Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335
Review of performance: Outcome 1 - Environment
The environment, especially those aspects that are matters of national environmental significance, is protected and conserved
Progress towards Outcome 1
This section summarises overall progress towards Outcome 1.
- Protecting the atmosphere
- Conserving and managing biodiversity
- Protecting and managing coasts and oceans
- Managing environmental assessments and approvals
- Protecting and conserving our heritage
- Improving the environmental performance of Australian industry
- Managing inland waters
- Protecting and managing the land
- Establishing and managing protected areas
Protecting the atmosphere
The Department contributes to improving and protecting the air quality in Australia's cities and towns, and contributes to the international effort to restore the earth's protective ozone layer. During 2003-04:
- The State of the Air Report showed that levels of four key pollutants - lead, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide - have been reduced to well below the national standards in major urban centres, including the capital cities. However, the report showed no similar reduction is evident in the levels of two other pollutants - ozone and particle levels. The Department is working with state and territory agencies to address these priority pollutants.
- Work continued on fuel quality standards, which, together with complementary vehicle emission standards, are predicted to cut vehicle emissions of some pollutants by up to 60 per cent in the period from 2000 to 2020. Since the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 came into force, fuel sulphur levels have reduced significantly. In 1999, diesel sulphur content was around 1300 parts per million on average. Under the Act this sulphur content was reduced to 500 parts per million in December 2002, and will further reduce to 50 parts per million from 1 January 2006, and to 10 parts per million from 1 January 2009. Sulphur levels in premium unleaded petrol will reduce from the current level of 150 parts per million to 50 parts per million from 1 January 2008.
- Australia continued to contribute to international efforts to restore the earth's ozone layer. Australia met or exceeded its obligations to phase out the use of ozone depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol and extended its supply and end-use controls to synthetic greenhouse gases to help reduce climate change impacts. In 2003-04, 504.4 tonnes of ozone depleting substances were imported into Australia. This represented a decrease of 58.4 tonnes from 2002-03.
Conserving and managing biodiversity
The Department aims to protect wildlife and their habitats, and works to ensure that Australia's use of biological resources is ecologically sustainable. During 2003-04:
- Australia continued to lead international efforts to protect biodiversity. The Department nominated the Great White Shark under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora. If successful, this will protect these sharks globally from unregulated trade.
- The Australian Government continued to improve national strategies for conserving biodiversity. Current efforts are aimed at all three levels of biodiversity - genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity.
- Biodiversity conservation continued to underpin agreements for delivering funding under the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. Through the framework for the extension of the Natural Heritage Trust, state and territory governments have agreed to:
- prevent all clearing of endangered and vulnerable vegetation communities and critical habitats for threatened species; and
- limit broad-scale clearing to those areas where regional biodiversity objectives are not compromised.
- The Department administered Australian Government expenditure totalling $99.208 million on environmental work under the Natural Heritage Trust's Bushcare programme.
- The Australian Government's independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee, in consultation with biodiversity conservation experts, identified 15 national biodiversity 'hotspots'. The hotspots will help target funding and hence slow down environmental damage.
- Work on controlling invasive species continued. Over recent years, Australian Government support has led to successes in combating invasive terrestrial and freshwater species, particularly in world heritage areas and Commonwealth reserves. They include virtual elimination of Mimosa pigra and African big-headed ants from Kakadu National Park, control of crazy ants on Christmas Island, and the eradication of feral cats from Macquarie Island.
- Wildlife smuggling cases referred by the Department to the Director of Public Prosecutions resulted in the prosecution of people who had attempted to export stag beetles, native birds and reptiles, and to import exotic bird eggs.
- As at 30 June 2004, over 700 nationally threatened species and ecological communities had recovery plans in place or in preparation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
- Work continued on the development and implementation of market-based incentives for biodiversity conservation. In particular, the Department continued covenanting land using revolving funds (funds used to buy land of conservation or cultural significance and resell it after placing a conservation covenant on it). As at 30 June 2004, 41 properties had been purchased and 29 of these resold with conservation agreements in place.
- Individuals and community groups continued to play an important role in conserving biological diversity through direct involvement in activities such as tree planting, weed eradication, surveying and monitoring. Some 1600 Landcare and similar community-based groups now exist in Australia, proving extremely effective in disseminating information and in the adoption of ecologically sustainable natural resource management in the rural sector. To promote community awareness, the Department continued to support information networks and to produce and disseminate relevant information.
- The Australian Biological Resources Study continued to expand the biodiversity information available to natural resource managers and to the community. Since its inception, the study's grants and scholarships have resulted in more than 2000 research papers and 132 volumes on Australia's biodiversity.
Protecting and managing coasts and oceans
The Department contributes to the ecologically sustainable management of Australia's coasts and oceans. During 2003-04:
- Work to implement the national approach to management of the coastal zone began. Other work to protect coastal water quality in priority areas and to control introduced marine pests continued. Australia continued to lead the world in protecting and conserving migratory waterbirds and their habitats.
- The Department administered Australian Government expenditure totalling $35.880 million on environmental work under the Natural Heritage Trust's Coastcare programme.
- The Department completed 19 fisheries assessments, bringing the total number of assessments completed to 38. The total number of fisheries requiring assessment was estimated to be 118 as at 30 June 2004. The assessment process is helping to shift the focus of fisheries management away from preserving target species towards maintaining entire ecosystems.
- Research and threat abatement planning continued, contributing to the conservation of marine wildlife.
- Work on establishing and managing marine protected areas continued. Since 1996, the Australian Government has added 25 million hectares to the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas.
Managing environmental assessments and approvals
The Department administers the referral, assessment and approval provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. During 2003-04:
- The Department prosecuted its first successful civil action for a breach of the environmental approvals part of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 relating to a Ramsar site.
- It was apparent that the referral, assessment and approvals process faces increasing pressure due to:
- the number, complexity and sensitivity of development proposals that must be dealt with;
- increasing public expectations about the manner of protecting matters of national environmental significance; and
- an increasing number of reported non-compliance incidents that require compliance and enforcement action.
- It was also apparent that ongoing post-approval requirements (for construction plans and environment management plans, monitoring, and audits) have significantly increased the volume of tasks the Department must do to fulfil its responsibilities as a regulator.
- The matter of Minister for the Environment and Heritage v Queensland Conservation Council Inc, which was the Minister's appeal from the decision of Kiefel J in the 'Nathan Dam case', was concluded. In its July 2004 decision, the Federal Court confirmed the breadth of enquiry that needs to be undertaken under the Act in determining what actions require approval. This decision is expected to increase the scope and number of actions that will need assessment under the Act.
- The Department upgraded the web site's search tool for matters of national environmental significance. It now includes a local government area search capability, and covers matters such as Commonwealth lands, Commonwealth heritage places and places on the Register of the National Estate.
- Understanding of the Act was promoted through a range of information products. The Department also met with other Australian Government agencies, state and territory officials, Indigenous stakeholders, and industry and community groups to explain how the Act operates (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment).
Protecting and conserving our heritage
The Department identifies, protects and conserves natural and cultural heritage, including Indigenous and historic heritage.
- The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 was amended. With the development of the new National Heritage and Commonwealth Heritage Lists, the amendments will improve the protection of heritage significantly.
- The amendments supplemented the existing protection for World Heritage sites under the Act. As at 30 June 2004, Australia had 15 sites on the World Heritage List.
- All World Heritage sites had full or partial management or strategic plan coverage. Compliance with the requirements of the Act for World Heritage management plans will be a key consideration as existing plans are reviewed and new plans developed.
- Concerted efforts through 2003-04 led to World Heritage listing of the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens in Melbourne on 1 July 2004. This site has outstanding cultural value as the best surviving example of the international exhibition movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
- In addition, the Department's initiatives continued to contribute to the protection of Australia's historic shipwrecks, Indigenous heritage and movable cultural heritage.
- The Department's administration of funds to support heritage conservation was effective. Administered funds supported the conservation of significant cultural heritage, the restoration of cathedrals in Melbourne and Perth, protection of Boobera Lagoon in New South Wales, the preservation of historic hotels, and National Trust activities.
Improving the environmental performance of Australian industry
The Department works with all levels of government, the community and industry to minimise the impact of industrial processes on Australia's environment. During 2003-04:
- The Department's efforts to improve the sustainability of industry focused on improving urban water efficiency, and supporting the work of the National Environment and Protection Council, including reducing the use of plastic bags. This work complements the voluntary efforts of industry and the regulatory activities of state and territory governments and local councils.
- The Environment Protection and Heritage Council agreed to the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme in September 2003. The scheme will improve the water and energy efficiency of household appliances, thereby reducing water consumption and greenhouse emissions and saving consumers money.
- The first report on the use of plastic shopping bags, for the six months to June 2004, showed supermarkets are on track to meet their 2004 target: Australian supermarket shoppers reduced the number of plastic carry bags used by over half a billion or an annualised 29 per cent of bags used for supermarket shopping. The Department will continue to monitor the reduction to the end of 2004 against the 25 per cent target.
- As at 30 June 2004, the National Packaging Covenant, a partnership between Australian and state and territory governments and industry to manage packaging waste, had 649 signatories representing all sectors of the packaging supply chain. The covenant now covers more than 80 per cent of domestic products.
- The National Pollutant Inventory continued to provide useful and accessible information on the pollutant emissions to the environment. The number of facilities reporting to the National Pollutant Inventory has increased steadily since 1998-99.
- Australia continued to contribute to international efforts to restrict the use, production and emission of hazardous chemicals. Australia ratified the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent for International Trade in Hazardous Chemicals on 20 May 2004.
- At the national level, the Department continued to advise on hazardous substances and organisms, including providing advice to regulators of agricultural, veterinary and industrial chemicals.
- In May 2004, the Department released 12 technical reports describing the outcomes of studies on dioxins in the environment. This was the largest survey of dioxin levels ever undertaken in Australia. The studies showed that the dioxin levels in our food, bodies and environment are low compared with international standards. They also showed the risks posed by dioxins to human health and the environment are low.
- With the Department's support, the Environment Protection and Heritage Council launched the Internet-based National Chemical Information Gateway, which provides a simple and coordinated way to access information on chemicals at www.deh.gov.au/chemicals-gateway.
Managing inland waters
The Department develops initiatives to ensure that management of inland rivers, groundwater and inland wetlands is ecologically sustainable. During 2003-04:
- Through the National Water Initiative, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to improve the security of water access entitlements, increase the productivity and efficiency of water use, and ensure the continued health of river and groundwater systems. Under the National Water Initiative, water allocated for environmental and other public benefit outcomes will, for the first time, have at least the same degree of security as water for human consumption. The environmental values of rivers, estuaries and aquifers of high conservation value will be protected through a range of measures.
- In addition, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to provide $500 million to address water over-allocation and environmental objectives in the Murray-Darling Basin. Of this, the Australian Government is contributing $200 million to address water over-allocation in the basin and to support the Living Murray Initiative.
- The Department continued work on the National Water Quality Management Strategy. New guidelines commenced under Phase 2 of the strategy will cover water recycling and water-sensitive urban design, helping to implement the urban component of the National Water Initiative.
- The Department administered Australian Government expenditure totalling $41.702 million on environmental work under the Natural Heritage Trust's Rivercare programme.
- The Department improved management of nationally and internationally significant Australian wetlands, promoted wetlands conservation internationally, and supported the sustainable management of tropical river systems.
Protecting and managing the land
The Department works to ensure the management of Australia's natural and agricultural land is ecologically sustainable. During 2003-04:
- The review of the National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation commenced. An updated framework is expected in late 2005.
- The Department secured agreement to a range of commitments by state and territory governments to improve native vegetation management.
- The Natural Heritage Trust Ministerial Board (which oversees Trust expenditure) and relevant state ministers accredited 33 integrated regional natural resource management plans in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. The Department expects to provide the remaining 23 integrated plans for ministers to accredit during 2004-05.
- The Department administered Australian Government expenditure totalling $73.187 million on environmental work under the Natural Heritage Trust's Landcare programme.
Establishing and managing protected areas
The Department supports the development of networks of protected areas (including national parks) to conserve biodiversity, protect ecosystem services and provide nature-based recreation and tourism opportunities. During 2003-04:
- Twenty properties covering 291 791 hectares were added to the National Reserve System. Since 1996, the Australian Government has added 20.865 million hectares to the National Reserve System. This includes 7.075 million hectares purchased or covenanted and 13.790 million hectares declared as Indigenous Protected Areas. This area represents three per cent of Australia's mainland. The total area covered by terrestrial protected areas (including state and territory protected areas) in Australia is 77.462 million hectares or just over ten per cent of Australia's landmass.
- The two new Indigenous Protected Areas declared during the year took the number of Indigenous Protected Areas to 19.