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Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2003-04

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335

Overview

Review by departmental secretary

David Borthwick, Secretary, Department of the Environment and Water Resources

Our environment consistently rates as one of the top issues of importance to Australians. This is hardly surprising given the vast array of landscapes we enjoy - from the natural beauty of the inland, our beaches and forests, to some of the most liveable cities in the world.

The 2003-04 Annual Report of the Department of the Environment and Heritage outlines what has been achieved over the past year to ensure that our unique environment is sustained for future generations.

Also in this annual report, the Department has reported on its 'in-house' activities, for the first time, on a 'triple bottom line' basis, which is in keeping with our promotion of this concept to the private sector.

Our approach to the challenge

Before touching on some of the highlights, let me say a little more about how we have gone about our work.

Environmental matters are, by their very nature, complex. Problems may have developed over a long period of time; affect vast areas; impact on a range of individuals and groups; and cross state borders. Solutions are never easy to broker. In our work, we strive to devise solutions which are efficient, equitable and feasible to implement.

To be effective, we rely on:

Through the application of this approach, the Department - and the broader Environment and Heritage Portfolio1 - has made a considerable contribution over the past year to advancing environmental objectives.

2003-04: the highlights

The annual report indicates the depth and extent of the Department's activities, but four developments particularly illustrate the reach and effectiveness in 2003-04.

First, the cornerstone of the Portfolio's legislative base is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which aims to protect matters of national environmental significance. It sets out a framework to protect threatened species, ecological communities, Commonwealth land and waters, and protects wildlife through the regulation of trade. In 2003-04 the reach of the Act was extended to now protect Australia's nationally significant natural, Indigenous and historic heritage places. For the first time, heritage places under Commonwealth management will also be legislatively protected.

Secondly, Australia's major land and water repair programmes are the $3 billion Natural Heritage Trust and the $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. Key components of these programmes involve planning and delivery at the community level through regional catchment committees. The strategy focuses on national priorities, while enriching those priorities with local knowledge, content and commitment. The fruits of this approach are being realised as plans are being accredited and investment programmes are put in place. The task of environmental repair will require ongoing effort.

Thirdly, in 2003-04, a year of prolonged drought across much of the continent, the Council of Australian Governments adopted two intergovernmental agreements - the National Water Initiative and The Living Murray. The agreements are pathbreaking reforms which offer a framework for improved environmental performance and efficiency of water use. The Living Murray initiative, as a first step, will focus on improving six key ecological assets - the Barmah-Millewa Forest; Gunbower and Pericoota-Koondrook Forests; Hattah Lakes; Chowilla Floodplain (including Lindsay-Wallpolla); the Murray Mouth, Coorong and Lower Lakes; and the River Murray Channel.

Fourthly, the finalisation of a new zoning plan for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (led by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) was a milestone for environmental sustainability. Changes came into effect on 1 July 2004, increasing the 'no take' zones from 4.5 per cent to 33.5 per cent of the park. There are clear long-term environmental and tourist industry benefits from this extended protection. However, there will be businesses adversely affected by the changes (primarily those involved in commercial and recreational fishing, and fish processing). It has been an important objective in finalising the plan to devise a fair and equitable adjustment assistance package for affected businesses, employees and communities.

The year ahead

The Portfolio has clear objectives for the year ahead, notwithstanding changes that may occur in this election year. Some of the matters that require particular attention in 2004-05 include:

Organising ourselves

The Department will only be able to discharge its responsibilities effectively if it (and the broader Portfolio) is responsive to the Minister's and the Government's priorities. We will perform to the best of our ability only if we stay in 'tip-top' shape. To this end, the Department is undertaking a staff attitude survey (the first since 1995); reviewing the governance framework; sharpening our focus on programme implementation; improving our IT systems and support; and ensuring we have in place a targeted training programme for staff.

David Borthwick
Secretary

Retirement of Mr Roger Beale AM

Mr Roger Beale AM, former Secretary, Department of the Environment and Water Resources

Mr Roger Beale AM retired from the Australian Public Service, as Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, in February 2004.

Mr Beale led the Department for eight years from March 1996, as well as being a Commissioner of the Australian Heritage Commission, and Chairman of the Environment Protection and Heritage Standing Committee and the Prime Minister's Special Representative on Climate Change. With his capacity for identifying and engaging key players, he chaired many cross-portfolio initiatives, dealing with issues as diverse as greenhouse, environmental law and national heritage.

Mr Beale came to this role after an impressive record of achievement, including as an Associate Secretary in both the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Transport and Communications, and as a Commissioner of the Public Service Board.

During his time as Secretary, Ministers Robert Hill and David Kemp, and Parliamentary Secretary Sharman Stone greatly valued his advice, and he earned the respect of his peers and staff.

Mr Beale's intellectual capacity, energy and commitment led the development and implementation of the Australian Government's environmental policy agenda, and shaped the portfolio as a respected contributor to whole of government policy on the range of issues affecting the sustainability of our nation.

The fact that working towards a sustainable environment now stands alongside our national economic and social objectives in the development of overall government policy is testament to Mr Beale's personal contribution to the protection of Australia's environment.

The list of Mr Beale's achievements is long, but the recognition of the Environment and Heritage Portfolio's contribution in setting the policy agenda, increased protection for Australia's special places such as Kakadu, many successes in international arenas and forums, and the consolidation of the Department into the John Gorton Building were some of his key achievements.

Mr Beale was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1995.

1 The Environment and Heritage Portfolio consists of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, the Director of National Parks, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator, the Australian Greenhouse Office, the Bureau of Meteorology and the National Oceans Office.

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