Environment and Communications Committee Wednesday 25 May 2011
Senator LUDLAM: Most of my questions are on heritage and the heritage budget, although I would like to start by acknowledging the wonderful work done by Environment Victoria and Friends of the Earth, in part based on Commonwealth grants. They get a lot done with a very small budget. I want to draw the officer's attention to the heritage budget in particular and whether you can confirm that the division has indeed been cut in terms of total funding by about 31 per cent across the forward estimates.
Ms Dripps: We are unable to confirm that at this time. As Dr Grimes mentioned in the departmental summary item yesterday morning, internal budgets for the department have not yet been finalised in terms of allocations to divisions.
Dr Grimes: What Ms Dripps said is actually correct. We are undertaking our internal budgeting process for the department as a whole. We typically undertake that after the finalisation of the Commonwealth budget to ensure that we have considered all matters that are being managed by the department. It is true, however, that we are facing some step down in the funding from what we have faced in the past with the termination of the Distinctively Australian program. I should make it absolutely clear that that program had a limited life. It was always coming to an end. It had always been in the forward estimates as a terminating program. So there has been no new decision to change funding; this was a program that was always going to terminate. So the department needs to make an adjustment for the termination of that program-or the cessation of that program, rather.
Senator LUDLAM: What was it called, sorry?
Dr Grimes: Distinctively Australian. It was additional funding that was provided to the department some years ago, but it had a limited life. It was only provided to the department for a specific period of time rather than provided to the department as ongoing funding. So we had to factor that into our internal budgeting.
Senator LUDLAM: Program expenses 5.1 in your PBS says that your total program expenses drop in the 2010-11 revised budget form $34 million to $22 million by 2014-15, forward year three. So that is a drop of 31 per cent, or thereabouts. How much of that is accounted for by the program that you have just referenced?
Ms Dripps: There is a $3 million drop that appears in the row 'Annual departmental expenses', marked note 3, from $19,435,000 to $13,330,000, which includes the Distinctively Australian program. That row also includes revenue from independent sources. For example, from time to time the heritage division puts up for grants funding either within the department or from other agencies. The other figure that does not appear in those totals is the $4.5 million commitment to the Kokoda Track. Those three things and also the ending of the significant investment of jobs funding explains the differences looking into those forward years.
Senator LUDLAM: Was jobs funding actually visible in this appropriation or was it somewhere else in the budget? Because jobs funding I thought rolled off last year. But that doesn't account at all for the big drop that I have just described.
Ms Dripps: It is not a major contributor to the drop that you have described, but there was some jobs funding this year which appears in the 2010-11 budget.
Dr Grimes: I think it may actually be worth just quickly focusing on the fact that there is a distinction between administered and departmental expenses. In the table there is a mixture of things there with administered expenses at the top part of the table. They are the programs that are being operated. Departmental program support is the amount of resources being allocated within the department. My understanding is that, as Ms Dripps has indicated, there was some reduction in the departmental funding that we are allocated as a result of that heritage jobs fund coming to its natural conclusion.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not think that that accounts for it, to be honest. I do not think that the jobs funding accounts for that drop from 19 to 13.
Dr Grimes: I did not mean to give you that impression, Senator. I really did not. The Distinctively Australian program, on my advice, accounted for $3 million worth of our departmental expenses. In addition, the departmental funding for the heritage job fund, on my advice, is $800,000.
Senator LUDLAM: That certainly does not account for it. So let's set that aside, because actually there has been an increase in some of the project funding that people will be able to do. The community grants program has gone up.
Ms Dripps: Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: I am happy to acknowledge that and I want to go to that in a moment, but first of all I want you to help me account for-or tell me if I'm reading it wrong-why the division overall has been cut by 31 per cent across the forward estimates. That is not at all taken up by an $800,000 -
Ms Dripps: Can I just run through the components-the difference between the $19 million and $13 million. Was that the question that you were asking?
Senator LUDLAM: No. Overall the total program expenses, we start with a figure of 34 and we end with a figure of 22. So can you draw my attention to the largest component of the drop and explain what accounts for them.
Ms Dripps: Certainly. There is $3 million in the Distinctively Australian program between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, we have covered that one.
Ms Dripps: If you look over on the left-hand side of the page under program 5.1, we have ‘Revenues from independent sources' of $1.9 million. Also in the government's budget announcement but not appearing in the PBS because it is funding from AusAID is the $4.5 million for the Kokoda Track. I do not have a calculator with me, Senator, but I believe that brings it pretty close. With productivity dividends and suchlike there is a general trend in a negative direction, but those are the key things that explain the differences between last year and the years looking forward.
Senator LUDLAM: I mean, 31 per cent is a pretty severe efficiency dividend. Last year the budget was cut by 18 per cent when program support was revised from $24 million to $19 million. I wonder whether, to cut this short, you could table for us a summary of funding to the heritage division over the last decade?
Ms Dripps: We can certainly do that. What I would also add is that because of the potential in heritage to invest substantially or less substantially in property maintenance and improvement, there have been substantial peaks and troughs in the heritage budget over the last 10 years. For example, with $63 million put in through the jobs fund as an economic stimulus measure a couple of years ago.
Senator LUDLAM: I am fairly familiar with that one, because I think we put that there. I do not expect you to have all of this with you at the moment, but if you could maybe provide that longer range summary. Officers who have appeared at this committee before have tended to defend the cuts and explain them away as not really being cuts, but I do not think it is really deniable that the division has suffered quite severely over the last decade or so. How will the cuts that we have spoken of this morning impact on staffing? Are there people being redeployed or losing their jobs?
Ms Dripps: It has been reported in the press, and is reasonably widely known, that there has been sensible management practice implemented within the heritage division to plan for the end of the Distinctively Australian program.
Senator LUDLAM: How many people does that affect?
Ms Dripps: That has meant that the division has looked at options in terms of future funding and options in terms of efficiencies and priorities. It is not finalised yet in terms of the precise impact because we are still working through the internal budget. However I am advised that the impact on that division is most unlikely to be in the order of that which was reported in the press some months ago.
Senator LUDLAM: If there is a funding drop of 30 per cent, or thereabouts, but that won't be reflected in employment overall-FTEs. Over the forward estimates-we have only got out to 2014-15-what are the expected staffing reductions overall in the division.
Ms Dripps: I think it would be very difficult for me to predict precisely what the staffing levels in the division will be in 2014-15. What I have said is that we are looking at the efficiency with which we do our work within the heritage division. We are also continuing to work through the finalisation of the internal budget for the division with a view to retaining the heritage expertise of the staff in that division within the department.
Senator LUDLAM: Best of luck with that. What are the current staffing FTEs for the heritage division?
Dr Grimes: They are established at 102, although current staffing levels are slightly below that.
Senator LUDLAM: What are they expected to be by this time next year, when we are sitting around the table here again?
Ms Dripps: I think that I have answered that question in terms of not being entirely certain of what the numbers of staff will be in the future. I would prefer to leave it there, if that is okay.
Senator LUDLAM: You must be able to give an order of magnitude.
Dr Grimes: We will be reducing our overall staffing in this area because of the cessation of the Distinctively Australian program, which as I indicated before, was a time-limited program. So there will be some reductions-there is no doubt about that. But as Ms Dripps has indicated, when it comes to very precise numbers-if you are looking for very precise numbers-this is something that we are still working through.
Senator LUDLAM: No, I am not. I respect that these are projections around things that have not happened yet. But apart from the Distinctively Australian cut, you have not been able to say how many jobs will be lost there or people redeployed. In addition to that, there are obviously other things going on, because Distinctively Australia only accounts for $3 million of the reduction. There is a lot more than that on the table. Setting that one side, what are your expected staffing reductions overall?
Dr Grimes: As I think we indicated, we are expecting to reduce the staffing in the division and indeed, as Ms Dripps has indicated, there has been a process of working through with staff, looking at redeployment within the department. In particular, we want to really retain some of our very good staff who are very talented and skilled and have a lot to offer for us. We have been working through that process. As I indicated a moment ago, we have not finalised the final staffing profile for next year at this stage. We are working through that at the moment. It will be a reduction, but the final amounts we have not resolved. I think that it is also worth recognising that, while you are quite right in pointing to the overall trends in the departmental expenses, those are expenses that areexpressed at a high level-they have all expenses in them and not just staffing components. So trying to translate these absolutely precisely into a staffing number is a difficult task to do.
Senator LUDLAM: I recognise that it is difficult. All we have to rely on, apart from what you are telling us this morning, is open source reporting. A piece from the Canberra Times a couple of weeks ago suggested 30 jobs were on the table. Is that roughly within the order of magnitude?
Dr Grimes: This was based on internal work that we were doing earlier in the year. It was the order of magnitude that we were looking at, but I cannot confirm a final number because we are genuinely going through that at the moment. As I have indicated on a number of occasions, we are looking at a reduction in staff within the division.
Senator LUDLAM: Is it still roughly in that range. I am not trying to nail you to a figure you cannot commit to.
Dr Grimes: I have actually indicated that I do not believe it will be in the order of 30 staff in my previous answer. I cannot be more precise than that before we have landed the final internal budget for the department.
Senator LUDLAM: But it is not going to be more than that?
Ms Dripps: No.
Dr Grimes: It will certainly be a number of staff, there is no doubt about that.
Senator LUDLAM: Well, I wish you well in that very difficult work. We were very upset to see those funds drawn down. The memo that was reported in the piece in the Canberra Times-and I presume you know the one I mean; it was 23 March of this year-where the figure of 30 job cuts was canvassed also apparently was advising staff that the AHC's work on assessments of new places for the National Heritage List would be reduced from 15 places to one, and that work on some assessments already underway would cease. You have replied to me in a question that I put on notice relating to that issue that directly contradicts that reporting, which I was really pleased to see. It said that you thought list assessments would grow significantly in future years. Can you just set the record straight for us? With that reduced funding and that reporting in the press, what is going to happen to your heritage assessment work?
Dr Terrill: The assessments for the National Heritage List are proposed to reduce ; however the assessments for the Commonwealth Heritage List are expected to continue at a significant rate.
Senator LUDLAM: That is the distinction that you are drawing. Okay. Is the National Heritage List basically becoming defunct? Is it being set aside or is being phased out?
Ms Dripps: We have I believe 92 places on the National Heritage list at the moment, so a large number of very significant places in Australia have already been protected.
Senator LUDLAM: But we are not adding very much to that.
Ms Dripps: There is assessment work underway in a number of areas as well as preparatory work underway in a number of areas. So the minister will make a decision in due course about what places to put onto the work planned for the AHC for the future.
Senator LUDLAM: I want to come to a couple of direct examples in a sec. Has the work on the National Heritage List, which has come almost to a standstill, been hit by, for example, the distinctively Australia job cuts or the programme cut. Has that hit your ability to do assessments to the National Heritage List?
Ms Dripps: We are certainly reviewing the manner in which we do assessments for the National Heritage List, and have been for sometime moving towards a stronger partnership-based model, particularly with the states-
Senator LUDLAM: I am sorry, that was not the question that I asked directly. Has the reduction and the drawing down on the elimination of that particular program had a bearing on the number of assessments to the National Heritage List or not?
Dr Grimes: I think that the answer is that it may do, but as Ms Dripps was indicating, the way in which we do assessments can have a bearing on the number that are done. Your question might go to trying to quantify that, and I think that that would be a difficult thing to do just at the moment given the fact that work is continuing on the way in which those assessments are undertaken. If Ms Dripps has got anything to add to that, or to clarify, I am happy for her to do so.
Senator LUDLAM: I appreciate that you are working in a difficult environment. We would rather see this portfolio expanding than contracting, so I have not turned up to give you folk a hard time. I am just trying to establish it, because otherwise we are just working on the basis of one press-clipping of what actually is going oninside the department and how it will affect your work. What can you tell us about the National Heritage List? Is it going to be phased out? What will happen when the assessments basically come to a standstill? We have a series of places that already there, as you have identified. Is it your intention to get back to the process of adding places to the list?
Dr Grimes: I do not think that our evidence today has been that the assessment process is coming to a standstill.
Senator LUDLAM: Do you want to contradict the press report? I am happy for you to do so if it is not true. It was reported that assessment of new places on the list would be reduced from 15 to one.
Dr Grimes: No.
Senator LUDLAM: It is not true?
Dr Grimes: No. We do not think that we will be looking at a change of that order of magnitude, but Ms Dripps may be able to answer further.
Ms Dripps: I think there is a future policy question that goes beyond the question in terms of what would be done with the Heritage List in the future. Certainly there are 92 places on it at the moment, and there are more places that might have or do have heritage values that are in the process of being considered for national heritage listing, or will be in the not too distant future. Certainly the AHC has a work plan that runs out into the future that includes quite a large number of places for potential assessment. So in terms of what might happen after that work has completed, I would not be in a position to provide advice on that.
Senator LUDLAM: I might put a couple of these questions on notice and move on. While we're on the subject of the AHC, can we get an update on the emergency assessment of the Dampier Archipelago site that was announced by the minister a couple of months ago?
Ms Dripps: We can cover that now if you like.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, that would be great.
Mr Murphy: The department has briefed the Australian Heritage Council on the work that was requested by the Senate. On behalf of the council we have called for heritage experts and we are running a market test of consultants that could do this assessment. That has gone out. I think it is due this Friday. We will then look at the applications that come in and select a consultant.
Senator LUDLAM: So the AHC will not conduct the assessment itself-it is being outsourced? Can you just step us through what role the department will play and what role the AHC will play in that assessment?
Ms Dripps: What you will see is that the AHC will not be completely hands off in this exercise. They are having a council meeting in Western Australia next week and will be undertaking a site visit to the Burrup following that meeting next week.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. I was not aware of that.
Dr Terrill: In addition it is worth noting that normal practice is that the AHC, as an expert body, considers material put to it but generally would not actually write the very detailed assessments that are normally undertaken. So this is just very much within the line of normal practice.
Senator LUDLAM: How long is the consultant's work expected to take?
Mr Murphy: The consultancy has been given the time line consistent with the Senate, which asked for a draft report to be provided to the minister within six months, which is September this year.
Senator LUDLAM: When are they visiting the peninsula, and could you just clarify whether it is just the AHC who are going or whether they will be taking the consultant with them?
Mr Murphy: The Australian Heritage Council will visit the Dampier Archipelago in June. There are no plans to take the consultant. It is already a national heritage listed place, so a lot of work has already been done on the national heritage values. A key component of doing an assessment for outstanding universal values is comparative assessments with similar places elsewhere in the world. So it will be very much a desktop exercise rather than research on the ground at the peninsula.
Senator LUDLAM: I might ask you to take on notice, if you are not aware of it now, exactly when the council will be visiting the Burrup. Unless you can tell us now?
Mr Murphy: It is 10 or 11 June.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay, that is great. Woodside obviously have a fairly strong view on this, because they are operating a gas plant right in the middle of the heritage precinct. I understand, again from open source reporting, that they flew into Canberra and made their views very well understood. Did they meet with the AHC or with the department?
Mr Murphy: Representatives from Woodside have met with the department on a number of occasions. Not only do they have a big interest in their industry but also they have committed a lot of funding to protecting the heritage values.
Senator LUDLAM: From the impacts of their activities. You maybe inadvertently made that sound like some kind of charitable effort. They have caused colossal damage to the heritage values of the Burrup. So it is good that there is some funding forthcoming to try and mitigate the impacts. What views did they put? Do they have a view that the emergency heritage assessment should go ahead or did they express concern?
Mr Murphy: The discussions focused on what the process would be rather than what the views of the company were. Again, it goes to the conservation agreement, which has funding roughly of $34 million that is available for research, monitoring, presentation and management of the national heritage values of the archipelago.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you undertake to take on notice when you can provide us with a work plan for that review-dates, times, budgets and so on? I understand that there must be some of that material in existence by now.
Mr Murphy: We are happy to do that, Senator.
Senator LUDLAM: I very much appreciate it. I am presuming that that then becomes a policy question. What becomes of that review is out of the hands of the AHC and the department. The minister will receive that and that will be that.
Mr Murphy: The AHC has been requested to provide a draft assessment to the minister.
Senator LUDLAM: Will that be a public document?
Mr Murphy: Once finalised it will become public.
Senator LUDLAM: Very much appreciated. Thank you. This question is on behalf of Senator Rachel Siewert. What are World Heritage managers doing to keep myrtle rust out of Fraser Island, because there has been an incursion at Hervey Bay that potentially impacts on the World Heritage values?
Ms Dripps: That might be a question we have to ask of the management agency.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes. I know that probably sounds like it is coming from left field. Is there any info you can provide?
Mr Murphy: I would imagine that the major activities here are by the Queensland government. As you know, we do not have operational responsibility for the management of parks in Queensland.
Dr Grimes: We are happy to take it on notice and see if there is any further information.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not want to come away with the impression that the Commonwealth is doing nothing at all if that is not the case. Mr Murphy, is there anything you want to add?
Mr Murphy: There is funding that goes to Fraser Island under the Caring for our Country grants. The major funding at the moment from the Commonwealth is to fund the executive officer for the advisory council. I know that there is also some funding to do with myrtle rust but I am not sure if that is specific to Fraser Island, so I will have to take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: What I am asking you to take on notice is specifically Fraser Island but particularly myrtle rust and whether you are aware of what is going on there as they relate to the World Heritage values and as they relate to Commonwealth responsibilities for preserving the values of that site. If there is nothing, that is fine and I will move on. But can you take on notice any activity at all that the Commonwealth has undertaken, whether on staffing or resourcing or on any level at all. Was there any new funding at all for World Heritage in the last budget? If there was an announcement, I missed it. You are all looking at me really puzzled like I have just asked a strange question.
Ms Dripps: The new funding announcements in the last budget for heritage were for the Kokoda Track initiative and the community heritage grants program.
Senator LUDLAM: Not specifically for World Heritage funding?
Dr Terrill: There was not new funding announced but we do expect a continuation of current levels of funding, for example through Caring for our Country, which Mr Murphy has just mentioned.Mr Murphy: The specific projects for Caring for Our Country, for example, in the next financial year add up to around $11 million of funding projects for World Heritage areas around Australia
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. Coming back to the community grants, we are pleased to see a bit of an uplift there of approximately an extra $8 million. Is that roughly going to follow the format of the existing grants program that came through the stimulus package? I think it was reasonably well received and accounted for. Is that just going to be a continuation of how that program operates or is something different intended?
Dr Terrill: The continuation of the existing National Historic Sites program or the Jobs Fund program?
Senator LUDLAM: The community grants package. I understand there is $8 million over two years in addition to the $4 million or thereabouts that was already there for community grants.
Dr Terrill: The guidelines for the program have not been finalised, but the basic terms of the program have four components telling heritage stories-stories of how heritage relates to Australian communities-enhancing community engagement, bringing heritage online and then a stream that relates to the National Historic Sites program for improvement of the preservation and management of existing heritage places.
Senator LUDLAM: Will you be publishing guidelines at some stage?
Dr Terrill: Absolutely. They will obviously have to go through the normal guidelines development process approval by the minister and so forth. They will, of course, become public to enable members of the public to apply for them.
Senator LUDLAM: You have just given us an idea of the themes-the sort of thing you are looking for. Was there any announcement on the grants to voluntary environment and heritage organisations which help the organisations themselves do that work? Is any funding likely to flow there?
Dr Terrill: There was a discussion in the morning of GVEHO; I think your question may relate to that. Under this program, as it is anticipated, I do not think there is any intention to overlap with that program.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. We love it when those organisations do advocacy, so I hope you will continue to do that. Lastly, on the heritage listing for the Kimberley, can you provide us with an update of where that is up to?
Ms Dripps: We are in the process of undertaking further consultation on the heritage values of the Kimberley, particularly the values that were identified around the dinosaur trackways and further consultation with the Western Australian government and community.
Senator LUDLAM: That is pretty vague. Can you give us any idea at all of when the public might get an idea of what is happening-when there might be an announcement of some kind?
Ms Dripps: I think that will become clear quickly. I do not have any knowledge of precisely when.
Senator LUDLAM: No knowledge of precisely when, but something is not too far away for that announcement?
Ms Dripps: I did not say 'an announcement'; I said 'further consultation'. There is further consultation required on the additional values that the AHC identified in the dinosaur trackways.
Senator LUDLAM: The heritage listing, I thought, was for the entire West Kimberley.
Ms Dripps: That is right. The initial consultation was undertaken for the examination area in the West Kimberley. There needs to be further consultation around the dinosaur trackways and further consultation around the balance of the potential listed area.
Senator LUDLAM: I have one final question-it is a great big picture one. Program 5.11 of your deliverables is to develop an Australian heritage strategy. I think I have banged on about this at nearly every one of these hearings I have attended. How is that going? When will that one be met?
Dr Terrill: In February this year the minister wrote to state and territory chief ministers and premiers, inviting them to nominate a minister to participate in the ministerial forum to discuss what the strategy might cover, anticipating that it would cover a vision for heritage and some shared objectives and priorities. We have received positive responses from almost all jurisdictions. We are just awaiting one or two.
Senator LUDLAM: Which ones?
Dr Terrill: We are awaiting positive responses from the Northern Territory and we are in discussion with Western Australia about a couple of details.
Senator LUDLAM: I knew it would be WA.
Dr Terrill: We would hope the ministerial forum would take place early in the second half of the year. You will probably have noticed in the budget papers that it is anticipated the strategy will be finalised by mid next year.
Senator LUDLAM: That was my next question. Are you on track for that?
Dr Terrill: Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: Any public consultation as part of that, or is it just going to be stitched up by ministers?
Dr Terrill: I think consultation will be an important element of developing it.
Senator LUDLAM: Please keep us posted.