Publications archive

Department of the Environment and Heritage annual report 2004-05

Volume one
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005
ISSN 1441 9335

Outcome 1 - Environment (continued)

Cross-cutting environmental work

The Department of the Environment and Heritage provides other services that contribute to all of the outputs under outcome 1.

Main responsibilities relevant to this work

Natural Resource Management Programmes Division

Policy Coordination and Environment Protection Division

Corporate Strategies Division

Administration of the Natural Heritage Trust

(Purchased output)

The $3 billion Natural Heritage Trust was established by the Australian Government in 1997 to help restore and conserve Australia ’s environment and natural resources. The Natural Heritage Trust invests in activities that will conserve, repair and replenish Australia ’s natural capital infrastructure. Activities are undertaken at national, regional and local scales:

Investments are also categorised according to environmental outcome as part of the Bushcare (39 per cent in 2004–05), Coastcare (19 per cent in 2004–05), Landcare (25 per cent in 2004–05) and Rivercare (17 per cent in 2004–05) themes of the Natural Heritage Trust.

A board made up of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry administers the Natural Heritage Trust. During the year management of the Natural Heritage Trust was carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Act 1997 and the ministerial board.

The Department of the Environment and Heritage receives the annual appropriation for the Natural Heritage Trust. The department and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry have a cross-portfolio arrangement for the administration of the Natural Heritage Trust and the Natural Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. The arrangement enables both departments to deliver the Natural Heritage Trust through a joint Australian Government Regional Natural Resource Management Team, and includes a purchaser-provider arrangement for the Natural Heritage Trust. During the year the Department of the Environment and Heritage provided $7.6 million to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry under the purchaser-provider arrangement.

The outcomes of Natural Heritage Trust expenditure are reported in the Natural Heritage Trust’s annual reports (see www.nht.gov.au/publications/#annual-reports) and the Regional Programmes Report (see www.nrm.gov.au/publications/regional-report).

Results for performance indicators
Performance indicator 2004–05 results
Bilateral agreements signed with each state and territory (Signed with all states and territories in previous financial years)
Bilateral agreements signed with the states and territories reflect agreed priorities and delivery arrangements for the Natural Heritage Trust (All agreements reflect agreed priorities and delivery arrangements)
Number of investment strategies that are prepared, evaluated and for which funding is agreed and specified in partnership agreements 25 strategies approved (52 strategies approved to date)
Investments are approved in accordance with agreed guidelines The Minister for the Environment and Heritage and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry approved investment proposals that contributed to the Natural Heritage Trust’s objectives and were consistent with the Natural Heritage Trust’s priority areas of activity
All investments approved by ministers in 2004–05 are provided with funding, in accordance with Natural Heritage Trust accountability and acquittal procedures, to meet Natural Heritage Trust objectives Funding was provided under financial agreements that reflect accountability, reporting and acquittal procedures

All approved investments contributed to Natural Heritage Trust objectives
Integrated natural resource management regional plans meet agreed accreditation criteria 23 regional plans accredited (52 regional plans accredited to date)
Number of individuals or community groups supported through Australian Government Envirofund grants 1 394 projects (worth $19.7 million) approved, approximately equal to number of individuals and community groups supported
Number of on-ground actions by type funded by the Natural Heritage Trust See Natural Heritage Trust annual report
A monitoring and evaluation strategy is in place at each level of the Natural Heritage Trust delivery framework Strategy in place at each level of the framework Implementation strategies agreed with 6 states and territories

Environmental information

Data collated by the department’s State of the Environment team is used to inform policy advice and to monitor progress on environmental protection.

2006 State of the Environment report

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 requires that a report on the State of the Environment is released every five years. The report assesses the Australian environment under eight themes (atmosphere, coasts and oceans, inland waters, biodiversity, human settlements, natural and cultural heritage, land and the Australian Antarctic Territory). The next report is due in 2006.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage appointed an independent State of the Environment Committee in early 2004. During 2004–05 the committee decided on the scope of the 2006 report, developed frameworks for the themes, and chose the environmental indicators to use. Work on gathering data and developing a data reporting system is proceeding. The department has developed a number of information products based on the National Carbon Accounting System that are a first for national State of the Environment reporting. The department let contracts for preparing commentaries on each of the themes, a number of cross-cutting commentaries and short reports on some current and emerging issues. The committee will prepare the State of the Environment report over the next financial year.

Environmental Resources Information Network (ERIN)

The department’s Environmental Resources Information Network continued to develop information products for use by the department, other government agencies and the public. For example a new online Species Profile and Threats database provides information on threatened plants, animals and ecological communities to help users make informed decisions about activities that come under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (see www.deh.gov.au/sprat).

Various online mapping applications were developed during the year. Anyone accessing the web site can now produce maps showing species richness, endemism and taxonomic distinctiveness. This application was developed through a Global Biodiversity Information Facility demonstration project (see www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/digir/www).

The National Vegetation Information System was updated in close collaboration with states and territories. The Environmental Resources Information Network also produced spatial analyses to inform the department’s input to the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement.

International activities coordination

The department represents Australia’s interests on environment, heritage and sustainable development issues at regional and international forums, including:

This work contributes to the international pursuit of sustainable development by drawing on Australia’s strategies and experiences to inform policy decisions. The department provides briefings to ministers and departmental officials who attend these meetings. Some of the details appear in other chapters of this annual report—see especially climate change, marine conservation, Asia–Pacific heritage and chemicals.

In addition the Australian Antarctic Division is an active participant in the international Antarctic Treaty System.

Boxing Day tsunami, Indian Ocean

Agencies in the Australian Government’s environment and heritage portfolio were involved in the government’s assistance to Indian Ocean countries in the aftermath of the 26 December 2004 tsunami. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority provided coral reef assistance to the Maldives, Thailand and the Seychelles. The Bureau of Meteorology is involved in establishing an early warning system for future tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.

Commission on Sustainable Development

The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development is a multilateral forum that promotes dialogue on sustainable development and builds partnerships between governments and stakeholders. The 13th session of the commission was held from 11–22 April 2005. The three themes under discussion were water, sanitation and human settlements. The Minister for the Environment and Heritage participated in the High Level Segment. His representations focused on the need for improved national governance and for economic growth to foster sustainable development. The meeting gave impetus to implementation of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation on the three main themes, and on key cross-cutting themes such as gender and education.

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

The department represented Australia at meetings of the Environment Policy Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on 9–10 November 2004 and 13–15 April 2005. The committee continued to direct studies on a wide range of issues linking economic and environmental policy formulation. It also initiated work on the costs of inaction on environmental problems, and effective partnerships for preserving and enhancing the environment. The new work was in response to priorities set by environment ministers of member countries when they met in April 2004.

The department began preparations for Australia’s second environment performance review for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The review is scheduled to finish in December 2006. The review will engage federal, state and territory governments and other stakeholders. The findings of the review will be a useful input to future environmental policy making.

United Nations Environment Programme

The department represented Australia at the meeting of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme held from 21–25 February 2005 in Nairobi. Major themes were international chemicals management, international environmental governance, water policy and strategy, and small-island developing states. Final decisions of the meeting included the development of a strategic approach to international chemicals management and strengthening activities related to small-island developing states.

See also: Strategic international approach to chemicals.

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific is the largest of the United Nations’ Regional Commissions. The department represented Australia at the 5th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Seoul from 24–29 March 2005. The theme for the meeting was ‘Achieving Environmentally Sustainable Economic Growth (Green Growth) in Asia and the Pacific’. The department played a key role in negotiating the final outcomes, which set a positive agenda for the region in taking forward agreed principles on sustainable development. A work plan for environment and development was set for the next five years outlining mechanisms to shift from unsustainable development patterns to environmentally sustainable economic growth.

Bilateral activities

Papua New Guinea: The department continued to work with Papua New Guinea’s Department of Environment and Conservation. The department supported a National Capacity Self Assessment that will help Papua New Guinea meet its international environment obligations and improve environmental and natural resource management. The department also worked with Papua New Guinean officials to develop whole-of-government policy coordination processes for forestry issues.

Indonesia: Engagement with Indonesia covered a wide variety of issues, reflecting the breadth of the bilateral relationship. A successful meeting of the Joint Working Group on Marine Affairs and Fisheries on 16 March 2005 progressed issues to do with illegal fishing and management of the fishing area near Ashmore Reef. Other areas for bilateral cooperation included joint polar research activities, migratory marine species and waterbirds, management of world heritage areas, and meteorological data exchange.

Japan: Discussions at international meetings and in Australia covered a range of issues including whaling, migratory waterbird conservation and other partnerships on sustainable development, joint polar research activities, environmental education, climate change, and meteorological collaboration.

See also: international whaling negotiations.

New Zealand: Discussions covered marine mammal protection, waste management, and engagement with the Pacific. The department participated in the environment performance review of New Zealand for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Pacific islands: Engagement with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme continued through Australia’s involvement in the 15th annual meeting of officials and 5th ministerial meeting from 13–17 September 2004. The department continued to assist with wetlands conservation, chemicals and waste management, climate variability assessment, and implementation of international conventions such as the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This included completing the first year of a two-year United Nations Development Programme project to help Pacific island countries (including Papua New Guinea—see above) implement their obligations under major international environment conventions. The department is working with countries to improve their capacity to implement international environmental obligations, drawing on Australia’s experience in meeting these obligations.

Trade and the environment

The department continued its partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on trade and environment issues. This partnership covered:

The department helped to develop Australia’s positions, especially for the World Trade Organization negotiations on the relationship between existing trade rules and trade obligations set out in multilateral environmental agreements (these negotiations implement paragraphs 31 and 32 of the Doha Declaration, available via www.wto.org).

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was an international programme designed to synthesise scientific information about the consequences of ecosystem change. In part the programme aimed to meet assessment needs of international conventions on the environment. The programme was completed in March 2005, producing 15 reports in total (see www.milleniumassessment.org). The department contributed to the programme by providing data and taking part in an extensive peer review process of draft reports.

Environmental economics advice

The department supports environmental policy decision-making with economic analysis. It also works to ensure that economic policies take environmental considerations into account.

During the year this work focused on the scope for cost recovery on environmental services, economic analyses of native vegetation protection policies, regional marine planning, heritage protection and fisheries structural adjustment.

The department also continued to participate in the National Market Based Instruments Pilot Programme under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. Under the programme federal, state and territory governments have provided $5 million for 11 projects to investigate market-based approaches to natural resource and environmental management. The projects are nearing completion. The department contributed to the report Market-based Tools for Environmental Management—Proceedings of the 6th Annual AARES National Symposium 2003.

Support for environmental education

The department’s goal in its environmental education activities is to develop the skills, knowledge and values that the Australian community needs to protect the environment.

National Action Plan for Environmental Education

The department is working with the Australian Government’s advisory body on environmental education, the National Environmental Education Council, to implement the National Action Plan for Environmental Education. During the year the department continued to support the plan’s major initiatives including:

Youth forum at Dorroughby

Youth forum at Dorroughby

In September 2004 students from 14 high schools in northern New South Wales attended a regional youth forum at Dorroughby Environmental Education Centre, near Lismore. Supported by the Sustainable Schools Initiative, the forum was a joint initiative of the North East Waste Forum (on behalf of its member councils) and the Government of New South Wales (Department of Environment and Conservation and Department of Education and Training). The forum brought students and teachers together to learn how students can actively participate in environmental management in schools.
Photo: courtesy of the North East Waste Forum (NEWF)

Implementing the national action plan through these and other mechanisms has seen a continued improvement in the effectiveness of environmental education across Australia. Significant achievements include the approval of the first National Environmental Education Statement for Australian Schools by all education ministers, the extension of the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative nationally, and the completion of a number of environmental education research projects. Work was also undertaken on the development of an Australian Government response to the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

Sustainable Schools Initiative

The Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative involves whole school communities in the sustainable management of their schools, including better management of resources and school grounds. The initiative was expanded during the year to include all states and territories except Tasmania. The initiative continued to achieve reductions in the use of energy, water and waste as well as supporting quality teaching and educational outcomes.

Environmental education research

Under the national component of the Natural Heritage Trust the department is providing $1.8 million over two years (2004–2006) to the Australian Research Institute in Education for Sustainability at Macquarie University for applied environmental education research. The research institute is carrying out projects aligned with Australian Government priorities for environmental education.

The research programme is achieving significant outcomes particularly in work being done with Australia’s leading business schools and a number of prominent Australian companies, where the research approach is aimed at embedding sustainability in the activities of the organisations involved.

Support for environment and heritage organisations

Taxation concessions

The Register of Environmental Organisations is a list of approved environmental organisations to which donations of money or property for the conservation of the natural environment are tax-deductible. During 2003–04, the last year for which statistics are available, the public donated more than $73 million to environmental tax-deductible organisations. These funds are used to protect and enhance the natural environment. There is some suggestion that the recent rapid growth in donations may have slowed or even reversed during 2004–05 as a result of the massive public response to fund-raising appeals following the 26 December 2004 tsunami. A total of 84 draft applications were processed for entry to the register during 2004–05; 34 organisations were entered on the register and seven organisations were removed.

Grants to Voluntary Environment and Heritage Organisations

The Grants to Voluntary Environment and Heritage Organisations programme assists community-based environment and heritage groups with the administrative costs of their activities. This year the programme was opened to small, local-level groups that are conducting on-the-ground environment and heritage activities, with 128 organisations meeting the revised eligibility criteria. These organisations were recommended for a total of $759 600 in grant funding for 2004–05. For the first time, multi-year grants were approved by the minister, totalling $354 000 per annum for 28 voluntary organisations over 2005–06 and 2006–07.