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Estimates: Heritage Funding Cuts

Estimates & Committees
Penny Wright 31 May 2012

Senator WRIGHT: Good morning, everyone. I am going to first of all ask about the former heritage division within the department, which is now known as the heritage and wildlife division. My questions relate to the heritage budget following this internal reorganisation. I note that the heritage division received a significant funding cut in the last budget in the order of 30 per cent over the forward estimates. And that followed a 19 per cent cut the year before. The advice that we are receiving from stakeholders is that, as a result, the division is seriously underfunded and unable to keep up with its core tasks. My first question relates to the level of program support allocated to heritage activities. It is not clear from the current portfolio budget statement what level of program support heritage activities will receive in 2012-13. Of the $42.3 million allocated for program 5.1 in that year, how much of that will be spent on heritage related activities as opposed to wildlife related activities?

Dr Grimes: Just before I hand over to Dr Dripps to answer your question in a little more detail, it is probably appropriate to note that the funding changes last year were a result of terminating program funding. So this is where funding has been announced for a time-limited period and then is subsequently not continued. So there was funding that had been provided under the Distinctively Australian program that came to an end at the end of the last financial year. So the department had to adjust its investments in this area-its activities in this area-in order to be able to manage with the termination of that funding. But it had always been time limited for a four-year funding period. But I will hand over to Dr Dripps to answer your question in detail.

Dr Dripps: I am just making sure that I can find the right page from which you are reading in the PBS, Senator. You are asking about page 68 of the PBS. Of the annual departmental expenses, the $48 million-

Senator WRIGHT: The figure I had was $42.3 million allocated to program 5.1.

Dr Dripps: Sorry, I was looking at the wrong column.

Senator WRIGHT: So how much of that basically will be spent on heritage related activities, as opposed to wildlife related activities?

Dr Dripps: Okay, sorry. I have figures in front of me about why it is different from last year, but I am not sure I have figures in front of me to answer that question of precisely how much goes to wildlife and how much goes to heritage. What I can say, though, is that as the secretary has indicated there was a terminating program last year which had an impact on the division on the budget of the heritage division. In addition, within the reported heritage budget last year, there was some work on the EPBC taskforce and some one-off funding to fund a wildlife permit system. So that and the efficiency dividend that has been applied is the explanation of how we got form $48 million to $42 million in departmental funding. May I take the rest of the question on notice?

Senator WRIGHT: Yes, I would be pleased if you would do that. In last year's budget the heritage division was allocated just over $13.3 million in program support. Are you able to give me comparative figures for the coming year and also over the forward estimates? What we are trying to find out is the heritage budget again in terms of program support. Can you give me those indications?

Dr Dripps: I can do my best to take those questions on notice. We are still in the final stages of finalising our internal budget for the department, and we are very cognisant of the lapsing of the program that occurred in the heritage division last year. We are in quite difficult financial circumstances across government more generally, so we are not really in a position to be able to be increasing the funding in very many areas.

Dr Grimes: As Dr Dripps indicated, we had some discussion around this yesterday in the committee. We obviously have the efficiency dividend-the additional efficiency dividend in the mid-year review that we are having to manage within the department at the moment. So it is true that most of our divisions are facing reductions in funding and the level of activities that they can support.

Senator WRIGHT: I guess I am particularly interested in the trend in relation to the heritage division specifically. So I presume, even if you don't have those figures now, you will need to do those figures. So if you could take that question on notice, I would appreciate that.

Dr Dripps: Indeed, and what we will also give you is the administered funding that is administered by the heritage division in terms of the grants that it administers, and also funding that we receive from other sources for heritage related activities-in particular, the Kokoda initiative in Papua New Guinea.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you.

Dr Grimes: As Dr Dripps was indicating, we do our budgeting as a department on a divisional level in the first instance, and then it gets broken down within a division. So the difficulty we have is that you are asking for a breakdown within that division. I understand why you are asking the question, but we are looking at funding reductions across our divisions.

Senator WRIGHT: I will take that as a general answer and I will wait for the specifics.

Dr Grimes: While we do not have the specific figures in front of us, it would not surprise me if we are looking at some further reductions.

Senator WRIGHT: I am now looking at the total program expenses for program 5.1. From 2011-12 there was a baseline of $63.2 million. Total program expenses are predicted to drop by 16 per cent to $52.93 million in 2015-16. A loss of your community heritage grants accounts for $4 million of that cut, and I note with regret that the government does not intend to continue this important program beyond 2012-13. But my question is, where will the remaining $6 million in cuts come from and what impact will this long-term cut in total program expenses have on the activities of the heritage division?

Dr Grimes: While Ms Stone and Dr Dripps are looking at the table, I will say that my suspicion is that again this goes to the question you asked on the breakdown on the divisional budget. The administered items there are very clear in the table that you have referred to in the budget papers. Unless they have further information now, I think it will be answered in that material that has been taken on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: So you will need to work out, in a sense, how that cut is going to be managed and where that will come from. What impact did last year's cut in program support from $19.4 million to $13.3 million have on staffing levels within the heritage division?

Dr Dripps: I believe we have answered this question at estimates previously. I am just going to look to the relevant officers to see if they have any relevant information to hand, because I would not like to contradict our previous advice without having the pieces of paper in front of me. In terms of the work done by the division, the focus has been on fewer larger and more complex assessments of heritage values. That has been the focus for the last couple of years. The other thing that we have done in terms of efficiency gains is that we have previously provided detailed technical advice to custodians of heritage properties, particularly built heritage properties. That advice is now provided in more of an electronic form and more of a guidance-based form rather than technical support for individual properties. I might look to Mr Murphy to see if he would like to add further to that.

Mr Murphy: An answer to a question taken on notice was provided following estimates in October last year. At that time the staffing had been reduced in the heritage division from 102 in 2010-11 to 78 in the current financial year.

Senator WRIGHT: What are the current staffing fulltime equivalents for the heritage division now?

Ms Stone: The current fulltime equivalents is 162 across heritage and wildlife.

Senator WRIGHT: Is it possible to give me a breakdown of heritage specifically?

Ms Stone: The executive consists of three staff. Heritage north is 34, Kokoda, which is externally funded through the AusAID program, is 10 and heritage south is 40 staff. Part of heritage south is funded through Caring for our Country, and that is the equivalent of seven staff, and wildlife is 68 staff. That was as of 30 April 2012.

Senator WRIGHT: How will the 2012-13 budget impact on current staffing levels? Will there be any jobs lost in the coming year?

Dr Dripps: We have reported in the budget papers that we anticipate that there may be a reduction in staff of around 10 people within the heritage and wildlife division over the future year. Those figures are slightly difficult to interpret as they include the movement of our EPBC reform taskforce, which has been housed within the heritage and wildlife division in 2011-12, into the environment assessment and compliance division in 2012-13.

Senator WRIGHT: So there is an estimate of 10 people across heritage and wildlife. Is it possible to be more specific about which of those job losses might come from the heritage division specifically?

Dr Dripps: Not at this stage. They are management decisions that are yet to be taken.

Senator WRIGHT: When would it be likely that you would be able to provide an answer to that?

Dr Dripps: We could endeavour to do so by the deadline for questions on notice, because that coincides quite nicely with the beginning of the financial year when we need to do it.

CHAIR: Senator Wright, we have to move on.

Senator WRIGHT: Yes. If you could take that on notice. I indicate that I have further questions that I will not have time to ask, unfortunately. But I think they are important questions and I will be putting them on notice. These are questions about the heritage division's role in evaluating the impact, the heritage project jobs fund 2008-2010, the heritage division working in conjunction with the Australian Heritage Council, the Australian heritage strategy grants to voluntary environment, sustainability and heritage organisations and-

CHAIR: Senator Wright, you don't need to go through them like that. Just put them on notice, otherwise other people are missing out on their questions.

Senator WRIGHT: Fair enough. I just think it is important -

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