Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2008
Legislation annual reports 2007-08 (continued)
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 developers need approval from the Environment Minister for any proposed action likely to have significant effects on matters of National Environment Significance (NES).
Amendments to the Act in 2007 provide the minister with increased powers to make decisions and determinations. They also provide greater flexibility for the department in its administration of the Act on matters of NES. Reports of possible breaches are investigated by the department’s compliance branch and determinations made to ensure those involved put right any wrongs done.
In August 2007 the department became aware of the unauthorised clearing of up to 17 hectares of native vegetation at Clarke’s Cove, about 12km north of Airlie Beach on the Queensland coast. Investigations showed the clearing works had the potential to have a significant effect on the heritage values of the adjacent Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area through erosion run-off and sedimentation. This unauthorised land clearing is potentially a serious breach of the Act with longer-term actions required to rehabilitate the site.
The department conducted a compliance investigation with the Whitsunday Shire Council and Queensland environment agencies to achieve urgent rehabilitation measures and to monitor the site to prevent ongoing damage. In February 2008 the minister issued a remediation determination under s480D of the Act, requiring the responsible parties to stabilise and revegetate the site under a plan they must prepare and submit. The minister also stipulated payment of a $250,000 bond to ensure that the mandated works are completed. The long-term remediation works will be undertaken in accordance with the agreed rehabilitation plan.
This was the first remediation order issued under the Act, which allows the Australian Government to order repair of an area to prevent ongoing harm, without recourse to lengthy court action. The department is undertaking a parallel investigation under the offence provisions of the Act.
Changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act in 2007 have enabled the department to focus strategically on threatened ecological communities that are a priority for conservation. In 2007 the minister released the first Finalised Priority Assessment List (FPAL) for nominations to list species, ecological communities and key threatening processes under the amended Act. The FPAL included 11 ecological communities to be assessed.
The assessment of ecological community nominations is complex because they can be difficult to define, may show variation, and often merge with adjacent communities. Extensive consultation with experts and stakeholders is essential to help overcome these problems. Failure to clearly define the communities creates difficulties for project proponents and increases compliance burdens on people taking action that may impact on the communities.
The department has a proactive, consultative and transparent approach to listing ecological communities. Technical workshops with field trips are a key step in the assessment process. They enable officers to meet with experts familiar with an ecological community, to determine how it should be defined for listing under the Act. Workshop participants are encouraged to field-test outcomes after workshops to ensure they are accurate for the listing.
In financial year 2007–2008 three workshops were held with botanists, zoologists, ecologists and land managers. A workshop on red-gum grassy woodlands and grasslands of the Gippsland plains was held in Maffra, Victoria in November 2007. A workshop on the natural grasslands of the basalt and alluvial plains of southern Queensland and northern NSW was held in Tamworth, later the same month. A workshop for the Inland Grey-Box Woodlands was held in Wagga Wagga, NSW in March 2008.
The workshops provided substantial advice on the definition, distribution and other characteristics of high quality remnants for each ecological community. Reports on the Maffra and Tamworth workshops were made available for comment to other experts and for public consultation, along with the nominations. The outcomes and responses received from consultation were taken into account in the listing assessments. The report on the Wagga Wagga workshop will be made available early in financial year 2008–09.
The process results in clear, comprehensive and scientifically credible national listings of ecological communities that enhances their protection under the Act and translates into more effective biodiversity outcomes.
Grieve Parade Golden Sun Moth
Photo: E.D. Edwards
A road project incident at Altona in Melbourne in 2007 provides a good example of a typical compliance activity under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It involved working with proponents to achieve a positive environmental outcome, without recourse to adversarial proceedings.
The department administers the Act and ensures compliance with it. All reports from the public of possible breaches are investigated by the department’s compliance branch.
The department was notified on 21 November 2007 that dumping of spoil and parking of machinery by VicRoads’ contractors had occurred on 1.4 hectares of private land adjacent to the road work corridor at Grieve Parade. There was concern because the site provided potential habitat for the listed critically endangered golden sun moth and spiny rice-flower, and vulnerable striped legless lizard.
On 27 November VicRoads advised the department of their intention to cooperate fully with the department to resolve the matter. On 10 December they provided a report on potential effects. The expert report concluded that significant effects on the striped legless lizard and spiny rice-flower were not likely, but that potential habitat for the golden sun moth may have been affected. VicRoads prepared a remediation plan, which was approved by the department on 27 December 2007 and then implemented.
The consultant concluded rehabilitation was likely to be successful provided the spoil was carefully removed and the site monitored and controlled for weeds. There was little damage to the underlying topsoil and accompanying root and seed stock (and by implication associated sun moth grubs), and areas of grassland vegetation remained between the individual spoil piles.
VicRoads met all of the department’s requirements (undertaking expert assessments, preparing and implementing a rehabilitation plan) urgently. Early indications are the affected site will fully recover.
Approval for Gunns Limited to proceed with its plans for a pulp mill on a 300 hectare site at Bell Bay in Tasmania was granted in October 2007 subject to 48 conditions being met, including the development of a detailed Environmental Impact Management Plan.
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 the Commonwealth’s approval is limited to the protection of particular matters of national environmental significance associated with the project. In this case it includes nationally listed threatened and migratory species and the Commonwealth marine environment. Species covered by the approval include the wedge-tailed eagle, the Tasmanian devil, spot-tailed quoll, eastern barred bandicoot, swift parrot, green and golden frog, Australian grayling, grasstrees, orchids and various crayfish.
Under the approval held by Gunns, it must prepare an Environmental Impact Management Plan setting out the specific measures that will be undertaken by Gunns Limited to ensure that the action will have no adverse impacts on matters of national environmental significance. Construction of the pulp mill cannot commence until the Minister has approved the relevant “modules” of the Environmental Impact Management Plan. Gunns must undertake extensive surveys and ongoing monitoring, rehabilitation and reporting at all stages of the project. If certain trigger points are reached, response strategies agreed by the department must be implemented. This may include stopping work until the matter is resolved.
The pulp mill is one of the most highly scrutinised projects approved under the Act. A departmental team was established in Canberra and Hobart to oversee the development approval and implementation of the Environmental Impact Management Plan. The team works closely with Gunns and the Independent Expert Group of scientists appointed by the minister. The minister has also appointed an Independent Site Supervisor to verify that Gunns complies with the management plan.
On-ground presence provides the department with a more responsive monitoring capacity, and facilitates a timely approach to meetings with key stakeholders and site visits. Through frequent consultations and meetings, the officers have established an effective working relationship with the company. The team works cooperatively with its Tasmanian counterparts to promote an efficient approach to co-regulation.
By the end of May 2008 the minister had approved the first four modules of the management plan covering vegetation clearing, earthworks and construction of the workers’ accommodation facility.
The widening of the Hume Highway between the Sturt Highway and Mullengandra in NSW is a good example of making the most of a development opportunity to achieve a positive long-term conservation outcome under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It further demonstrates how the department promotes a culture of awareness of the long-term costs of habitat loss and the need to conserve existing habitat.
The proposed action involves upgrading 45 kilometres of the highway to create four lanes of dual carriageway. This is necessary for safety, efficiency and community benefit on a route of strategic national significance linking Sydney and Melbourne.
An environment assessment by the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) showed the work will result in the loss of up to 55 hectares of the listed, critically endangered ecological community, box-gum grassy woodland and derived grasslands and up to 75 hectares of suitable foraging habitat for the vulnerable superb parrot, the endangered regent honey eater and swift parrot.
The proposal was approved by the department on 2 August 2007 and a variation on March 18 2008, with conditions requiring the RTA to acquire and rehabilitate 550 hectares of box-gum grassy woodland and derived grasslands in the region. The acquired land must also provide suitable foraging habitat for the superb parrot, regent honey eater and swift parrot and be protected by a legal instrument to ensure it is conserved in perpetuity.
In this case the department achieved a very good outcome with a one for 10 offset ratio. For every hectare of habitat lost alongside the old road, 10 hectares will be bought and conserved within 100 kilometres of the development. The approval conditions specify that the acquired land must either meet the classification of the endangered ecological community or must be rehabilitated to meet that classification, thus ensuring the habitat is available now and into the future. Where land is rehabilitated it will be adding and conserving significant habitat for threatened species. This land must also provide some linkage to existing conservation reserves and/or be adjacent to existing conservation reserves.
The way in which governments, communities and industry are now consulting and collaborating on how and where development might occur in the pristine Kimberley region in north Western Australia (WA), demonstrates a new positive approach to achieving a balance between proposed human activity and long term conservation. It shows how an enhanced strategic assessment process is helping the department towards achieving satisfactory outcomes with states and territories, industry, Indigenous people and other interest groups.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) reserves in the Browse Basin off the Kimberley coast are estimated to have the potential to meet a third of Asia’s energy needs by 2030 (The Australian, 8 April 2008). Industry has been exploring potential options for processing the LNG for export.
Amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 in February 2007 allowed for improved strategic approaches for protection and conservation of the environment, especially matters of National Environment Significance (NES). In July 2007 WA government officials met with the Department to discuss a strategic approach to ensure economic development in the Kimberley is carried out in an ecologically sustainable manner, compatible with its unique natural and cultural heritage values. This led to the announcement by the Commonwealth and state governments in February 2008 of an agreement to carry out a joint strategic assessment under the Act of the natural, Indigenous and historic heritage values in the region, as well as a specific assessment of a plan for a common-user LNG processing hub to service the Browse Basin. The assessment would also consider any feasible alternative sites outside the Kimberley.
The assessment is being conducted through a collaborative process of consultations with all interested parties, in particular Indigenous groups, and applying thorough scientific investigation, data collection and analysis.
If the strategic assessment is endorsed, developments in the LNG hub that are consistent with the management plan will not require further approval from the Commonwealth Environment Minister. The minister has included an assessment of the potential National Heritage values of the region in the Australian Heritage Council’s work-plan commencing in 2008.
Two species of white-tailed black-cockatoos found only in the south west of Western Australia have been declining since the mid 1900s following widespread and rapid clearing of their breeding and foraging habitats. These long-lived birds continue to be threatened by habitat clearance and fragmentation, and other factors such as the loss of nest hollows from competition with other birds and bees. These unique and look-alike birds, the endangered Carnaby’s black-cockatoo and the vulnerable Baudin’s black-cockatoo, are matters of national environmental significance and therefore protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Act).
Carnaby’s and Baudin’s black-cockatoos spend much of their time each year foraging and sometimes breeding in a region that is now one of Australia’s fastest growing, the Swan Coastal Plain, and part of an internationally recognised biodiversity hot spot. The conservation and management of the black-cockatoos in this region represents a challenge for all levels of government and an opportunity to work together and assess the current statutory and administrative frameworks.
The department’s approach to these birds is to work with the EPBC Act in a focussed and strategic way. This includes engaging with state and local government agencies to help ensure the cockatoos are considered early in the planning and environmental assessment processes. It also includes working with species experts to produce policy advice and information for state and local government agencies, developers, and the wider community, on what actions are likely to have a significant effect on the cockatoos. Recovery Plans are in preparation for both species, and the draft plans guide the department’s application of policy tools and recovery investment. The department has also provided resources to implement key recovery actions, such as the control of nest competitors and monitoring of subsequent nest hollow usage, DNA collection and analysis of Carnaby’s cockatoo population, and activities to promote its conservation needs to the community.
The recovery and management of these species remains a work-in-progress and a priority for the department.
In this section
- About this report
- 1. Protecting environment and heritage
- 2. Conserving biodiversity
- 3. Managing heritage and protecting significant areas
- 4. Monitoring, compliance and legal actions
- 5. Reporting
- Appendix A – Statistics
- Appendix B – Committees
- Appendix C – Publications
- Appendix D – Compliance with timeframes (section 518 report)
- Case studies
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