Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2008
Legislation annual reports 2007-08 (continued)
Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
This annual report is prepared in accordance with sections 516 and 518 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). It covers the operation of the Act from 1 July 2007 to 30 June 2008.
The EPBC Act contains specific requirements to report annually on the operation of the Act in regulating significant impacts on matters of national environmental significance. This report fulfils those requirements and includes case studies to highlight the stories behind the statistics.
The report examines the operation of the EPBC Act against its priorities. These are:
- ensuring that the EPBC Act works effectively to protect matters of national environmental significance (addressed in Section 1.1 of the report)
- providing effective protection to the environment in proposals involving the Australian Government (Section 1.2)
- increasing intergovernmental cooperation and reducing duplication (Section 1.3)
- providing an efficient, timely and effective assessment and approval process with certainty for stakeholders (Section 1.4)
- increasing transparency and public awareness (Section 1.5)
- taking an integrated approach to conserving biodiversity (Section 2)
- managing heritage and protecting significant areas (Section 3)
- implementing a comprehensive monitoring and compliance regime (Section 4).
The Act requires the annual report to include extensive statistics on the operation of the Act, including compliance with statutory timeframes. These statistical tables are at Appendix A and Appendix D and are referred to throughout the report.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government’s central piece of environmental legislation. The EPBC Act provides a legal framework to regulate significant impacts on matters of national environmental significance.
The seven matters of national environmental significance are:
- World Heritage sites
- National Heritage places
- wetlands of international importance (often called Ramsar wetlands, after the international treaty under which such wetlands are listed)
- nationally threatened species and ecological communities
- migratory species
- Commonwealth marine areas
- nuclear actions.
The EPBC Act also provides protection for the environment in relation to proposals involving Commonwealth land. It regulates activities of Australian Government agencies that might significantly affect the environment.
The report this year demonstrates how the Act’s operation has been strengthened and streamlined since the Australian National Audit Office’s report (Audit Report No. 31 2006–07 Performance Audit of the Conservation and Protection of National Threatened Species and Ecological Communities) and the amendments to the Act, which came into effect in February 2007.
The audit’s purpose was to assess and report on the department’s administration of the Act in protecting and conserving threatened species and ecological communities in Australia. The audit report identified three issues constraining progress and limiting the achievement of the objectives of the Act. They are: the scale of the task required by the legislation; the technical expertise needed to assess, protect and conserve over 1,000 individual species and hundreds of ecological communities; and the limited resources available to the department to conduct this work.
The report made several recommendations, in particular concerning progress in commercial fish nominations; the comprehensiveness of lists of species and ecological communities; recovery planning; completion rates; review rates; reporting and compliance, especially the promotion and auditing processes.
The department welcomed this independent audit of the Act’s operation over its first six years. It is committed to implementing all recommendations in the report. The implementation of some recommendations requires the department to work closely with state, territory and local governments. This year the department has taken steps to strengthen working relationships with agencies at all levels of government.
The Australian Government responded to the audit’s recommendations, with a substantial injection of funds in the 2007–08 Budget. The department has used these funds to apply new strategies and processes to address the audit recommendations.
Following legislative amendments, the department has established an annual assessment cycle for species listing nominations. Four marine fish species have been included in the first Finalised Priority Assessment List. A new Species Information Section was created to improve the quality of information available on threatened species, and an audit of state and territory ecological community lists has begun. The department has established timetables for completing and reviewing recovery plans; created a new Compliance and Enforcement Branch to promote awareness of, and compliance with, the EPBC Act; and doubled the resources applied to strategic approvals to improve the quality of partnerships with state/territory and local governments. An audit program has also been established to audit compliance with conditions applied to approvals under the EPBC Act. Audit outcomes are used to improve decision-making across the department, for example by changing assessment guidelines.
This year marked a new stage in the operation of the EPBC Act. A substantial package of amendments passed in 2006 came into force in February 2007. This was the first full year of operation of those amendments, which seek to:
- strengthen environment and heritage protection, while streamlining some of the provisions of the Act
- provide greater capacity and flexibility for more strategic approaches to be employed for the protection of Australia’s environment and heritage
- eliminate unproductive red tape
- enable quicker and more strategic action to be taken on emerging environmental issues
- make environmental decision-making more efficient and cost-effective
- provide greater certainty for industry.
Highlights of the reporting year included:
- In September 2007 the minister released the first Finalised Priority Assessment List for nominations to list species, ecological communities and key threatening processes under the amended Act. The list included 20 species, 11 ecological communities and four threatening processes. Assessments are to be completed within one to three years.
- In August 2007 the minister released the first Finalised Priority Assessment Lists for nominations to add places to the National and Commonwealth Heritage lists under the amended Act. In May 2008 the minister released the second Finalised Priority Assessment Lists of nominations.
- During the year the minister added 20 places to the National Heritage List. These include places as diverse as the Myall Creek Massacre Site, Bondi Beach, and the Dampier Archipelago (including Burrup Peninsula) in Western Australia.
- In 2007–08 the department managed 418 referrals, 238 assessments and 53 approvals.
- An agreement was signed under the EPBC Act between the Australian and Western Australian governments, for the strategic assessment of natural, Indigenous and historic heritage values of the west Kimberley, a specific assessment of a plan for a common user liquefied natural gas hub to service the Browse Basin.
- A new process developed with selected local councils in Western Australia will provide a better understanding of the local issues associated with projects. The councils involved are in areas that are under high development pressures. The new process will ensure that any approval conditions will achieve the desired outcomes without contravening council rules, imposing financial constraints on councils or missing key issues. The department will discuss each project in selected council areas with the local council, and the councils will inform the department of any new developments they believe should be considered under the EPBC Act.
- The department worked with state and local authorities to minimise effects on listed threatened species during construction and maintenance of proposed fire breaks around Melbourne’s water catchments. Effects will be minimised by implementing construction and environmental management plans.
- The department released revised national seismic guidelines on the interaction between offshore seismic activity and whales, following concerns from both industry and conservation groups about the efficacy of the previous 2001 seismic guidelines. The revised guidelines take into account extensive consultation with scientific experts, industry, conservation groups and other Australian Government departments.
- On 4 October 2007 the minister approved the proposed Gunns Pulp Mill, to be established in northern Tasmania, imposing 48 stringent environmental conditions. The department has established a task force to oversee the post-approval management of the project.
- The department allocated significant new resources to compliance in response to the recommendations of the Australian National Audit Office report on the administration of the EPBC Act. The department worked closely with state and territory environmental regulatory agencies, and dealt with almost twice the number of incident reports handled in the previous year.
- The department significantly expanded its post-approvals monitoring, including site inspections for selected higher risk projects. A targeted audit program is evaluating the effectiveness of approval conditions and ‘particular manner’ decisions since the commencement of the EPBC Act in 2000. The aim is to improve the department’s processes and systems. Summaries of the audit findings are published on the department’s website.
- The fourteenth conference of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (The Hague, June 2007) agreed on several amendments to Appendices I and II, which list species that are either endangered, or may become endangered by international trade. These amendments came into effect in September 2007.
- 2,383 wildlife trade permits were issued, and 7,016 seizures were made under Part 13A of the EPBC Act.
- The minister approved wildlife trade management plans for the commercial harvest of kangaroos in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. The decision to approve the New South Wales kangaroo management plan was appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The hearing took place 31 March–4 April 2008 and a decision was pending as at 30 June.
- A working group reviewed the Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and developed a revised draft code.
- On 9 September 2007 Australia listed its sixty-fifth Wetland of International Importance (“Ramsar site”), the Paroo River Wetlands in north-western New South Wales.
- The Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council endorsed national guidelines on developing ecological character descriptions and national guidelines for preparing Ramsar site maps, to provide a more coherent framework for Ramsar implementation in Australia.
- The department commissioned a ‘Ramsar Snapshot’ to provide an initial assessment of the current status of Australia’s Ramsar sites and the major threats and management issues facing the sites.
- The Mawson’s Huts Historic Site Management Plan 2007–2012 was approved by the minister on 8 January 2008. This place was included on the National Heritage List in 2005 for its outstanding historic significance, and on the Commonwealth Heritage List for its historic values in 2004. It had been on the Register of the National Estate since 1980.
- Thirteen new Commonwealth reserves in the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network came into effect on 3 September 2007, having been proclaimed late the previous financial year.
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
Links to another web site
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