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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee


In Attendance

Senator Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources


Mr Daryl Quinlivan, Secretary

Mr Malcolm Thompson, Deputy Secretary

Water Division

Mr Paul Morris, First Assistant Secretary

Mr Richard McLoughlin, Assistant Secretary, Water Resources Branch

Mr Tim Fisher, Assistant Secretary, Murray-Darling Basin Policy Branch

Ms Mary Colreavy, Assistant Secretary, Water Recovery Branch

Ms Andrea Wilson, Acting Assistant Secretary, National Water Policy Branch

Mr John Robertson, Assistant Secretary, Sustainable Water Branch

Murray-Darling Basin Authority

Mr Phillip Glyde, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Russell James, Executive Director, Office of Compliance

Mr Pradeep Sharma, Acting Head of Science and Knowledge

Mr Carl Binning, Executive Director, Partnerships

Mr Andrew Reynolds, Executive Director, River Management

Ms Annette Blyton, Chief Operating Officer, Corporate Strategy and Services

Ms Vicki Woodburn, General Manager, Partnerships, Engagement and Strategic Policy

Mr Brent Williams, General Manager, Compliance, Office of Compliance

Dr Philip Townsend, Special Advisor, Economic and Social Integration, Science and Knowledge

Dr Peta-Joanne Derham, General Manager, Water Resource Plans and Basin Policy, Partnerships

Mr Harish Madan, Chief Finance Officer, Corporate Strategy and Services

Dr Ben Dyer, Director, SDLAM Rules, River Management

Mr Matthew Coleman, Acting General Manager, Science and Evaluation, Science and Knowledge

Ms Jo Kneebone, General Manager, River Management Enhancement, River Management

Ms Kelly Casey, Chief Legal Officer, Murray Darling Basin Authority

Department of the Environment and Energy

Ms Jody Swirepik, Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder

Mr Hilton Taylor, Assistant Secretary, Office of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder

Committee met at 09 :01

CHAIR ( Senator O'Sullivan ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee. We have a couple of senators with us who probably haven't spent a lot of time in the committee. Are you familiar with how we roll through the process here? We've been trying to do it in 15-minute slots, with the opposition having two, the government having two and then one for the Greens and one for the crossbencher who's first in. We'll try to operate on that basis, if we can.

The Senate has referred to the committee the particulars of proposed expenditure for 2018-19 and related documents for the cross-portfolio Murray-Darling Basin Plan matters. The committee may also examine the annual reports of the departments and agencies appearing before it. The committee has before it a program listing agencies that relate to matters for which senators have given notice. The proceedings today will commence with an examination of the Water Division of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. The committee has fixed Friday, 6 July 2018 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice. Senators are reminded that any written questions on notice should be provided to the committee secretariat by the close of business on Friday, 8 June 2018.

Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice. I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to the committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

The Senate by resolution in 1999 endorsed the following test of relevance of questions at estimates hearings: any questions going to the operations of financial positions of the departments and agencies which are seeking funds in the estimates are relevant questions for the purposes of estimates hearings. I remind officers that the Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has a discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided otherwise.

The Senate has resolved also that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about how and when policies were adopted.

I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009, particularly those senators who bring Odgers into Senate hearings, specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised. Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document.

I now welcome Senator the Hon. Anne Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, representing the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Good morning and welcome, Minister; and Mr Daryl Quinlivan, Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Senator Ruston: Thank you.