Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport portfolio
Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport
This chapter contains the key issues discussed during the 2012-13 Additional
Estimates hearings for the Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport
portfolio. A complete list of all the topics discussed, and relevant page
numbers, can be found at Appendix 5.
The committee heard evidence from the department on Tuesday,
12 February 2013 from the following outcomes and agencies:
- Corporate Services
- Regional Development
- Services to Territories
- Office for the Arts
- Office for Sport
The committee asked for an update on the programs the department's
administers. Ms Beauchamp, Secretary, advised that the department is
responsible for providing support to a number of large programs, including the
Regional Development Australia Fund, Community Infrastructure Grants, the Local
Government Reform Fund and the Centre for Excellence in Local Government. The
department also leads and coordinates many place based interventions in
priority areas for government, such as the Murray-Darling, Tasmania and the
Upper Spencer Gulf.
The committee asked how the department is progressing in terms of
meeting the efficiency dividend. Ms Beauchamp, explained that the total number
of staff has reduced in 2012-13 compared to 2011-12, as some programs were
one-off or have finished. The committee also heard that consultancy fees have
decreased, as the department actively seeks to minimise the use of consultants by
focusing on up-skilling staff.
An area of particular interest for the committee was the department’s
building lease arrangements. Officers were asked to detail the most expensive
office space and lease space. The committee heard that the department’s lease in
Garema Court is the most expensive in terms of total cost, and the lease for
the Office for the Arts in St Georges Terrace, Perth is the most expensive
office space per square metre.
The committee sought further information on the following items:
- credit card misuse;
- engagement with the Regional Australia Institute;
the average personal leave per employee per year; and
- the number of active compensation cases.
The committee sought an update on the amount of funding available in the
Regional Australia Development Fund. The committee heard that the first two
rounds of funding have already been committed with another two rounds open for
expressions of interest and application. Funding for the first round was $150
million, $200 million in the second round, $50 million for the third round and
$175 million in the fourth round.
The committee heard that there are 88 projects under the Community
Infrastructure Grant program, 32 have been completed, 39 are in progress, one
project is under contract negotiation and 16 are unapproved as they are undergoing
the due diligence process.
The committee asked why the North Queensland Irrigated Agriculture
Strategy web page had not been updated since July 2012. Officers explained that
due to staffing constraints the website had not been updated, however, work on
the strategy has continued. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industry Research
Organisation (CSIRO) has provided the department with a report on the range of
activities it has undertaken, which will form part of the 12 technical reports
to be released this year. In addition to the technical reports, two final
reports will also be released at the end of 2013, one on each catchment and an
The committee asked the department to detail its involvement in the beef
industry specifically in northern Australia. Officers told the committee that
the Northern Australian Ministerial Forum has worked with the beef industry and
the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Research and Economic Science to identify
the risks and opportunities facing the northern beef industry.
The committee also asked about the work of the Northern Australia
Ministerial Forum. Officers explained that the forum was established in 2010
and provides an opportunity for strategic leadership and collaboration across
jurisdictions in relation to the sustainable development of northern Australia.
Membership of the forum includes regional development ministers from the
Commonwealth, Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.
Officers told the committee that the Northern Australia Ministerial
Forum has met five times since 2010 and despite changes to governments in two
jurisdictions (Queensland and the Northern Territory), the forum remains a
consensus and collaborative based environment.
The committee asked for an update into developing water resources in
Northern Australia. Mr Dickson, Director, explained the importance of
developing long-term sustainable water resources to ensure the economic
development of the north. Mr Dickson went on to explain that:
...the Australian Government has commissioned primary research
on both the opportunities for broad scale irrigated agriculture, drawing on the
development of surface water, as well as opportunities for mosaic development,
drawing on groundwater resources...this work is focused on the availability and
suitability of soil and water resources through the beef industry, the animal
production systems that could utilise...the socio‑economic viability of
beef enterprises in industries that rely in part on mosaic irrigation.
The committee sought further information on the following items:
- Horsham theatre and art gallery;
- the funding agreement with Unity Housing;
- Gawler rail line;
the Wakefield Regional Council water supply arrangement and the
South Australian Water corporation funding agreement;
- the AACo abattoir in Darwin;
- the Ord River scheme;
- the Hunter Valley regional strategic infrastructure plan;
- the Murray-Darling Basin economic diversification fund; and
- the possibility of relocating the department above the Tropic of
The committee discussed what actions the department has taken since the
Expert Panel released its report in December 2011 on Constitutional
Recognition of Local Government. Officers told the committee that the
department has worked with Parliament to establish the Joint Select Committee
on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government, as well as forming an
interdepartmental committee which will investigate the timing and success
factors of a referendum.
Officers told the committee that the government will wait and make its
decision once the final report from the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional
Recognition of Local Government has been released at the end of March 2013.
Ms Fleming, Director, advised the committee that a referendum bill is
required before the department can begin negotiations with the states. The
committee heard that the latest the Bills could be considered by Parliament is
The committee asked officers for an update of the Financial Assistance
Grants review. Ms Fleming, told the committee that the Grants Commission has
set dates for hearings in Canberra, and submissions were due on 1 March 2013.
The Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development, and Local Government
the Hon Simon Crean MP announced that the focus of the review is to assess the
efficiency and effectiveness in relation to the distribution of funding.
The committee sought an update on the Local Government Reform Fund.
Officers told the committee that phase one has been completed and phase two has
commenced with 12 of the 18 projects completed and the remainder due for
completion by 30 June 2013.
The committee sought an update on the work of the Australian Centre of
Excellence for Local Government. Ms Fleming, explained that the centre has
built awareness on the use of debt and financing to increase the capacity of
Services to Territories
The committee asked for an update on the Road Map for Norfolk Island,
and sought specific information in relation to the privatisation and
monopolisation of the marketplace, and the upgrading of the facilities at the
Kingston and Cascade piers. Officers told the committee that under the current
funding agreement with Norfolk Island, the department is seeking to increase
the number of competitors in the marketplace. The department has no plans to
upgrade the facilitates at Kingston and Cascade piers, as officers reminded the
committee that Norfolk Island is a
self-determining government which has responsibility for infrastructure on
The committee sought further information in relation to whether the government
was committed to its agreement to extend the Australian tax system to Norfolk
Island in 2014-15. Ms Beauchamp explained that the department is currently
working with the Norfolk Island government and the Australian Tax Office to
identify priority areas and milestones that can be sustained by Norfolk Island
without negatively impacting business and the local community.
Office for the Arts/Australia Council
The committee sought further information from the department in relation
to the National Cultural Policy, specifically how many drafts have been
provided to the Minister for Arts the Hon Simon Crean MP, the date when the
policy might be released, and whether the policy will reflect the diversity of
a 21st Century Australia.
The committee asked officers from the Australia Council to explain
literary funding specifically in relation to Quadrant. The committee
heard that Quadrant received $20 000 in funding for 2012-13, which was
50 per cent less than 2011-12.
The committee dismissed the following Arts Agencies without questioning
due to timing constraints:
- National Film and Sound Archive;
- the National Gallery;
- the National Library;
- the National Museum of Australia; and
- Screen Australia.
Office for Sport
The committee discussed the department's Portfolio Budget Statements in
relation to a reduction in funding for the Illicit Drugs In Sport (IDIS)
program by $5.6 million. Mr Eccles, Deputy Secretary told the committee
that the funding for the IDIS program was redirected to establish the National
Integrity of Sport Unit and the IDIS was never intended to cover testing for
illicit drugs in large sports.
The Office for Sport was questioned in relation to the Australian Crime
Commission (ACC) Report into Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport. The
committee sought further information in relation to:
- the press conference held by the Minister for Sport, Senator the
Hon Kate Lundy held with the Minister for Justice, the Hon Jason Clare MP and
the various sporting codes chief executive officers on
Thursday, 7 February 2013;
- the date of the briefing from the ACC to invited sporting
organisations in Canberra;
- whether the government paid for the flights of all sporting codes
that attended the press conference; and
- the breath of match fixing in Australian sport.
Officers told the committee that the newly established National
Integrity of Sport Unit is collaborating with the Australian Crime Commission
and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority to implement components arising
out of Project Aperio and the report into Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport.
The Australian Sports Commission was dismissed without questioning due
to timing constraints.
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