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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

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

1. Protecting the environment (continued)

1.5 Increasing transparency and public awareness

Increasing stakeholder and public awareness

The Department continues to place a high priority on increasing stakeholder and public awareness of the Act. The web site for the Act (the EPBC web site, http://www.deh.gov.au/epbc/) was updated and enhanced throughout 2002-03 to better meet the needs of users. The web site now incorporates stronger links to matters covered by the Act throughout the Department's web site, including trade use provisions (www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/trade-use/) ; threatened species and ecological communities (www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/) and sustainable fisheries (www.deh.gov.au/coasts/fisheries/).

A pilot program of creating industry focused pages was commenced with a page of quick reference links for the farming sector on the EPBC web site. In addition, an Invitation to Comment page was created and the news page was upgraded to include all the Department's EPBC-related items.

In September 2002 the Department decommissioned a rule-base system delivered via the internet that was introduced to help industry and individuals determine whether their proposed development would affect matters protected under the Act. The Department is in the process of scoping improvements to this service by replacing the superseded system with more user friendly and simpler question/answer pathways to take clients to the relevant information or tools on the EPBC web site.

The EPBC Protected Matters Search Tool (formerly known as the Interactive Mapping Tool), available on the EPBC web site (www.deh.gov.au/erin/ert/epbc/), was upgraded. This search tool spatially locates matters protected by the Act such as World Heritage areas, internationally protected wetlands and listed threatened species. It is now easier to use and has an improved map base. The report provided from the tool lists matters protected under the Act in the area selected by the user. The report now has supporting context information and new links to relevant information for proponents and the general public making it more useful in decision-making.

During 2002-03, the EPBC web site received 60 229 visits, with the home page (www.deh.gov.au/epbc/) visited 55 654 times. The public notifications page for referrals, assessments and approvals under the Act was visited 109 148 times (www.deh.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/epbc_ap.pl).

The list of specimens suitable for live import established under the wildlife trade provisions of the Act was published on the Department's web site and is regularly updated (http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/trade-use/lists/import/index.html). Guidelines to amending the list of specimens suitable for live import were also published on the Department's web site.

Publications developed or revised during the year included information sheets on a number of species; supplements to the Administrative Guidelines on Significance for the grey-headed flying fox, the spectacled flying fox and natural temperate grasslands; the White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) Recovery Plan; the Cod Grounds discussion paper and the bilateral agreement between the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments. Public comment was invited on the draft bilateral agreement between the Queensland and Commonwealth governments (see Appendix 2 of this report for full details of publications).

Publications to increase compliance with the wildlife trade provisions of the Act were produced and widely distributed. The information was primarily aimed at travellers and distributed through Customs' posts, airports and travel agents. Publications included the brochures Tips for Travellers and Complementary Medicine (http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/trade-use/publications/index.html).

The Department continues to work closely with the Australian Customs Service in border enforcement and with state wildlife officers and police in detecting and investigating border breaches. Customs seized a total of 5976 wildlife specimens of which 40 per cent were coral, clam and other invertebrates and 35 per cent were complementary medicines. Approximately 300 Customs recruits and other officers attended one of the 20 training sessions that were conducted at most of the larger ports around Australia. In addition, two training sessions were delivered to state wildlife officers as part of their training to become inspectors under the Act. An inspectors' training manual was developed and will be distributed as part of an upgrade of training processes.

During the year there were six successful prosecutions including a case of a person who was involved in the importation of rattlesnakes and vipers, a person attempting to export live Australian spiders and a flora exporter not having an appropriate export authority.

The Department continued to provide presentations on the Act to key industries and organisations, whilst giving priority to responding to enquiries from client and stakeholder groups, and targeting specific regions. Over 70 presentations on the Act were given during 2002-03 to a combined audience of more than 2000 people. Almost half the presentations were to state government agencies and local government councils and representatives, with other audiences (in order of frequency) including industry associations, targeted conferences, students, international delegations, compliance and enforcement forums, national government agencies, corporate and Indigenous bodies. Issues of interest, as indicated by requests for presentations, include the role of local and state government; the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area; mosquito control; flying fox management; aquaculture; the red-tailed black cockatoo; and compliance and enforcement.

This year the Department adopted a strategy of targeting specific regions in Australia with presentations and seminars on the Act to local councils, industry groups, environmental consultants and state agencies. The regions were chosen after careful analysis of the pattern and distribution of referrals, enquiries and other matters concerning the Act. The initial focus has been on regions with high levels of urban development, especially those adjacent to undisturbed natural areas. In 2002-03, roadshow presentations were given in south-east Queensland (focusing on the Sunshine Coast) and in south-west Western Australia. This approach is very effective at getting specific messages out to client groups who work with the Act on a regular basis, and providing information in a manner which can address local issues whilst encouraging discussion and interest in the application of the Act. Further roadshows are planned for 2003-04.

The Department made a $15 000 grant to the Environmental Defender's Office to assist in the publication of a guide on public participation and the Act. The booklet is entitled Planting the Seed - Public Participation and the EPBC Act and is available from the Environmental Defender's Office or web site (www.edo.org.au).

The Department continues its commitment to focus on client and stakeholder needs, maintaining a continuous review of communication products and their effectiveness.

Enhancing community participation

The Act provides for community participation in:

The public notifications page on the EPBC web site is used for public comment, stakeholder involvement, and public awareness of key referral, assessment and approval decisions, and to allow comment on applications to amend the list of specimens suitable for live import. The Department also met notification and publication requirements under the Act and Regulations by publishing weekly notices in the Commonwealth Government Gazette. Statutory timeframes for publishing notices were met in nearly all cases.

Public consultation is required prior to the Minister making a decision to approve an amendment to the list of specimens suitable for live import (section 303EC), to approve a wildlife trade operation (section 303FN), to approve (section 303FO) or accredit (section 303FP) a wildlife trade management plan or to issue a permit under the exceptional circumstances (section 303GB) provisions of the Act.

To facilitate public consultation, the Department developed a notification page on the EPBC web site and wrote to organisations known or expected to have an interest in these matters to inform them of the site's existence. Notice of proposals under these sections of the Act are provided on the site, with sufficient information provided to enable persons and organisations with an interest to consider adequately the merits of the proposal. Public comments are invited within a specified period.

All lists of threatened or migratory species, recovery plans, threat abatement plans, action plans, conservation plans and conservation agreements made and approved by the Minister under the Act are published on the Department's web site.

The Department has established arrangements to ensure that people who do not have access to the internet can purchase these documents from the Government Info Shop in each capital city or from the Administrator of each Australian external territory. As these documents are regularly revised, these arrangements involve the outlet downloading the document from the Department's web site and charging a modest handling fee. In addition, people can telephone the Department using a freecall number to have a copy of any of these documents posted to them.

National Farmers' Federation EPBC Information Officer

In order to assist farmers in working with the Act, an officer from the Department was seconded to the National Farmers' Federation in November 2002.

This initiative has been extremely well received by the farming community, and has succeeded both in addressing many of the concerns with the Act, and in fostering closer ties between the Australian Government and rural landholders. The EPBC Information Officer provides landowners and rural industries with:

This initiative has allowed a genuine two-way exchange of information, with rural landholders identifying the problems in the implementation of the Act and suggesting improvements. One result of this cooperation is the EPBC Act farming industry web site.

EPBC Act farming industry web site

One of the first pieces of feedback that the EPBC Information Officer received from farm lobby groups was the difficulty they had in accessing relevant information on the Department's web site. The comment was made that while the information itself was actually quite good, the time needed to search for it made it impractical to use.

In response to these concerns, the EPBC Information Officer worked with the Department over several months to produce a web site that consolidated the information useful to farmers and their representative bodies. In particular, the site uses a combination of links pages and automatic search engines to greatly increase the accessibility of information to the farm sector.

The Minister presented the web site to the National Farmers' Federation national conference as part of the World Environment Day activities on 5 June 2003. The site was extremely well received by the conference attendees. The web site will be regularly reviewed and updated, and comments from farmers and their representative bodies will be actively sought to ensure that the site retains its relevance to the farming community.


Consultation registers

Under section 266A of the Act, a register is maintained allowing interested people or organisations to be consulted on permit applications relating to listed threatened species and communities, migratory species, whales and other cetaceans, and listed marine species. Thirty-eight people and organisations are currently registered.

Advisory committees

The Act established three advisory committees - the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, Biological Diversity Advisory Committee and Indigenous Advisory Committee - to advise the Minister on matters regarding implementation of the Act. The functions and membership of these committees are outlined in Appendix 3 of this report. Section 511 of the Act makes provision for establishment of further advisory committees if necessary.

Threatened Species Scientific Committee

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee advises the Minister on the amendment and updating of national lists for threatened species, threatened ecological communities, and key threatening processes, and on the making or adoption of recovery plans and threat abatement plans. The committee met on three occasions: 3-4 September 2002, 17-18 December 2002 and 15-16 April 2003. At these meetings, the committee continued to provide scientific advice on the eligibility of nominations for listing. A focus for the committee this year was the identification of threatened arid woodland, sub-alpine woodland and grassland ecological communities. Among other issues considered by the committee were biodiversity hotspots and the compatibility of state and Commonwealth lists.

Biological Diversity Advisory Committee

The Biological Diversity Advisory Committee advises the Minister on matters relating to the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of biological diversity.

In 2002, the committee underwent some change in membership. The new committee held its first meeting in November. The committee met three times: on 5-6 November 2002; 18-19 March 2003; and 17 June.

In October, the committee held a workshop to discuss the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and possible policy options to address these impacts. A report from this workshop was prepared for publication and committee members held an intersessional meeting in January 2003 to further progress policy options from the workshop.

The committee has focused much of its attention on regional natural resource management planning. It met with Chairs from regional bodies to discuss biodiversity considerations in their natural resource management planning. The committee continued its work on objectives and targets for biodiversity conservation, indicators for monitoring and evaluation, the economic value of biodiversity goods and services, and the incorporation of biodiversity considerations into environmental management systems.

Indigenous Advisory Committee

The Indigenous Advisory Committee advises the Minister on the operation of the Act, taking into account the significance of Indigenous people's knowledge of land management and the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The committee addresses only issues related to the Act.

The committee met in November 2002 and March 2003 and provided advice to the Minister on Indigenous issues in the development of the assessment bilateral agreements under the Act with the states and territories; Indigenous involvement in World Heritage area management; matters of national environmental significance; developing a more systematic approach to the recording and transfer of traditional ecological knowledge; and seeking to ensure better Indigenous involvement in the Natural Heritage Trust.