Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005
ISSN 1441 9335
Managing the department (continued)
The most significant decision having ongoing implications for the work of the department is that of the Full Court of the Australian Federal Court in Minister for the Environment and Heritage v Queensland Conservation Council Inc  FCAFC 190. The decision affirmed an earlier Federal Court decision in the Nathan Dam case under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which was reported last year. For more information about this and other cases, see the report on the operation of the Act in the second volume of this set of annual reports.
Apart from the report on the department’s financial statements, two audit reports were tabled that had findings and recommendations of relevance to the department.
- Audit Report No. 56 2004-05 Interim Phase of the Audit of Financial Statements of General Government Sector Entities for the Year Ending 30 June 2005. The report presents the results of the interim phase of the 2004-05 financial statement audit. The audit encompassed a review of the governance arrangements relating to the department’s financial management responsibilities, and an examination of internal control, including information technology system controls, as at 31 March 2005. The control frameworks for the department were found to be generally effective with some scope for improvement noted in several areas. The department accepted the findings and recommendations made by the Australian National Audit Office. A detailed implementation plan was developed to ensure all the findings are addressed and the recommendations implemented early in 2005-06.
- Audit Report No. 17 2004-05 The Administration of the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. The report recognised that the national action plan is pioneering a new approach to natural resource management and notes that, although there have been delays in expenditure, they were mainly caused by delays in signing bilateral agreements. It also concluded that the programme has contributed to significant institutional and policy reforms in the states and territories, which will address the root cause of many salinity issues. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry receives the appropriation for the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.
Two reports were tabled by the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Committee:
- Turning Back the Tide: The Invasive Species Challenge—a report on the regulation, control and management of invasive species and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Invasive Species) Bill 2002, tabled on 8 December 2004
- Lurching Forward, Looking Back —a report on the budgetary and environmental implications of the government’s energy white paper, tabled on 16 May 2005.
The government has not yet responded to these reports. An advanced draft of an Australian Government response to the invasive species report has been prepared.
The department contributed to the Australian Government responses to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry report Getting Water Right(s): The Future of Rural Australia and the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee report Rural Water Resource Usage. The department ensured environmental issues identified in the National Water Initiative were reflected in the government responses to these reports.
The department coordinated the government response to a report of the House of Representatives Environment and Heritage Committee, called Employment in the Environment Sector: Methods, Measurements and Messages. The report was tabled on 1 December 2003. The government’s response will be tabled by November 2005, subject to final clearances.
There were no formal reports from the Commonwealth Ombudsman during the year.
See the response to the Productivity Commission’s report on native vegetation laws, and the announcement of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into policy framework and incentives for the conservation of Australia’s historic built heritage.
- Applications received
- Information about the department
- Information about categories of documents
- Arrangements for outside participation
- Procedures for gaining access to information
This section is presented in accordance with the requirements of section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The Act gives the Australian community the right to access information held by the Australian Government. The only limits are exemptions needed to protect essential public interests and privacy.
The department received 24 applications pursuant to the Act during 2004-05. One application was made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. This was withdrawn before the tribunal heard the matter.
Under section 8 of the Act the department has to make available information about its functions, organisation, operations and powers that affect members of the public. Relevant information is contained elsewhere in this annual report (the executive summary presents an overview).
Under section 8 of the Act the department has to report details of certain categories of documents it maintains. The department holds a large range of documents in the following categories:
- General policy: administrative files, consultants’ reports, memoranda of understanding, agreements, permits, licences, submissions, guidelines for programmes, grant documents, manuals, financial records, staffing records, instructions of the secretary, legal documents, and tender evaluations
- Specific: Australian Antarctic Division records, committee records, and court documents and records
- Parliamentary: briefing documents, Cabinet documents, ministerial submissions, policy advice, ministerial correspondence, explanatory memoranda to Acts, Ordinances and Regulations.
Some documents may have been transferred into archival custody or destroyed in accordance with the Archives Act 1983.
Under section 8 of the Act the department has to report details of arrangements whereby members of the public can participate in certain kinds of decision-making.
The department consults members of the public and bodies outside the Australian Government’s administration when developing policy and programmes, and administering legislation and schemes. In addition to general public consultation, which may be a requirement of particular legislation, the department and the minister receive advice from various scientific and expert committees, and other bodies. These include the Australian Heritage Council, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, the Biological Diversity Advisory Committee, and the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee.
Generally people can participate by making oral or written representations to the minister or the department or by putting submissions to the various working groups chaired by the department.
Formal arrangements under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, Sea Installations Act 1987, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and the environmental impact assessment provisions of the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 provide for proposals to be examined publicly and for comments to be received.
Formal arrangements under the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands Environment Protection and Management Ordinance 1987 provide for public consultation during the development of management plans.
Formal arrangements under the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978 provide for public consultation on scientific research programmes and matters relating to the effects on the environment in the Alligator Rivers region of uranium mining operations.
Freedom of information matters within the department are handled by the Legal Section in the Policy Coordination and Environment Protection Division. Contact details for the freedom of information officer are:
Phone: (02) 6274 1578
Fax: (02) 6274 1587
Written requests for access to documents should be addressed to:
The Freedom of Information Coordinator
Department of the Environment and Heritage
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
For enquiries specific to the Antarctic contact:
Australian Antarctic Division
Kingston TAS 7050