On 6 October 2020 the Senate referred the following documents to the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee (the committee) for examination and report:
Particulars of proposed expenditure in respect of the year ending on 30 June 2021;
Particulars of certain proposed expenditure in respect of the year ending on 30 June 2021; and
Particulars of proposed expenditure in relation to parliamentary departments in respect of the year ending 30 June 2021.
A reporting date of 17 November 2020 was set for the committee's report to the Senate on its consideration of the 2020-21 budget estimates. This date was later extended until 8 December 2020 due to the scheduling of two spillover hearings.
In accordance with a resolution of the Senate on 31 August 2016, as amended on 12 February 2018 and 13 February 2020, the committee is responsible for the examination of the expenditure and outcomes of the following portfolios:
Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio, excluding Agriculture and Water;
Industry, Science, Energy and Resources portfolio, excluding Industry, Science, and Resources; and
Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications portfolio, excluding Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.
A list of the agencies, independent statutory bodies and office-holders for which the committee has oversight is available at Appendix 1.
Portfolio Budget Statements 2020-21
The Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS) 2020-21 for the Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio; the Industry, Science, Energy and Resources portfolio; and the Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications portfolio were tabled in the Senate on 6 October 2020.
On 14 May 2020, the former Minister for Finance the Hon Mathias Cormann moved that budget estimates hearings for the committee would occur from 19 October 2020 to 22 October 2020, with an additional day, if required, on 30 October 2020.
The committee examined the environmental outcomes and agencies of the Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio at the hearing on 19 October 2020. It continued its examination on the morning of 20 October 2020 before moving to an examination of the emissions and energy outcomes and agencies of the Industry, Science, Energy and Resources portfolio for the remainder of that day. On 21 October 2020 the committee examined the communications outcomes and agencies of the Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications portfolio, continuing its examination on 22 October 2020, which also included an examination of the arts outcomes and agencies.
The committee heard evidence from the following minsters:
Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, representing the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction.
Senator the Hon Jane Hume, Assistant Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and Financial Technology, representing the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts; and
Senator the Hon Zed Seselja, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters, representing the Minister for the Environment.
Evidence was also provided by the following departmental secretaries who were accompanied by officers of the portfolio departments and agencies:
Mr Andrew Metcalfe, Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment;
Mr David Fredericks, Secretary, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources; and
Mr Simon Atkinson, Secretary, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
The following portfolio agencies were not required to appear:
Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio
Office of the Supervising Scientist
Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications portfolio
Australia Business Arts Foundation Ltd. (Creative Partnerships Australia)
Australian Film, Television and Radio School
Australian National Maritime Museum
National Film and Sound Archive of Australia
National Gallery of Australia
National Library of Australia
National Museum of Australia
National Portrait Gallery of Australia
Classification Review Board
To facilitate COVID-safe arrangements, the committee agreed that interstate witnesses could opt to appear by videoconference, if not specifically requested to appear in-person, and Canberra-based witnesses were to appear in-person. Of the 207 witnesses who appeared during estimates, 48 appeared via videoconference. Of the 29 senators who questioned witnesses, eight participated via videoconference.
On 22 October 2020, the committee agreed to hold a spillover hearing which was subsequently split over two days. On 9 November 2020, the committee heard evidence from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia Post and NBN Co Limited. On 11 November 2020, the committee heard evidence from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, including the Office of the Threatened Species Commissioner, and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
The committee extends its appreciation to the ministers and officers of the departments and agencies who assisted the committee in conducting its 2020‑21 budget estimates hearings.
Questions on notice and Hansard transcripts
In accordance with standing order 26(9)(a), the committee set the following dates for the return of written answers or additional information:
3 December 2020 for the Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio; and the Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications portfolio;
10 December 2020 for the Industry, Science, Energy and Resources portfolio; and
21 December 2020 for the spillover hearings held on 9 November 2020 and 11 November 2020.
Written answers and information provided to the committee in response to questions on notice arising from the hearings are tabled in the Senate and posted on the committee's website. Links to the transcripts of these public hearings and to answers, tabled documents and additional information are available at: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Senate_Estimates/ec.
Additional estimates 2019-20: timeliness of answers to questions on notice
The committee's examination of the environment outcomes of Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio and the emissions and energy outcomes of the Industry, Science, Energy and Resources portfolio for additional estimates 2019-20 took place on 2 March 2020, and its hearing for the examination of the communications and the arts outcomes of the Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications portfolio, took place on 3 March 2020.
The original due date for answers to questions on notice was 17 April 2020. As a result of the COVID pandemic outbreak, the due date was extended for all departments and agencies until 8 May 2020. The committee received answers to all of the 190 questions taken on notice for the Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio, and answers to all of the 58 questions taken on notice for the Industry, Science, Energy and Resources portfolio, from the hearing held on 2 March 2020 by the 8 May due date. The Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications portfolio provided answers to 131 of the 241 questions taken on notice from the hearing held on 3 March 2020 by the extended due date. The remainder were provided to the committee by 13 July 2020.
Record of proceedings
This report does not attempt to analyse the evidence presented during the hearings. However, it does provide a brief list of some of the key issues that were canvassed by the committee for each portfolio.
Note on references and additional information
References to the Hansard transcript are to the proof Hansard. Page numbers may vary between the proof and official Hansard transcript.