Budget Estimates Wednesday 29 May - Environment and Communications Committee
Senator LUDLAM: I have a couple of general questions on the heritage portfolio. I want to start with some quick true or false answers. I will work my way through the budget papers and you can tell me if I am reading them right. Staff cuts in environment regulation and heritage from 588 to 540? Staff cuts in the environment regulation and heritage area were from 588 to 540. Does that sound about right?
Dr Dripps : So 48 people. Yes, I gave some evidence to Senator Waters yesterday on this matter.
Senator LUDLAM: Heritage grants cut from $7.4 million to $4.4 million across the forward estimates?
Dr Dripps : That is right.
Senator LUDLAM: Your total program expenses cut from $56 million to about $50 million in the forward estimates?
Dr Dripps : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: And that is off the back of the year on year cuts that I have been asking about in here since about 2008. So of the 40 staff or thereabouts who are cut from environmental regulation and heritage, how many were cut specifically from heritage?
Dr Dripps : As I advised Senator Waters yesterday, it is approximately 15 staff. The other thing I should add to my evidence from yesterday which I failed to recall at the time was that the balance of the numbers that were not included in yesterday's evidence is from the regulatory reform taskforce within the division, which at the start of the financial year was undertaking the approvals bilaterals work with the states.
Ms Rankin : I want to clarify that figure. Dr Dripps just mentioned the 15 relates to cuts from the combined heritage, wildlife and marine functions.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not want to traverse ground that Senator Waters covered yesterday if it is already on the record. I am specifically interested in the heritage side of the portfolio. Is it possible to carve out how many fewer people are working on heritage post budget than before, or is that not possible?
Dr Dripps : We would like to take that question on notice, if we could, please, Senator.
Senator LUDLAM: In the last four years, how many people in total have been cut from heritage? Maybe take that as a supplementary on notice, if you like.
Dr Dripps : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: It appears that the Commonwealth's capacity around heritage matters has been severely degraded. The budget of a fortnight or so ago has not given us any good news. Sticking specifically to the heritage portfolio, what programs and services will these most recent cuts specifically impact?
Ms Rankin : Senator, are you referring to just heritage?
Senator LUDLAM: Yes. I will leave the environment side to Senator Waters. From our perspective, I am interested specifically in heritage.
Ms Rankin : When we talk about heritage in my division, heritage and wildlife functions are combined together.
Senator LUDLAM: I am interested in the human heritage side inasmuch as you are able to disaggregate programs.
Ms Rankin : One action we will be taking is reducing the number of branches from five to four. That means a reduction in the number of SES officers working in the area. We are going to be adopting a much more, I guess, triage focussed approach to providing advice on the potential impacts of proposed developments that are going to have an impact on heritage matters. The timelines that will be taken to undertake some heritage listing assessments are likely to be extended and will have to take longer than under a circumstance where we had more resources. In a number of cases, we have had to extend the legislative timelines for the assessment of places nominated for a national heritage list out to the maximum legislative timeline.
Senator LUDLAM: Thanks for being so forthright. It sounds as though we have indeed degraded our capacity even further. Am I correct in assuming that the national heritage strategy still does not exist?
Ms Rankin : That is right.
Senator LUDLAM: Has it been affected in any way by the most recent budget cuts?
Ms Rankin : No. It is still an issue that is being discussed with the Australian Heritage Council.
Senator LUDLAM: The last time I picked this up was at question on notice No. 130. Thanks for your reply to that from January. It said that the timing of the final strategy has not yet been determined. What is taking so long? This is not going to be thesis length. This is going to be, I expect, a fairly short document. Why is it taking more than three years for it to be developed?
Ms Rankin : There have been a lot of considerations about what the best approach to the strategy would be. A number of iterations have gone backwards and forwards, with the Australian Heritage Council providing comment on drafts. They are proposing to consider it again at their next meeting. They most recently were interested in looking at a comparison between the approach taken with the draft heritage strategy they were considering with the cultural heritage policy that was released and to make sure that there was some cohesion and alignment between the approaches being taken by the two broad policies. So that probably came out after their last meeting. That is something they have asked us to look at again and provide them with some advice on.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you give us some advice on when it might be tabled and when we might actually see it?
Dr Dripps : That is really a matter for the minister, Senator. I might add to Ms Rankin's comments. I think it is fair to say that out of the stimulus package and the jobs fund there was a substantial investment in heritage which has come off. So the fundamental question for the strategy is: what does national leadership in heritage actually mean and how does one best engage in heritage in the oversight of the management of properties, in the setting of standards and in enabling people to protect their heritage? That has been a fundamental challenge for the people involved in drafting the strategy.
Senator LUDLAM: I can imagine it has, as you are seeing resources running down before your eyes. I will move on. A response by the minister to the AHC's report on the outstanding universal values of the Dampier Archipelago in the Burrup Peninsula was received more than a year ago-last April. What is happening? Is anything at all progressing in the matter of the World Heritage listing of the Burrup or, indeed, anything at all?
Mr Murphy : The report from council identified two of the World Heritage criteria that may be met by the Burrup and enable a successful nomination. It also identified that much more work would need to be done with the traditional owners and custodians of the area on identifying the cultural values of the engravings. The minister has written to the Murujuga Aboriginal Council and asked for that work to take place. He has also asked the Australian Heritage Council to consider adding similar cultural values to the national heritage listing.
Senator LUDLAM: In the interests of time, because I have one other question on a different matter, could you provide us in writing and on notice any other information regarding the Commonwealth's policy on World Heritage listing for the Burrup? I have framed that very broadly. Anything at all you can tell us beyond the fact that you have put the ball back into the court of the Murujuga association. My last question is on buildings and, in particular, empty buildings. What grants are currently available for adaptive reuse? Is there any work at all being done on an Australian adaptive reuse code or standard for bringing heritage properties that are currently empty back on to the market for either residential, commercial or cultural use? Any thinking going on at all in that space?
Ms Rankin : Not that we are aware of. The Australian Heritage Council recently considered and released a report on, I guess, the inherent energy values in heritage buildings and the potential benefits of how you need to factor that into your potential energy costs versus rebuilding a new building.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not think the benefits are in any way in dispute. It is more whether anything is being done to bring heritage properties or precincts back into active service. We have an acute homelessness and housing affordability crisis. We have businesses that cannot afford rent in our town centres anymore and we have a large amount of empty and vacant space in our cities and towns. Is anything being done in your branch to bring those two agendas together at last?
Dr Dripps : As the officer advised you, Senator, we are not aware of any work of that type being done. In terms of the heritage grants that are available, as you indicated when you were reading from the budget papers, the potential of those grants to fund the kind of activities that you are talking about would be quite limited.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Because we have run capacity down so far. I will leave it there, Chair, thanks.