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Publications archive - Annual reports

Disclaimer

Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Environment Australia Annual Report 2000-01

Environment Australia, 2001
ISSN 1441-9335

THEME: Assessments and approvals

Conduct environmental assessments and grant approvals

Environmental assessments and appropriate approvals ensure that development activities are planned and implemented in accord with the principles of ecologically sustainable development and do not impinge on the environment, particularly those aspects that are matters of national environmental significance, in a way that would be unacceptable to the community. Research contributes significantly to the assessment process as well as helping to determine whether approvals should be granted and, if so, under what conditions.

PROGRAMMES THAT PROTECT AND CONSERVE THE ENVIRONMENT

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Objective

To meet requirements under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by administering referrals, assessments and approvals in an effective, timely and professional manner.

Result

Operation of the Act

The Act came into force on 16 July 2000. It brought about a major change in the Commonwealth's role in environmental assessment and approvals. Among other things, the Act focuses Commonwealth environmental assessments and approvals on matters of national environmental significance and gives the Environment Minister an approval power. Environment Australia is responsible for administering assessments and approvals under the Act. It is also responsible for advising the Minister on decisions about assessments and approvals.

The environmental assessment and approvals process has three stages: referral, assessment, and approval.

Referral

In the referral stage, proponents submit specified information about their proposed action. The Minister then decides whether the action requires approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. With limited exceptions, actions that are likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance require approval. Actions taken by the Commonwealth or on Commonwealth land or affecting Commonwealth land also require approval if they are likely to have a significant impact on the environment.

Assessment

In the assessment stage, the relevant environmental impacts of the action are assessed. Environment Australia may carry out assessments, or the Commonwealth may accredit a State or Territory assessment process.

Approval

In the approval stage, the Minister decides whether to approve the action and, if so, what conditions to apply. In making a decision, the Minister must consider social and economic matters and seek the views of other relevant Commonwealth ministers.

Compliance and enforcement programme

Environment Australia also has a compliance and enforcement programme. It aims to maximise compliance with the assessment and approvals requirements of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Compliance and enforcement activities focus on helping people comply with the provisions of the Act by providing information and technical support. In particular, an interactive internet site has been developed. An equally important activity is the investigation of possible breaches of the Act along with appropriate enforcement action.

Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974

A number of projects are still being assessed under the repealed Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974. The transitional provisions for the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act provide that assessments begun under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act may continue, provided they are completed by 16 July 2002.

DEPARTMENTAL OUTPUTS THAT SUPPORT THESE PROGRAMMES

Output group 1.1 - Policy advice and accountability

Domestic | International | State of the environment | Corporate reform.

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

Environment Australia has put in place the necessary administrative arrangements to ensure that advice on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is effective, timely, professional and complete. These arrangements will continue to be refined as experience is gained with the operation of the Act. Nearly all advice is being provided in a manner that enables the statutory timeframes in the Act to be met. Many decisions have been made earlier than required.

Systems have been put in place that enable stakeholders to provide input into the decision-making processes. To promote efficient referrals, Environment Australia has provided relevant forms on the internet, an online interview capacity, administrative guidelines on significance and an interactive map with information about the matters protected by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

These support tools assist both potential proponents and people wishing to provide comments. The tools received a Gold Award in the 14th Government Technology Productivity Awards in March 2001. They also received an information technology industry award and have been promoted internationally as best practice.

Arrangements have been established to take into account the views of stakeholders and relevant State, Territory and Commonwealth ministers while developing advice on the assessment and approvals parts of the process.

A comprehensive Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act information kit was developed and distributed to relevant individuals and organisations. A total of 45 presentations have been made to groups including industry, local and state government, non-government organisations, environmental lawyers and interested members of the public.

Output group 1.7 - Assessments and research

Science | Impact assessments.

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

Environment Australia received 294 referrals under this Act. The Minister decided that 73 of these were controlled actions and that 190 were not controlled actions (a controlled action is an action that requires approval under the Act). Of these decisions, 82 per cent were made within the statutory timeframe. As of 30 June 2001 decisions were still pending for 29 referrals.

Assessment of controlled actions begins when the proponent provides preliminary information. On the basis of this information, the Minister decides what assessment approach must be used for the action.

As of 30 June 2001, preliminary information had been received for 44 controlled actions. Of these, it was decided that 23 must be assessed on the basis of preliminary documentation, three by public environment reports, six by environment impact statement and seven by an accredited State or Territory process. A decision on assessment approach was still pending for six controlled actions as at 30 June 2001. Most (82 per cent) decisions on the assessment approach were made within the statutory timeframe.

Environment Australia completed 13 assessments. All but one of these assessments were completed within the statutory timeframe.
Eight projects were approved. Of these, six were approved within the statutory timeframe.

A key aspect of streamlining the assessment process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is the development of assessment bilateral agreements with the States and Territories. Where a project is assessed under an assessment bilateral agreement, no Commonwealth assessment is required. An assessment bilateral agreement is in place between the Commonwealth and Tasmanian Governments with two projects currently being assessed under the agreement. The development of bilateral agreements is well advanced with a number of other States and Territories.

Section 160 of the Act provides that Commonwealth decision-makers must seek the Environment Minister's advice on the environmental impacts of certain actions before deciding whether to authorise them. These impacts must be assessed using the procedures set out in the Act. Three requests for advice were received and all were assessed on the basis of preliminary documentation.

Compliance

Environment Australia has taken a number of steps to promote compliance with the assessment and approval requirements of the Act. The Environment Australia website incorporates a range of decision support tools, including an interactive map and interview, to help people decide whether actions should be referred under the Act.

A Compliance and Enforcement Section has been established to undertake investigations into potential breaches of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Since the commencement of the Act the section has received over 100 reports of possible breaches. Of these, nearly 50 per cent required detailed further investigation to determine if the provisions of the Act had been breached. As a result of these investigations several actions have been referred for approval. It has not been necessary for Environment Australia to initiate legal proceedings on any of the matters investigated.

Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act

A total of 83 projects continued to be assessed under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act, in accordance with the transitional provisions for the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Four assessments were completed, and in 15 cases the Minister determined that neither an environment impact statement or a public environment report was required.

Of the remaining projects, eight are being assessed by environment impact statement, and seven by public environment report. The Minister determined that 15 projects did not require either an environment impact statement or a public environment report.

Trial of Precision Runway Monitor

Introduction of the precision runway monitor for approaches to Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport from the North. Airservices Australia was designated as proponent on 14 October 1999. The Minister directed an inquiry under section 11 of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act on 17 January 2000.

The inquiry was completed in April 2000. A trial of the precision runway monitor was directed on 10 May 2000 and completed in April 2001.

Telecommunications Act 1997

One hundred and ninety four proposals were received for environmental advice under the Telecommunications Act 1997 during 2000-2001 and 183 pieces of environmental advice were provided during this period. At 30 June 2001, there were three active requests for advice.

ACTIVITIES AND THE ADMINISTRATION OF LEGISLATION THAT ACCORD WITH THE PRINCIPLES OF ECOLOGICALLY SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

The objectives of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act include to promote ecologically sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources.

Approval of actions

Certain actions require approval from the Minister under the Act. In making decisions about whether to approve such actions, the Minister must consider social and economic matters as well as the relevant environmental impacts of the action. The Minister must take the principles of ecologically sustainable development into account when considering economic, social and relevant environmental matters.

Permits

The Act protects listed species and communities in Commonwealth areas and includes a permit system to regulate interactions with these species and communities. This legislation accords with the principles of ecologically sustainable development by conserving biodiversity and ecological integrity.

Commercial use

The Director of National Parks manages Commonwealth Reserves, established and regulated under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Commonwealth Reserves are created primarily to conserve biodiversity and ecological integrity. However, commercial uses of Commonwealth Reserves are allowed where such uses are not inconsistent with conserving biodiversity and ecological integrity. Management of Commonwealth Reserves thus accords with the principles of ecologically sustainable development.

Fisheries

Strategic assessments of Commonwealth managed fisheries are being carried out under the Act. These assessments will ensure that the fisheries are managed in an ecologically sustainable manner.

The precautionary principle

This is one of the principles of ecologically sustainable development. It must be taken into account in making a wide range of decisions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act