tasmanian forestry industry and the future of the state’s native forests.

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, said

—and I quote:

It is a credit to those involved that after decades of disagreement they have been able to work through complex problems to forge a new consensus.

Myself—

Senator COLBECK —It might be easier, Minister, if you can just table the statement. That way I can sit and read it and I do not need to go through all that. We are short of time. I acknowledge that you have made a statement.

Senator Ludwig —Maybe I should table it.

Senator COLBECK —If you could do that, that would be fine. Can you give us a list of any meetings that you have had with industry or NGOs since the election—perhaps on notice; I understand you will not have that available straightaway—about these negotiations?

Senator Ludwig —We will see what we can find. So I will take the question on notice and we will see what information we can provide.

Senator COLBECK —Have you had any specific meetings with members of the Greens in relation to these negotiations?

Senator Ludwig —I will take that on notice and get back to you.

Senator COLBECK —Have you had any discussions or has the department had any discussions about assistance measures that might be required for the Tasmanian government, industry, ENGOs, particularly with the Tasmanian government?

Dr O’Connell —Outside of the contractors issue, which is obviously—

Senator COLBECK —So there have been no discussions about potential impacts of this agreement as part of the negotiations, particularly with the Tasmanian government, in those meetings about the contractors?

Dr O’Connell —These are two separate issues.

Senator COLBECK —I know the government would like to say that they are two separate issues, Dr O’Connell, but can I tell you they are clearly not. I know that this is something that has been discussed. I am not asking what has been discussed. I just want to get a sense that the government is engaged with the Tasmanian government and the industry on this process.

Dr O’Connell —I was talking certainly about how we have been handling it. We have not been engaged in negotiations with the Tasmanian government on the statement of principles or its effect.

Senator COLBECK —Okay. Has the department put any advice to the minister on potential impacts of this agreement?

Mr Mortimer —No. From the department’s point of view, this was announced and settled yesterday. As I think was mentioned earlier, it has not formally come to government that we are aware of, so we are not in a situation to give any advice to the minister on it.

Senator COLBECK —Can you give me a view on the term  ‘high conservation value’ and what it means?

Dr O’Connell —As I understand it in terms of the statement of principles—and this is obviously going to have those parties who agree to these statements of principle interpret it—but the—

Senator COLBECK —Do you understand the derivation of the term  ‘high conservation value’?

Dr O’Connell —High conservation value, certainly in terms of some of the non-government organisations, appears to relate back to a range of reports and studies over time. That is my understanding. But, as I say—

Senator COLBECK —Let me help you. ‘High conservation value’ is a term that is defined in the Forest Stewardship Council International definitions. It is a scientific definition. There is no Forest Stewardship Council standard yet in Australia. As I understand it, from talking to FSC International, they regard it as the international terminology. I understand your confusion, I have to say; it is a very much misused term in the Australian context because it is used by the ENGOs in particular to describe pieces of forest that they would like to see not logged or—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It is used with plantation forests.

Senator COLBECK —Well, there are some pine plantations and some eucalypt plantations in high conservation value areas, which is slightly interesting. What I want to know is: does DAFF have a view on this, because this has huge potential to impact on forestry across the country, particularly in the context of some of your other decisions in relation to the importation of illegal timber?

Dr O’Connell —I think the point I was trying to make is that in the context of those discussions, high conservation value obviously means something to the parties. We will have to go through this whole agreement. If and when it is presented to us with any proposals for a role for the Commonwealth, we will have to go through this whole agreement and look at all aspects of it and ensure that we have a common understanding of agreement and differences on these terms. I absolutely take your point. On one reading, high conservation value means one thing in terms of agreements. Certainly in terms of the principles that are in place in that statement of principles, they appear to relate to the views of environmental NGOs on identified areas. That is the point I was trying to raise, being quite explicit in that.

Senator COLBECK —That is fine. That takes me quite nicely to my next question. Does the government believe that it is reasonable to cede the determination of high conservation value forests—what they are—to an NGO? How is the government going to handle that process?

Senator Ludwig —You may need to put that question in context or at least ask a specific question, because at the moment it appears speculative.

Senator COLBECK —No, it is not, Minister, because this document is specifically targeted at action.

Senator Ludwig —Which document are you talking about?

Senator COLBECK —This statement of forest principles.

Senator Ludwig —The one that you have cautiously welcomed?

Senator COLBECK —Very cautiously, very cautiously. This document is—

Senator Ludwig —And you have respected the negotiations and conditions by which the industry and the environmental non-government organisations have honoured to live up to.

Senator COLBECK —And keep on reading about the concerns about certain elements of it that I have. Keep on reading about the concerns about certain elements I have.

Senator Ludwig —Well, I am sure you can ask a question if you want. I am not going to respond to speculative questions.

Senator COLBECK —I will if you do not want to try to verbal me out of my press release that went out yesterday. It has a very specific definition, because this is the document that is designed to promote action by governments, state and federal. That is the target of this. So the definition that the government recognises of a high conservation value forest has a critical part to play in how this process might be implemented. So what I am trying to get out is: how will the government see this definition? How is the government going to approach this definition in terms of what is going to happen into the future with this particular process?

Senator Ludwig —It is still speculative in that sense.

Senator COLBECK —No. It is not. It is not speculative.

Senator Ludwig —Well, it is, and we can, I guess, disagree on that.

Senator COLBECK —All right.

Senator Ludwig —I have responded to you. You are asking me to respond to the principles.

Senator COLBECK —Well, does the government and the department have a view on the term  ‘high conservation value forest’? How is that to be applied to the Australian forestry sector?

Dr O’Connell —Are you asking the question in the context of the statement of principles?

Senator COLBECK —No. I am asking it in its own context.

Dr O’Connell —I just want to be clear, then, that the context you are asking has no relevance to the statement of principles.

Senator COLBECK —It will have relevance because it is a term that is being used.

Dr O’Connell —Then I would need to, I think, very sensibly refer to the term as it is understood.

Senator COLBECK —Let us make it easy and let us take the question on notice. The strong possibility is that this process is going to flow through other Australian landscapes through other states. It is a strong possibility. So this is going to have a rolling impact on the forests sector. It is how the government determines this. If you want to look at it in this way, this is a heads-up on what is coming, so I will go to a question from a different perspective. Is the government engaged in any negotiations with the Forest Stewardship Council on the definition of  ‘high conservation value forest’?

Dr O’Connell —No.

Senator COLBECK —Has the government made a submission to their calls for submissions on the definition of  ‘high conservation value forest’?

Mr Talbot —I will take that on notice, but I think the answer is no.

CHAIR —Senator Colbeck, you are running—

Senator COLBECK —I know where we are at.

CHAIR —I remind you that ABARE has only 40 minutes.

Senator COLBECK —Yes.

Senator NASH —We have had discussions that we might just push out ABARE a little bit as well, if we need to.

CHAIR —And if you have those discussions then flick them to the chair; it would be greatly appreciated so I know what is going on too, not that I have any questions. We have the program running well.

Senator COLBECK —I am not going to get any more out of the government, I do not think, on that. I want to ask some questions about the forest industry database. At last estimates, the department said the final version would be released in July. Can you advise why this has not occurred?

Mr Talbot —The forest industry database is running late. We did some final testing probably about three weeks ago. We have recommended some changes, which are being done at the moment. We expect the database will be finalised at the end of the month and then it would, through the minister, go to the next Forest and Wood Products Council.

Senator COLBECK —So when is the next Forest and Wood Products Council meeting?

Mr Talbot —That has still got to be determined, Senator.

Senator COLBECK —So will it be released before or after that meeting?

Mr Talbot —I will have to come back to you on that one.

Senator COLBECK —Obviously, it is a decision for the minister. So it potentially will not occur until after the next unknown dated meeting?

Mr Talbot —You would have to put a recommendation to the minister. The practice in the past has been that these things have gone through the Forest and Wood Products Council and they have been assessed by subcommittees of that council. So the practice to date has been that there would be tick-off at those councils.

Senator COLBECK —So you actually cannot answer the question, can you? All right. I will leave it at that. If you have any further advice and can give me that on notice, I would appreciate that. Can you give me some advice on the implementation of the election commitment to stop the sale of illegally logged wood being imported into Australia?

Mr Mortimer —That matter is yet to be finalised.

Senator COLBECK —How do you mean ‘yet to be finalised’?

Mr Mortimer —The government has made the commitment.

Senator COLBECK —It made it at the last election too.

Mr Mortimer —Yes. Indeed it has. And a lot of work went into that. But it has not been signed off by ministers to the point that they are happy to make an announcement.

Senator COLBECK —Are there any concerns with the proposal in relation to WTO requirements?

Mr Mortimer —Not that I am aware of.

Senator COLBECK —So it will not trigger WTO conditions on Australian suppliers?

Mr Mortimer —Not that I am aware of.

Dr O’Connell —We do not believe so, no.

Senator COLBECK —Does DAFF believe there will be any additional cost to importers of timber products as a result of the policy?

Mr Talbot —Obviously there is a range of things that have to be considered, particularly in terms of putting a code of practice into place for importers. I suspect that there will be some costs upon them because obviously when a code of practice is in place they will have to conduct some sort of due diligence requirements.

Senator COLBECK —So will there be inspection costs from Customs passed on to importers?

Mr Talbot —Look, we are still working through that, but obviously Customs is critical.

Senator COLBECK —Have we had any feedback from other countries about our decision to go ahead with the policy?

Mr Talbot —I think it is probably more that we had some US senators encouraging us to put policies in place.

Senator COLBECK —I have seen that document.

Mr Talbot —To the EU and the US.

Senator COLBECK —It is a Greenpeace-sponsored process.

Mr Talbot —Certainly we had the EU involved. They provided comment on the first draft RIS that went out that was produced by CIE. There have been some stakeholders who have welcomed the government’s policy. They include industry groups and green groups.

Senator COLBECK —Yes. I have seen those and had those representations, so I understand where that is at. Which other agencies are you working with on this?

Mr Mortimer —There is a range of agencies. The foreign affairs department is involved; Attorney-General’s in terms of the legal issues raised; Customs in terms of the issues of how it will be managed at the border; and I think probably Treasury because of ACCC issues about having a code of conduct. I think they are probably the key ones.

Senator COLBECK —Have you had a look at any of the other schemes that are currently operating in, say, the US and the EU? In particular, what identification and certification measures are being used to verify that timber is legally sourced?

Mr Talbot —We have had a look at both the EU measures and the US measures. I guess the EU has used a due diligence system. The States are putting legislation in place. We have certainly had a look at that. We have also certainly had a look at the US and how its policy is applied.

Senator COLBECK —In those particular schemes, who pays the costs? Are they passed on to the importers or are they paid for by government?

Mr Talbot —I will take that question on notice. My understanding is that in the US case the practices they have had to introduce are certainly not government costs. They are levied along the supply chain, particularly at the importers. In the EU case, I think it is probably something similar. But I said I will take it on notice.

Senator COLBECK —Yes. That is fine. I would prefer you do that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Are you getting off that?

Senator COLBECK —No. I just want to ask about the products that are going to be captured under the proposal. My understanding is that the largest proportion of timber coming in that might be illegally logged comes in manufacturing products like particleboards and things of that nature, which are much harder to track. Can you give me a list of the products that are going to be affected by the measure?

Mr Talbot —Final implementation decisions have to be made by government. But the government did, in I think in the 2007 election commitment, talk about—I will have to take it on notice and give you the exact words—wood and wood products and paper products too. In our draft RIS, when we were looking at this issue, we had a look at possible categories for regulation. We had category 1, which was solid timber and wood products and some paper products. Then we had category 2, which was partially processed timber and woods products. Then we had complex products, such as highly processed composite timber and wood products from multiple sources. Unfortunately, my copy of the draft RIS does not have page numbers. Then we also gave examples of each of those products underneath. There is still the implementation phase to go through, where we look again at this and what might be captured.

Senator COLBECK —Yes, if you can give us that. So there is no finite list as such?

Dr O’Connell —There is a definitive list. But what we can certainly do is provide you with either the references to the draft RIS that went out or a copy of that.

Senator COLBECK —There was a report released in the last three or four months, I suppose, about a reduction in the amount of illegally logged timber coming into the country. Can you give us a sense of what scale that is at now?

Mr Talbot —I am trying to remember that report myself. I will have to take that on notice.

Senator COLBECK —Do you have a comprehensive list of businesses that import timber products into Australia?

Mr Talbot —I will take that one on notice.

Senator COLBECK —If you do, could you provide it for us?

Mr Talbot —Yes.

Senator COLBECK —The next one will have to be on notice. It is data on the level of employment across those businesses. I suppose you would be able to get the total financial value of timber, or I could probably find that anyway. I also want a breakdown country-by-country of quality, year and type of timber imported into the country over the last four years.

Senator HEFFERNAN —By the way, do you know that offhand? We know that there are a bunch of crooks who live in Singapore that are Malaysian companies that illegally log in Papua New Guinea and some of the Pacific island countries. Do you actually have that information?

Mr Mortimer —What we have is the Customs data that records the product that comes into Australia. The Customs data simply records the quantity, the type and the value for Customs purposes.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Not where it is from?

Mr Mortimer —It records the port where it was shipped from to Australia, but it actually does not go and say illegal or legal or anything like that.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Well, we know where it is. They are a very aggressive, organised bunch of crooks.

Senator COLBECK —Can you give us a list of the interactions—this is on notice again—with the National Timber Council Taskforce, please? Do we provide any financial assistance? We do not?

Mr Talbot —I was just going to clarify. The National Timber Council Taskforce I am not familiar with.

Mr Mortimer —It is not known to us, it seems.

Senator COLBECK —Okay. I might have the name incorrect, but I will clarify that and I will put those questions on notice. ASIC recently put out a draft paper for modification of MIS. What discussions or input has the department had with ASIC on that paper?

Mr Mortimer —I will have to take that on notice. I do not think we have responded to it, but I will take it on notice.

Senator COLBECK —Do you have any intentions of making a submission, if you have not been consulted?

Mr Mortimer —I will take it on notice.

Senator COLBECK —You have a proposal in Tasmania to transfer from native to plantation. That has obvious implications. There are real question marks about the future demand for timber products in Australia. I know that the industry is keen to get some data on that. Is the department doing any work on future timber products needs?

Mr Talbot —I would have to take that on notice because ABARE may well be doing some work on that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Before you get too far off the illegal timber, can I just ask a question? Mr Talbot, it is good to see you. You said you were still working on this and it was an election commitment of the Rudd government before the last election. It was an election commitment this year. You might recall that it was an election commitment of our government in 2004. So we have been working on this as a nation for seven or eight years now and we do not seem to be terribly far advanced. I know from what you have said it is a very complex issue, but can you give me some guesstimate or assessment of when we might be at a stage when we could actually implement some action on the importation of illegally logged timber?

Mr Mortimer —We cannot give that answer for the reason that ministers have to give their final sign-off to it. You mention the complexities of it. I do not think we need to go into that. The other observation I would make is that we need to go through a step of regulatory impact statements to get all the material together.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —My only point is that it is an issue. It is complex. We have been as a nation trying to do something about this now for almost a decade and we do not seem to be much advanced. I am just—

Dr O’Connell —I think we are advanced. To give you a bit of comfort, I think we are comprehensively advanced and capable of delivering this reasonably quickly. So I would not want you to be left with a sense that there has been no substantial progress. We are very close to being able to deliver this.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you. I am pleased about that. As I say, it has been going a long time because it has been complex. But it is impacting as well as the environmental aspects for the illegal logging. It has been a huge burden on Australian producers of legal timber as well. Whilst it may put up the cost to consumers—you have to balance those things—I am comforted by what you say. Hopefully after the next election we still will not be discussing the same thing.

Senator COLBECK —I just have one more question. I want to go back to the database for a second. Are the delays in the database delivery due to DAFF or the consultant that is being employed by DAFF? I have not named the consultant deliberately.

Mr Talbot —I think I will have to take that on notice and have a look at the time periods.

Senator COLBECK —Are you happy with the consultants?

Mr Talbot —Look, I am happy with the consultant and I am happy with the job they have done. I think in terms of what they have produced as the draft product, we needed some refinement to it. We certainly put it back. But remember DAFF was part of a subcommittee of the Forest and Wood Products Council. When it reviewed, it put information back to have it refined.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Who was the consultant?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I do not think we need that.

Senator COLBECK —No. We do not need to know that. And the government said that they are happy with them anyway, so I just want to know who is going to—

Senator HEFFERNAN —Well, who are they?

Senator COLBECK —Who they are going to have the finger pointed at. That is all I want to know; who is to blame?

Senator Ludwig —It will be in the annual report. I am sure they have got no doubt they will be there.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Who was it?

Senator COLBECK —URS.

Senator HEFFERNAN —What does that stand for?

CHAIR —It is a shadow parliamentary secretary for the area that you are not interested in. Do you have further questions, Senator Colbeck?

Senator HEFFERNAN —What does URS stand for?

Mr Mortimer —It is a trademark name, from recollection.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. We now call officials from the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and the Bureau of Rural Sciences.

Senator Ludwig —Before we depart that area—Senator Williams is not here—my office has advised that in relation to that brief for, and I will not go to the names, but the Bundarra EC, we have had the brief for about two days and we are processing it as quickly as we can. We are unlikely to have a finalisation today, but it certainly will be finalised in a very short while, all things going well. I do not know what the outcome of that finalisation will be, though, but we are now working very quickly, as we can, on it.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator NASH —That is Bundarra for Senator Williams?

Senator Ludwig —Yes. I did not want to have a stab at the pronunciation, but that is it.

Senator COLBECK —Do you have a process or a set of principles in your office whereby you turn, say, something like an EC declaration around within a specified period of time?

Senator Ludwig —We do have internal processes that ensure that we deal with briefs in a timely way. There is a process where if there are urgent briefs—

Senator COLBECK —I am not having a crack. I am just asking a question. Perhaps I can make a suggestion.

Senator Ludwig —No. We do have a process and we are dealing with it expeditiously.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I have a question on forestry. I have one question on forestry.

CHAIR —We have finished. They have gone.

Senator Ludwig —Yes. They have wrapped up. They have gone.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Hang on. Do not go away. Given the future of forestry and the building of a logic by the butcher and not the block of carbon crediting and trees, what are we going to do about the fact that the bulk of Queensland and the Northern Territory and the Indigenous communities do not have the capacity on their land to get a carbon credit because the government owns the title?

Dr O’Connell —I do not think that is a forest issue.

Senator HEFFERNAN —It most definitely is a forest issue. I am talking about forests.

Dr O’Connell —You may be looking more at a climate change issue.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Well, I am asking these fellas because this is part of their bailiwick.

CHAIR —We have established that the parliamentary secretary thinks it is in the wrong area, so we will move on to another question.

Senator HEFFERNAN —No. It is a forest question.

Senator COLBECK —Perhaps the department can take it on notice and come back to us.

Senator Ludwig —We will take it on notice and provide a response to the extent that we can answer it. Alternatively, the committee might want to refer it to—

CHAIR —Order! The minister is answering. There is harping on the left and the right. I cannot hear the minister.

Senator Ludwig —To the extent that DAFF can provide a response within its portfolio responsibilities to the question, it will take that part of the question on notice. To the remainder that should be directed to the Department of Climate Change, I understand the committee usually has a process to be able to refer that question there.

Senator HEFFERNAN —You have a bloke here at the table that is climate change. Do you have any idea?

CHAIR —Senator Heffernan, we have gone half an hour over the time limit.

Senator HEFFERNAN —What does it matter?

CHAIR —Because your colleagues had set down a timetable without you here.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Well, I want an answer.

CHAIR —Sorry, you might have been working the hallways or doing what you do, but you missed out. It is taken on notice. Okay, ABARE.

Senator NASH —Just before the forest officers go, I have a question. My question, I assume, actually sits in ABARE, but I just want to check before they leave. It is around water interception in terms of forestry. Is that ABARE and not actually forests?

 [12.26 pm]