Department of the Environment

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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2002-03

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2003
ISSN 1441 9335

Management and accountability (continued)

External scrutiny

Judicial decisions

Decisions of courts or tribunals that significantly affected the operation of the Department or which could significantly affect the operation of the Department are listed below.

Humane Society International Inc v Minister for the Environment and Heritage [2003] FCA 64 (12 February 2003)

Both the spectacled and grey-headed flying foxes are listed as threatened species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The Minister issued guidelines to assist fruit farmers to decide whether crop-protection measures needed to be referred. The Commonwealth and states had agreed on a limit on the total numbers of spectacled and grey-headed flying foxes that would be allowed to be killed under state permits. The guidelines reflected the Minister's view that this number could be killed without having a 'significant impact' on the species.

The Court decided that the formulation of a policy about the numbers that can safely be culled and the cooperative agreement with the states were within the objects of the Act. The Minister can form an opinion about actions that will or will not have a significant impact, and communicate that opinion in guidelines. The issuing of such guidelines is not subject to review under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977.

However, the Court considered that a statement in the guidelines, that no referral under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act would be needed if a person killed flying foxes in accordance with a state permit, went further than providing advice. The Court held that this statement amounted to a purported exemption from a person's obligation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to consider the effects of his or her actions and, if necessary, to refer them to the Minister. The Court made a declaration that this statement was not authorised by law, but vacated it after amendment of the guidelines by the Minister.

Auditor-General reports

The following Auditor-General reports were tabled.

Report No. 41: Annual reporting on ecologically sustainable development tabled on 7 May 2003

Australia's National Strategy on Ecologically Sustainable Development was released in 1992. The strategy defines ecologically sustainable development (ESD) as 'using, conserving and enhancing the community's resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased'.

Since 2000, there has been a requirement under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act for Australian Government agencies to report annually on their environmental performance as well as their contribution to ESD.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) conducted this audit to provide an independent assessment of the quality of the first two years of annual reporting on ESD. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is a major new piece of legislation that, among other things, aims to promote ESD. The Government has indicated that it expects Australian Government departments and agencies to show leadership in the processes by which economic, social and environmental goals are integrated. Agencies' annual reports on their environmental performance and contribution to ESD are the key mechanism for determining agencies' progress against the Government's goals.

The audit objective was to examine and report on the quality of Australian Government agencies' annual reports on ESD performance. The audit reviews current practice in light of legal requirements, and provides examples of better practice.

The scope encompassed an examination of the quality of guidance to agencies by the Department, agencies' ESD reporting frameworks, and the quality of their reporting. The ANAO did not audit the accuracy or reliability of ESD information provided by agencies in their 2000-01 and 2001-02 annual reports. The aim was to provide a timely audit report that would assist agencies in improving the quality of their 2002-03 annual reports on ESD.

A survey was conducted across 45 Australian Government departments, agencies and other bodies. In addition, the annual reports of 20 agencies for 2000-01 and 2001-02 were reviewed. Following the survey and review, eight agencies were selected for more detailed examination, which included discussions with relevant officers and an evaluation of the agencies' ESD frameworks.

The audit also involved a review of Australian and international public and private sector ESD reporting, and identification of better practice reporting across the Commonwealth.

The ANAO found that most agencies are still developing appropriate management and reporting frameworks, including performance indicators, for effective performance monitoring and reporting. As a consequence, there is considerable scope for improvement in the quality of agencies' annual reports, especially in relation to complying with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and articulating agencies' contribution to broader ESD outcomes.

The Department has a key role to play in terms of assisting agencies to improve the quality of their ESD reports. Through the Department's web site, it has provided written guidance to agencies on meeting the requirements of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and this guidance is generally well regarded. However, the guidance should be refined and expanded, and the Department can do more to support agencies through the dissemination of practical reporting tools. The Department should also be more proactive in publicising the requirements of the Act, and sharing examples of better practice among agencies.

A challenge for the Department is that, in spite of the Commonwealth's ten-year commitment to ESD, and the more recent requirement for agencies to report annually on their contributions, many agencies are focused solely on the impact of their operations on the natural environment, and are yet to come to terms with the broader implications of ESD and its relevance to their operations. The view that ESD is not relevant to non-environmental agencies' operations is widely held, and will need to be addressed by the Department in moving the Government's ESD agenda forward.

Report No. 36: Referrals, assessments and approvals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 tabled on 10 April 2003

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act came into force in July 2000. The Act is recognised as a major development in the Commonwealth's role in environmental regulation. It gives the Commonwealth greater legislative power to regulate activities that affect the environment at the national level. The objects of the Act are broad and include the protection of matters of national environmental significance, the promotion of ESD, the conservation of biodiversity and cooperative approaches to the protection and management of the environment.

In order to streamline the assessment process, there are mechanisms in the Act that give the states and territories a greater role in both the assessment and approval of actions.

The nature of actions referred under the Act can vary greatly. Projects that have been referred include urban land developments, aquaculture projects, renewable energy generating wind farms and mining projects. The value of referrals also varies. Smaller projects can be valued at less than $100 000 while larger-scale industrial projects have been valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.

The objective of the audit was to examine and report on the quality and timeliness of environmental assessments and approvals under the Act, as well as on the Department's activities to ensure compliance with the Act.

The scope of the audit focused on the role of the Department in administering the Act. For completeness, the ANAO also examined compliance with the Act by the Australian Government, in terms of whether agencies were aware of the Act's requirements and were referring relevant actions to the Minister for a decision.

The ANAO concluded that the referral, assessment and approval processes under the Act are generally thorough and well documented. They are also improving as more experience is gained with the operation of the legislation. The Department has established and implemented rigorous processes that provide an assurance that the matters required to be considered under the Act are taken into account in a comprehensive manner.

The ANAO was satisfied that in the overwhelming majority of cases examined, the reasons for decisions by the Minister or delegate were documented and were consistent with the Prime Minister's Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility and the principles of administrative law. In those 22 cases of referrals where the former Minister took a different view from his Department as to whether the Act was triggered, the majority of examples were well documented and provided an explanation as to the reasons for decisions. However, in four cases the reasons for decision did not clearly show how the specific provisions of the Act were taken into account. Better documentation in these cases would have provided greater transparency and placed the Department in a better position to consider the issues raised in future cases.

Departmental staff have been active in assisting organisations undertaking an action to determine whether their action is likely to have a 'significant impact' and would need approval under the Act. However, over the first two years of the Act's operation the vast majority of referrals (some 71 per cent) were determined not to be 'controlled actions'. At the same time, relatively few referrals have been made from some industries such as agriculture, or from Australian Government agencies. More specific guidance and promotion of the Act in relation to what constitutes a 'significant impact', especially within industry sectors or regions, would assist in encouraging relevant referrals from key industry groups. This is important in terms of protecting those environmental matters of national significance, as well as providing a higher degree of certainty and lower costs for industry. Drawing attention to specific responsibilities of Australian Government agencies under the Act would also assist in this area.

The timeliness of decision-making is generally in accordance with the time frames specified in the Act. The timeliness of decision-making in 2001-02 was an improvement on that of the previous year with more than 90 per cent of the statutory decisions made on time.

Finalising compliance and enforcement guidelines and strengthening compliance networks with other levels of government and non-government organisations, together with a more timely and effective approach to potential breaches of the Act, would assist in enhancing compliance and enforcement action.

Greater attention to publicly reporting emerging trends and changes over time would strengthen the quality of reporting and provide a better overall picture of achievements and outstanding challenges in relation to protecting the environment and conserving biodiversity on a national scale.

Report No. 24: Energy efficiency in Commonwealth operations - follow up audit tabled 20 December 2002

In 1999, the ANAO conducted a performance audit entitled Energy Efficiency in Commonwealth Operations. That audit made seven recommendations. The purpose of this performance audit was to assess agencies' progress in implementing the recommendations of the earlier audit report. In conducting this follow-up audit, the ANAO took account of recent changes in Australian Government property management.

The objectives of the audit were to:

Fieldwork was conducted in the agencies involved in the earlier audit, namely: the Australian Greenhouse Office; Attorney-General's Department; Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; Department of Defence; Department of Health and Ageing; Department of Finance and Administration; Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources; Department of the Environment and Heritage; Department of the Treasury; and Department of Veterans' Affairs.

The ANAO concluded that, overall, agencies involved in this follow-up audit have made satisfactory progress in implementing the recommendations of Report No. 47 of 1998-99. In general, agencies in this follow-up audit have pursued the intent of those recommendations: publishing a clear indication of how they will achieve the energy policy objectives; adopting a strategic and planned approach to introducing energy efficiency initiatives; and demonstrating a willingness to report on agency achievements in relation to energy use and the outcomes of energy efficiency initiatives.

Parliamentary Committee reports

The following Parliamentary Committee report was tabled:

Comments by the Ombudsman

No formal reports were made.