Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport
Senator SIEWERT-Can we go back to the 60 per cent historical funding. I want to be very clear about what that is based on. Is that the whole of the funding that the NRM group got, or is it based on an admin section they got? Is it based on the whole of the money that was delivered for their investment plan at the end of the three years? Is that what you mean by historical funding?
Mr Smith-The historical funding relates to the funding under the life of the NAP, the national action plan for salinity and water quality, and the Natural Heritage Trust.
Senator SIEWERT-Was it the first year funding, the second year or the third year?
Mr Smith-I will take it on notice. I have a feeling it is certainly more than those. It is about six or seven years of funding.
Senator SIEWERT-So you are averaging it?
Mr Smith-It is averaged over the life of those two programs.
Senator SIEWERT-NHT2 or 1?
Mr Smith-NHT2 only and the NAP. As you know, the NAP was a seven-year program that was extended for another year and the NHT2 was about a six-year program.
Senator SIEWERT-So you are going to get back to me and confirm whether it is an average for that period of time. Is that what you are going to do?
Mr Smith-That is right.
Senator SIEWERT-That would be appreciated. The 15 per cent I am still terribly confused over. You threw in that point about the 90 per cent. Are you saying that you get 15 per cent on top of your 60 per cent but it could be more than 15 per cent? I just do not understand how you get to 90 per cent.
Mr Smith-No. That is okay. Fifteen per cent.
Senator SIEWERT-Fifteen per cent. Everyone gets 15 per cent?
Senator Sherry-No. We have the 60 per cent. What is on top of 60 per cent?
Mr Quinlivan-The principle to keep in mind is that there was an understanding that each of these regional bodies will make a transition into the new program. They are doing it over this first year. The transitional task is more difficult for some regional bodies than others. The main thing that drives the degree of difficulty is the extent of support from other governments and potentially other functions and tasks and sources of revenue they have. So that is the main principle that we have brought to bear in deciding on the allocation of these additional moneys. How significant is the transitional task for the individual bodies?
Senator IAN MACDONALD-I think it is 60 per cent across the board and then 15 per cent across the board, of which some NRMs will get one per cent, some will get 90 per cent and that will make up the total of 15 per cent. Is that correct?
Mr Quinlivan-That is correct. The principle I have just outlined is the basis on which the judgements will be made about the need for accessing additional funds.
Senator SIEWERT-I will have to get you to explain it to me later because I do not understand. If you are getting 15 per cent, it adds up to 75 per cent.
Senator IAN MACDONALD-Globally it is 15 per cent. But for each individual, some will get one per cent of that 15 per cent and some will get 90 per cent of the 15 per cent.
Mr Quinlivan-Perhaps I could just try a different way. For some regions, the Commonwealth money is a very significant part of their revenue. Therefore, we assess those as having a high level of need. In other cases, the Commonwealth moneys are a relatively small amount of their total revenue. Therefore, we assess them as having less need.
Senator SIEWERT-So the 60 per cent is not just the government funding. It is 60 per cent of their historical funding?
Mr Quinlivan-No. The 60 per cent is 60 per cent of the historical Commonwealth funding.
Senator SIEWERT-And the 15 per cent is 15 per cent across the board?
Mr Quinlivan-On average, yes.
Senator SIEWERT-Right. Thank you.
Mr Quinlivan-I hope that was right.
Senator SIEWERT-Can you clarify that to make sure it is.
Mr Quinlivan-That was a joke.
Senator SIEWERT-Not now. If it is not. Now I kind of get it. It took me a long time to get there.
Senator Sherry-We will even provide on notice for you some practical illustrations about how it is applied.
Senator SIEWERT-It is all right. I have got it now. It was just that comment at the end when you said, 'I hope that's right' that threw me.
CHAIR-It was not Mr Quinlivan; it was someone behind him.
Senator SIEWERT-I should take a step back. There are 56 regional groups. Do you have an idea now of how much each group is going to lose?
Mr Quinlivan-Well, as Mr Smith said, a decision has been made for the first year on the allocation of the 60 per cent plus the allocation of the additional 15 per cent, but there will be future allocation processes, some of them competitive, some not, which will provide additional funds to regional bodies. No decisions have been made on those yet.
Senator SIEWERT-I appreciate that. But if it was the status quo they were not able to competitively compete for the other funding that you are talking about-in fact, some regional groups are not lucky enough to have icons-have you done an analysis of what each regional group wins or loses?
Mr Quinlivan-Well, we have made a careful analysis of the individual circumstances of the regional bodies in deciding the allocation of that additional 15 per cent. So I think the answer to your question is yes, because we made a careful assessment of their need.
Senator SIEWERT-Can you provide that information to the committee so we have an idea of which regional groups?
Mr Quinlivan-I think we would have to take that on notice because that information was generated with another department. In some cases, it could be quite sensitive to the future of the regional body.
Senator SIEWERT-That is exactly the point.
Senator Sherry-We will take it on notice.
Senator SIEWERT-Do you have an understanding of how many staff each regional group may lose?
Mr Smith-No. I think at the moment the regional bodies themselves are still working those matters through.
Senator SIEWERT-But there is an acknowledgement that staff will be lost?
Mr Smith-There is the potential for that, yes.
Senator SIEWERT-I am still very desperately interested in the future of the NRM groups. I want to go to the bigger picture issues around Caring for our Country and the approach that has been taken in terms of developing the framework. I would like to know who has been consulted, what that framework encompasses and when it will be released for public comment. It is being released on 30 June. Does that mean it is finalised, or is that just a draft that is released for public comment? That will do for a start.
Mr Smith-On the consultation process, the program has been developed in consultation with the states and territories. I understand there have also been some discussions with other non-government organisations.
But I do not have full details of all those groups that were consulted and which groups were not and which groups were.
Senator SIEWERT-Can you provide a list of who has been consulted, please, from the NGO perspective?
Mr Smith-I can try to do that, yes.
Senator SIEWERT-You cannot tell me? I am taking that as read-
Mr Smith-I will take it on notice.
Senator SIEWERT-that you cannot provide it to me now. Have regional bodies been consulted?
Mr Smith-Regional bodies certainly have been consulted.
Senator SIEWERT-All of them?
Mr Smith-All of them.
Senator SIEWERT-And that is on the overarching framework for Caring for our Country?
Senator SIEWERT-Every aspect of that overarching framework-strategic goals et cetera?
Mr Smith-Well, since the announcement by the government, we have been in direct engagement with all regional bodies around Australia.
Senator SIEWERT-Direct engagement could mean a range of things-for example, talking about their future rather than actually the overarching strategic plan.
Mr Smith-It depends what you mean by consulted, Senator. The government announced the program and announced that it would have a certain amount of money over a five-year period with a goal and six investment strategies. That was a decision by government. We are now working through the details of those arrangements and, where they apply to regions and to states, we are consulting with them on those arrangements. A good example would be on the set of outcomes that are to be determined, as I mentioned. Those outcomes are to go to the Prime Minister by 30 June. There is a limited consultation process with the states, territories, regional bodies, science groups, NGOs and industry.
Senator SIEWERT-And they are on outputs?
Mr Smith-They are the outcomes. They are the five-year program outcomes, if you like.
Senator SIEWERT-For each of the six programs?
Mr Smith-For each of the six priority areas, yes.
Senator SIEWERT-It is just that information that is being released on 30 June?
Mr Smith-The commitment is for us to get it to the Prime Minister by 30 June.
Senator SIEWERT-I beg your pardon.
Mr Smith-At the latest, I expect it would be released in the Australian government's business plan for the program in September this year. It could well be released publicly before that.
Senator SIEWERT-So what are you asking the NGO groups? What directions have they been given for expenditure for the next financial year with their 60 per cent? I am presuming the 15 per cent is about transition and whether they are going to get rid of staff et cetera.
Mr Smith-The 60 per cent applies only to the 56 NRN regional bodies around Australia. So that is the only money, if you like, that the government has guaranteed.
Mr Smith-Of the other money that is available through the program, for instance, there have been advertisements in recent weeks for the national reserve system and for Community Coast Care grants. They are contestable moneys. All groups, including states, NGOs, industry, small community groups and regional bodies, can apply for that money.
Senator SIEWERT-While I appreciate what you have just said to me, it actually was not the answer I wanted. I will just pursue the question for a minute. The advertising that has already been carried out, that is outside the outcome process that you are developing for the Prime Minister by 30 June?
Mr Smith-No. All funding under Caring for our Country, apart from the initial component of the transition year, which is about to commence, will be directed towards those outcomes. But because the outcomes will not be known until September, and funding needs to flow from 1 July, we will have to come up with other mechanisms for directing the funding.
Senator SIEWERT-The question I actually meant to ask before was: what direction are you giving to the regional organisations about the use of the 60 per cent?
Mr Smith-We have asked the regions to draw on their current NRM plans and investment strategies and to put forward those activities that are directly related to the six national priority areas that have been identified by the government. So they have done all that. Some have done it and some are in the process of finalising it right now. Of those investment strategies, some are already sitting with ministers and some are in the process of going to ministers.
Senator SIEWERT-That is for the 60 per cent?
Mr Smith-That is for the 60 per cent.
Senator SIEWERT-For the next two to five years, is it envisaged that the same approach of investment planning and the development of investment plans will be continued?
Mr Smith-No. It will be a different approach. Come September we will have the outcomes and we will have the business plan. That will be the trigger for not only regional bodies but for all other groups to then say, 'Okay, well, now we know what the Australian government is seeking investment in.' So they will then be asked to direct their funding towards those areas. For instance, if a regional body was wanting to access funding, it would need to ensure that its activities line up against the identified outcomes by the Australian government.
Senator SIEWERT-So what happens to the projects and the massive amount of money that this country has already invested into NRM and those continuing projects?
Mr Smith-Well, the Australian government is not the only investor in NRM. The Australian government is just one of a range of investors. What the Australian government is saying under this program is that there is a limited amount of money. They are focusing the investment to a specific set of measurable outcomes yet to be determined.
Senator SIEWERT-You did not answer my question.
Mr Smith-What I am saying is that the Australian government under this program is saying they want to focus the investment.
Senator ABETZ-And you are still not answering the question.
Senator SIEWERT-You are still not answering the question. I am not for one minute saying that NHT2 or the other programs were perfect. But it seems to me we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Mr Quinlivan-I do not think it is possible to answer the question in the abstract other than by saying that the outcome for individual projects will depend on their alignment with the new priorities that are being articulated.
Senator IAN MACDONALD-As a result, there will be clear-
Mr Quinlivan-Some will fit very neatly; some will not. It is not possible to make judgements at this point.
Senator SIEWERT-I am aware I am running out of time. Have you done an assessment of what the attitude of the regional groups is going to be and the people that are associated with those regional groups and whether they are going to walk away?
Mr Smith-Yes. I have spent considerable time. There is a meeting in Melbourne of the chairs of all 56 regions around Australia. They made some very welcoming statements about a program that had one clear goal and that had six national priorities. They welcomed the arrangements around a more streamlined approach by the Australian government.