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National Reserve System

Estimates & Committees
Rachel Siewert 20 Oct 2009

ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS

Senator SIEWERT—I am following up on questions that I asked yesterday in rural and regional. I know it is clumsy being across two estimates areas. It provides an opportunity to see if we can get a different answer! Firstly I would like to follow up on the NRS program because yesterday at rural and regional the department was unable to provide much information on the NRS program. Hopefully I now have where this fits in properly. How much has been allocated for NRS projects in the last round of funding, which is 2009-10?

Mr Cochrane—We funded 22 acquisition projects. I should say that is actually since the beginning of Caring for Country on 1 July 2008.

Senator SIEWERT—I am desperately trying to work out how much funding has been spent and allocated out of the 2009-10 budget because a lot of the data that we were given yesterday is across projects that are one, two, three and even four years. I am trying to work out how much was funded this financial year.

Ms Rankin—The reason you are finding it difficult is that there is a complex answer. To date there has been $2.995 million worth of NRS projects approved. But as well there has been a range of expression of interest projects that have been approved to go to the next stage with the negotiation for landholders. Until the actual details of purchases of those individual properties are finally assessed and approved the budget figures for those particular projects are not available.

Senator SIEWERT—How much is earmarked, though?

Ms Rankin—In the budget this year it is $45.6 million for 2009-10.

Senator SIEWERT—Yesterday we were told that there is $152 million worth of projects that have been approved this year that not only incur expenditure this financial year but some of those projects are one, two or three-year projects. Out of the $152 million that has been approved, $45.6 million is for NRS projects?

Ms Rankin—The $45.6 million is the budget for NRS for 2009-10. The only bits that have been approved to date have been 10 proposals and there has been a range of proposals approved to go through to the next stage, so the actual details as to the amount of funding for each of those projects—

Senator SIEWERT—So the $3.995 million is part of the $152 million?

Ms Rankin—I think we might need to clarify that figure. This is information that you received yesterday?

Senator SIEWERT—This is information we received yesterday. There is around $407.9 million that has been allocated for the 2009-10 financial year across Caring for Country?

Ms Rankin—That is right, yes.

Senator SIEWERT—Of which there is $60 million allocated for projects that were part of a competitive bid; is that right?

Ms Rankin—Can I give you my figures?

Senator SIEWERT—Let me just clarify what else I had. I had around $130.4 million that was allocated to regional organisations as baseline funding.

Ms Rankin—That is right, $138 million, yes.

Senator SIEWERT—Around $24.6 million was reef projects; is that correct?

Ms Rankin—I will go through my table. As you say, the total budget this year is $407 million. This year as a result of business plan investments we have approved $446.6 million over four years.

Senator SIEWERT—That is $446 million over four years.

Ms Rankin—Of that, $190.999 million is in 2009-10. I will just go through our 2009-10 figures, if that is easier for you.

Senator SIEWERT—Yes, that is what I am trying to get to.

Ms Rankin—Six projects to date have been approved for World Heritage as part of the business plan. I will get onto outside the business plan projects after this. That adds up to $1.63 million.

Senator SIEWERT—Is that purely for this financial year?

Ms Rankin—This is just this financial year. There are three cane toad projects for $1.025 million. There are 18 projects so far approved for Indigenous protected areas, at $2.62 million. As I mentioned, the NRS projects that have been approved to date add up to $3.995 million.

Senator SIEWERT—But the indicative budget is $45.6 million?

Ms Rankin—That is right, yes. Reef rescue projects, $24.6 million. Then we have the 56 Landcare projects.

Senator SIEWERT—Fifty-six seems to be the magic number.

Ms Rankin—We are saying it is the new black—$9.916 million.

Senator SIEWERT—They are the projects that are actually funded under a separate process; aren’t they?

Ms Rankin—No, they are funded under the business plan but approved under—

Senator SIEWERT—I beg your pardon. That is what I mean.

Ms Rankin—The other 56 projects are the competitive component of the business plan. That adds up to $17.1 million. You have the regional baseline funding, which you know about, of $138 million. And the regional bodies also received competitive funding worth $8.9 million.

Senator SIEWERT—Of the 56 projects that have been approved under the competitive process, did they not include the regional competitive project?

Ms Rankin—That includes that $8.99 million I just mentioned.

Senator SIEWERT—That is a subcomponent?

Ms Rankin—Yes. Just to be clear, then in addition to that some additional funding has been allocated for other things outside the business plan process, as was mentioned in the business plan, for some foundation activities and funding direct to some critical projects. That includes an election commitment which includes $137 million worth of funding for things like cane toads, environmental stewardship projects, Tuggerah Lakes, Gippsland Lakes and a whole range of other activities.

Senator SIEWERT—So $139 million to cane toads. Is that separate to the other cane toad funding?

Ms Rankin—Yes.

Senator SIEWERT—This is all for this financial year?

Ms Rankin—That is right.

Senator SIEWERT—So cane toads and Gippsland Lakes—the election promises—there was some Tasmanian devil work in there too, wasn’t there?

Ms Rankin—The Tasmanian devil, the Tasmanian-Queensland World Heritage area funding—the monitoring and evaluation budget is all captured in that $137 million.

Senator SIEWERT—To save you going through it now, is it possible to get a breakdown of that $137 million in a tabular form?

Ms Rankin—Yes, we can do that.

Senator SIEWERT—Where do camels fit in? I know they are very bad.

Ms Rankin—They fit into that $56 million project—

Senator SIEWERT—You said that was $17.1 million. The camels are $19 million.

Ms Rankin—That is over the full four years of the program. In the first year the anticipated expenditure is very small with regard to camels while we work the project up.

Senator SIEWERT—Of the $17.1 million, how much overall has been allocated? Is that for the first year of those projects?

Ms Rankin—Yes.

Senator SIEWERT—How much has been committed forward for those 56 projects?

Ms Rankin—That is $57.4 million.

Senator SIEWERT—That is how I got to the figure of $60 million I just scribbled. Regarding the projects we have just discussed—the World Heritage funding; the protected area funding—is there other funding that is earmarked for those areas that are not funded in this financial year in the same way that the NRS money is earmarked but not expended yet?

Ms Rankin—Yes, there is. There are certainly a number of other projects that are being assessed and considered for Indigenous protected areas and NRS. Once those have gone through the formal final assessment process there will be an announcement on the amount of money for those projects.

Senator SIEWERT—In the same way that you have $45.6 million earmarked for NRS, can you tell us what is earmarked for this financial year for Indigenous protected areas?

Ms Rankin—I need to clarify that the $45.6 million includes IPAs. It is all part of the national priority—

Senator SIEWERT—Is that $45.6 million for NRS and IPAs?

Ms Rankin—Yes.

Senator SIEWERT—In terms of the World Heritage budget, is that the full expenditure for this financial year?

Ms Rankin—As I said, $1.6 million was approved out of the business plan and on top of that there was funding of $3.4 million for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, $2.7 million for wet tropics—

Senator SIEWERT—Does that come out of the $137 million?

Ms Rankin—That comes out of the $137 million. And I know there is another Macquarie Island one in here for rabbits, and that is $4.9 million.

Senator SIEWERT—That is for this financial year?

Ms Rankin—That is right.

Senator SIEWERT—The $137 million is for this financial year, isn’t it?

Ms Rankin—Yes.

Senator SIEWERT—So there is no more money to be expended against the World Heritage projects under the business plan as opposed to separate to the business plan. There are the six and that is it for this financial year?

Ms Rankin—That is right.

Senator SIEWERT—You do not have any more expressions of interest?

Ms Rankin—No.

Senator SIEWERT—In terms of the competitive grants program, as I understand the overall expenditure of $19 million the camels project was done as an expression of interest, according to what the department said yesterday in the rural and regional affairs hearing. Are there any more projects funded under the competitive process that are done through expressions of interest?

Ms Rankin—The only expressions of interest we called for in the 2009-10 business plan were for large projects. That is the only large project that is being funded out of that process.

Senator SIEWERT—In the competitive grant process, of the overall money that is going to be expended there, which is $57.4 million, what is the percentage of regional bodies projects that make up that amount?

Ms Rankin—That is 4.5 per cent. That is for the $8.9 million that they received on top of their baseline funding.

Senator SIEWERT—The $8.9 million is only for this financial year though, isn’t it?

Ms Rankin—Yes, sorry. It is $20.162 million over the four years.

Senator SIEWERT—The $8.9 million obviously makes up half of this year’s funding, so they are obviously short-term projects. They are the shorter term projects that have been funded if they then only make up—

Ms Rankin—Looking at my budget profile, yes, most of their funding goes out in 2009-10 and 2010-11. There is very little in the last two years.

Senator SIEWERT—They are two-year projects whereas the other project, the camels project, presumably is a four-year project?

Ms Rankin—That is right.

Senator SIEWERT—Have the 10 projects that have actually been approved under the NRS proposal now been announced?

Mr Cochrane—They are all projects on private lands. As Ms Rankin said, all the acquisition proposals are under assessment at the moment for the NRS.

Senator SIEWERT—I am sorry, I am having a bit of trouble hearing you. Are the 10 projects that have been approved—you are not sure if they have been announced—still being finalised?

Mr Cochrane—No. I think they have been approved. I do not believe they have been announced yet.

Senator SIEWERT—When is it likely they will be announced?

Mr Cochrane—I imagine it will be imminent because I think the successful applicants would have been notified by now.

Senator SIEWERT—I realise you are not going to tell me who they are before the minister has had the pleasure of announcing them. Are they to NGOs or state conservation organisations?

Mr Cochrane—It is a range of organisations, including catchment management authorities. Some are government departments and some are NGOs and industry bodies. That is the range that is there. My advice here is that we are aiming to finalise our contract negotiations by the end of this month for private lands—yes, for those 10.

Senator SIEWERT—Then there are 45—

Mr Cochrane—There are 45 that are under assessment.

Senator SIEWERT—Is the bulk of the money still to be expended?

Mr Cochrane—Correct.

Senator SIEWERT—Have you got applications for that $45.6 million?

Mr Cochrane—As was said before, the $45.6 million includes IPAs. The actual NRS component of the non-IPA bit is $37.6 million. We had 88 expressions of interest. Of those, 45 have been selected for assessment.

Senator SIEWERT—I am recalling the money that was handed back for biodiversity hot spots some years ago. I never want to see that happen again.

Mr Cochrane—I do not believe we have ever handed any NRS money back.

Senator SIEWERT—I am glad to hear it. The applications you have got will expend the $37.6 million?

Mr Cochrane—We also continue to receive applications from time to time when new valuable properties come on the market. There are proponents and willing sellers so if, we can take advantage of those, we do.

Senator SIEWERT—You have an expert panel that helps you with NRS assessments; am I recalling correctly?

Mr Cochrane—No, my staff generally work very closely with the states, who provide a lot of the on-theground information to us so, there is not a panel per se. My staff formulate the assessments of the properties and the recommendations to the minister.

Senator SIEWERT—So the assessment is done separately to the assessment panels that do the competitive process?

Ms Rankin—All of the applications, including the NRS ones that were received this year, were all run through the application assessment tool that I think we have provided you previously as part of a question on notice answer.

Senator SIEWERT—Yes.

Ms Rankin—So that was the original step, the first step that we went through, and then Mr Cochrane’s staff went through the additional evaluating of the submissions.

Senator SIEWERT—All these projects have been through that assessment tool process?

Ms Rankin—Yes.

Mr Cochrane—Yes.

Senator SIEWERT—In terms of looking forward to the next round, what is the process for looking at the assessment tool and reviewing it in light of this year’s process?

Ms Rankin—We have had a number of processes running over the last few months. There has been a public process asking for commentary back on what happened last year and the people’s views on the overall process. We have had a number of workshops with key stakeholders around the country and also invited stakeholders to Canberra to provide their feedback. We have separately had discussions with people like David Pannell, who actually reviewed the assessment tool and provided us with some commentary, suggestions and feedback on that and we are taking all of that into account in terms of revising and updating the tool for next time.

Senator SIEWERT—When will the new tool be available? Will you be releasing that as well?

Ms Rankin—We have not had that discussion yet with the board about whether they are prepared to release the tool before or at the same time as the business plan is released.

Senator SIEWERT—When is the business plan going to be released?

Ms Rankin—We are hoping within the next month.

Senator SIEWERT—Okay. The camel project that was successful—from what we were told yesterday, as I understand it that decision was made on the expression of interest then our developing it up.

Ms Rankin—That is right.

Senator SIEWERT—In this instance this was the only major grant that was picked on an expression of interest from what you have just said; is the process from here that you just keep working with the proponents until you get a project that you are happy with?

Ms Rankin—On the camel project?

Senator SIEWERT—On the camel project.

Ms Rankin—That is right, yes. The $90 million was indicatively earmarked for the project subject to us being able to negotiate a suitable scope for the project with the proponents. There has been a range of discussions with them and they have put forward a more detailed proposal that we have been assessing and providing commentary back. Ministers have yet to make a decision on the final project.

Senator SIEWERT—With regard to the projects that were approved under the competitive grant process, did you accept the advice you received from the assessment panel on all projects?

Ms Rankin—The advice we received back from both the scientific advisory panel and the community advisory panels basically identified that around $790 million worth of projects were of high value.

Senator SIEWERT—$790 million worth of projects were—

Ms Rankin—That exceeded our level of budget.

Senator SIEWERT—Presumably, that was not just for this year. The $790 million was for the extent of their projects if they were three or four years.

Ms Rankin—No, that was just for this year.

Senator SIEWERT—Just for this year?

Ms Rankin—Yes.

Senator SIEWERT—And you have funded $17.1 million.

Ms Rankin—No. We have funded four hundred and—

Senator SIEWERT—I beg your pardon; it was not just the completed grants.

Ms Rankin—No. That is right. Clearly we had to go through a process of looking at their shortlist of $790 million worth of projects and recommending to ministers a package of projects to fit within the budget that was available.

Senator SIEWERT—Does that mean that the projects that were approved outside the business plan— which were the cane toad projects and the Gippsland Lakes ones—all went through the panel as well?

Ms Rankin—No, they did not.

Senator SIEWERT—I am just trying to find out which ones—

Ms Rankin—The election commitments such as Tasmanian foxes and Tassie devils did not go through the panels, but the three cane toad projects I mentioned before did.

Senator SIEWERT—The World Heritage projects did?

Ms Rankin—The six I mentioned?

Senator SIEWERT—Yes. I am not talking about any of the ex-business plan ones now.

Ms Rankin—Okay, yes.

Senator SIEWERT—The World Heritage ones did, the cane toad ones did, NRS ones did, IPAs and the reef rescue.

Ms Rankin—Yes.

Senator SIEWERT—Landcare went through a separate announcement process?

Ms Rankin—It went through the same assessment process but a separate announcement process.

Senator SIEWERT—Does the $138 million for the regional baseline funding go through that process or is that assessed—

Ms Rankin—That is really assessed internally.

Senator SIEWERT—Yes.

Ms Rankin—We did run them all through the same assessment tool internally but did not send it out then to the assessment panels.

Senator SIEWERT—The baseline funding was announced some time ago before the competitive grant process?

Ms Rankin—That was, yes.

Senator SIEWERT—So that—$407 million minus $137 million—was what was assessed by the assessment panels?

Ms Rankin—Yes, I think.

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