It was a year of change and opportunity for the department in 2010–11. With a new minister and a parliamentary secretary, our name changed to reflect a substantially expanded agenda. After beginning the year as the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, we became the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
The Machinery of Government changes of September 2010, and the new outcomes outlined in the May Portfolio Budget Statements, provided a broader framework for policy development and program delivery.
The addition of sustainability is reflected not only in our departmental name, but in the very essence of our work. The elements of sustainability – economic, social and environmental – are already playing out in marine bioregional planning, in built and natural environments and heritage, in science and research, in water reform, in national waste policy, in strategic assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, in wildlife corridors, in housing programs and in the development of sustainability indicators- announced in the 2011–12 budget.
This emphasis on a sustainable Australia is set to continue to shape the department’s work developing policies and delivering programs in the interests of the wellbeing of all Australians.
The department’s achievements contained within this annual report reflect the combined input of a dedicated and enthusiastic staff. I particularly acknowledge the efforts and contribution of all members of the department throughout the year.
We assisted in delivering on the government’s commitment to protecting biodiversity across the continent and in our oceans. The department worked with natural resource management stakeholders including Indigenous Australians, landholders and community groups to identify ways to better protect and manage the natural environment.
As well as consulting widely on the review of the Caring for our Country program, we consulted with regional communities, industries, groups and individuals on the establishment of a network of marine reserves for the benefit of healthy and productive oceans. As part of this process, marine bioregional plans are being developed for each of the identified marine regions in the South-west, North-west, North and East.
On behalf of all governments we managed the preparation of Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and supported its launch during the International Year of Biodiversity.
As 2010–11 saw the breaking of the drought in south-eastern Australia, national water reform continued as a key priority for the department. The focus of our work ranged widely from urban water use to on-farm water efficiency programs. The Murray-Darling Basin continued to be a significant area of activity. During the year, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) released its Guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the department participated extensively in the subsequent community consultation sessions in towns and cities across the basin.
The public consultation process highlighted community concerns with the processes underpinning the MDBA’s preparation of the Guide. The MDBA has subsequently undertaken further extensive work in advance of the publication of the Proposed Basin Plan later this year. The community consultation process was also valuable in providing an opportunity for the department to hear views about the programs we are delivering, including the management of water to be allocated to the environment and other elements of the Water for the Future reform agenda.
Murray-Darling Basin water ministers met regularly in 2011 to discuss the progress of reforms. A particular area of concern for ministers was the pace of the roll out of infrastructure programs under the ‘State Priority Projects’ banner. The department has invested effort in improving its engagement with state and territory water departments, and working with counterparts in state governments to overcome the barriers to the roll out of the state priority projects. This has established a good platform for further cooperation in the implementation of water reforms over the coming years.
In April 2011, an important milestone was reached with just over a thousand gigalitres of water entitlements secured from infrastructure and water purchase programs. This water will be dedicated to the environment, thereby supporting future healthy, productive rivers for local communities, irrigators and the nation.
National environment law
This year also marked a shift towards a more proactive, streamlined and holistic approach to biodiversity conservation including the continuation of work leading up to the government’s response to the independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 – our national environment law.
The department managed a demanding environmental assessment program. Our workload in this area has risen sharply in recent years, driven particularly by the growth of major resource development projects across the nation.
Over the past 12 months some extremely large and complex assessments were completed. Department officers developed more than 300 conditions for each of three coal seam gas projects approved in Queensland to minimise their environmental impact, and assessed world-first technology for a floating LNG facility.
There were also good compliance achievements, including Operation CETUS, which saw our compliance and enforcement officers joining forces with state colleagues and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to monitor the activities of people interacting with whales and ensuring a stress-free migration period.
Closing the Gap
A number of the department’s environmental and heritage conservation programs are proving to be a vehicle for meaningful Indigenous community participation, stimulating economic development and community capacity in regional and remote locations where there are few other employment opportunities. These programs form part of the government’s coordinated efforts to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.
The Working on Country Indigenous ranger program employed over 625 Indigenous rangers during 2010–11 to manage and protect significant environmental assets and our biodiversity over 1.5 million square kilometres across Australia. It was exciting to see several ranger teams receive national awards for their successes and achievements.
In line with our five-year strategic plan, Working on Country continues to contribute to key Closing the Gap outcomes, Indigenous Economic Development and Safe and Supportive Communities.
Indigenous Protected Areas remain one of Australia’s conservation success stories. Today Australia has 44 Indigenous Protected Areas, protecting more than 26 million hectares across the country.
Indigenous Protected Areas work because they recognise the crucial relationship between Indigenous Australians, the land and sea. They provide jobs and training opportunities, often in remote areas where business opportunities are limited. Rangers have told us that Indigenous Protected Areas lead to a range of wider community outcomes such as better health, better school attendance and greater social cohesion.
In 2010–11, 2.36 million hectares were protected through the Indigenous Protected Area program, including the spectacular Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area. Uunguu, meaning ‘living home’, protects more than 340 000 hectares of north Kimberley coastline.
The year saw another full range of activity under the department’s Antarctic program. The 2010–11 summer season presented a number of operational challenges for the Australian Antarctic Division, including assisting the French program following a fatal helicopter accident early in the season.
In 2011 we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Sir Douglas Mawson’s 1911–1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition to Commonwealth Bay. Events to commemorate Mawson’s expedition will continue through to 2012.
Our scientists continue globally significant and coordinated research in the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean into critical issues such as climate change and increased global demands for food.
This has been a significant year for heritage protection with the World Heritage Listing of Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, the World Heritage Listing of Koongarra within Kakadu National Park and seven places added to the National Heritage List including the Great Ocean Road and Scenic Environs. We supported the Australian Government’s inaugural Heritage Week in April which was marked with more than 300 events across the country.
Offshore, Commonwealth heritage listings included the HMAS Sydney II and the HSK Kormoran shipwreck sites. The loss of HMAS Sydney II, along with its entire crew of 645, remains Australia’s worst naval disaster.
This year saw further progress in the implementation of Australia’s first National Waste Policy: Less Waste, More Resources, resulting in groundbreaking product stewardship initiatives and the passage of the Product Stewardship Bill.
The policy heralds a new and environmentally responsible approach to waste management in Australia. Agreed by all Australian environment ministers, it sets Australia’s waste management and resource recovery direction to 2020.
Products on the National Waste Policy implementation plan for product stewardship action include televisions and computers, packaging, tyres and mercury-containing lights.
Work was undertaken towards the development of a Regulatory Impact Statement on a range of measures to address packaging waste and litter, including container deposit options.
Following extensive consultation across governments and the community, we assisted the government in the delivery of Australia’s sustainable population strategy, Sustainable Australia – Sustainable Communities, in May 2011. Work has continued on a range of policies and programs underpinned by the principles of economic prosperity, liveable communities and environmental sustainability.
The Sustainable Australia – Sustainable Communities strategy includes measures designed to support affordable housing in areas where demand for work is increasing. It also includes planning for sustainable regional development, assistance to facilitate the location of more jobs in outer suburban areas of major metropolitan cities and sustainability measurement programs.
With additional responsibilities for housing policies and housing affordability programs, we continue to work with state, territory and local governments, community organisations and the private sector in responding to the factors affecting housing affordability for many Australians.
Our leadership team
During the year Ms Robyn Kruk announced her resignation as secretary of the department ahead of taking up a new role as Chief Executive of the government’s new Mental Health Commission. Ms Kruk provided strong leadership during a period of significant change and was greatly admired throughout the department.
After acting in the position from September 2010, I was honoured to be appointed secretary in June 2011.
Other notable changes in our senior executive leadership included the welcome arrival of two new deputy secretaries – Kimberley Dripps, who joined the department from the Victorian Government in January, and David Parker, who transferred from Treasury in February.Back to top