Approvals and Wildlife Division
Approvals and Wildlife Division
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981
The department uses regulation and compliance activities, cooperative partnerships with state and territory governments and provision of information to improve awareness of the EPBC Act to protect and conserve the environment. This section gives an overview of the work that is done to administer the EPBC Act and the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 against these strategies, where relevant to specific provisions administered by the division. Further detail is provided in the report on the operation of the EPBC Act.
Species listings, recovery plans and information
The minister decides whether to list a species or ecological community for protection under the EPBC Act on advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC). In 2010–11 based on assessments completed by the TSSC, 32 species and two ecological communities were listed, and at 30 June 2011 a further 12 species and 17 ecological communities were undergoing assessment for possible listing.
The 2010 Finalised Priority Assessment List was published for the period commencing 1 October 2010 for assessment under the EPBC Act of the threatened status of nine species and eight ecological communities.
For the assessment period commencing 1 October 2011, public nominations for 11 species, three key threatening processes and five ecological community nominations were received. As at 30 June 2011, the TSSC had not recommended to the minister which of these should be placed on the 2011 Finalised Priority Assessment List. More detail on the listings is provided in the report on the operation of the EPBC Act.
To achieve consistency between Australian Government and state and territory threatened species lists, and to increase the exchange of information, the government has both formal and informal partnerships with all states and territories. The partnerships allow for targeted expenditure of limited conservation resources and facilitate the best possible conservation outcomes for threatened species. Under these partnerships, the state or territory will usually first undertake an assessment of species endemic to it. This information will be provided to the Australian Government for a streamlined assessment under the EPBC Act.
During 2010–11 the department progressed an audit of state and territory lists of approximately 1 650 ecological communities or regional ecosystems, in consultation with state and territory governments. The aim of this work is to identify ecological communities that have highest priority to be assessed for potential listing as matters of national environmental significance under the EPBC Act. The agreed prioritisation process focuses on endemic ecological communities listed by states and territories in the endangered and critically endangered categories that are likely to most benefit from additional protection under the EPBC Act.
In 2010–11 assessments began on two ecological communities (one in Western Australia and one in Queensland) with several others planned.
All new listing advices for ecological communities at the national level now contain clear links to state and territory vegetation systems and listed ecological communities (or regional ecosystems in Queensland).
Protecting our natural assets
The EPBC Act provides a legal framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places, defined in the EPBC Act as matters of national environmental significance. It also regulates the potential impacts of activities on Commonwealth land, the impacts of actions carried out by Commonwealth agencies and the international movement of wildlife and wildlife products.
Environment assessments under the EPBC Act ensure that development is undertaken in a way that supports the protection and recovery of the Australian environment.
The EPBC Act provides for consistent and transparent regulation of activities with the potential to have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance. Such activities and projects from all industry sectors are referred to the department for assessment. In 2010–11 the department received 428 new referrals. 150 referrals were determined to be controlled actions requiring further assessment and approval under the EPBC Act, 146 were determined not to be controlled actions, and 104 were determined not to be controlled actions subject to them being undertaken in a particular manner. 103 proposals were approved subject to conditions and two proposals were refused approval.
The department has undertaken a program of strategic audits of projects approved under the EPBC Act to ensure the projects are implemented in line with conditions applied to protect matters of national environmental significance. The audit program also helps the department to improve the way conditions are set on future project approvals to lift the overall effectiveness of environment protection under the EPBC Act.
In 2010–11 the compliance auditing program audited 12 projects, focusing on selected projects that were approved with conditions or given a ‘not controlled action—particular manner’ decision, and a strategic risk-based audit program focused on specific areas such as industry sectors, residential and commercial property developments in Queensland and Victoria and mining and exploration in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Assessment bilateral agreements
EPBC Act assessment bilateral agreements allow the Commonwealth to avoid duplicating assessment processes by delegating the responsibility for conducting environmental assessments under the EPBC Act to the states and territories. If a proposed action is assessed under an accredited state/territory process, the action still requires a separate approval decision under the EPBC Act.
The government seeks to maintain assessment bilateral agreements under Part 5 of the EPBC Act with all states and territories. The Tasmanian assessment bilateral agreement expired on 11 December 2010 and was renewed by the respective governments on 3 May 2011, adding a new accredited environmental impact assessment process under the Tasmanian Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993. A replacement bilateral agreement with Western Australia is also being developed as a result of changes to the relevant assessment processes in Western Australia.
Under section 146 of the EPBC Act, the minister may agree to assess the impacts of actions under a policy, plan or program, including, but not limited to:
- regional-scale development plans and policies
- large-scale industrial development and associated infrastructure
- fire, vegetation/resource or pest management policies, plans or programs
- water extraction and use policies
- infrastructure plans and policies
- industry sector policies.
Within this context a strategic assessment can cover any number of projects that would otherwise need to be separately assessed under the EPBC Act.
Strategic assessments continue to break new ground and promote ecologically sustainable development. These approaches are collaborative between tiers of governments. They are also streamlined and facilitate adaptive management methodologies. The strategic assessment approach has the capacity to better align Commonwealth and state processes while achieving ecological sustainability through proper consideration of environmental assets at the landscape scale.
Strategic environmental assessment is evolving worldwide and Australia’s strategic assessment processes under the EPBC Act are leading the field. Unlike almost all other forms of strategic assessment, it allows for individual future developments to proceed without further assessment if they are consistent with the approved policy, plan or program. This provides considerable scope for dealing with environmental issues in a more holistic and proactive way and allows for cumulative impacts to be considered early in planning processes.
In April 2011 the minister endorsed the Midlands Water Scheme, which is a major new irrigation project in Tasmania. This is the second strategic assessment to be endorsed under the EPBC Act.
The Commonwealth is conducting strategic assessments of the Browse Basin liquefied natural gas precinct in Western Australia; the Molonglo and North Weston developments in the Australian Capital Territory; Western Sydney growth centres in New South Wales; the fire management policy in South Australia, and the Mount Peter Master Planned Area in Queensland. A number of additional agreements are also under negotiation.
Preserving the marine environment from pollution
The Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 fulfils Australia’s international obligations under the London Convention and Protocol. In 2010–11, 18 sea dumping permits were issued by the department and five variations to current permits were granted.
The Sea Installations Act 1987 regulates construction and operation of human-made devices, equipment and other installations in the marine environment to ensure they are operated safely and are environmentally sound. No sea installation permits were granted by the department this year, and two sea installation exemption certificates were granted for existing structures.
Permit approvals and wildlife management
The department regulates the import and export of wildlife and wildlife products listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The export of Australian native species is regulated through import and export permits issued under Part 13A of the EPBC Act.
Australia has continued as the Oceania Regional Representative to the CITES Standing Committee and will represent Australian and regional interests at the 61st meeting of the Standing Committee in August 2011.
Under CITES, individual parties may advise on species that are to be added to, or deleted from, Appendix III of the list of CITES species. Several amendments to Appendix III came into effect on 14 October 2010 and 27 April 2011: three butterfly subspecies, six plant species and one bullfrog species were added to the CITES list.
The department developed four cooperative conservation programs to help protect CITES Appendix I listed species, including the black-and-white ruffed lemur. These programs are based on the conservation status and needs of a species, and apply best practice to the management of its husbandry, genetics, biology and behavioural needs. The department issued 125 non-commercial wildlife trade permits to scientists for a range of research purposes, which included importing blue whale DNA from the USA and exporting echidna tissue samples to Canada.
The department completed 22 assessments involving transfers of live animals for exhibition in zoos and aquaria. Through a review process and facility assessments, the department ensures that live animals only go to appropriate zoological institutions. The department completed 38 facility assessments for a wide range of animals, including koalas and southern white rhinoceroses.
Cooperative partnerships with industry groups involved in animal trades play an important role in environment protection. The department has been working in conjunction with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) to improve the process of importing exotic ornamental fish. The department’s aim is to ensure the List of Specimens Taken to be Suitable for Live Import, which it administers, is workable for both AQIS officers and the importers of exotic ornamental fish. This work has included reviewing the appropriateness of the size restrictions on some species of fish. Several representatives from the ornamental fish community have also been involved with the process and the feedback has been very positive from the industry.
As in previous years, the department continued to raise wildlife trade awareness and CITES requirements among the general public and the travel industry. Training was provided to officers in the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, radio and television interviews were conducted, publications were released, and information booths were set up at the Melbourne and Sydney Travel Expos in March 2011. Feedback from the travel exhibitions was positive and indicated an increased understanding of wildlife trade regulations.
The department attended the Australasian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Annual Conference 2011 and participated in a presentation by the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association to inform traders and professionals of obligations under CITES relating to trade in international wildlife products. At this conference, the department also promoted the Endangered Species Certification Scheme. This scheme is a joint initiative between the department and the Association where practitioners and traders certify that their medicines and products do not contain endangered species. Membership of the scheme has continued to grow since its launch in 2008. The department has continued to provide information sessions to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to assist with their enforcement of CITES at Australian borders. Sessions have been held in Darwin, Perth, Canberra and Brisbane and have included both new recruit and in-service training.
As a capacity-building initiative, the department continued to work collaboratively with the New Zealand CITES Management Authority to translate the Pacific CITES awareness brochure into the Bislama language of Vanuatu for their use in raising awareness.
The department worked closely with partner agencies to manage wildlife compliance through sharing intelligence and resources. This included state and territory wildlife counterparts, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police, CITES Management Authorities in other countries, Interpol and some non-government organisations.
Compliance and enforcement
The department has an active compliance and enforcement program. Environmental compliance and enforcement under the EPBC Act is undertaken within the framework of the department’s compliance and enforcement policy (available on the department’s website). It provides clear, transparent advice to regulated entities, stakeholders and the wider community on how the department exercises its compliance and enforcement responsibilities. Overall, the department uses a range of approaches to respond to compliance incidents. These include proactive engagement to encourage voluntary compliance, formal warnings and administrative sanctions, such as suspension or cancellation of approvals and for more serious breaches, civil penalty proceedings or criminal prosecution.
Through the Australasian Environmental Law Enforcement and Regulators Network the department also engages with other environmental regulators, particularly state and territory environmental agencies to share information and undertake joint enforcement operations. The network promotes cross-jurisdictional dialogue and cooperation for environmental law enforcement and supports agencies working together through its sub-committees. The department participated in the network’s secretariat and provided funding for it.
Protection of matters of national environmental significance
- This year 428 new referrals were received. 150 referrals were determined to require formal assessment and approval under the EPBC Act. 103 proposals were approved under the EPBC Act, including three major coal seam gas developments, comprising 13 individual referrals, in south-east Queensland.
The proposed actions were large and complex, involving assessment of impacts on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, listed species and ecological communities, and migratory species and wetlands over a large area of southern Queensland. The projects were approved subject to detailed and stringent conditions for the protection of matters of national environmental significance. The department has allocated additional resources to ensure the conditions are implemented.
- Two projects were refused approval by the minister during 2010–11.
- One strategic assessment under the EPBC Act was completed and approved for an irrigation scheme in the Tasmanian Midlands—the second such assessment under the EPBC Act.
- Based on assessments completed by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, the minister listed 28 new species and two ecological communities as threatened under the EPBC Act.
- Approval was given for three new wildlife trade management plans; three wildlife trade operations (non-fisheries); eight new and one revised artificial propagation programs; four cooperative conservation programs, and three aquaculture programs.
- Seven amendments were made to the live import list under the EPBC Act, including the addition of five previously unlisted species.
- There were 466 new incidents reported to the department which were assessed for compliance. The department also undertook 12 audits and nine post-approval inspections of EPBC approved projects.
- A number of significant investigation-related activities were completed, resulting in four criminal penalties, two enforceable undertakings, three remediation determinations, three infringement notices issued and one injunction.
- The Species Profile and Threats database collates information about listed species and ecological communities. Data added or reviewed included:
- profiles for 153 species were updated
- profiles for 99 species were publicly released
- 57 profiles were reviewed as a high priority to inform EPBC Act environmental assessments.
- The department, in partnership with the relevant state and territory government environment agencies, made substantial investment in the recovery of threatened species and ecological communities through developing and implementing recovery plans. The minister or his delegate approved 82 recovery plans, covering 173 species and one ecological community. Thirty-one recovery plans due for review were completed.
- The department continues to administer provisions of the EPBC Act aimed at protecting migratory and threatened marine species. This has included the review of species recovery plans for great white sharks, grey nurse sharks and whale sharks.
- A species recovery plan is under development for Australian sea lion, and a multispecies recovery plan is being developed for sawfish and glyphis (five species).
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