Don't we already have a Threatened Species Scientific Committee? The "new" Threatened Species Commissioner has no new funding and no legal backing. The Commissioner doesn't appear to have any role at all, apart from dressing up the Abbott government's anti-environment agenda. Senator Larissa Waters asks Abbott government members and public servants about the Threatened Species Commissioner, and about cuts to community environment organisations. Transcript below.
Senator WATERS: I want to move now to the Threatened Species Commissioner, which Senator Ruston started to ask about as well. It is a non-statutory appointment. It will somehow be complementary but not duplicative of the existing Threatened Species Scientific Committee. Can you outline to me what funding that position has associated with it?
Mr Oxley : The Threatened Species Commissioner funding arrangements are being resolved as part of the department's budget processes and business planning over the next month or so.
Senator WATERS: So there were no additional funds committed. The department has just got to find the money somehow within its departmental allocation.
Mr Oxley : It is an activity that we will support as part of our core business in the area of threatened species.
Senator WATERS: It is a non-statutory role and we already have a Threatened Species Scientific Committee. What is this person going to do?
Mr Oxley : I outlined earlier the terms of reference, or part of the terms of reference, for the commissioner. I would be happy to elaborate on that if that would be helpful.
Senator WATERS: I did jot down what you said before and one of the points you mentioned was that there would be wider engagement with the conservation sector. Yesterday we discussed that the GVESHO funds, which have previously facilitated consultation with the community and the conservation sector, have been cut. How will the appointment of a non-statutory person, with no additional funds, who is meant to lead consultation with the community and conservation groups work if you then cut their funding as well?
Senator Birmingham: It is not for government to fund other people to talk to government. Other entities can be free to talk to government, whether it is through the Threatened Species Commissioner, parliamentary inquiries or any other process government runs. It is not for government to be funding third party organisations to make representations to government.
Senator WATERS: So community consultation is not something this government values?
Senator Birmingham: Community consultation is vital, absolutely vital, but community consultation involves people in the community putting their views forward.
Senator WATERS: If they have previously been resourced to do that as a peak body-the Queensland Conservation Council, for example-and now that funding has been removed, you are still expecting them to be able to fulfil those obligations?
Senator Birmingham: You may have a philosophical view that the government should fund a whole range of different third party commentators around the community. I think the government should keep-
Senator WATERS: Yes, I do believe in community consultation.
Senator Birmingham: The government differs.
Senator WATERS: We are going to be in for a helluva few years.
CHAIR: You would fund the National Farmers' Federation as well.
Senator Birmingham: A very valid point. Yesterday I-
Senator WATERS: Just not conservation-
CHAIR: I was being sarcastic.
Senator Birmingham: I heard your questioning of Senator Cormann yesterday, Senator Waters. You used the Water Act as an example. You seem to suggest that the Queensland Conservation Council should be funded to make submissions to the review of the Water Act, yet presumably the National Irrigators Council should not.
Senator WATERS: I am just simply pointing out that on the same day that they had their funding cut they were asked to consult.
Senator Birmingham: They are both valid stakeholders. I have invited both of them to make submissions to the Water Act review.
Senator WATERS: And on the same day as their funding was cut they were asked to consult on an important piece of legislation. I think it just highlights the lack of emphasis and importance that the government puts on genuine consultation.
Senator Birmingham: I want their views. But like any other stakeholder they can fund themselves.
Senator WATERS: I think we can probably leave it there, Minister, with that very clear statement of the government's priorities.