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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2002-03

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2003
ISSN 1441 9335

Review of performance - outcome one: Environment (continued)

Inland waters

Protect and restore the environmental values of Australia's inland waters

The Department implements national programs to promote, support and implement conservation and ecologically sustainable use of Australia's inland waters.

In 2002-03 the Department undertook the following activities and programs:

Policy, Technical and Scientific Advice

(Departmental output 1.7)

Objective

To ensure policy, technical and scientific advice is accepted by relevant bodies such as the Ministerial councils responsible for implementing the National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality, the National Water Quality Management Strategy and the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement; Council of Australian Governments; National Competition Council; and Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum.

Result
Murray-Darling Basin agreement

The Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, to which the Commonwealth is a signatory, provides the institutional framework for the sustainable use and management of the Basin's resources. The agreement establishes a council which comprises the ministers responsible for the land, water and environment portfolios in the governments of the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria, SA, Queensland and the ACT.

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission is the executive and operational arm of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council and comprises senior representatives of relevant government agencies that have responsibilities within the Basin, including the Department.

The Department provides technical and policy advice to the Minister and supports the Department's commissioner and deputy commissioner on the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. The Department works closely with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to provide a whole-of-government position for the Commonwealth at meetings of the commission and the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council. Comprehensive briefings were provided for ten commission meetings and two ministerial council meetings.

Key issues currently being addressed include the integrated catchment management strategy, environmental flows, water policy, and riverine ecosystems.

Council of Australian Governments

During 2002-03, the Department collaborated with Commonwealth, state and territory agencies to provide strategic impetus for water reform beyond the current water reform framework. The Department was represented on the officials working group that developed a report on opportunities and impediments to better define and implement water property regimes. The report was initiated by the Council of Australian Governments as part of a substantial policy process addressing concerns about property rights in water. The national principles on water allocation and entitlements developed by the officials working group are broadly consistent with the 1995 National Competition Policy Agreement and were the subject of a consultation process with key stakeholders in early 2003. The Department also collaborated with other Australian Government agencies to prepare a paper outlining Commonwealth principles for achieving sustainable water management.

The Department has worked to progress the Council of Australian Governments water reforms through the Australian Government's key programs for natural resource management: the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, and the extension of the Natural Heritage Trust. Bilateral agreements between the Commonwealth and the states and territories reaffirm the commitment of those states to continue to implement the water reforms. The Department, together with other Australian Government agencies, has been assisting regional communities to develop integrated natural resource management plans, based upon analysis of natural resource problems and priorities at the catchment/regional scale. Priorities identified in these plans may include projects that will further progress the implementation of water reforms.

The Department also continued to support the implementation of the Council of Australian Governments Water Reform Framework through its participation in a number of high level forums including the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council and the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, which have contributed invaluably to progressing implementation of the water reforms, most notably through their work on water trade and environmental flows.

During 2002, a departmental officer was seconded to the National Competition Council to assist in the preparation of the fourth tranche assessment of progress in implementing the water reforms. The Department also assisted the National Competition Council's development of the assessment framework for 2003.

The Department was represented on the Water Taskforce hosted by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This group was tasked with supporting Council of Australian Government senior officials to further the national water reform process.

Several parliamentary committee inquiries into water resource matters were undertaken during 2002-03, and the Department contributed to these inquiries through submissions and attendance at public hearings.

Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum

The Department continued to work in partnership with the Queensland and South Australian governments and the Lake Eyre Basin community to implement the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement. In addition to providing secretariat support to the Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum and its scientific advisory panel, the Department contributed to implementing a range of tasks under the agreement. Key tasks included development of policies and strategies, the Lake Eyre Basin Rivers Assessment project, arrangements for reconstituting the Lake Eyre Basin Community Advisory Committee and recruitment of a facilitator for the committee. The Department organised the Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum Conference held in Birdsville in October 2002 as part of the second meeting of the Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum.

National Water Quality Management Strategy

(Departmental output 1.7)

Objective

To implement the principles, processes and water quality guidelines of the National Water Quality Management Strategy.

Result

The National Water Quality Management Strategy was introduced in 1992 as a response to growing community concern about the condition of Australia's water bodies and the need to manage them in an environmentally sustainable manner. The strategy aims to achieve sustainable use of the nation's water resources by protecting and enhancing their quality while maintaining economic and social development.

The strategy provides policies, a process for water quality management, and a set of national guidelines that cover issues across the whole of the water cycle.

Guidelines development

The following guidelines were submitted for clearance by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council. The revised Document 6 was also submitted to the National Health and Medical Research Council for clearance.

Future directions

Submission of these three documents to the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council marked the completion of the first phase of the National Water Quality Management Strategy, with 21 documents completed and some revised.

Under the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, the National Water Quality Management Strategy Contact Group (comprising Commonwealth, state and territory representatives) has been responsible for developing the strategy. A review of the terms of reference and future work plan of the contact group has commenced. The Department and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry are coordinating the review, which is expected to be completed in the first half of 2003-04, and will report to the Ministerial Council's Land, Water and Biodiversity Committee. Implementation of the National Water Quality Management Strategy is expected to be a major feature of the future work plan.

Implementation tools

Water Quality Targets: A Handbook and Water Quality Targets: Online (http://www.deh.gov.au/water/quality/targets/index.php) were released by the Department to facilitate setting water quality targets, based on the National Water Quality Management Strategy Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (2000) (Document 4). A limited range of parameters, such as nutrients, turbidity and salinity is covered for inclusion in regional plans in accordance with the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the extension of the Natural Heritage Trust.

Work commenced on an online expert database to facilitate use of the National Water Quality Management Strategy Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (2000) (Document 4). This database will cover all parameters listed in Document 4, not just the limited range in Water Quality Targets: A Handbook and Water Quality Targets: Online. The completed database is expected to be available in 2003-04.

The Department provided significant advice on National Water Quality Management Strategy issues such as selection of water quality indicators and approaches to monitoring and reporting, for the National Natural Resource Management Monitoring and Evaluation Framework.

Protection of migratory waterbirds

(Departmental output 1.7)

Objective
To ensure the protection of migratory waterbirds is enhanced in Australia.
Result

Australia enhanced its efforts to protect migratory waterbirds and their habitat both nationally and internationally in 2002-03.

The Australian Government provided financial support of $610 000 to the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia to coordinate national efforts for the conservation of important shorebird sites in Australia.

Australia continued its leadership role internationally with Wetlands International to protect migratory shorebirds. Wetlands International is the world's leading wetland conservation organisation and its Oceania office is hosted by the Department. With support from the Australian Government, Wetlands International have included the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore in the East Asian-Australian Shorebird Site Network, bringing the number of sites in the network to 32. Nomination of further sites in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and Victoria progressed.

The Australian Government has supported coordination and implementation of the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy and its associated Action Plan for the Conservation of Migratory Shorebirds in the East Asian - Australasian Flyway. Activities were conducted across the region to progress the objectives of the strategy, particularly in the areas of capacity building and awareness raising.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Australia, Japan and Wetlands International co-sponsored a partnership initiative on migratory birds designed to progress the cooperative activities established under the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy. The partnership initiative focuses on recognition and effective management of habitat for migratory birds with the aim of building site networks which include at least 25 per cent of known internationally important sites across the East Asian - Australasian Flyway. Australia, Japan and Wetlands International, as initiating partners, are seeking involvement by the governments of countries, intergovernmental organisations and the key non-government organisations concerned with migratory bird conservation in the flyway.

Australia and the Republic of Korea have substantially agreed the content of a bilateral agreement on migratory birds and expect to have the agreement formalised by both countries in late 2003.

Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR, Iran 1971)

(Departmental output 1.7)

Objective
To ensure the protection of wetlands is enhanced in Australia.
Result

In November 2002 an Australian delegation attended the 8th Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention in Valencia, Spain. Australia sponsored or co-sponsored three resolutions, relating to small island developing states in the Oceania region; international cooperation on the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats in the Asia-Pacific region; and the convention's program on communication, education and public awareness for 2003-2008.

Australia was also active in negotiating the content of other draft resolutions to ensure they reflected, as far as possible, the Australian position developed in consultation with other Commonwealth and state and territory government agencies. All resolutions presented at the conference were adopted.

In 2002-03 seven new Australian wetlands were listed under the Ramsar Convention. These include four sites in the Commonwealth external territories: Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve; Coral Sea Reserves (Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reefs and Cays); Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve; and The Dales on Christmas Island.

The new Commonwealth listings have increased the number of previously under-represented karst and coral reef wetland types listed in Australia.

One Ramsar site in South Australia was listed (the Banrock Station Wetland Complex) and two sites in New South Wales (Fivebough and Tuckerbil Swamps and NSW Central Murray State Forests). The Kooragang Ramsar site in NSW was extended to include the Shortland Wetland Centre and renamed Hunter Estuary Wetlands.

The Department continued to assist in the development and review of management plans for Ramsar sites. Forty-seven of the 64 listed Australian Ramsar wetlands have management plans or draft plans in place. Twelve sites have management plans in preparation or under review. Eleven draft management plans were assessed in 2002-03 for consistency with the Australian Ramsar Management Principles established by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Wetland ecology and conservation

(Departmental output 1.7)

Objective

To identify and assess threats to tropical wetlands; to contribute to the requirements of international agreements and national policies on the wise use of wetlands and methods of assessment; and to provide managers and users of wetlands with information and expertise to enable the wise use of wetlands through sustainable practices.

Result

The Department, including through the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist, continued to conduct research and provide technical and policy advice to wetland managers in relation to the wise use of wetlands.

Projects progressed or completed in 2002-03 included the following:

The Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist is a partner in the National Centre for Tropical Wetland Research, which aims to promote the wise use of tropical wetlands through comprehensive research and training practices recognising the importance of effective communication with all stakeholders. Other partners are the University of Western Australia, the Northern Territory University and the James Cook University of north Queensland.

Waterwatch

(Departmental output 1.7)

Objective

To ensure community groups and members of the public are directly and indirectly involved with Waterwatch and related activities.

Result

Waterwatch is a national community water monitoring program that encourages all Australians to become involved and active in the protection and management of Australia's waterways and catchments. Waterwatch ceased as a specific Natural Heritage Trust program on 31 December 2002, but continued as a nationally funded project under the Natural Heritage Trust extension in 2003.

Waterwatch continued to contribute to the ecologically sustainable management of Australia's inland waters by supporting community water monitoring and action in every state and territory of Australia.

In 2002-03 Waterwatch funded 64 projects to the value of $2.5 million to employ Waterwatch facilitators and coordinators.

Over 2300 community groups and 58 000 Australians participated in the program during the year with regular monitoring at over 6850 sites nationally, an increase in involvement from 2001-02.

As well as raising awareness through community monitoring, Waterwatch has prompted environmental action. This on-ground action ranges from community riparian revegetation projects and fencing off riverbanks to prevent stock access, to controlling nutrient discharge from irrigation drains. Community water monitoring networks are continuing to integrate more rigorous procedures for checking data quality into their monitoring programs. Community data is being acknowledged and used by state government, regional organisations and local government for natural resource management outcomes.

Waterwatch produced numerous educational and information products and activities to educate the public about the importance of catchment health and the usefulness of water quality monitoring in determining catchment health. A number of these products were developed as part of the International Year of Freshwater 2003.

Version 3.0 of the Waterwatch database was installed in regional programs across Australia. This more robust database improves the support for communities collecting water quality data.

The Waterwatch Australia Steering Committee, with representatives from each state and territory, continued to provide strategic direction for the program in light of new Australian Government policy frameworks such as the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the extension of the Natural Heritage Trust.

Regional plan assessments

(Departmental output 1.7)

Objective

To contribute to the assessment of regional plans.

Result

Significant input was made to evaluation of National Action Plan and Natural Heritage Trust draft Integrated Regional Natural Resource Management Plans. This ensured that they adequately address the implementation of the National Water Quality Management Strategy, as part of the Commonwealth's accreditation process for such plans.

The Department worked cooperatively with the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to ensure draft regional plans that covered areas within the Murray-Darling Basin's boundaries were consistent with commission policies and strategies.

Twelve draft plans were assessed in the context of Basin policies and programs to which NSW Government agencies are signatories.

Draft regional plans for areas in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria were assessed to ensure that the conservation and wise use of wetlands (both Ramsar wetlands and wetlands listed in A Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia) had been addressed.

Assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

(Departmental output 1.7)

Objective

To contribute to assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Result

The Department provided advice in relation to inland waters issues under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Following requests for referral and assessment advice, 235 contributions relating to migratory waterbirds and 85 contributions relating to Ramsar wetlands were provided.