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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

Overview

Secretary's review of the Department of the Environment and Heritage's achievements

The Department of the Environment and Heritage continues to be the Australian Government's lead agency for environment and heritage policy advice and implementation of programs, legislation and services to protect and conserve the environment and heritage of our nation.

In 2002-03 the Department undertook a strategic review of its priorities and approaches for the years ahead. The review led to a portfolio reorganisation, effective from the beginning of 2003-04, to better deliver the Government's key policies and programs.

Natural resource management

Strategies to improve the management of Australia's natural resources - our land, water and biodiversity - remain a central focus for the Department. During 2002-03 some of the first benefits from the Australian Government's $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the extension of the $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust were realised.

The National Action Plan focuses on 21 key regions in which salinity is already a critical problem, or where it is likely to become so if urgent steps are not taken. Funding is primarily directed to actions that will directly or indirectly reduce dryland and in-stream salinity and improve water quality. The Natural Heritage Trust is much broader in the environmental concerns it addresses and can provide funding both in the National Action Plan regions, and also across all other parts of Australia.

The National Action Plan and the Natural Heritage Trust have built on the experience of the first phase of programs under the Natural Heritage Trust. Sustainable improvements in salinity, water quality, biodiversity and the health of estuarine and coastal systems will only be achieved by sustained actions that are part of coordinated catchment/regional strategies, nested where appropriate within basin-wide, state-wide or national strategies and policies. And this must be done in a way that retains the passion and commitment of the thousands of volunteers who have responded to the call to take practical steps to help the environment through projects under the first phase of the Trust.

The new emphasis is therefore on landscape level change secured through regional delivery based on integrated natural resource management plans. Regional bodies have been established in all states and territories. At the national level the Departments of the Environment and Heritage and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry pooled resources and expertise during the year to set up a Commonwealth Regional Natural Resource Management Team. Instead of dealing with staff from a number of divisions in two separate departments administering 21 separate programs, regions will have one point of contact for the vast majority of the dealings with the Commonwealth on natural resource management issues. This is an important practical step toward 'joined up government'.

Foundation funding to support regional bodies to develop the plans and undertake priority actions was provided through the National Action Plan and Natural Heritage Trust to Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania.

During 2002-03, Commonwealth Ministers accredited Integrated Regional Natural Resource Management Plans for the Glenelg-Hopkins region in Victoria, the Mount Lofty region in South Australia and the New South Wales Western region. The plans provide the basis for investment by Commonwealth and state governments under the extension of the Trust and the National Action Plan. An increasing number of plans are now expected to flow to Australian Government and state and territory ministers for accreditation in 2003-04.

Concerted progress was made on the development of investment strategies in a number of states, in particular New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Investment strategies for many regions are expected to be ready for ministerial consideration during the first half of 2003-04. Strategies underpinning the National Action Plan and the Trust covering monitoring and evaluation, standards and targets, accreditation and communications were also progressed during the year.

Major stakeholder forums included the Mildura Roundtable (held in November 2002), the Community Forum, the Natural Heritage Trust Stakeholders Forum (August 2002) and the Natural Heritage Trust Advisory Committee.

As the Minister, the Hon Dr David Kemp MP, pointed out in May 2003, '...the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality is a plan which recognises that neither the salinity issues nor the broader environmental issues of vegetation, land clearing or biodiversity will be solved unless the communities themselves take ownership of the problem.' These new plans and management arrangements were important achievements. Followed through with rigour and consistency this approach will build a new way of managing natural resources in Australia.

Extension of the Natural Heritage Trust

The $1.03 billion extension of the Natural Heritage Trust from 2002-03 to 2006-07 shares this approach. It operates at a national level, at a state-wide level, and through regions as well as by providing grants to community groups for local activities through the Envirofund. The Trust has already resulted in improved water quality, reduced erosion, improved estuarine health, better vegetation management and improved soil condition in many places. But, as with other environmental programs, sustained and broad-scale improvement of environmental conditions will take many years of effort at local and regional level, complemented by wise national and state policies. For example, the effectiveness of large-scale expenditure on revegetation is greatly reduced if state policies allow or encourage significant ongoing clearing.

New bilateral agreements with all states and territories, except Queensland, have placed an emphasis on establishing this regional approach, as well as underpinning the critical statewide complementary policy changes. In Queensland an interim financial agreement has been put in place to allow Trust investment in Queensland while the remaining issues concerning land clearing policy are resolved.

A total of $250 million was provided under the Trust extension in 2002-03, including $55.1 million in interim regional funding.

The Australian Government Envirofund provided $30 million for 1844 projects to support individuals and community groups in local environmental initiatives during 2002-03. A special $10 million drought recovery Envirofund round was provided to assist Australian communities to deal with the devastating impact of drought that affected so many parts of the nation. Over 4 per cent of these projects were proposed by Indigenous groups.

National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality

Significant progress was made in the third year of the $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. While funding for the National Action Plan is appropriated through the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, it is delivered jointly with this Department.

All states and territories have signed the intergovernmental agreement that sets out the broad framework for implementing the National Action Plan, and with the exception of Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, all have signed bilateral agreements with the Australian Government. Discussions are progressing well to finalise agreements with these jurisdictions. These agreements, like those under which the Natural Heritage Trust will be delivered, support institutional reforms including land clearing and water reforms, as well as regional delivery arrangements.

To date, over $219 million in joint funding has been agreed between the Australian and state governments for the National Action Plan.

Interim funding totalling $55.4 million has been provided to regional organisations.

Land clearing

There is a strong national effort to protect Australia's biodiversity. Through the Framework for the Extension of the Natural Heritage Trust agreed by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, all jurisdictions have agreed to implement measures to prevent all clearing of endangered and vulnerable vegetation communities and critical habitat for threatened species. The aim is to limit broad-scale clearing to those instances where regional biodiversity objectives are not compromised. These commitments are reflected in the bilateral agreements negotiated for the Trust with the states and territories, noting that Queensland has not yet finalised a bilateral agreement for the Natural Heritage Trust.

In May 2003, the Australian and Queensland governments jointly outlined a proposal to reduce the very high rates of land clearing in the state. Both governments continued to consult with stakeholders to work towards stopping the decline in our native ecosystems.

Water

One of the greatest challenges facing Australia is to establish an efficient national water management framework. Water is a fundamentally important natural resource in a continent with great variability in rainfall. The wise management of water is central to the ecological health of our waterways, the competitiveness of much of our primary industries and the prosperity of rural communities.

Since agreement to the Council of Australian Governments' (COAG) Water Reform Framework in 1994, and its revision in 1996, the Australian Government has continued to tackle issues of water supply and quality, and the maintenance or restoration of the patterns and volumes of flows needed to sustain healthy rivers and wetlands.

During 2002-03 the Australian Government commenced a national policy initiative, to be agreed by COAG and building on the Water Reform Framework, to ensure the sustainable use and management of rivers and groundwater systems to benefit both the environment and economy.

In addition to the development of national water policy, the Australian Government has taken practical action. Regional communities have been encouraged to find effective solutions to water management through the National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality and the Natural Heritage Trust. Water quality objectives have been set for the Great Barrier Reef. The Government has worked with industry and householders for more sustainable water use.

There is considerable evidence that sediments and nutrients carried into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon by the major river systems have impacted on its inshore reefs. This adds to pressure from events such as coral bleaching and may make recovery more difficult.

In August 2002, the Prime Minister and Premier of Queensland signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation to develop the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, with the objective of halting and reversing the decline in water quality entering the Great Barrier Reef.

While developing the plan, the Australian Government implemented a number of projects to promote broader understanding of the issue and enable local government and industry to take 'no regrets' actions to address declining water quality. In May 2003, the Minister and Premier Beattie launched a draft of the plan for public consultation. The plan is due to be finalised before the end of 2003.

In addition, in December 2002 the Government announced that a Great Barrier Reef Coastal Wetlands Protection Program would be funded for five years from 2004-05 onwards. The $8 million program, to be matched by Queensland, has as its objective the permanent protection and restoration of wetlands in catchments adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. The program will complement the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.

Water use is not just a rural issue. Every major Australian city faces a current or future water shortage. In May 2003 the Australian Government, together with state and territory governments, agreed to develop a national plan for mandatory water efficiency labelling of household fittings and appliances. The Environment Ministers also agreed to investigate the introduction of minimum water efficiency standards and to review guidelines for urban water reuse and recycling, as part of a coordinated national response to improve the use and conservation of water resources.

International

Australia is recognised in the international community as a global leader across a wide range of environment and sustainable development issues including oceans management, biodiversity conservation, Antarctica and World Heritage. Our leadership was confirmed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held from 26 August to 4 September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Australia concentrated on practical partnerships to achieve tangible outcomes.

World summit on sustainable development

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, led Australia's participation in the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Marking the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, the World Summit produced the Johannesburg Declaration and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation - an action plan for the next ten years.

The Australian delegation brought together expertise from Commonwealth, state, territory and local governments, peak industry bodies and environment and development non-government organisations. The next generation's perspective was also provided through a youth representative.

The Johannesburg Plan represents a significant recommitment to sustainable development by the international community. The plan underlined the interdependence of economic, social and environmental sustainability. The key role of good governance at the national level to achieving each of these was widely recognised.

Australia achieved positive outcomes in the particular interest areas of oceans, trade, governance and energy. Significant outcomes for Australia included an ambitious forward agenda for conserving marine biodiversity, protecting vulnerable areas such as coral reefs and wetlands, reducing marine pollution and eliminating illegal fishing. Australia fought hard for an agreement on energy that achieved a balance between issues of access to energy for the poor and encouragement for greater use of renewable energy sources. The impressive range of practical commitments to 'Type 2' voluntary initiatives, which bring together groups of countries to tackle specific problems, was an important outcome of the summit.

International Whaling Commission

Australia progressed its proposal to establish the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary at the 55th Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Berlin in June 2003. While the vote did not achieve the three-quarter majority needed to create the sanctuary, the proposal maintained the highest-ever level of support (24 for, 17 against, with four abstentions). Australia will propose the sanctuary again at the next annual meeting.

Australia also co-sponsored the historic Berlin Initiative, a significant achievement which will strengthen the work of the International Whaling Commission through a new conservation committee, and ensure that the issues of conservation are given adequate attention in this important forum. This initiative marked a milestone in the evolution of the International Whaling Commission.

Biodiversity conservation

Australia successfully put on the international stage issues of illegal fishing, whaling and exploitation of sharks at the 12th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, held in Santiago de Chile in November 2002.

At the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (Bonn, September 2002), Australia successfully proposed eight migratory marine species of conservation concern for listing, including the orca, six other whale species, and the great white shark.

Antarctica

Australia continued its leading role in Antarctic international forums. Australia's contribution to the June 2003 Antarctic Treaty meeting included development of the legal instruments for the establishment of the Antarctic Treaty secretariat and initiatives to improve the management of tourism in Antarctica. In the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, Australia continued to promote sustainable harvesting of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic fisheries and strong measures to stop illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

World Heritage Convention

Internationally, Australia continued its contribution to the implementation of the World Heritage Convention through a range of projects and activities developed under the Asia-Pacific Focal Point for World Heritage Program in countries across the region including Indonesia, Fiji and Vanuatu.

In April 2003, Australia submitted to the World Heritage Committee the first periodic report on the condition of all its World Heritage properties listed in or before 1994. The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, Melbourne were nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List in December 2002. Purnululu National Park was recommended for inscription at the meeting of the World Heritage Committee which commenced on 30 June 2003.

Legislation

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

The Act continued to deliver substantially greater protection than previously existed for matters of national environmental significance - World Heritage properties, Ramsar wetlands of international significance, listed threatened species and ecological communities, listed migratory species and Commonwealth marine areas.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) conducted a performance audit of the implementation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, with the report tabled in Parliament in April 2003. The report was a strong endorsement of the Act and found that the Department is administering the Act in a thorough, efficient and timely way.

The ANAO commented favourably on the timeliness of decision-making with more than 90 per cent of statutory decisions being made on time. They noted the Department's superior performance in comparison to state and territory agencies.

There were six recommendations in the report, accepted by the Department without qualification. The Department has already begun to address the recommendations, introducing a Compliance and Enforcement policy and commencing audits of all the oil, gas and seismic decisions so far made under the Act. Further improvements to the administration of the Act will be continued in 2003-04.

Heritage legislation

Work continued to support the passage of legislation to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to ensure that our national heritage is recognised as a matter of national environmental significance. The key elements include the establishment of a National Heritage List comprising places of outstanding national heritage significance and improved management and protection of heritage places owned or controlled by the Australian Government. An expert advisory body, the Australian Heritage Council, will be established to advise the Australian Government minister responsible for heritage.

Air quality

In November 2002, the Prime Minister, the Hon Mr John Howard MP noted that 'we must tackle our environmental and our energy concerns together in a way that makes sure our policies satisfy both objectives of sustaining the environment and also continuing economic growth.' Essential to that task is the control of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government is currently developing a Climate Change Forward Strategy to enable Australia to achieve the target agreed to at Kyoto. This strategy will mean that Australia will be well placed to lower its greenhouse emissions signature over the longer term (20-30 years), while maintaining a strong and internationally competitive economy.

Australia is recognised as a world leader in the reduction and eventual phase-out of ozone-depleting substances. The Department and the Australian Greenhouse Office jointly prepared the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Legislation Amendment Bill 2003, to ensure that Australia has a truly national regulatory scheme for the management of ozone-depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases used as their replacement. The Bill, which amends the Ozone Protection Act 1989, was introduced into Parliament on 5 June 2003.

The Department worked with states and territories to vary the Ambient Air Quality National Environment Protection Measure to include a standard for fine particles (PM2.5). Fine particles can penetrate deep into lung cavities and are known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular illness. This standard will lead to a greater understanding of the distribution throughout Australia of this important air pollutant.

Groundbreaking research commenced to underpin future development of air quality standards and management strategies. This included a particle composition study that examines pollution from a number of sources and regions; a study to determine how woodsmoke from woodheaters can influence personal exposure to selected air toxics; a 2000-2020 projection of air pollutant emissions from motor vehicles to aid future transport planning; a research program on the effects of air pollution on child health; a study of personal exposure to selected air toxics conducted in four major Australian cities; and two projects addressing the emerging issue of indoor air quality.

A key source of air pollution is vehicle traffic. Higher quality fuels can directly improve environmental outcomes as well as facilitating the application of new low emission vehicle technologies. The fuel quality standards currently regulate petrol, diesel and biodiesel parameters that have a direct impact on the environment and on the efficient operation of engines.

Some of the petrol fuel parameters regulated include sulfur, research octane number, aromatics and oxygen content. In diesel fuel, the parameters regulated include sulfur, density, and ash and suspended solids. In 1999, diesel was around 1300 parts per million sulfur content, but with the introduction of the diesel standard in December 2002, sulfur levels are now restricted to 500 parts per million. This is the first step in a planned reduction with sulfur levels being further restricted to 50 parts per million in 2006. Sulfur levels in petrol will also be reduced from 500 parts per million in 2002 to 150 parts per million in 2005.

The Launceston Woodheater Replacement Program continued to improve regional air quality through financial incentives and targeted community education. This initiative contributed to halving the number of times that the national standard for particles was exceeded in Launceston from 28 to 14, in 2002.

Plastic bags

Plastic bag litter is a major environmental concern, particularly the effect it has on wildlife and the environment. Australians use about seven billion plastic bags each year with up to 80 million bags finding their way on to streets and into parks and waterways.

During 2002-03 significant action was taken to reduce the number of plastic bags in the environment.

On 23 December 2002, Australia's Environment Ministers set the Australian community an aspirational goal of reducing the amount of plastic bag litter by 75 per cent by the end of 2005. Ministers also challenged retailers to develop a Code of Practice that would halve their use of light-weight (HDPE) plastic bags by the end of 2004 and achieve a 50 per cent recycling rate for available HDPE plastic bags by the end of 2004.

In March 2003, the Australian Government also joined with Clean Up Australia, major supermarket chains and the Australian Retailers Association in a national consumer awareness campaign, 'Bag Yourself a Better Environment'.

During the national campaign's month of action, over 2000 stores and 180 local councils participated in a range of activities that encouraged the community to reduce their plastic bag use. The success of the campaign resulted in an increase in the sale of alternatives by about 300 per cent and an increase in the recycling of used plastic bags by 60 per cent.

The retailers Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Bags is expected to be finalised early in the new financial year.

Antarctica

During 2002-03 the Australian Government continued to play an active role in Antarctic issues through the work and achievement of the Australian Antarctic Division.

A long-term contract was signed for two aircraft to operate flights within Antarctica from the summer of 2004-05. The CASA 212-400 fixed wing aircraft will, for the first time, allow efficient access to the entire Australian Antarctic Territory and significantly improve the efficiency of the Australian Antarctic Program. The CASA 212-400 is a modern twin turbo prop aircraft with unparalleled range and payload characteristics that make it suitable for remote sensing, aerial survey and emergency response work. The introduction of the C212-400 aircraft represents the first stage of Australia's proposed Antarctic Air Transport System, which when complete will include an inter-continental link from Hobart to Casey Station.

In 2002-03 the Australian Antarctic Division commissioned two of three proposed wind turbines at Mawson station, becoming the first nation to undertake a renewable energy project of this type in Antarctica. Modelling predicts the wind energy project will provide up to 80 per cent of the station's power, significantly reducing reliance on fossil fuel.

Support activities

The portfolio's recognition as an Investor in People organisation was reaffirmed as a result of a surveillance audit in November 2002. This international standard provides a framework for improving an organisation's performance through its people. The Department continued to support the standard through executive seminars, the performance and development scheme, time and budgetary allocations for staff development, a Secretary's award scheme and a management conference for all directors.

The Department's environmental management system was re-certified as meeting the requirements of ISO14001 - an internationally recognised standard that sets a level of good practice for improving and maintaining environmental performance. Most targets have been met and some surpassed under the Department's environmental management action plan.

The Australian Antarctic Division's environmental management system was certified to the ISO14001 standard in September 2002. The environmental management system covers all the Australian Antarctic Division activities in continental Australia, the Australian Antarctic Territory, and the sub-Antarctic region. Australia is the first national operator amongst the Antarctic Treaty parties to implement a certified environmental management system.

A new headquarters, including highly specialised laboratories, to accommodate Parks Australia North and Supervising Scientist Division staff was completed in July 2002.

The refurbishment of the underground Communications Centre, adjacent to the John Gorton Building, was advanced with completion scheduled for October 2003. This joint venture with the Department of Finance and Administration will establish a new benchmark in innovative, environmentally sustainable refurbishment within heritage-listed premises.

The Department continued education activities to raise awareness and understanding of environmental issues, to improve national coordination and to promote best practice in environmental education. These activities have been implemented as part of the Australian Government's National Action Plan for Environmental Education and include the ongoing work of the National Environmental Education Council and the Commonwealth, state and territory Environmental Education Network.

A major activity in 2002-03 was the trial of pilot Sustainable Schools programs in Victoria and New South Wales, with a view to establishing a national program. Research was also undertaken into industry attitudes on environmental issues, to provide a more informed basis for the development of education programs directed at industry.

On behalf of the Prime Minister, the Minister presented the Prime Minister's Award for Environmentalist of the Year to Dr John Wamsley at the Banksia Environmental Foundation Awards on 30 May 2003. The Department's Parks Australia Division received a Banksia award for the successful campaign to eradicate Christmas Island's biggest ever environmental threat - yellow crazy ants.

Conclusion

Over the past year, under the guidance of the Minister, the Department has achieved significant environmental outcomes and advanced the policies of the Australian Government in this area of national interest and concern. These outcomes would not have been possible without the professional dedication and commitment of the people in the Department. Their combined effort provides a sound platform for the years ahead.

Roger Beale
Secretary
Department of the Environment and Heritage