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Publications archive - Annual reports

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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

The Secretary's review of Environment Australia's achievements

In October 2000 Senator Robert Hill, Australia's longest-serving national Environment Minister, observed during his speech entitled A New Environment in the Australian Public Service that:

The environment portfolio has been largely transformed... to a professional, integrated operation capable of providing the level of advice required to meet the Government's objectives.

This comment reflected on changes since 1996. The year 2000-01 saw a very strong contribution by the Department to policy development, as well as the administration of its legislation and programmes, and the delivery of services to the public. I am confident that the Department is now well-placed to serve future governments equally effectively.

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which came into effect on 16 July 2000, provides a comprehensive framework for the protection of matters of national environmental significance for the first time in Australia's history. During the year the Act was further strengthened with the passage of new wildlife protection arrangements and new provisions clarifying compliance issues. Further improvements were foreshadowed through the introduction into Parliament of Bills to create a new heritage regime and an inquiry into the control of access to biological resources in Commonwealth areas.

The first bilateral agreement under the Act was signed with Tasmania in December 2000, accrediting appropriate parts of the State system for environmental assessment. The agreement will contribute to the basic objectives of the Act while reducing the duplication of government processes.

Ecologically sustainable development

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act includes ecologically sustainable development principles as a core concept. Section 516A of the Act requires all Commonwealth Government agencies to include in their annual reports an account of their environmental performance and the impact of their policies and operations on ecologically sustainable development.

The promotion of, and compliance with, ecologically sustainable development principles is fundamental to the work of the Department. These principles are integral to the policies and programmes we administer and our operations.

Taking a broad policy view, many of the Department's activities have a direct impact on the achievement of ecologically sustainable development outcomes. Our initiatives to promote the sustainable management of land, water and oceans maintain economic productivity and the viability of communities as well as environmental health. Activities that promote more efficient use of materials and reduced pollution and waste can increase economic efficiency and improve human health as well as protecting the environment.

Commonwealth agencies are being encouraged to develop and implement environment management systems. Environment Australia is already setting the pace. We have reduced our light and power consumption by 13 per cent. Through energy reduction initiatives, we are currently 44 per cent below the Commonwealth energy target. In three years the Department, as a participant in the Greenhouse Challenge Programme, has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20 per cent, or 458 tonnes, by reducing demand and purchasing Green power. Lower energy consumption has also reduced costs. A drop of around 12 per cent in overall energy consumption at Australia's Antarctic stations was achieved through the introduction of a computerised system to control heating, ventilation and lighting.

The Natural Heritage Trust

For the past six years the Natural Heritage Trust has provided tangible recognition that natural capital is as important to the nation as economic assets. The Trust has successfully created a framework to raise the level of investment in the natural environment.

In 2000-01 the investment by the Natural Heritage Trust was $285 million. More than 300 000 people have been involved in 10 400 projects since the inception of the Trust. The success of the Trust was recognised in the 2001-02 federal Budget with the announcement that funding would be extended with a further allocation of $1 billion.

The Green Games

The Sydney Olympic and Paralympic Games in September 2000 were recognised as the greenest ever. The Australian message that business efficiency and environmental protection can coexist was transmitted to a global audience. Events organised by Environment Australia showcased environmental and renewable energy technologies.

Environmental themes

During the year we made further progress in aligning our budget and workforce strategies to the achievement of the business objectives of the organisation. A new reporting structure was developed and a new organisational structure implemented to more closely align with the outcome-output structure.

Eleven themes are now reflected in budget allocations, annual reporting of outcomes and the state of the environment reporting format. These themes are: biodiversity, land, inland waters, coasts and oceans, national parks and reserves, natural and cultural heritage, atmosphere, industry, environmental assessments and approvals, Antarctica and meteorology.

Biodiversity

Conserving Australia's unique flora and fauna is one of the Government's highest environmental priorities. Environment Australia has pursued goals that include the sustainable management of native vegetation, improving conservation of protected areas, recovering threatened species, combating invasive non-native species, and further identifying and classifying plants and animals.

Passed in June 2001, the wildlife protection amendment was the final stage of integration of Commonwealth biological diversity legislation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This gives Australia one of the strictest wildlife trade laws in the world.

In the same month the Commonwealth and five State and Territory Governments set national objectives and targets for biodiversity conservation for the next five years. For the first time there are agreed targets for native vegetation, freshwater ecosystems, marine and estuarine ecosystems, invasive species, dryland salinity, grazing and climate change.

Protection of 21 species of albatross and seven species of petrel was enhanced when Australia, Brazil, Chile, France, Peru, the United Kingdom and New Zealand agreed to cooperate under the Bonn Convention to protect these migratory seabirds. The Department took the lead in securing the agreement.
Land

Reversing the trend of more than a century of excessive land clearing, water extraction and poor soil conservation is a major but essential undertaking. For example, spreading dryland salinity is a major threat to biodiversity in many parts of Australia.

A major success that indicated what can be achieved from Commonwealth-State cooperation was the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality announced by the Prime Minister on 10 October 2000. Environment Australia participated in the Prime Minister's task force on salinity which contributed to the proposal he put to the States. The $1.4 billion plan, funded equally by the Commonwealth and the States, is being implemented jointly by Environment Australia and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Australia.

Inland waters

Water is vital for a healthy environment. The major national task is to integrate water allocation for primary industries and human use, and the management of floods to reduce threats to life and property, with the needs of the environment. The volume and timing of flows required to maintain and restore healthy rivers and wetlands often conflicts with the apparent requirements of agriculture and settlements. The consequences of loss of river health - salinity, algal blooms and so on - are, however, damaging to production and settlements in the long run.

There is a need for a clearer definition of water property rights and a better capacity to allocate and manage environmental flows. This is particularly important for river systems such as the Murray-Darling where there is a very high level of extraction and regulation of the rivers' flow. It can only be achieved with the cooperation of Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments. As an example, the Commonwealth signed the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement in October 2000 to provide for the sustainable management of water and water-related natural resources associated with the major cross-border river systems in the Lake Eyre Basin - the Cooper Creek and Georgina-Diamantina. Commonwealth legislation gave effect to the agreement in May 2001 with the enactment of the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement Act 2001.

The release of the National Water Quality Management Strategy's Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality and the Australian Guidelines for Water Quality Monitoring and Reporting have provided for the identification of environmental values of water. These guidelines have established water quality targets to protect these values, which are consistent with the evolving National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality and Natural Heritage Trust delivery frameworks.

Under the Ramsar Convention an additional three new wetland sites, Becher Point Wetlands, Lake Gore and Muir-Byenup, all in Western Australia, were nominated to the List of Wetlands of International Importance. There were also extensions to four sites: the Ord River Floodplain, Lake Toolibin, Vasse-Wonnerup and Peel-Yalgorup in Western Australia.

Coasts and oceans

The conservation and sustainable management of coasts and oceans is only possible with national and international cooperation. Australia's marine environment is twice as large as its land area and there are no convenient boundaries to mark the transition of responsibilities between States and between countries.

Australia's Oceans Policy provides a framework to reconcile cross-sectoral management and legislative issues. The National Oceans Office, which has the principal task of implementing the policy, is up and running in Hobart.

The Government remains committed to ending commercial whaling. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, Australian waters were declared as the Australian Whale Sanctuary. Departmental officers worked with nations within the region to ensure that the whale sanctuaries in the Indian and Southern Oceans were effective. Australia gained the support of the principal environmental bodies of the region - the South Pacific Regional Environment Program and the Pacific Island Leaders Forum - for the joint proposal with New Zealand for a South Pacific whale sanctuary.

Significant changes to the administration of the international agreements covering marine pollution caused by the dumping of wastes, ratified by Australia in December 2000, has led to greater industry certainty through longer-term permits for port authorities whilst maintaining sound environmental outcomes.

In the interests of both the environment and the fishing industry, environment assessments began of Commonwealth fisheries at Heard Island and McDonald Islands, where the Patagonian toothfish is the main catch, and in Bass Strait central zone, where there had been a sharp decline in scallop catches. The assessments address impacts on target species and broader impacts on the whole ecosystem. Assessment of the environmental impact of State-managed export fisheries also started with the release for public comment of assessment reports on the Tasmanian rock lobster and Tasmanian abalone fisheries.

Countries in the Indian Ocean and South-east Asia have agreed to reverse the decline of six species of marine turtles throughout the region. Eight countries immediately signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-east Asia. The understanding has a potential membership of 40 countries. The agreement will come into effect on 1 September 2001.

National parks and reserves

The Department, through the Natural Heritage Trust, made strategic additions to the National Reserve System. During the year 20 000 square kilometres were added, including 8000 square kilometres under the Indigenous Protected Areas Programme.

To date 14 indigenous protected areas have been declared adding 30 000 square kilometres to the National Reserve System. The programme, which is based on recognition of indigenous ecological knowledge and the benefits of customary management for biological diversity, has stimulated international interest.

Departmental staff also supported the Director of National Parks in the management of Australia's internationally renowned national parks at Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta as well as other land and marine reserves.

Heritage

Environment Australia supports the identification, protection and management of Australia's World Heritage areas, of which there are now 14. In November 2000 at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Cairns, the 10 000 square kilometre Greater Blue Mountains area was inscribed on the World Heritage List. The area includes seven national parks - Blue Mountains, Wollemi, Yengo, Nattai, Kanangra-Boyd, Gardens of Stone and Thirlmere Lakes - along with Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve.

Legislation was enacted in March 2001 that will see the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust rehabilitate five former defence sites on the harbour foreshores at North Head, Middle Head, Georges Heights, Woolwich and Cockatoo Island.

We have carried forward the Government's reform agenda on national heritage. The legislation before Parliament aims to create, for the first time, a framework for the identification and protection of places of national heritage significance, complementing Australia's 14 World Heritage properties.

Atmosphere

Environment Australia has made a major effort to support the Government's aim of world best practice in dealing with the threat air pollution poses to our health. We have programmes addressing residential and industrial emissions but have concentrated on the transport sector as the most significant contributor to urban air pollution.

The Commonwealth Government enacted the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 in December 2000 and, for the first time, Australia now has national fuel quality standards for petrol and diesel. These standards will facilitate the introduction of new vehicles with tighter emission controls in the next several years, and result in significant reductions in particle and smog-forming emissions. Leaded petrol is being progressively phased out, with a complete ban from 1 January 2002. Working jointly with other Commonwealth and State authorities, Environment Australia has undertaken extensive work to underpin new diesel vehicle emission standards, including a National Environment Protection Measure on in-service emissions, and the effective implementation of the Government's allocation of $40 million over four years to support in-service emission testing capabilities.

As a result of these initiatives important dimensions of air quality in many of our major airsheds is forecast to improve in absolute terms over the next 15 years.
Other air quality work has focused on managing wood heater emissions and toxic chemicals in the air, and monitoring and managing fine particle pollution.

Industry

For some years, the Department has been working in partnership with Australian industry to protect the environment, through a mix of voluntary and regulatory actions. The Business of Sustainable Development programme has a range of programmes aimed at accelerating the move of Australian industry towards sustainability. This year, 12 voluntary eco-efficiency agreements were negotiated with industry associations covering more than 300 000 businesses.

An industry waste reduction agreement with the newsprint industry saw the level of recovered newsprint reach 70 per cent. Under the WasteWise Construction Programme, participating industry partners have diverted up to 90 per cent of demolition waste from landfill.

A major milestone for the Department this year was the completion of the new Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants which Australia signed in May 2001. The convention bans or phases out the production and use of 12 dangerous organic chemicals which contaminate the environment and affect human health.

Major advances were made in addressing the improper disposal and management of industrial and chemical wastes. More than 600 tonnes of abandoned farm chemicals have been collected under the ChemCollect program, and the Government passed the Product Stewardship (Waste Oil) Act 2001 which will minimise the adverse environmental impacts and risks to human health that result from inappropriate disposal of more than 100 million litres of waste oil each year.

There is still considerable potential in this area and the Government has indicated that continuing to work with industry to improve its environmental performance is a priority. The focus for our work in future will include the finance, building and construction sectors, agricultural chemicals and gene technology, and promoting sustainable development through mechanisms such as eco-efficiency agreements and product stewardship.

The World Heritage Committee, at its meeting in Cairns in December 2000, concluded that the currently approved proposal for the mine and mill at Jabiluka does not threaten the health of people or the biological and ecological systems of Kakadu National Park. This conclusion was based upon an extensive review by an international independent science panel of a report from the Supervising Scientist to the Committee.

Assessments and approvals

The role of the Department in undertaking environmental impact assessments was strengthened. Under the assessment and approval provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, actions that are likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance are subject to a rigorous assessment and approval process. In its first year of operation, 294 referrals were made under the Act.

Meteorology

The Bureau of Meteorology continued its efficient operation of the full-range of observation, communication and data processing infrastructure that underpins its services, research and international outcomes.

A high level of community satisfaction was achieved for the Bureau's weather, climate and hydrological services across Australia.

One highlight was the weather support services for the 2000 Olympic Games and Paralympics in Sydney. The acclaimed service addressed the specialised needs of competitors, officials and spectators.

The introduction to the Bureau's website during the year of weather radar images and short sequence loops from 42 radars around Australia led to a significant increase in public access to important real-time weather information.

Two new volumes of the Climatic Atlas of Australia were issued.

An international forecast demonstration project of the World Weather Research Programme was successfully conducted in Sydney, from September to November 2000, involving nowcasting (very short-range forecasting) systems from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Scientists from the Bureau contributed to the preparation of the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The Bureau continued to participate strongly in international cooperation in meteorology, hydrology and oceanography, especially through its leadership of several subsidiary bodies of the World Meteorological Organization.

Antarctica

The Australian Antarctic Division's summer research programme on subantarctic Heard Island found long-term physical and biological changes on the island which may indicate wider-scale changes to global systems. The programme revealed that Brown Glacier has retreated by 1.1 kilometres since 1947, that many plant species have increased their range over the past decade, and that sea bird numbers are increasing, including the endangered Heard Island shag.

The Australian Antarctic Division also conducted an extensive clean-up of the abandoned Atlas Cove site on Heard Island, removing over 25 tonnes of building debris and waste.

Australia was successful at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources meeting in having refinement measures adopted under the commission's Catch Documentation Scheme to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing of Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Ocean.

The year saw the successful deployment on the Antarctic continent of a Lidar instrument to provide a more accurate measure of critical changes in the earth's middle atmosphere. The Lidar, installed at Davis station, uses laser light to gather data on the changing characteristics of the atmosphere around 100 kilometres above the earth's surface.

Bids to provide an Antarctic air transport system for the Australian Antarctic Programme are expected to be sought in the first half of 2001-02. Work will continue on a risk assessment, a cost-benefit analysis and environmental assessments.

Support activities

The Department continued to seek ways to build its capacity and manage more efficiently. As a key initiative we have continued our commitment to achieving the Investors in People standard, the internationally recognised quality standard for improving the organisation's performance.

The Department has made improvements in accountability and internal governance. These include an improved output reporting structure and associated performance indicators, introduction of a new risk assessment strategy and continuation of a comprehensive programme of market testing.

The risk assessment strategy promotes a better focus on areas of major risk and structured risk management planning. Risk management has been improved and formalised through the formation of a departmental risk assessment panel and the deployment of a new self-assessment tool. This will help assess strategic risks and help managers develop effective strategies for managing risk.

A comprehensive market testing programme has progressed well, with decisions to be made on audit, legal services and the remaining services groups, including human resources and financial services, early in 2001-02. The programme has already produced efficiency improvements.

The outcome-output structures for the Department have been revised and aligned with the organisational structure. This has been complemented by a new set of performance indicators and systems to assess performance more regularly.

In July 2000 the Minister launched Environmental Education for A Sustainable Future: A National Action Plan. A key element of this first national strategy on environmental education was the formation of the National Environmental Education Council.

Australia's celebrations of World Environment Day on 5 June 2001 included the Prime Minister's Environmentalist of the Year Award. This was presented to Professor Peter Cullen, eminent scientist and advocate of sustainable resource management.

Major communication campaigns held during the year included promotion of the Natural Heritage Trust and its programmes, National Threatened Species Day, Biodiversity Month and Logs Have Life Inside.

The second Environment Australia Certified Agreement, for the period 2000-2002, was certified in August 2000. A new performance and development scheme provides for individual performance agreements, development plans and performance assessments. An integral part of the staff development process was the introduction of 360-degree feedback to better inform individual development needs.

In line with government workplace relations policy for the Australian Public Service, Environment Australia offered Australian Workplace Agreements to executive-level staff.

Conclusion

I believe that Environment Australia has accomplished effective environmental outcomes in a way that accords with whole-of-government policy. None of this would have been possible without the guidance of the Minister, the dedicated hard work of departmental staff and the commitment of the community at large to the Australian environment.

Roger Beale
Secretary
Department of the Environment and Heritage