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Treasury - Threatened Species Funding

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Monday, 6 September 2021

Tags: Threatened Species, Swift Parrot, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Treasurer, I want to talk about some of the priorities that are evident in this Budget. I am on page 275 looking at the key deliverables section of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment, and I draw you to some comparisons.

For Mr Barnett's pet project, the Rural Water Use Strategy implementation - which doesn't look at urban water supplies or river health - there is $1.5 million over the forward Estimates. For the swift parrot recovery plan over the four years, there is $1 million. As you are aware, according to ANU researchers we're down to about 300 individual birds. The threatened species strategy is not funded in this year's Budget, or in next year's budget. And then there is $150 000 for two years. So, $300 000 for a threatened species strategy - and $350 000 for a thoroughbred and harness breeding initiative.

Premier, can you understand that, for those of us who care very much about Tasmania's threatened and endangered species, this speaks to not having sufficient regard for their future and their fate?

Mr GUTWEIN - With the threatened species strategy, I would need to check what funding exists for the next two years, and whether or not that is just additional funding continuing an existing program.

The fact that there is nothing listed as an election commitment in those first two years could mean one of two things. One, the election commitment is starting in the third year, or two, there is already existing funding. Without having that detail at hand, I can't provide you an answer on that at this point.

Likewise, I'm not certain what is already in the budget for the swift parrot recovery plan - whether this builds on it, or whether it extends it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Our understanding is that the threatened species unit in the Government is down to about two FTEs. I may be wrong. More people may have been hired in the agency since we were provided with that information. Again, I am just going back to the PESRAC report, and what the people of Tasmania are telling you, as Premier, about the need to look after the natural environment and species that are found here and nowhere else on Earth.

Mr GUTWEIN - Without being able to cross-reference this with what's already in the budget, I don't think the complete picture is probably evident here. These are election commitments, and in many cases will be over and above existing funding.

Ms O'CONNOR - I know you don't want the extinction of the swift parrot on your watch, so this is something you are going to have to watch quite carefully.

In other initiatives, there is $10 million set aside for the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area track upgrades. Given that it is seven years since your Government promised to reopen the Tarkine tracks, and you have now quite rightly said you wouldn't do that because of Aboriginal heritage considerations, what is your Government's plan for the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area, and what would the $10 million be spent on, outside the Parks and Wildlife Service's normal maintenance work?

Mr GUTWEIN - As I understand it, that $10 million is going to ensure that there are safe and contemporary opportunities for off-roading - but outside the area that has been deemed off limits.

Ms O'CONNOR - So, the people of Tasmania have funded $10 million to open tracks through a conservation area, and they are only being asked to contribute $300 towards the threatened species strategy, and just $1 million towards the swift parrot recovery plan. Do you agree it speaks to priorities that need some recalibrating at least?

Mr GUTWEIN - This Budget responds to a broad community of stakeholders. In terms of those tracks remaining closed, we had to make that decision based on advice. As a result of that, I think it is important that we do provide an opportunity for improved facilities for the people, communities and families that have used those tracks, which will be able to be utilised by all who use those areas. I don't have a list of what the investment will be. I understand that’s currently being worked through by stakeholder groups.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you think the swift parrot will survive this next term of government with the level of funding that’s been allocated towards it, and the ongoing logging of its habitat?

Mr GUTWEIN - I have just made the point that I will need to cross-reference the swift parrot election commitment with other funding to understand fully what the investment is. I think the steps that were taken by the minister, Mr Barnett, if memory serves me correct, was it the Parma process which -

Ms O'CONNOR - Just be careful here because he misled parliament about 10 000 hectares when we determined at the Estimates table last year with GBE Estimates that it's only 9300 hectares and it doesn't cover a large swathe of the swift parrot's habitat.

Mr GUTWEIN - I'm glad that you pulled me up because I would have said around 10 000 hectares.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, you'd have been wrong.

Mr GUTWEIN - I will now say 9300 hectares so as to be absolutely correct. Steps are being taken. My understanding is that the last breeding season was quite strong. I might be thinking about a previous year but I'm certain that the last breeding season was a good breeding season.

Ms O'CONNOR - I think the orange bellied parrot had a good breeding season. I am glad to know you take an interest in the fate of our little endemic birds. I hope you take an ongoing interest.

Mr GUTWEIN - I note that you've complained about the level of funding for the swift parrot but that is ongoing funding across the forward Estimates. Perhaps we can both agree that is a good thing. As I said I'm not aware of what else is in the Budget to support that particular area. We'd need to cross reference to fully understand the level of support.

Ms O'CONNOR - You would agree you don't want the parrot to go extinct on your watch do you?