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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

Supervising Scientist Annual Report 2000-01

Environment Australia, 2001
ISSN 1441-9335

5 Participation in national and international environmental issues

5.1 Introduction

The Supervising Scientist Division provides advice to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, and other parts of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, and contributes to the development of national and international environmental policy on environmental protection and nuclear issues.

5.2 National and international environmental issues

5.2.1 Environmental radiation protection

The Assistant Secretary of the Office of the Supervising Scientist attended and presented a paper at a specialists meeting on the protection of the environment from the effects of ionising radiation, held at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna from 29 August to 1 September 2000. The meeting was attended by over 60 delegates representing 22 IAEA member states and 2 international organisations. The purpose of the meeting was to provide information exchange and discussion on policy, regulatory and research issues associated with environmental radiation protection. The next meeting of this type is planned for late November 2001.

The Office of the Supervising Scientist and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency are jointly organising the Third International Symposium on the Protection of the Environment from Ionising Radiation, to be held in Darwin, 22-26 July 2002. This continues the Supervising Scientist' involvement in this series of symposia, the last of which (held in Canada in 1999) was co-sponsored by the Supervising Scientist.

5.2.2 Visiting Nuclear Ships Panel

The Visiting Nuclear Ships Panel is an interdepartmental committee, chaired by the Royal Australian Navy, that advises the Minister for Defence on policy and technical issues associated with visiting nuclear powered warships. Since oss became a part of the then Department of Environment, Sport and Territories in 1994, an oss officer has represented the Environment Portfolio on the panel. This arrangement was reviewed during the year following the relocation of theoss from Canberra to Darwin in September 1999. As a result, the Environment Assessment and Approvals Branch of the Approval and Legislation Division of Environment Australia has taken responsibility for representing the Environment Portfolio on the panel.

5.2.3 OECD/IAEA joint working party on remediation of uranium mining and milling sites

In April 1999 the Nuclear Energy Agency Uranium Group held the inaugural meeting of the joint Organisation for Economic Cooperative Development (OECD)/International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) working party on the environmental remediation of uranium mining and milling facilities. There was no Australian representative at this first meeting but after consideration oss provided the Australian representative to this working party and attended formal meetings in Paris in October 1999 and April 2000, and Vienna in October 2000. Throughout the whole of this period the group worked to produce a report on the state of the art in environmental remediation of former uranium mining and milling sites. The group included representatives from 22 nations and Australia was a leader in certain specific subject areas and in the overall report compilation. Publication of the final document is anticipated in the second half of 2001; it will include country reports from 22 nations as well as eight chapters setting out a guide to the current best practices in the subject.

The October 2000 meeting in Vienna followed the IAEA International Symposium 'The Uranium Production Cycle and the Environment'. The first Supervising Scientist, Mr Bob Fry, was the president of the symposium and there were nine Australian presentations with four from Environment Australia. The present Supervising Scientist, Dr Arthur Johnston, presented a paper on the environmental and social impact of uranium mining in Australia and sat on an expert panel, with Mr Fry, on community involvement and oversight of uranium production projects. Anotheross staff member chaired a session and sat on a panel, as well as presenting a paper on improving rehabilitation standards to meeting changing community concerns.

5.2.4 Macquarie-Cudgegong River Management Committee

Independent scientific advice on wetland management has been provided to the Macquarie-Cudgegong River Management Committee to assist in the development a river management plan for the Macquarie and Cudgegong Rivers in NSW. Dr Max Finlayson from eriss was appointed to advise the Committee as an independent wetland scientist. The Committee represents stakeholders and governmental agencies throughout the catchment. The river management plan is being developed through a consensus process that is supported by technical expertise from state agencies and others. The planning area encompasses the Macquarie Marshes which are listed as Internationally Important under the Ramsar Wetlands Convention. The marshes support a large number of breeding waterbirds that have been drastically affected by regulation of the natural flows in the river.

5.2.5 Mary River Landcare Group

eriss liaises regularly with the Mary River Landcare Group, an active group of landholders and managers in the Mary River region, on the western boundary of Kakadu National Park.

The Mary River Landcare Group consists of representatives from the pastoral, tourism, conservation, mining and defence operations in the region. eriss is an associate member and attends meetings, which are usually held on a three-monthly basis. eriss aims to support the members by providing information and advice relating to wetland management and research issues, where requested, and to provide feedback on community concerns and interests to eriss scientific staff.

During the past year, eriss staff have provided information about potential funding sources for wetland rehabilitation projects to the group, and supported a new initiative of the group: the organisation of information sessions, covering topics of interest to members. These will expand the scope of meetings and provide a forum for learning and discussion. In addition, eriss recently cooperated with agencies such as Landcare NT and Greening Australia to provide technical support for a wetland revegetation project initiated by the group, which was funded by the Natural Heritage Trust and supported by land owners in the region.

An active member and former coordinator of the Mary River Landcare Group, Mrs Clair O'Brien, also represents the pastoral sector on the Advisory Committee of the National Centre for Tropical Wetland Research (nctwr), further strengthening communication links.

5.2.6 Porgera Environmental Assessment Komiti

The Porgera Environmental Advisory Komiti (PEAK) is an independent advisory group established by the operators of the Porgera Gold Mine in Papua New Guinea to raise awareness and address concerns about the social and environmental impact of this mine, one of the largest in Papua New Guinea. The committee represents key stakeholders, PNG Government, environmental and aid groups and the mine operators Porgera Joint Venture, and includes independent technical experts. It was formed in 1996 to provide a transparent process for advising on Porgera' environmental performance following community concern about long-term impact of the mine' riverine tailings disposal method.

Dr Bob Pidgeon from eriss was nominated to serve on the Committee as a technical advisor by the World Wildlife Fund. During the year, advice and comments were provided on the implementation of many recommendations for improvement of the mine' environmental performance, especially those involving the design of the biological monitoring programme. These recommendations were made in a review of the mine operations in 1996 by CSIRO. Porgera is located in a very remote part of the New Guinea Highlands and the development has had enormous social impacts on the local communities. However, outside the small Porgera River, the environmental impacts on the large Fly-Strickland River system have so far been very slight compared with those of the much larger Ok Tedi Mine. The future focus of PEAK will be on mine closure issues such as minesite rehabilitation and preparing the community for life without a mining company.

5.2.7 Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel

The Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel provides advice to the Ramsar Wetlands Convention. The Panel comprises technical experts from each of the administrative regions recognised by the Convention as well as representatives from international organisations. Dr Max Finlayson is the Oceania delegate. The Panel reviews technical submissions developed in response to resolutions agreed by the contracting parties to the Convention at a triennial conference.
Dr Finlayson has taken the lead on working groups addressing wetland inventory, invasive species, risk assessment and climate change. This draws upon the research being undertaken at eriss and provides a further critique and assessment of the concepts and principles upon which this is based. The Panel will make major presentations on these subjects at the next Conference in 2002. Through a contract with the Ramsar Bureau, a specific paper on wetlands and climate change has been prepared for consideration by the Panel and the Convention.

5.2.8 Wetlands International Board of Directors

Wetlands International is a conservation organisation with decentralised operations around the world. Dr Max Finlayson is a coordinator of a specialist group on Wetland Inventory and Monitoring and through this role represents technical interests on the regional council for Wetlands International (Asia-Pacific) based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Along with Ms Alison Russell-French from Environment Australia, he also attends the global Board of Directors on behalf of the Asia-Pacific region. The Board is currently reconsidering the modus operandi of the organisation and is expected to present major changes to its triennial meeting in late 2001. Links with Wetlands International have been used to support project development in the Asia-Pacific region, with the most current effort being with the Asian Wetland Inventory.

5.2.9 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

This global scale assessment is being planned and undertaken by an international team of biophysical and social scientists. It is supported by the World Bank and United Nations agencies, amongst others, and has received endorsement from the biodiversity related global conventions. Technical reviews are currently being planned and will be supported by regional and local case studies. Dr Max Finlayson has been asked to provide advice on wetland assessment and contribute to the technical design of the programme. The assessment process is loosely modelled on the approach used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

5.2.10 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

With support from the Australian Greenhouse Office, Dr Max Finlayson has contributed information to the Third Assessment Report recently completed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This review process is undertaken every five years by a large number of scientists from around the world. Technical information was supplied to Working Group II that addressed impacts, adaptation and vulnerability of wetlands to climate change. The Third Assessment Report has recently been published. The Australian Greenhouse Office has promoted opportunities for interested parties to discuss the findings with authors and other experts.

5.2.11 Australian and New Zealand Water Quality Guidelines

eriss staff attended two workshops convened by the Australian Centre for Mining Environmental Research (ACMER), one in Hobart (Tas) and another in Yeppoon (Qld). The workshops aimed to provide information to industry representatives on the new Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (2001) and their implementation. In general, industry was very positive about the new Guidelines and regarded the site-specific, risk-based framework as providing users with far more flexibility and options than they had in the past. To assist users further, ACMER is engaging CSIRO and eriss to prepare a handbook that would provide worked examples and case studies on specific mining-related topics relevant to the application of the Guidelines.

The new Guidelines promote the use of biological criteria to assess water quality, including direct toxicity assessment and biological monitoring. In large parts of Australia, including the subtropics and tropics, the necessary expertise and facilities to conduct biological assessments are limited. Given eriss' considerable experience in these areas and in tropical locations, staff are discussing options to build up expertise and facilities to redress these shortcomings with our National Centre for Tropical Wetland Research partners. The new Guidelines were prepared for publication in the 2000-01 period with eriss continuing its coordination and editorial role, and supporting Environment Australia staff in Canberra. The Guidelines are available on the National Water Quality Management Strategy internet site www.ea.gov.au/water/quality/nwqms with printed version and accompanying CD-ROM expected to available in late August (2001).

5.2.12 Riverworks Tasmania

Riverworks Tasmania is an environmental grants programme jointly managed by the Supervising Scientist Division and the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment. Its objective is to carry out remediation works to improve the environment, and where appropriate the general amenity of Tasmanian river systems by removing and reducing sources of pollution. In 1996-99 funding of $8.75 million from the Natural Heritage Trust was used to implement 40 projects. Subsequently, the programme continued to operate at a reduced level to oversee the finalising of projects begun in previous years.

Most projects comprised capital works designed to remove or reduce pollution from point sources, such as abandoned minesites, and discharges of sewage and stormwater. Approximately half the funding was directed to projects on the West Coast associated with the problems of acid drainage from the Mount Lyell minesite and comprised pilot scale treatment plants and engineering assessments to provide data for a feasibility study of a full-scale treatment plant.

In June 2001, an extension of the programme was approved by the Natural Heritage Trust Ministerial Council for a further year of operation in 2001-02, with $2.9 million of funding. In its first phase of operation the programme was restricted to four major river systems, but the extended programme will be able to implement projects in any part of Tasmania.