Ms O'CONNOR - What I continue to hear is that the approach to water management in Tasmania will continue to be ad hoc and that we are not yet making meaningful moves towards integrated catchment management.
Minister, perhaps I could ask you about the report which your predecessor actually prevented, I believe, from being released under Right To Information, or it may be Mr Jacobi's predecessor. The report, Temporal and spacial patterns in river health across Tasmania in the influence of environmental factors, was concealed, denied to us, and then finally released to the Greens under Right To Information during the caretaker period last year. It points to an alarming decline in river health. Does the Government have an up-to-date response to the findings of its own scientists within DPIPWE about the state of Tasmania's rivers, which have sharply declined, regrettably, since your colleagues came to office?
Ms PALMER - Government agencies and other organisations undertake string flow and water quality monitoring and river health monitoring on a regular basis across the state's catchments. Our water monitoring activities are focused in developed catchments where accurate water information is required for informed management decisions -
Ms O'CONNOR - Can I have an answer to the specific question?
CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, can you just listen to the minister while she is speaking? I am sure she will get an answer to your question.
Ms O'CONNOR - I hope so.
CHAIR - I hope so too.
Ms PALMER - The Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania continues to administer the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act of 1995 which imposes controls on the handling and use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals in Tasmania. We acknowledge that there are challenges -
Ms O'CONNOR - That is completely not relevant to the question, with respect.
CHAIR - Please listen to the minister.
Ms O'CONNOR - But the minister is just reading from a brief which is not relevant to the question.
CHAIR - No, Ms O'Connor. Ms O'Connor, I cannot direct the minister to answer a question in a particular way. If the member is not satisfied with the response, they can ask a further question or raise it as a matter of concern in the committee's report. The minister will be heard in silence, while she is answering your question. Thank you.
Ms PALMER - Yes, thank you very much, Chair. As I was saying, we acknowledge there are challenges in water management related to water quality, which is why we have proactively identified these challenge. We're getting on with the job of addressing them with achievements in regard to water quality and river health.
Key projects that are underway and will be overseen by the recently employed NRE TasWater resource and river health scientist include establishment of a new water managers and data custodian working group, which will undertake a project to collate all water quality information across the state and complete a GAP analysis; a development and implementation of a new collaborative statewide baseline water quality monitoring program; targeted case study research and reporting to enhance understanding of drivers of changes in river health in catchments in Tasmania; and delivery of a strategic directions for healthy waterway paper and updating of Tasmania's climate change modelling tools. These are key projects that are underway and we'll be overseen by our recently employed NRE TasWater resource and river health scientist.
Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Chair. Minister, I want to go back to the Temporal and Spatial Patterns in River Health in Tasmania and the Influence of Environmental Factors. There were a number of key recommendations of the experts and scientists who prepared this report and I am just going to ask you one by one if these are being implemented by Government.
The first obviously was to establish a multi-agency working group to facilitate collaboration between Tasmanian organisations that bring together their different perspectives, expertise, knowledge, data and resources. And I gather that you would say in response to that, that that’s the Rural Water Round Table and I'll dispute that.
Can you confirm that the Government is examining the appropriateness of existing governance and legislative structures and policy settings that underpin management of the health of rivers?
Ms PALMER - I thank the member for her question. I am going to refer it to the acting secretary but I will make some comments before I do that.
Ms O'CONNOR - If you've got a page of text there to read out, I will be disorderly at this table because we are running out of time. I just want yes or no, basically, on whether or not the recommendations of the scientists, one of whom use to work in your department and resigned in dismay, Chris Bobbi, without the propaganda just go through, tick, tick, tick. Have these recommendations of your own experts been implemented?
CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, as I've said before, we cannot direct the minister to answer a question in a particular way. If you're not satisfied with the response then you can ask a further question or raise it as a matter of concern in the committee's report. Minister, you can answer as you would like.
Ms PALMER - I acknowledge your comments. However, I do have some comments I would like to make before I pass this to the acting secretary and it's up to you how you choose to respond to that.
I understand that this relates to the internal deliberative report titled Temporal and Spatial Patterns in River Heath across Tasmania and the Influence of Environmental Factors. That was released by a right to information request in April 2021. I am informed that the full report has been released by active disclosure available via the NRE Tas-RTA website.
As noted, and I've said this in parliament and I will say it again in this space, the Government acknowledges and I acknowledge that there are challenges in water management relating to water quality. That's why we have proactively identified these challenges and we are attempting to get on with the job of addressing them.
On that note, I am going to refer to the acting secretary.
Ms O'CONNOR - Just before you do that, minister, can I pull you up because I don't know what you've been given in your brief. But this report was not an internal deliberative report. Here's the department's communication strategy for the statewide analysis of river health. This report was never intended to be internal deliberative; it was always intended to be made public. So, don't let the department pull the wool over your eyes. Could you ask the acting secretary to answer the first question I've asked on this issue?
Ms PALMER - I thank the member for her question and comments. I am going to refer this to the acting secretary.
Mr JACOBI - I understand that the report has been fully disclosed. I am advised that is was intended to be an internal report. Many of the reports the department does are internal.
Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Jacobi, there's the communication strategy from before it was suppressed by your predecessor, Mr Baker.
CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, will you please let the secretary answer the question.
Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, I will. But, Chair, if I could just say, I haven't asked about the report other than has this recommendation been implemented to examine the appropriateness of existing governance and legislative structures and policy settings that underpin management of the health of rivers? I don't want to know the background of a science paper. I know it -
CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, I cannot direct the minister to answer the question in a particular way, like you are asking us to do. If you are not satisfied with the response then you can ask a further question or raise as a matter of concern in the committee's report. Can you please listen to the minister and the secretary in silence, please?
Ms PALMER - I have referred it to the acting secretary and would appreciate you give him the opportunity to answer the question.
Mr JACOBI - There are a significant number of the recommendations that are actively underway and I will refer to Deidre Wilson, who can provide further detail.
Ms WILSON - There was one key recommendation from the report which was the establishment of the multi-agency working group to facilitate the collaboration between Tasmanian organisations. Then it had some sub-suggestions. That report was from 2020. Since then, the Government has released the Rural Water Use Strategy, the Rural Water Use Strategy Report Card and the implementation plan. I will go to some of the key actions that are in the implementation plan.
Ms O'CONNOR - With respect, Ms Wilson, I have seen enough of the implementation plan. I don't need that. Could I ask a second question, please, Chair?
CHAIR - Yes, Ms O'Connor.
Ms O'CONNOR - The first thing I want to say is that within the communication strategy for the statewide analysis of river health there is planning for the public release of the paper that I have been talking about, including the brochure and the website. The four sub-recommendations of experts within your own department were to:
1. Examine the appropriateness of existing governance and legislative structures and policy settings that underpin management of the health of rivers.
2. Investigate the landscape-scale mechanisms that are causing changes in river health.
3. Evaluate established and novel strategies to mitigate landscape impacts on river health and, where necessary, seek to apply those strategies to arrest declines.
4. Note the recommendations of DPIPWE's 2018 review of the River Health Management Project and explore the benefits of integrating existing riverine monitoring programs in the state.
Are any of those sub-recommendations being implemented?
Ms WILSON - One of our key actions is review and refresh of the water management policies. This is about looking at the objectives of the Water Management Act and effectively responding to emerging issues, including increasing productive bays of water and competition for water; looking at increased investment in irrigation; complex water management requirements; changing community expectations; water [inaudible] and climate change.
One of our headline activities is to review the Tasmanian water allocation policy framework, including the surface water allocation decision framework, develop an option paper for the consultation recommendations and reasons for change, including taking account of any findings from the current Catchment Yield Science Update project.
We are also looking at reviewing Tasmania's water management policy frameworks including [inaudible] for the Water Management Act, developing an options paper for consultation. This will also involve reviewing Tasmania's water use accountability and metering and reporting policy framework, the ground water management setting review project.
We are also looking at delivering options for improving water management outcomes in catchments where there are multiple water managers. For example, in conjunction with our water managers and responsible water entities, we are identifying ways to improve coordination of water management and administration in catchments with multiple water managements, which was one of the key recommendations in the report.
I am having trouble seeing and reading, I have to say, I'm sorry, minister.
CHAIR - Ms Wilson, can you take your mask off while you are talking.
Ms WILSON - Through the Rural Water Use Strategy, through the implementation plan's new initiatives, and through the creation of the rural water use round table, the water management reference group, the water management and data custodian working group, I believe we are looking through that working group to facilitate collaboration to look at expertise, knowledge, data and resources, which will go to these four points.
Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Ms Wilson. It sounds like it is potentially a better situation than it was last year.
But I would like to understand, minister, why your department is now calling a document which was always intended to be made public and, in fact, had a communication strategy attached to it, an internal deliberative document, which it never was. It was made internal deliberative by the then secretary of the then department of DPIPWE. You have been given a brief by your department that has an untruth in it and I find that quite concerning. It was never meant to be an internal deliberative document. I ask what you will do to follow that up so at estimates in the future or when you get question time briefs, what you're getting is not rubbish and lies, what you are getting is facts. I have not seen - that's really dodgy. When you are giving a brief to the minister that has a lie in it, that is a worry.
Ms PALMER - Ms O'Connor, I thank you very much for the question. I am advised it was internal and deliberative.
Ms O'CONNOR - Would you like to see the comms strategy?
CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, can you listen to the minister in silence, please.
Ms PALMER - Ms O'Connor, that was a different department, a different secretary and a different minister.
Ms O'CONNOR - No, it is the same report and it was never meant to be internal deliberative.
CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, do you want me to name you?
Ms O'CONNOR - No.
CHAIR - Thank you. Have you finished, minister?
Ms PALMER - Yes, I have.