Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Estimates hearings, 13 February 2012
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
- Senator Joe Ludwig, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
- Senator Richard Colbeck, Liberal Senator for Tasmania
- Dr Conall O’Connell, Secretary
- Mr Tom Aldred, First Assistant Secretary, Climate Change
Senator RHIANNON: Minister Ludwig, in February 2011 you announced a fraud inquiry. I have not heard anything since. I am referring to the one about Kasun, which is in the Bodalla area. I am referring to the case that I understand involved a $17 million exit assistance package for Tasmanian forest contractors. Could you tell us where that is up to, please?
Mr Aldred: If you are referring to the $17 million exit package, there were a range of fraud allegations made to the portfolio, made to the department. The fraud investigations unit was commissioned to investigate each of those. That is separate and independent from—
Senator RHIANNON: Because of the shortage of time, I was after the one about Kasun Pty Ltd.
Mr Aldred: There were no referrals to the Federal Police as a result of a range of investigations into that program.
Senator RHIANNON: Has any information been released publicly about this investigation?
Mr Aldred: Not about specific investigations. They are internal investigations that are under—
Senator RHIANNON: You are saying that there was some money misappropriated?
Mr Aldred: What I have said previously, and Senator Milne asked that I do so, is that we actually draw a line under these by indicating publicly that no referrals had been made to the Australian Federal Police. That is the status.
Senator Ludwig: We have taken that on board and we will do that.
Senator COLBECK: I would be concerned that we just run through a list of names of businesses, suggesting that—
Mr Aldred: No, we—
Senator COLBECK: No, I am not talking about you. I would be very concerned that we run through a list of names as part of the question process here, naming companies—
Senator Ludwig: That is a matter for the chair.
Senator COLBECK: I am making a point of order and the chair, I hope, is listening—that we run through a list of names as part of a questioning process here, with allegations around the suggestion of fraud, when there is a process through which that has been dealt with. I think that it unfairly prejudices people, if there is nothing for them to answer, by just running through a list of names. I would just ask, Chair, that you consider that as part of your consideration.
CHAIR: Your point is taken, Senator Colbeck.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering there is no transparency, there is nothing there to be able to understand. That is the whole problem.
Dr O'Connell: Just to be clear, when Mr Aldred says there were no referrals to the Australian Federal Police, that is because we had no findings that there was a prima facie case of fraud in those cases, so the line has been drawn under that.
Senator COLBECK: Thank you for putting that on the record.
Dr O'Connell: If we had found that there was, we would have referred it to the AFP.
CHAIR: Thank you, Dr O’Connell. It is nine o’clock, Senator Rhiannon. Do you have one more question before we go to a quick break?
Senator RHIANNON: Considering that proposed changes to the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 will make the application of threatened species legislation in Victoria discretionary and considering all RFAs are reliant on state legislation to ensure environmental standards are met—which in fact is the basis of the exemption of RFA logging operations from the EPBC Act—what are the implications for the standing of RFAs in light of those developments?
Senator Ludwig: The RFAs have not changed. The states are still required to meet their obligations under the RFA.
Senator RHIANNON: But if the legislation passed, would the government review its commitment to the RFAs? Do you have a watching brief on what is going on in Victoria?
Mr Aldred: I might be able to help. I cannot confirm whether the letter has specifically gone as yet, or our submission, but the department is or will shortly be seeking advice from the Victorian government that the changes proposed will not impact on commitments under the regional forest agreements.
Senator RHIANNON: You are referring to the proposed changes to the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988?
Mr Aldred: Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Are there talks going on between federal and state? Are you waiting for advice?
Mr Aldred: We will certainly be seeking clarification.
Senator RHIANNON: When do you expect to receive that?
Mr Aldred: I cannot speak for the Victorian government.
Senator RHIANNON: So you are waiting on them?
Mr Aldred: As I indicated, whether we have already put in that submission or whether it is about to be signed off, I cannot tell you. I can take that on notice, but I can tell you that is the approach that we have or will be taking.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, if you could take it on notice. Thank you, Mr Chair.