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Estimates: Environment and Communications Legislation Committee: Environment and Energy Portfolio: Director of National Parks

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 1 Mar 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

Senator RHIANNON: Are there plans to export platypuses—possibly from Taronga Zoo to San Diego Zoo?

Mr Knudson : I think we would be dealing with that under 1.1. The Threatened Species Commissioner could talk about that in more detail at that point.

Senator RHIANNON: Has 1.1 already been done?

Mr Thompson : Wildlife trade? Maybe the commissioner should deal with that.

Senator RHIANNON: I note that they do not call it 'trade'. They say that they are protecting our threatened species.

Mr Thompson : I think we will deal with that later on this evening. You can raise it at 1.1.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay.

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Senator RHIANNON: I want to ask about what I understand is the proposed PFAS summit. The summit will be led by the heads of the environment protection authorities—the EPAs—in Australia and New Zealand?

Mr Cahill : Yes. There was agreement with the heads of the environmental protection agencies late last year to work together to be able to work out a common approach to regulating PFOS and PFOA. We are working closely with the Victorian EPA, who have agreed to take the lead with the states and territories, and with input from the Commonwealth on our draft guidance. That has been supported by the environment ministers. We are still planning the timing of that. A PFAS summit may not be the right language that will ultimately be used. It is actually about the regulators having a round table and getting input from experts to see what is the best way for the states and territories and the Commonwealth to regulate on a consistent basis.

Senator RHIANNON: You talked about a common approach to regulating. Are there plans to discuss how to manage the pollution once it is already in the environment? Will it be wider than just regulation?

Mr Cahill : The draft Commonwealth guidelines, which are for the management of PFOS, PFOA—the environmental guidelines—were a key input that the minister wrote to his environmental colleagues. In essence, it has three simple elements to it. It talks about: how do you inspect a site to be able to see if there is potential for the chemicals, then diagnose it in terms of what levels of concentration will have what impact on what species level and then how do you respond to that. That is part of the framework. What we are looking to do is get the states and territories together to agree on: what is our common approach to do that and what is the framework? Victoria has undertaken to take that lead.

Senator RHIANNON: So Victoria is taking the lead. It will be state and federal governments and New Zealand? That is the plan is it?

Mr Cahill : State and federal governments. New Zealand have asked to attend that. It obviously has a different jurisdiction, but they are very mindful that they would like to learn from what the Australian experience is.

Senator RHIANNON: As well as the environmental agencies, considering that a lot of this pollution is on airport land and defence land are you involving any of them in the process?

Mr Cahill : We are finalising who is going to be involved in the conversation, but we are mindful that it needs to step beyond just the regulators.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'beyond just the regulators', can you outline what groupings you are looking at? Are you looking at civil society, unions, people who cover the workforce—

Mr Cahill : It is too early to say. We are just finalising that with Victoria.

Senator RHIANNON: Wouldn't you already have the categories? You have named regulators. Wouldn't you have other categories that you would definitely be involving?

Mr Cahill : We are looking to get international experts in environmental regulation from overseas. So we want to look to the overseas experience. But in terms of which other stakeholders are being invited, that is still being finalised with Victoria.

Senator RHIANNON: We have people who sit on the bodies that look over the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants—people from Australia, chemical experts, who work in that area. Would you be looking at those sorts of people?

Mr Cahill : I might ask Mr McNee, but the branch that has our experts who do the processes under Stockholm actually sits within my division. Mr McNee will be participating in that, and his relevant experts will be participating with the regulators in getting together on this round table when it is planned.

Senator RHIANNON: You said, 'the regulators', again. Is it just the regulators?

Mr Cahill : It is predominantly regulators, but there will be other experts involved. They include our own chemical experts in the chemicals branch.

Mr McNee : There are two issues there and I will touch on both of those. I think the work that is being done with regulators is really the starting point for the conversation about what a national PFAS management plan looks like. Inevitably, it is going to have to involve a wide range of stakeholders, scientific and technical experts to actually ensure that it is comprehensive and does what it is meant to do. As Mr Cahill said, the work about how that engagement will unfold and exactly who will be involved is still part of the conversation. On the national management plan side, we are at the start of that process. With the Stockholm Convention discussion around the listing of PFOS, we are very engaged with experts and civil society and others in finalising a regulatory impact statement on the ratification of PFOS under the Stockholm Convention. We anticipate that in the coming months that will be released for public comment and then will form the basis of very significant engagement.

Senator RHIANNON: So, 'in coming months'—in three months or the end of the year?

Mr McNee : I am hesitant to put a specific date on it because it is a complex document and we are working through it, but our intention is that it will be as rapidly as we can—so in the first two or three months of this year.

Mr Knudson : The draft Commonwealth guidelines on PFOS and PFOA are up on our website. If there are individuals who you think are particularly concerned and want to take a look at those and provide us with comments on them then we are absolutely happy to receive those now. There is absolutely nothing that prohibits that. Please feel free to encourage people.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. That is very useful. On this issue of participation, I want to clarify this, because I noticed that article 10 of the Stockholm Convention—this is 10.1—has the heading:

Each Party shall, within its capabilities, promote and facilitate:

And part (d) says:

Public participation in addressing persistent organic pollutants and their health and environmental effects and in developing adequate responses, including opportunities for providing input at the national level regarding implementation of this Convention;

That seems to me to really clearly cover this important summit that you are calling. Mr Cahill, I did notice that you used the term 'predominantly regulators', but Mr McNee seemed to be broadening that out somewhat. I think it would be good to clarify this on the record because it is concerning communities across the country. I and many of my colleagues are getting many people approaching us. They are feeling very much on their own and they are feeling distressed. I think it would restore and help build confidence if they knew that it is not just the regulators who have an interest in it but it is also people who may be seen as more objective or coming from different viewpoints, representing the public or representing the workers who are often hit by this. Can we just clarify: are there different categories of people who you will clearly be looking at so you can be consistent with article 10 of the Stockholm Convention?

Mr Cahill : This will be one meeting in a series of meetings, going to Mr McNee's point. All the states and territories already have had a lot of consultation over these chemicals. This is about us looking not only at what is the best approach to regulation but at how we actually engage with communities and how we approach them. It is not necessarily going to be the answer. It is working as the next step in the process about how we regulate, and that will include how we engage and how we consult with communities in terms of the regulatory approach.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware that the previous development of national management plans for persistent organic pollutants that was undertaken by the national advisory body consisted of equitable representatives of industry, academics, NGOs and unions?

Mr McNee : Yes, we are aware of that. In fact, we have been looking at some of those models in terms of how we might think about PFOS.

Senator RHIANNON: Excellent.

Mr Cahill : The other thing which is probably relevant is that in the next few months we will also be holding the meetings of the Stockholm Technical Committee and the Stockholm Reference Group in the lead-in to this year's conference of the parties to the Stockholm Convention. Certainly, that is a mechanism where will be briefing them on where we have got to on the status of PFOS and other things, and that provides an excellent opportunity to get very substantial feedback.

Senator RHIANNON: Excellent. So you are looking at that as a model for the equitable representatives of all those groupings.

Mr McNee : There were a number of plans that were set out for a range of different POPs and some of them have been more successful than others. What we are hoping is to look at the elements that have made those successful and ensure that we are as successful in dealing with PFOS.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

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CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, you had a quick question.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. It is about platypuses possibly being exported. Are there plans to export platypus from Taronga Zoo to San Diego Zoo?

Mr Andrews : I can answer that question. I should be very clear that the Australian government does not have plans to export platypus, however, Taronga Zoo and San Diego Zoo, which are two of the best zoos in the world, do have a species exchange proposal. Minister Frydenberg mentioned that when he was launching a threatened species strategy prospectus. I can give you his exact words. He said, 'I'm proud to have two of the world's great zoos—our very own Taronga Zoo and the San Diego Zoo—here as partners in the prospectus, and I'm delighted to learn of their proposal to exchange two remarkable animals: the Australian platypus and the African okapi. He then said, 'Of course'—and he was actually quite emphatic about this too in his speech at the launch—'this exchange will be subject to assessment against Australia's strict regulatory processes that protect our biosecurity and our animals' wellbeing.'

If I could give you some background on the proposal: San Diego Zoo and Taronga Zoo both turn 100 this year. San Diego Zoo was the first zoo in the world to get koalas—they have had koalas since the 1920s, I believe. They have four Tasmanian devils at the moment. In return for displaying those devils and educating seven times Tasmania's population every year in San Diego about the Tasmanian devil and the plight of the facial tumour disease, San Diego Zoo is investing half a million dollars in Tasmanian devil science back here in Australia. The US zoos invest $200 million a year in threatened species conservation. Zoos play an integral role not only for critically endangered species but also in educating the public about the loss of biodiversity and the importance of saving species and fighting extinction.

Under the Threatened Species Strategy prospectus, I have been working with San Diego Zoo and Taronga Zoo. Two platypuses are proposed to go from Taronga Zoo to San Diego Zoo.

CHAIR: Mr Andrews, I am sorry to interrupt, but we are starting to run out of time a little bit. Would you mind tabling some of that information, because it is fantastic information. But we might need to just bring it down because, in this program, Senator Rhiannon and also Senator Urquhart have some more questions.

Mr Andrews : Sorry, Senator.

CHAIR: No, please do not apologise.

Senator RHIANNON: It would help me with further questions, which I can probably put on notice, to understand if Taronga Zoo can just do this on its own. What do they have to do to get this approval? You are probably aware that it is quite a controversial area, and it is often called 'native animal diplomacy'. There was a platypus called Winston that actually died when it was about to be given to Winston Churchill. It was about diplomacy; it was not about protecting the animals.

Mr Andrews : I can definitely help you with that. Exchanging animals, I should say, is BAU. For examples, China has all of the giant pandas that are overseas on novated leases. The zoos that have them, like Adelaide Zoo, have to pay a lease fee, have to send the panda back with the utmost of care at the end of the lease and have to look after the panda. All the money from the novated leases goes into conservation back in the wild in situ. That is one of the reasons the giant panda recently has been down listed and is not as threatened as it used to be. As long as our animals' welfare is put at the highest level, which zoos like Taronga Zoo and San Diego Zoo do, Australia's regulations and the regulatory requirements of our department and also the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources are met and that the regulations in the EPBC Act oblige our department to advise the minister before he makes a decision to ensure that the transport of the animals is done with the utmost care and also that the animal's care at their new home is equally good then exchanging animals can be about protecting the animals.

Senator RHIANNON: So it is the minister who gives the final decision?

Mr Andrews : Correct. The people at San Diego Zoo love the Tasmanian devils so much that they actually gave one of them, Bradley, a pacemaker, so I can assure you that it is one of the best zoos in the world and no zoo would take platypuses from the wild. These are platypuses that are bred in captivity and—

Senator RHIANNON: Is it true, also, that they do not go back—

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Rhiannon. Can I just remind you, Mr Andrews, that we are coming up against the tea break, so could you just keep it a little bit shorter so Senator Rhiannon can get her questions in.

Mr Knudson : If I can just add to that, what we can do is provide on notice what the regulatory requirements are for the approval and what the process is for that.

Senator RHIANNON: That would be good. Thank you, Mr Andrews.

Mr Andrews : Thank you. I have those here.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Chair.

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