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Estimates: Environment and Communications Legislation Committee (Department of the Environment)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 26 May 2015

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: In answer to an earlier question, Mr Oxley, you said the New South Wales government is very active-those are your words, 'very active'-with respect to World Heritage Listing for Royal National Park. I was interested in understanding what has been undertaken. I am just going to go through the time line, and please correct me if I am wrong, it was in October 2013 when Minister Hunt and then Environment Minister Robyn Parker made the announcement that they would be working together on the nomination. It was then 18 March this year when Minister Hunt and current Minister Stokes talked about their commitment to the necessary research to developing the submission. That means that we missed the deadline of 31 January this year for that stage of getting it on the national listing before-

Mr Oxley : Yes, it must be on the tentative list for 12 months before it can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List. Obviously, the process that is being run by New South Wales did not result in all of the evidence necessary to support a nomination being collated in the time frame that would have allowed submission for the tentative list this year. I am very confident New South Wales is working hard to bring forward a tentative listing proposal for consideration in the next cycle.

Senator RHIANNON: So, when you said it has been 'very active', we are talking over 18 months. What were you basing the words 'very active' on? What has happened?

Mr Oxley : Perhaps it has been a bit generous with language. I do know that they have been undertaking analysis assessment to look at the values of the place, and one of the things that needs to be done is a comparative assessment to identify the value of the place relative to equivalent places throughout the world. That is the sort of work that is being undertaken by New South Wales.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take it on notice to provide details of what the analysis and what the comparative assessment are? Do you have information on that?

Mr Oxley : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: I wanted to move on to Parramatta Girls Factory and the associated development that is being proposed for that area. Has anyone on behalf of the New South Wales government or the Department of Planning and Environment sought advice from the federal government or the department about whether the current North Parramatta urban renewal development proposal, which includes 30-storey buildings and some even higher, would compromise or prevent the Parramatta Female Factory precinct from achieving National or World Heritage Listing?

Mr Johnston : I will take that one. The Parramatta Female Factory has been nominated for the National Heritage List. The Australian Heritage Council has given its recommendations to the minister, who is currently considering them. We would expect an announcement in the next month or so. In terms of discussion with New South Wales, we have had some discussions with the Office of Environment in New South Wales about the Parramatta North development and should Parramatta Female Factory be added to the assessment list for the National Heritage List only implications; having discussions with them and having seen the revised plans for the Parramatta North, we do not consider that they would jeopardise a National Heritage assessment and potential listing were it to be added to the work plan and to be found to have value.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say Parramatta North, is that your term for the Parramatta urban renewal development?

Mr Johnston : Yes. That is the one that is in the vicinity of the Parramatta Female Factory.

Mr Oxley : If I might just clarify the comment that Mr Johnston made at the beginning of the answer, the Parramatta Female Factory was nominated for the National Heritage List. The Heritage Council has done its assessment of all of the places that have been proposed and it has provided its advice to the minister. What I am saying is that you should not take Mr Johnston's answer to have intimated that the Parramatta Female Factory is going to be added to the finalised priority assessment. He is saying that the Heritage Council has provided its advice to the minister about all of the places that were assessed and what should be on the finalised priority assessment list, and the minister is close to making that decision. Once he announces it we will know whether Parramatta is on or off.

Senator RHIANNON: So, that decision could be within a month or so, is that what I understand?

Mr Johnston : Yes, you would expect to have an announcement within the next month.

Senator RHIANNON: Also, to clarify, the Heritage Council has said that this development does not impact on-

Mr Johnston : No. Essentially what has happened is that for all of the places that have been nominated, the department has done some basic work as part of giving advice as to whether it could be considered. As part of that basic due diligence we have had from discussions with New South Wales about the developments and whether they would directly impact on the sites, so should it be one of the sites that is added, then part of our basic information is about whether it would be a feasible nomination to proceed.

Senator RHIANNON: There have been varying reports about the heritage impacts of this development, considering in some cases it is quite close to the original heritage buildings. Is what you have just referred to publicly available?

Mr Johnston : The New South Wales Office of Environmental Planning has maps of the development on their website.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Mr Johnston : I am not sure if we have yet published the nominated boundaries on our heritage database. When it comes to National Heritage sites, we look at the boundary as proposed by the nominator.

Mr Oxley : The heritage values also encapsulate more than just the physical property itself. It is also the stories associated with that.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, I appreciate that. Is any of this available? From what you have reported, these assessments were more detailed than I had understood from briefings I have received from the local people. My question is: is any of this publicly available so that we can see the detail?

Mr Johnston : This is internal working documents from the Heritage Council.

Mr Oxley : So, no.

Mr Johnston : They are not publicly available.

Mr Oxley : To be civil, if there is publicly available information that goes to the questions that you are asking and we have knowledge of it, then we are happy to pass through that information to you on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: I just wanted to move on to the issue about dolphins being imported into Australia. Have any dolphins been imported into Australia over the last year that originally came from Taiji in Japan?

Mr Murphy : No.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say no, is that because you know where every dolphin imported into Australia comes from? Is this clearly tracked that you can be so confident?

Mr Murphy : Yes. The sitings database tracks the trade of endangered species listed as part of that convention. All countries report trade to it and we have had a look at the data, and it goes back to 1979, and there are no imports of dolphins from Japan into Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: If dolphins were imported from China or another country for that matter, can you then backtrack to where they came from before they ended up in that country and were then imported into Australia?

Mr Murphy : They would have to be re-exported under the sitings rules. Dolphins in Australia are only kept at two locations. They are locally sourced and both have conducted their own breeding programs. That is Sea World and the Dolphin Marine Magic at Coffs Harbour.

Senator RHIANNON: So, are you saying that all of those dolphins that have come to Australia-and we have had more than those two oceanariums or marine mammal parks since, I think you said, the 1970s. Are you confident that all of those mammals have been sourced locally?

Mr Murphy : I have not checked that. I have just checked the imports from Japan. I will have to take it on notice and we would have to do some inquiries in the database to see if there has been any other imports of dolphins from other countries.

Mr Oxley : I do think if there is actually a specific suggestion that you are pursuing through this line of questioning, that it would be helpful to us as departmental officials to have greater clarity around what it is that is underlying your line of questioning so that we can actually assist in providing you the answers that you need.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, it was a question that I asked. If a marine mammal has come from China, do we know where they have come from before they ended up in China?

Senator Birmingham: I appreciate that wanting to know at the policy level whether we can track the history of the dolphin location, but I think Mr Oxley's point is a valid one because you started with a very specific question, which leads us all to assume that you have a very specific concern or allegation.

Senator RHIANNON: I have asked a very specific concern.

Senator Birmingham: If there is, indeed, an allegation potentially relating to the improper importation of a dolphin-I am not necessarily saying air it all here on the public record, but I am certainly encouraging you to speak to the officials on the sidelines of the hearings so that if there is something that warrants investigation they are able to undertake that investigation.

Mr Oxley : Just in terms of the question about how the system works, whether we are able to track the provenance, so to speak, of the animal that comes into Australia, to the extent that we have an answer to that question we will come back to you on notice with an explanation of how that system works.

Senator RHIANNON: How the system works?

Mr Oxley : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: It was also specifically about your database. If you have marine mammals coming from China or any other country, do you know where it was imported from before it went into that country? Surely, that is what we need to be clear on.

Mr Oxley : Yes, we will come back and answer that question.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand rescued terrestrial wildlife must generally be returned back to the wild under soft release conditions if they have been in quite long-term care. Are rescued dolphins at Sea World protected by the requirement that they will be rehabilitated back into their natural environment?

Mr Oxley : You are in a line of inquiry that I do not think we are able to answer at the table. If we may, we will take that on notice.

Senator Birmingham: You read a statement that prefaced your question. Is that statement from a particular document or preview or agreement?

Senator RHIANNON: I think Mr Oxley was happy to take it on notice. It is to understand. It is important that there is transparency here because there are standards with regards to rescued animals.

Senator Birmingham: I am just trying to help the process here. It will be easier for Mr Oxley to respond if he knows if your statement about expectations around what is to happen with rescued dolphins is actually drawn from an agreement that Australia might be a signatory to, or a code of practice or whatever it might have come from. If it is your own words, fine, we will just assess.

Senator RHIANNON: They are not my own words, but I am happy to get you the further details. Thank you.

Mr Oxley : There are specific protections for cetaceans, including dolphins, under the EPBC Act. The issues around animal welfare and so on are generally the responsibility of the states and territories. We will come back and provide some further information in response.

Senator RHIANNON: I just want to move on to the Murray-Darling Basin plan.

CHAIR: Can I just point out we have only got one minute left.

Senator RHIANNON: Can they get to the table and answer it in one minute?

CHAIR: You are going to have to talk fast and they are going to have to talk fast in answer.

Senator Birmingham: Ask the question. I am not sure that-

Senator RHIANNON: I was after which international agreements are relevant to the Murray-Darling Basin and relevant water resource issues that Australia is a signatory to?

Senator Birmingham: Principally, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; I think desertification might be sited in-

Mr Thompson : Conventional biological diversity.

Senator Birmingham: We can take on notice to provide any further details.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.


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