Department of the Environment

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Publications archive - Annual reports


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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (continued)


This report provides details of the operation of the Act for 2002-03.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act continues to deliver significant benefits for all Australians, the international community and future generations. It does this by protecting matters of national environmental significance - namely, internationally important wetlands, migratory species, nationally threatened species and ecological communities, World Heritage, and the Commonwealth marine environment - and by protecting the environment from nuclear actions. In addition, the Act provides protection for the environment in relation to proposals involving Commonwealth land and regulates the activities of Commonwealth agencies that might significantly affect the environment.

The processes developed by the Department of the Environment and Heritage to administer the environmental assessment and approval processes under the Act have proved very effective. Statutory timeframes in the Act were met on more than 90 per cent of occasions during 2002-03. When timeframes were not met, delays were rarely significant. As an example, 96 per cent of decisions under section 75(5) on whether a proposed action needs approval were made within the statutory timeframe. Late decisions were, on average, less than three business days late.

The Department received 337 referrals under the Act, of which about 8 per cent were received following compliance action. The Minister or his delegate decided that 75 of the referrals were controlled actions requiring approval under the Act and that a further 75 could proceed without approval on the basis that the action was to be undertaken in a 'specified manner'. Decisions on assessment approach were made for 36 actions with 19 actions to be assessed by preliminary documentation, two by public environment report, none by an environmental impact statement and 15 through an accredited state or territory process. Twenty-five actions were approved and one was denied approval. The Department also received two requests under section 160 of the Act for advice from Commonwealth decision-makers and, following assessment, advice was provided on one of these.

Since the Act commenced in 2000, the Department has received nearly 1000 referrals. The clear processes and mechanisms established by the Act have provided a sound basis to streamline administration of environmental decisions while at the same time providing a basis for the Australian Government to focus on environmental outcomes of national importance. For example, during 2002-03 the Department and Minister used section 77 of the Act 77 times to determine that particular referred actions did not need approval under the Act because the action would be taken in a particular manner. This is a powerful way to reward project proponents who commit to effective environmental management measures before they make a referral. The intended effect of using this provision is to encourage better project, and landuse, planning and to avoid, rather than mitigate through direct regulation, impacts on matters of national environmental significance.

A bilateral assessment agreement was signed with Western Australia, and the bilateral agreement with the Northern Territory commenced. The bilateral agreement with Tasmania continued in operation. In the absence of bilateral agreements case-by-case accreditation of state and territory environmental assessment processes continued to reduce intergovernmental duplication.

The Department received the results of the first external performance review of its administration of the Act. The ANAO concluded that the administration of the Act is sound and effective, and provided valuable feedback and recommendations for improved administration. The first judicial reviews of decisions under the Act were also completed during 2002-03.

While there were no amendments to the Act during the year, considerable progress was made on preparations for implementation of the Government's proposal to amend the Act to extend its protection to Australian heritage places.

Increased attention to compliance auditing and investigation of suspected breaches were features of the year's activities. The Department receives many reports of activities potentially in breach of provisions of the Act from a variety of sources, including members of the public and government and non-government organisations. All reports received are investigated to determine whether the Act applies. The Department also undertakes its own monitoring of development activities with a view to improving compliance with the Act.

In 2002-03, three masters of Indonesian fishing vessels were convicted and sentenced under the Act for the illegal killing of dolphins for shark bait in Australian waters.

Communication about the Act also continued to receive high priority, with groups such as local government planners, farming organisations and urban developers being targeted. During the year the Department and the National Farmers' Federation cooperated on providing Act-related advice and services to farmers. The Department seconded an officer to the National Farmers' Federation national office to facilitate a two-way flow of information on issues related to the Act. This was a successful experiment for both parties and the arrangement was continued beyond its initial six-month trial.

The Department's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act web site (the EPBC web site) continued to be developed based on feedback from users. The service offered by the web site, particularly the map-based databases of matters of national environmental significance and the project tracking pages, has continued to attract positive comments from users.

Seventeen additions to the lists of threatened species and ecological communities, seven new Ramsar wetlands and a new World Heritage nomination (for the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens in Melbourne) were achieved during the year.