Subjects: Greens Antarctic and marine research funding launch, rorts in forest contractor grants
CHRISTINE MILNE: We are here today to launch the Australian Greens' policy on support for Antarctic science and a big injection into the future prosperity, not only of Tasmania but in terms of global science, a major injection into a better understanding of the role of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans in the global climate system.
Antarctica is the world's last great wilderness and for practically the first time in our history Tasmania is in the right place at the right time. The whole world is looking to see what we can learn from Antarctic science that will tell us about the state of the world's oceans, particularly in relation to ocean currents what that means for northern hemisphere climate, the thermohaline conveyer, all that is so important. And here in Tasmania we have established a globally renowned science hub. We have four of the lead authors of the intergovernmental panel on climate change assessment report on global climate science - that gives us a global reputation, it enhances Tasmania's reputation as clean, green and clever.
Not only is it great for science but it has attracted to Tasmania up to 900 scientists and their families to work here in Tasmania and enhance job prospects, science and research. But they will go again because they are globally renowned scientist, unless we keep funding the science. The science is also a magnet for attracting the research efforts of other countries and the resupply of the Antarctic research ships from other countries. Over this summer we had the Chinese research vessel coming to Tasmania for the first time in more than a decade. And I spoke to the leader of the Chinese expedition and said it would be great if you'd consider Hobart as a permanent port. What a flow on for us if that was to occur in terms of local contracts for resupply. But the key attraction is the science. Because they can get resupplies in a number of places around the world, what they can't get is the collaborative research effort. The current funding is under threat. We've seen the Federal government cut back funding for the Australian Antarctic division and we're announcing today that we would restore that funding. We're also saying with the end of the funding coming for the other Antarctic Southern Ocean research CRC we are prepared to put in $10 million a year toward keeping on with that funding. But there's also the monitoring science to monitor the Southern Oceans and that requires $18 million a year. But additionally there is the new research ship that the CSIRO has brought on but unfortunately there's not enough funding to keep its research going for most of the year. So we are announcing as part of our package to support the Antarctic division, to support ongoing research that we are also going to support more funding so that the research vessel can get out and do more work.
ANNA REYNOLDS: I think it's a very significant part of the Greens package that we're putting some new injection of funding into research that can be undertaken on the new ship. This ship will have Hobart as its home, it's able to undertake 300 days' worth of scientific research and marine research but unfortunately the Government has only funded 65 days' worth of research for the first year and only 15 so far for the following years, which is just a waste of a great new facility. So the Greens' package is the investment that we need to keep Hobart as the global hub for Antarctic and marine science and our package on the investigator will mean that we use this new boat for the research that it can undertake.
CHRISTINE MILNE: Tasmania is an economy in transition. We're a community in transition, our branding has been established globally as clean, green and clever on the back of wilderness protection. Now with climate science beings such an important part of where the research community is going to be in this century, this is our opportunity in Tasmania to drive jobs, to drive new industries, prosperity, new relationships with other countries on the back of Antarctic science.
This package is a $205 million investment over the forward estimates and it is part of what the Greens will be taking to the Federal election, but this is our commitment on Antarctic research and into the Tasmanian economy for that long-term benefit for all Tasmanians.
JOURNALIST: How do you propose this will be paid for?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens have got a number of funding initiatives. We have said of course that we want the mining tax fixed to raise revenue. We also want to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies. There are a number of other revenue raising measures. We've undertaken to go to the election with fully costed policies and the costings we've provided on this research have been looked at by the Parliamentary Budget Office. So this is actually backed by proper assessment from the Parliamentary Budget Office.
JOURNALIST: How concerned are you about the National Audit Office's report on the Intergovernmental (inaudible)
CHRISTINE MILNE: Yes, what we've had released is the Australian National Audit Office assessment of the $44 million project to exit contractors from the Tasmanian native forest industry. The whole point of the $44 million was to get one and a half million tonnes of forests out of the system. In other words to support the protection of these forests the community was pay to help the contractors exit. But once again the audit office has found that the oversight of this program is disgraceful. In my view you have to ask is this corruption, or is it incompetence, or is it both? How is it possible that 10 of the 61 applicants were ineligible according to the criteria of eligibility? They couldn't prove that they had contracts in native forest logging from which to be paid to exit. And yet there were still paid out. They still got three and a half million dollars when they couldn't prove eligibility. What's more if you had a letter from Forestry Tasmania saying that you did have a native forest logging contract then you went up in the merit order of the grants. Forestry Tasmania later came out and informed the Federal Government that the letters that were sent from Forestry Tasmania were not authorised and ought to be disregarded.
Who in Forestry Tasmania provided the letters to the contractors to help them get the money and then it was withdrawn, those letters were withdrawn and in seven cases no further letter was issued by the right person. That really needs investigating. What's more, people who scored a merit order of zero in a count from zero to 100 still got grants, still got referred to the second round of grants funding when they were completely ineligible. How is this possible? How did the grants get signed off when the financial management act says you have to demonstrate this is an efficient use of Commonwealth funding.
What's more when the grants were designed the compliance obligations, that is you had to prove that you would get out of the forest industry, how is it then that so many contractors are now saying that people simply handed over their contracts to other members of the family or friends, just change the branding on the trucks and machines and kept on going. How is it that Forestry Tasmania was issuing new contracts for native forest logging at the time that the Commonwealth Government was paying people to get out? How can you suggest that this is anything other than a major rort, sloppy processes, documents not kept? It is simply unacceptable. And in the context of where we are with the intergovernmental agreement at the same time as this $44 million did not deliver on the one and a half million tonnes reduction in capacity, in fact it only achieved something like less than 60 per cent of that, you've got the logging industry in the talks saying you have to take areas out of the proposed conservation for logging because we haven't got enough to keep people in the workforce. This seems to be a total rort. And it's not the first time. The National audit office has found similar things previously. The Departments in Tasmania and federally have said oh yes we'll fix that up next time and here we are again - same problems. We don't have an ICAC, a national ICAC, a corruption body and so departments get away time and time again with sloppy processes and inability to explain why it is that those people who scored highly on the merit order got less than they were entitled to and those who got zero or low on the merit order of eligibility were paid out. I don't understand that and neither do people in the contracting industry in Tasmania. And I think that deserves an explanation. It certainly deserves one in the context of the logging industry now saying it wants more areas taken out of reserves for logging.
JOURNALIST: So you're pushing for a Senate Inquiry?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I will be moving for a Senate Inquiry into this particular program on the back of the audit report. This audit report really begs the question - is it corruption or is it incompetence and who is going to be held accountable? I'm hoping that both the Government and the Coalition will back this Senate Inquiry. If they don't you have to ask the question - what is it they've got to hide?
JOURNALIST: Could Forestry Tasmania's actions be scrutinised in that process or should there be a separate state based process?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I am going to approach my Tasmanian counterparts to take this up in Tasmania because there really needs to be an explanation as to how it is that Forestry Tasmania provided letters to contractors saying that they had contracts for the purposes of those contractors being paid out and then Forestry Tasmania at a later date says oh, those letters were unauthorised. How is that possible?
JOURNALIST: Do you believe though that this is money that is I suppose gone, taxpayer funds, is there any possibility of us being able to recoup this?
CHRISTINE MILNEL: Well let's see whether it is possible that some of this money can be recouped. The problem here is that the processes have been so sloppy that it will probably be difficult to recover some of this funding. Let me give you an example on compliance - they hadn't even set up the compliance provisions in terms of proving that you are getting out of the industry and staying out for 10 years. They hadn't sorted that out before people got paid out. Now, the contractors got put into the compliance action when it was finally worked up that the contractor had to be notified before any compliance inspection was done on the ground. Now, how ridiculous is that? So the compliance officer rings up and says I'm coming to audit your business is at such and such a time at such and such a date, well you're hardly going to get the kind of audit you should be getting by being able to turn up at any time to check compliance.
JOURNALIST: What are you aiming for? Are you wanting this money repaid?
CHRISTINE MILNE: What I'm aiming for is to expose and get rid of once and for all what I regard as absolute incompetence and I believe corruption as well at some degree out of the oversight and management of forest grants. We've got the situation, this is not the first time, I exposed all this through the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement which was in the vicinity of more than $270 million on that occasion - and yet it goes on. Once and for all we need to root this out of the whole system and especially given that if the intergovernmental process is passed in Tasmania there will be more Commonwealth money coming to Tasmania. For goodness sake let's make sure that we maximise the value of Commonwealth funding. These are taxpayers' dollars, taxpayers' dollars flowing into the pockets of people who are deemed to have been ineligible. That's not right. So we really need to maximise the value of taxpayers' dollars to actually get people out of the industry and to be able to protect those reserves, not having people paid out, be given new contracts and then the logging industry coming back saying oh we need to get those areas out of reserves or not go into reserves because we've got all these contractors, this isn't right.
JOURNALIST: Do you have specific allegations of wrong doing at any particular contractors?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I'm calling on people in the industry to come forward and make their allegations public, that's one of the good things about a Senate Inquiry, it calls for submissions and people can make their submissions to a Senate Inquiry and I'd encourage them to do so. We have had a lot of contractors already calling our office saying I can give you evidence of the way that this has been rorted. Having said that, the Department has done the wrong thing by a number of contractors as well because some of the ones who were high up in the merit order didn't get paid as much as they expected. They asked for a review of the processes with which their assessment was taking place and at no stage did the Department tell them that they had changed the criteria by which they were assessing those applications. Now that's wrong and that's actually lack of transparency and lack of proper process. So let's get the process right, let's see if there has been rorting or corruption involved and let's deal with that. But let's actually get the people who are responsible in DAFF and in the Tasmanian Department and those ministerial offices, let's actually make sure somebody is held accountable for once for not appropriately dispensing this $44 million of taxpayers' money.
JOURNALIST: When are you expecting a response or confirmation that an inquiry could go ahead?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I have given notice of a Senate Inquiry, I've moved for a Senate Inquiry and I am expecting the vote will take place on Monday in the Senate. And if I don't get the support of Liberal or Labor then I think you can see that neither of them are prepared to hold the forest industry to account which has always been the case when it comes to exposing these rorts in grants. We have never been able to secure the kind of support you'd expect, but in this case I think the community is really over it. Too many people in Tasmania know about the rorting and want it dealt with and won't look kindly on a cover-up.
JOURNALIST: Senator the Upper House's forestry report lands in half an hour, how important is it that that report passes the Upper House?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Oh look it's critical that the Legislative Council actually pass the results of the intergovernmental agreement. This has gone on for way too long, it needs to be resolved, there is a consensus agreement that we get behind the area that has been nominated for World Heritage listing and I for one will be celebrating when the nomination goes to the World Heritage Committee. But every day that logging is allowed to go on in the area that's nominated is a day that jeopardises the nomination. And every day that people in the Legislative Council and some of the loggers start complaining to the world bodies about something that has been agreed in the process, is a day that they jeopardise what will be a fantastic contribution to not only conservation but actually to fulfil what the World Heritage Committee has been asking for many years from the Australian Government and that is fix up the Eastern Boundary of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area, put in the forest and let's celebrate this great contribution because these areas are of outstanding universal value to humankind.
JOURNALIST: The report is not going to recommend one way or the another whether the Legislative Council should support the bill - what do you think that says about this report?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I think it's quite unusual that they would bring down a report without a recommendation that the bill be passed or not passed. To a large extent it's been a grandstanding exercise and a delaying exercised by the Legislative Council, let's get on with it, they now have information available to them and I would hope as they debate it this week they might also consider the rorting that's gone on with this program and get behind the idea of a full and frank inquiry into that.
JOURNALIST: Do you think your criticism of that program could jeopardise the IGA?
CHRISTINE MILNE: In no way. In fact the people who are most keen for an investigation into the rorting that's gone on with this $44 million-dollar program are the contractors themselves. People didn't apply because they didn't feel they would meet the eligibility criteria. Imagine how they feel now knowing that 10 people who didn't also fulfil the criteria were paid out up to $3 million. That's not fair and also imagine how people feel who genuinely exited the industry to see other people rebadging their trucks and machines and getting new contracts from Forestry Tasmania. This is a serious issue and that actually further divides the State so resolving this matter is actually part of supporting a good outcome for Tasmania into the future.
JOURNALIST: Does it show that the IGA is a bit of a dodgy process though?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I think what it shows is as always that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Canberra and the collaboration with Tasmania and Forestry Tasmania should have been investigated and exposed a very long time ago. I don't know how many times the Greens have called for a Royal Commission into the relationships in this industry, it has never been supported by either of the major parties because they have always been in Government overseeing these processes. It won't jeopardise the intergovernmental agreement but it might get us one step closer to actually getting transparency and proper process.