Environment and Communications Committee Estimates hearing - Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Outcome 2 - Sustainable Communities.
Environment and Communications Committee
Monday 13 Feb 2012
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Outcome 2 - Sustainable Communities. Program 2.3 Sustainable Communities
- Sustainable Jobs Program
- Biodiversity Indicators project
CHAIR: Dr Wright, we have gone over time. Thanks for your time. I now call officers from the department in relation to program 2.3: sustainable communities.
CHAIR: Senator Ludlam.
Senator LUDLAM: Thanks, Chair. I do not have too many questions. Do we have the right folk here tonight for sustainability indicators, or did they leave already?
Ms Wiley-Smith: We are here, Senator.
Senator LUDLAM: Excellent. What about suburban jobs?
Ms Wiley-Smith: Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: Let's start with that one. That has got a bit of a kick of guts, I think, since last time we were here. It appears to have been cut from $100 million to $45 million over four years. Can we start with the rationale for that program being cut by more than half.
Mr Thompson: Government policy was that two savings exercises related to the Suburban Jobs Program. Ten million dollars has been contributed to the Illawarra Region Innovation and Investment Fund, so some of the savings from suburban jobs were redirected to partially offset that program. The remaining savings were taken as part of a budget decision of the government.
Senator LUDLAM: That doesn't really tell me anything. Did the government or a minister put anything on the record at the time that those cuts were announced?
Mr Thompson: I am not aware that the minister did but certainly the government announced those savings in the portfolio additional estimates context.
Senator LUDLAM: It is a very efficient way of making announcements that you announce a $100 million program and then quietly only spend $45 million. Then you can announce a $55 million program somewhere else. It is a really interesting way of doing policy initiative. I got the sense that the program was to ostensibly help rebalance the two-speed economy and also reverse some planning decisions that had been made and benefit people in suburbs and regions with no employment hubs. Is it still government policy to pursue those objectives?
Ms Wiley-Smith: The objectives of the program are still exactly as they were announced, which are really to assist local and state governments to plan for and provide for employment opportunities in major capital city locations that are subject to pressures as a result of recent or rapid growth.
Senator LUDLAM: All right, but you have to do it with half as much of what was a relatively small amount of money anyhow. Can you just tell us where the program is up to right now, with a bit of a focus on whether any of that money has been or will be spent in Western Australia.
Ms Wiley-Smith: The guidelines for the program were approved, and they were released in early December-7 December. Currently the application round is open, and it closes on 17 February. We then go into an assessment process that will be undertaken, and we are aiming for the grants to be announced before midyear. That enables us to ensure that funding agreements are signed with the successful applicants for when the funding becomes available next financial year.
Senator LUDLAM: So you are getting a pipeline set up, so if you do not make the first round then you are at the front of the queue for the following year.
Ms Wiley-Smith: No, there is only one round, and it will be a competitive open round. But what we are aiming for is that our funding for this program now flows through; it commences next financial year. So the assessment, the process and the announcement of the successful applicants will happen this year. We will then be able to sign funding agreements in time for the release of funds next financial year.
Senator LUDLAM: Is anybody keeping track of programs like this-sustainability programs like the urban water one and this one-that have been cut or severely diminished over the last couple of years? I am presuming that, if I asked you for a list of programs that have been announced, you could probably provide that with a bit of spadework, but what happens is that they are announced with fanfare and then quietly killed a year or two later.
Dr Grimes: The government's decisions around budget measures are quite transparent through either the budget papers or the mid-year review papers.
Senator LUDLAM: I would not go overboard and describe the budget papers as 'transparent'.
Dr Grimes: All policy measures that affect the forward estimates-both spending and expenditure-are reported in those statements.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. I will shift to the question of indicators. I have spent a bit of time working through these in the past, so I will not go back over old ground, but can you give us an update as to that project and where that is up to.
Ms Wiley-Smith: Yes. Since the last time we appeared before the committee, we have undertaken further analysis and also further consultation both with experts and with stakeholders in the field, and also with our colleagues across Commonwealth agencies. As part of that, the minister held a roundtable with experts in November, and we have also held a more recent workshop which really looked at some of the design issues on the sustainability indicators, including the indicators themselves. That was held on 31 January.
Senator LUDLAM: What were the outcomes of that? Is there anything you can provide to the committee?
Mr Thompson: I think that last workshop that Ms Wiley-Smith was referring to was really around the intellectual framework-what is the framework for sustainability indicators-as well as testing some of the indicator themes and the indicators themselves. There is not material that we are making available in the public domain at this stage. It is material that will be used by us to help develop and advise the government.
Senator LUDLAM: When would you expect that there would be something produced that would actually be of public use or public value?
Mr Thompson: We are expecting that in the coming months.
Senator LUDLAM: 'The coming months'-that is one of those phrases.
Mr Thompson: I would like to be more specific, but really it is a matter for the government's decision.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. And what will we actually see when you publish something? Are we just going to see a draft or are you just going to announce the new set of headline indicators?
Mr Thompson: Again, that will be subject to the government's consideration about what is actually produced.
Senator LUDLAM: So there is not really much that you are able to tell me at this stage, is there?
Mr Thompson: In detail, unfortunately, no.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you provide us with a list of the stakeholders? Actually, you did provide us with a list of stakeholders last year; can you tell us how those groups were nominated or chosen?
Mr Thompson: I think we were drawing on experience from a couple of areas-our experience in developing sustainable population strategy: groups that indicated an interest in that context in a broad-based approach to sustainability; groups that had an interest not only in economic but also in social and environmental issues; and also some of the stakeholders who have participated in other activities of the government in recent times, including the National Urban Policy and those sorts of things.
Senator LUDLAM: There seems to be a real gap: for example, ecology, urban bushland, biodiversity, water-it looks like there is a lot of planning expertise there but not a lot of environmental science or ecological expertise. How do those people feed in? If you are doing sustainability indicators you would want to be a bit worried about leaving the environmental people out.
Mr Thompson: Absolutely. I think there is a judgement that a reasonable amount of that expertise is provided inside the department and so you can draw on that in that context.
Senator LUDLAM: I guess we will wait for coming months until something gets put into the public domain. Thanks for your time.