Back to All News

Estimates: logging breaches in Murray Valley NP

Estimates & Committees
Janet Rice 9 May 2016

Senator RICE: I want to continue the discussion we had from last estimates about the ecological thinning trial that is underway in the Millewa National Park in New South Wales, in the Murray Valley. I am told that the thinnings trial has begun, and I am wondering whether you—as I think you described yourself as the administrative authority for Ramsar—are doing any monitoring of how that trial is proceeding?

Mr Papps: No, we are not doing any separate monitoring. We will be relying on the monitoring that is undertaken by the management agency. Having said that, there is separate Commonwealth Environmental Water long-term intervention monitoring already underway in those systems and, of course, those results will be available to both us and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. But as far as specific monitoring goes, it is the responsibility of the agency itself.

Mr Gaddes: We believe—I checked with my staff after you asked the question earlier—that this stems from an allegation that came to us today. We will not jump straight to stopping the trial. We will look at the substance of the information that was provided to us, whether or not it constituted a breach of conditions, and then we will deal with it in accordance with our compliance and enforcement process.

Senator RICE: How long will about compliance process take?

Mr Gaddes: It would depend on how serious the photos and the things that were going on there as to how high up our triage process that would be. In accepting allegations—we receive lots of them lots of them, up to 500 a year—we go through each one. We look at how imminent it was; if it is occurring, what the likely impacts of it would be; and those sorts of things through our prioritisation process, and then that would depend on how quickly we respond to it. We would try to deal with it as quickly as possible.

Senator RICE: Within a week?

Mr Gaddes: It may be within a week. If it—

Senator RICE: So we can follow up with the department in a week's time to get your response to these allegations?

Mr Gaddes: You could. We may not have furthered it that far, but we will try to do it as quickly as possible.

Senator RICE: Minister, do you feel this is something that you should have involvement in?

Senator Birmingham: Well, I do not think the Minister for Education and Training is likely to be involved!

Senator URQUHART: Representative minister.

Senator RICE: As representative minister.

Senator Birmingham: Minister Hunt is involved wherever his legislative responsibilities require him to be or where good policy demands that he have such discussions.

Mr Gaddes: Just to clarify, Senator, we are looking at it now. We have received photos from an informant, and it is being looked at as we speak. It is just how long it might take to further those inquiries and conclude them.

Senator RICE: Okay. Thank you.

Senator RICE: We have had people on the ground telling us of concerns about breaches of the conditions of the trial. In the response to the question on notice from last time I was told that you basically requested that the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service conduct the trial in accordance with the management plan to ensure minimal impacts for threatened species and wetlands. Yet we have heard some quite serious concerns of breaches of the conditions that were in that management plan. Have you heard anything about those breaches?

Mr Papps: No, but perhaps I will make a point of clarification: I am not sure whether the 'you' you are using is the royal 'you' as in referring to the Commonwealth Department of the Environment, because of course the approval for the trial and the conditions attached to the trial were made under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which is administered by a separate unit within the department. My role in that regard is simply to provide advice. I am not aware of the issues you raise, but that is perhaps not surprising since it is not my responsibility to administer that piece of legislation.

Senator RICE: But you are the administrative authority for the Ramsar sites.

Mr Papps: I am the administrative authority for the Ramsar convention. I am not the administrative authority for the sites, and I am certainly not the management authority for the sites. Each and every Ramsar site is managed by, in most cases, a state agency.

Senator RICE: But you have given approval for these operations to occur in these Ramsar wetland.

Mr Papps: I have not.

Dr de Brouwer: It is another part of the department, Senator.

Mr Knudson: We can cover this off in the next section, the environmental regulation section—1.5. We can talk about it at that point.

Senator RICE: I can table some photos of the logging operations as they are going on at the moment.

Mr Knudson: That would be helpful.

Senator RICE: The concerns that people have are that there are hollow-bearing trees that are being logged and trees greater than are permitted to be logged. If it is more appropriate to cover that in the next section, I can. Mr Papps, so you do not have a role, in terms of your administrative role with the wetlands per se, to be concerned about what seems to be significant damage to the ecological health of these forests?

Mr Papps: That particular way of putting the question suggests that I do not have any interest in the ecological health of forests. Clearly I do, because one of the major roles I have is the provision of Commonwealth environmental water to try and protect the ecological character of those sites—in fact, not only protect; in both of those forests it is a major project of restoration, because the forests have undergone significant changes. So I do have that concern. It is a concern I take seriously. But I do not administer the regulation of the EPBC Act and I do not undertake any compliance work. I have got confidence in the part of the department that is responsible for that and I see my role, as it is legislatively defined, being much more related to Commonwealth environmental water and its application.

CHAIR: Senator Rice, in relation to these black-and-white photos you have provided, because there is no location or any date or time frame for them, I think it would be appropriate, before the committee consider them further, for you to provide that. Are you able to provide—

Senator RICE: Yes.

CHAIR: If you can do that, then we will consider that further. Are there any more questions for program 4.2? No. Thank you very much. I now call officers from the department in relation to program 1.5, Environmental regulation.

...

Senator RICE: Can I ask my question now?

Dr de Brouwer: Yes.

Senator RICE: Given the photos that I have just tabled and the clear evidence of breaches of the guidelines by this ecological thinning trial that is being undertaken, including the logging of trees greater than 40 centimetres in diameter and logging of trees with hollows, will the Commonwealth intervene to cease this trial immediately while these breaches are occurring? 

Mr Gaddes: We believe—I checked with my staff after you asked the question earlier—that this stems from an allegation that came to us today. We will not jump straight to stopping the trial. We will look at the substance of the information that was provided to us, whether or not it constituted a breach of conditions, and then we will deal with it in accordance with our compliance and enforcement process.

Senator RICE: How long will about compliance process take? Mr Gaddes: It would depend on how serious the photos and the things that were going on there as to how high up our triage process that would be. In accepting allegations—we receive lots of them lots of them, up to 500 a year—we go through each one. We look at how imminent it was; if it is occurring, what the likely impacts of it would be; and those sorts of things through our prioritisation process, and then that would depend on how quickly we respond to it. We would try to deal with it as quickly as possible.

Senator RICE: Within a week?

Mr Gaddes: It may be within a week. If it—

Senator RICE: So we can follow up with the department in a week's time to get your response to these allegations?

Mr Gaddes: You could. We may not have furthered it that far, but we will try to do it as quickly as possible.

Senator RICE: Minister, do you feel this is something that you should have involvement in?

Senator Birmingham: Well, I do not think the Minister for Education and Training is likely to be involved!

Senator URQUHART: Representative minister.

Senator RICE: As representative minister.

Senator Birmingham: Minister Hunt is involved wherever his legislative responsibilities require him to be or where good policy demands that he have such discussions.

Mr Gaddes: Just to clarify, Senator, we are looking at it now. We have received photos from an informant, and it is being looked at as we speak. It is just how long it might take to further those inquiries and conclude them.

Senator RICE: Okay. Thank you

Back to All News