Wednesday 14 July 2010
Hansard of the Legislative Council


[6.08 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, during the hearings of Estimates Committee B, Minister David O'Byrne suggested that the Legislative Council Select Committee on the Management of the Tamar and Esk Rivers had proposed a budget of $14 million for the statutory authority it had recommended in its report.  I would like to quote the minister:

'We acknowledge that there are some pretty hot issues in Launceston and we think instead of spending $14 million on a separate authority …' -

et cetera.  He later said and, again, I quote:

'I understand that $14 million.  I have just been advised that it actually comes from the select committee report on what a separate statutory authority would cost.'

As I said to the minister at the time, 'That is a furphy' and that he had been misled by his advisers.  Nowhere in the committee report does it say that a statutory authority to manage the Tamar and Esk catchment would cost $14 million.  However I was so concerned by the minister's claim that I went back and had another look at the report.  My clear recollection was that the report had never suggested such a budget and my research on the recollections did prove to be correct.  The figure of $14 million does appear in the report but it is part of verbal evidence given by Mr Graeme Dear, the CEO of the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority.  Mr Dear told us:

'Our budget now is about $14 million a year.  Half of that budget is spent particularly on river health initiatives and half of the budget is spent on the broader catchment initiatives.'

However it has never been suggested that this is what it would cost to set up an authority to look after the Tamar and Esk river catchments.  In fact the report also includes budget figures for the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority based in western Victoria.  The organisation CEO Don Forsyth told us:

'In the last four years our budget has averaged about $17 million to $18 million.  Our projection for next year is about $10.7 million, which is a 35 per cent reduction in budget ...'

Earlier he had said:

'… next year we are anticipating that the State component will be the base and statutory of about $5.3 million.'

It is interesting to note that the people who advised the minister did not suggest that it would cost $5.3 million to fund a Tamar-Esk statutory authority, although I suppose we should be grateful that they did not pluck the $18 million figure out of the air.

Another disturbing aspect of the minister's evidence to the Estimates Committee was that the catchment management authority would be just another bureaucracy and a waste of money.  To quote him again:

'… the principle of what I am saying is that if we are going to spend money on dealing with the area, I would rather have it in outputs as opposed to setting up what we think is an unnecessary bureaucratic process.'

Once again the minister has been badly advised.  As Mr Forsyth from the Corangamite CMA told the select committee:

'Most CMAs in Victoria get about $900 000 as a base commitment to the corporate governance, the management of the board, the CEO and so on.'

Out of the total budget of around $17 million to $18 million for Corangamite that was all that was being spent on anything bureaucratic, according to someone who actually runs one of these organisations - straight from the horse's mouth.

Mr Dean - In the Premier's Sundry Grants they can get that $900 000.

Mr FINCH - Mr Forsyth and Mr Dear told us - and this evidence is included in our report - that the overwhelming majority of their funding does not go on bureaucracy but on measures to manage and improve the health of the waterways in their areas.

Another important point needs to be made here.  Most of the funding needed for a statutory authority to manage the Tamar-Esk catchment is already available but it is not being spent to the best effect by the numerous bodies that have a finger in the pie.  I think I have quoted at one stage that in some situations you would need to go to 25 different authorities, different management groups, different people who have concerns to get something done.  There are 25 people who have those fingers in the pie.

Our report recommended that any new statutory authority incorporates the roles and functions of the existing NRM North, the TEER program and the Launceston Flood Authority.  The funding that already goes to these bodies together with funding that is being spent by other government departments and agencies would provide most of, if not all, the funding needed for a new authority and quite clearly it would spend these funds in a much more efficient and effective manner.  But perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the minister's evidence during the Estimates hearing was his admission that he had not actually read the select committee report.  To quote him again:

'I have not at this stage read the full report.  I have been briefed broadly on the impacts on my portfolio area within the NRM framework so we have worked through it but at this stage I have not read the full report.'

What this submission shows is that the minister has been done over in classic Yes, Minister style by his own bureaucracy.  As I have shown, he has been badly and incorrectly advised about this issue.  He has not been told the truth.  As a result, the Tamar itself continues to languish under a growing silt burden and the entire Tamar Esk catchment faces a dismal environmental future.

Just to avoid being the Jim Hacker of this State Government, I strongly advise Minister O'Byrne to read the full Tamar committee report for himself and somehow take charge of fixing this problem once and for all.