RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT
Senator SIEWERT-I have some specific questions around Land and Water Australia. I will obviously have some questions for the agency itself, but Land and Water Australia is engaged in a lot of projects in a number of partnerships. In fact, it is one of the best organisations for developing partnerships.
Senator SIEWERT-What is going to happen to those contracts that they are already part of? I understand that there are about 100 ongoing projects that they have entered into partnerships on, with research organisations, CSIRO, the ANU and industry itself. What is happening to those contracts?
Mr Hunter-Land and Water Australia will receive an appropriation this year of $6.7 million. That money is being provided to do two main things. One is the wind-up of the organisation itself-to meet, for example, the payout of staff, rent, the orderly tying up of existing records, research and so on, and also to pay the salaries of a wind-up team. In addition to that, the funds are being provided to enable transition to occur in relation to key research programs managed by Land and Water Australia. For example, the anticipation is that the Climate Change Research Strategy for Primary Industries, known as CCRSPI, managing climate variability, Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge, known as TRaCK, the National Program for Sustainable Irrigation and the Australian Agriculture and Natural Resources Online facility will be continued, and negotiations to identify new hosts are underway at the moment. The minister had asked Land and Water Australia to identify, with the funding that has been made available to it, those programs and projects which are capable of being transitioned. He indicated in particular those that the government would wish to see continued. So it will be a process of working through that portfolio of programs and projects and identifying which could be continued and which may be changed in some way or transferred to another agency to manage.
Senator SIEWERT-I think there are currently 11 programs that Land and Water Australia have running.
Each of those programs will have specific projects with CRCs et cetera. Land and Water only have funding for another year. They will have entered partnerships with a lot of organisations beyond a year. I appreciate your answer, but with all due respect it only responds to a part of the question. I understand that they would be working on upwards of 100 projects. After next year what happens to those projects?
Mr Hunter-It is hard to get into a level of detail which it might be better to start to explore once Land and Water Australia is at the table.
Senator SIEWERT-I do appreciate that, but the point is that some of these are policy questions that they will not be able to answer because they do not have funding. It is a policy issue that the government needs to think about.
Mr Hunter-The process, as I mentioned before, is that we are going through to try to identify, in addition to those particular activities which the minister has indicated to Land and Water Australia that the government wishes to see continued, what other projects and activities can also be continued or wound down or transitioned in some way from within the existing portfolio. In the end there will be some which may not be able to continue. For example, there may be some which are perhaps at a very early stage and have not really got off the ground and which you would not continue, or you would seek to find another partner to take the project forward.
Senator SIEWERT-The fact is that funding money has been cut.
Senator Sherry-Before we go on, you say ‘up to 100'. You and I know from long experience that ‘up to' can mean a significant variation. I will take it on notice and we will find the precise number of programs ‘up to 100', to use your language. But I would not want to go on the record that it is 100 via the mechanism of ‘up to'.
Senator SIEWERT-Land and Water are up next, so I can ask them. The point is that there are a significant number of projects.
Senator Sherry-If they know, fine, but the officer here did not. If they know, we will get the precise number for you.
Senator SIEWERT-Senator Sherry has just quoted the minister as saying that one of the reasons this program is going is because Caring for our Country is in place. Caring for our Country is a replacement program for NHT and it is mainly grant based for implementing on-the-ground outcomes, not research. Do I take it from the comment that was made that there will be an increased focus on research in Caring for our Country?
Mr Hunter-I can answer that in a couple of ways. First of all, I believe that the statements made by ministers and others have referred to not only Caring for our Country but also a wide range of other activities which are funded by the Commonwealth and indeed by universities and the states which work in the field of land and water research as well as policy. They exist now and did not exist at the time Land and Water Australia was established. For example, in Caring for our Country, which is the example that you have drawn upon, significant research goes in the context of the reef rescue component.
Senator IAN MACDONALD-Which has always been there.
Senator SIEWERT-With all due respects to my home state of Western Australia, reef rescue means squat, quite frankly. Land and Water Australia is the only, as I am aware, research body that does the public good sustainability across landscape scale research.
Mr Hunter-There are other bodies which fund research. They may not be research organisations themselves but they fund research in the area of land and water. I guess the one which has grown very significantly in recent years is the amount of funds that the Commonwealth government is putting towards water through the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts-it is very significant; billions of dollars worth of investment.
Senator SIEWERT-That is not research money, though. Are you referring to Water for the Future?
Mr Hunter-My point was that this government, state governments and others are funding organisations which commission and fund research. They may not be research organisations themselves but they commission and fund research. There is the National Water Commission, for example. CSIRO carries out research directly. The point that is being made here is that there now exist a significant number of bodies with a policy and research interest in land and water issues which exist now but did not exist at the time Land and Water Australia was established. And they are to varying degrees purchasers and in some cases conductors of research.
Senator SIEWERT-I will agree to disagree.
Senator MILNE-Who made the decision not to allow Land and Water Australia to complete their strategic plan? I understand that would have finished in July 2010. A lot of money has been spent in the interim; now that is all to be scrapped. This is meant to be an efficiency? How inefficient is it to take them out before they complete their strategic plan? I would like to know who made that decision and was it done in consultation with Land and Water Australia? Was there any discussion with them?
Senator Sherry-The decision to cease the funding of Land and Water Australia was a policy decision made by the minister in the context of the budget, in cabinet. And the consequences that flow from that decision-Land and Water are due to appear, I understand-beyond that which the department has knowledge of can be answered by Land and Water Australia.
Senator MILNE-Can you tell me whether the minister took any advice-perhaps the department can help me here-in relation to what would be the waste associated with jettisoning Land and Water Australia before it completed its strategic plan?
Senator Sherry-I can take that on notice and ask the minister. But I just make the pretty obvious point that advice to govern is advice to government.
Senator IAN MACDONALD-Did the department give advice? We do not want to know what the advice was; we just want to know whether the department gave advice on the issues that Senator Milne is raising.
Senator Sherry-I am happy to take that on notice. If the department has anything further to add, they can.
Senator IAN MACDONALD-I think it is really Dr O'Connell that Senator Milne is asking: did the department give advice to the minister on that subject? We do not want to know what you said.
Dr O'Connell-On the overall budget and how to manage the budget portfolio, yes, the department of course gave normal budget advice.
Senator MILNE-That is not what I asked. I asked specifically in relation to a decision to get rid of Land and Water Australia.
Dr O'Connell-The nature of the advice, I think, comes under ‘advice to government'.
Senator SIEWERT-This question has to be asked because when Land and Water Australia cease to function they will not know. They have a number of projects, not just water projects; they carry out a whole lot of projects around natural resource management and knowledge brokering. It is one of the things I have always found really important around what Land and Water do. What is the proposal to keep that function going-all the important networking, liaising between all the research organisations and the regional knowledge kits, for example. Who keeps all that going?
Mr Hunter-I can only give you a general answer. Land and Water Australia is in the process of developing some advice, in consultation with the department, about how its current activities might be continued or transitioned in the context of the budget that it has been provided in the current year. We have not completed that process so I do not have the answer to that particular question.
Senator SIEWERT-In other words, the government has not thought through what happens with the work of Land and Water Australia, which is basically irreplaceable.
Dr O'Connell-I think that is probably putting words into my mouth in one sense. The nature of a budget decision is of course that it is kept relatively tight until the budget is announced and then the implementation in detail is worked through. That is what Mr Hunter was talking about. Having had the decision announced we are now in a position where we can discuss openly with the relevant players how to give effect to managing the best outcomes.
Senator SIEWERT-Who is going to do the work that is done around, for example, the native vegetation and biodiversity programs, environmental water allocations, the regional natural resource management work and the landscape scale research? None of this is done by a lot of those other organisations you have mentioned, which is why Land and Water Australia does it. Who is going to be doing that work?
Mr Hunter-If you are referring to particular activities or projects that are under way by Land and Water
Australia at the moment then my previous answer applies. We are working through that in consultation with Land and Water Australia now.