Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005
ISSN 1441 9335
Outcome 1 - Environment (continued)
Human settlements and industry
The Department of the Environment and Heritage works with all levels of government, the community and industry to minimise the impact of human settlements (including industrial processes) on Australia's environment.
Main responsibilities relevant to this output
Policy Coordination and Environment Protection Division
- Product stewardship schemes
- National Packaging Covenant
- Environmental reporting
- Water efficiency labelling
- National Pollutant Inventory
- Support for the National Environment Protection Council
- Hazardous substances regulation
- Gene technology risk assessments
- Chemical risk assessments
Supervising Scientist Division
- To improve the environmental performance of industry
- To improve public information by promoting better reporting and labelling
- To protect the environment and human health from hazardous substances and organisms
- To monitor, audit and supervise uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory
- Major supermarkets exceeded their national target for reducing the use of plastic bags
- A new water efficiency and labelling scheme for household appliances was established to help consumers buy products that use less water
- A new version of the National Packaging Covenant was agreed, reducing waste from used packaging for another five years
- Extending product stewardship schemes
- Plastic bags
- Degradable plastics
- Product Stewardship for Oil Programme
The department is working in partnership with industry and with state and territory governments through the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (a council of government ministers responsible for environment and heritage protection matters) to address a range of waste issues through product stewardship measures. These include a policy framework for pursuing product stewardship for used oil, computers, mobile phones, newsprint, packaging, plastic bags, televisions, tyres and vinyls.
Product stewardship means recognising that manufacturers, importers and other people who benefit from making and selling a product share some responsibility for the environmental impacts of that product.
In December 2004 the Environment Protection and Heritage Council released a discussion paper, Co-regulatory Frameworks for Product Stewardship. Co-regulation means having some form of government regulation to back specific industry product stewardship schemes. The paper proposed a way to use regulation to make sure that businesses that choose to participate in voluntary product stewardship schemes are not disadvantaged in the marketplace (see www.ephc.gov.au). The nature of these regulations is yet to be determined and they will need to be tailored to particular industry sectors. These regulations will serve to impose obligations on companies that do not participate in the voluntary industry product stewardship schemes. The regulations will achieve equivalent environmental outcomes to the voluntary schemes.
The department received 66 submissions on the paper, with over 70 per cent coming from industry. Over 80 per cent of respondents supported a co-regulatory approach. The Environment Protection and Heritage Council will now examine options for taking forward the concept of co-regulation.
Also during the year the department, along with state and territory governments, provided input to the council on product stewardship schemes for televisions and computers. The television industry established an independent organisation called Product Stewardship Australia and continues to further define the details of its scheme.
The department is leading national efforts to establish a recycling scheme for used tyres. The department has is negotiated a draft agreement with the tyre industry. The industry agreed to undertake detailed economic modelling of its proposed scheme.
Each year between 50 and 80 million plastic bags may find their way onto streets and parks, and into waterways. Apart from being unsightly, plastic bag litter can harm aquatic and terrestrial animals. Reducing plastic bag litter is a priority for the Environment Protection and Heritage Council, which has indicated it supports phasing out single use, light weight carry bags by the end of 2008 (see www.ephc.gov.au/ephc/plastic_bags.html).
Lightweight plastic shopping bags are an unsightly pollution problem
Photo: B Butt
In December 2002 the council asked the retail industry and the community to work together to cut plastic bag litter by 75 per cent by the end of 2004. As part of a suite of supporting measures the council challenged retailers to adopt ambitious targets for reducing the use of single use, light weight plastic shopping bags and for increasing the rate at which these bags are recycled. In response the Australian Retailers’ Association set voluntary targets that included a 25 per cent reduction in the use of plastic bags by the end of 2004 and a 50 per cent reduction by the end of 2005. In time this should lead to an overall reduction of plastic bag litter.
In March 2005 the association was able to report that the major supermarket retailers had reduced plastic bag use by about 27 per cent between December 2002 and December 2004, exceeding the 25 per cent target. Whereas in 2002 Australians consumed about 6 billion light weight plastic shopping bags, by the end of 2004 that figure had dropped to less than 5 billion. The association is gearing up to meet the challenge of achieving the 50 per cent target (see www.deh.gov.au/settlements/publications/waste/plastic-bags/ara).
There are significant national challenges ahead if Australia is to completely phase out plastic bags by 2008, including enlisting the support of smaller, non-supermarket retail outlets and maintaining the level of consumer cooperation in the current efforts to reduce plastic bag consumption. In August 2003 the Environment Protection and Heritage Council indicated its support for phasing out light weight, single use carry bags by the end of 2008. Negotiations with retailers on this issue are an ongoing priority for the department, and dealing with the associated challenges, particularly for smaller retailers, are an ongoing focus of the minister’s and the department’s activities. During 2004–05 the minister convened two roundtables of the smaller retailers with the aim of enlisting their support and identifying solutions to potential barriers to this support. The department managed two Natural Heritage Trust grants: a $100 000 grant contributed to the retail industry’s national consumer awareness programme, Say NO to Plastic Bags; and a $25 000 grant to Planet Ark supported a survey of non-supermarket retailers, which identified the difficulties this sector faces in achieving the voluntary targets.
At face value plastics that break down quickly — degradable plastics — offer a technological solution to the problem of managing waste plastic materials. However the wide range of products available and the variety of settings in which decomposition could take place make it hard to be certain about the environmental impacts or benefits of degradable plastics. Until recently there were no national standards that would allow consumers and regulators to test claims about the decomposition of plastics. In October 2003 the Environment Protection and Heritage Council asked Standards Australia, a non-government standards development body, to develop standards for degradable plastics. In April 2005 Standards Australia published two standards for biodegradable plastics. Further standards are being developed.
The department is supporting this work and is represented on the standards development committee. During 2004–05 the department engaged with industry and with state and territory environment agencies to provide information to the community on degradable plastics (see www.deh.gov.au/settlements/waste/degradables). The department also published four editions of a quarterly, online newsletter on degradable plastics issues to provide up-to-date information on technology, the industry, standards and government policy development.
In 2001 the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 established a product stewardship for oil programme for used lubricating oils. The government’s programme includes transitional assistance funding, a levy from oil manufacturers and benefits for used oil recycling. The Australian Taxation Office is responsible for administering the levy and benefit arrangements. The department administers the transitional assistance funding and advises on policy.
Industry estimates that about 150–165 million litres of used oil was being recycled prior to the implementation of the programme. Since the programme’s implementation in 2001 used oil recycling has increased by about 40 per cent (chart below). Through the transitional assistance funding the programme has also installed more than 800 used oil collection facilities across Australia.
Volume of oil recycled (2000–present)
Total volume recycled to date = 903.5 million litres
The figure for the volume collected in 2000–01 covers only a six-month period. The relevant part of the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 commenced on 1 January 2001.
A full report on the operation of the programme appears in the second volume of this set of annual reports.
The National Packaging Covenant is a voluntary arrangement to reduce the environmental impacts of packaging. Companies sign up to the covenant and are then expected to develop plans to evaluate and reduce the impacts of their packaging. The plans may include actions like adopting product stewardship policies, contributing to kerbside collection and recycling programmes, or promoting awareness that packaging is a resource that can be reused. See www.deh.gov.au/industry/waste/covenant.
The National Packaging Covenant is underpinned by the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure. This measure is an agreement by governments which requires brand owners who are not covenant signatories to take back and recycle a percentage of their packaging products. State and territory governments are responsible for implementing the measure in their jurisdictions.
The Environment Protection and Heritage Council oversees the National Packaging Covenant, which the department helps to administer.
The Environment Protection and Heritage Council approved a new version of the National Packaging Covenant at its 1 July 2005 meeting, following public consultation. The revised covenant will operate over the next five years, starting from 14 July 2005. It commits signatories to:
- a national recycling target of 65 per cent for packaging
- limiting the amount of packaging waste sent to landfill by the end of 2010.
The previous version of the covenant was launched in August 1999. Since that time it had attracted almost 650 industry and government signatories covering all sectors of the packaging supply chain including raw material suppliers, brand owners and retailers.
The rate at which organisations were signing on to the previous version of the covenant dropped in 2004–05 (chart below). The main reason was awareness that this version was due to expire on 14 July 2005, with many organisations electing not to sign until the next version of the covenant came into force.
Uptake of the National Packaging Covenant (1999–present)
Total company signatories to date = 649
Shows the number of companies that have signed on to the National Packaging Covenant. Other signatories include government agencies. The covenant was launched on 27 August 1999.
Non-financial reporting (also known as sustainability and triple bottom line reporting) is an important driver for improving corporate performance, including environmental performance. Increasing numbers of corporations are prepared to report their environmental impacts. This is consistent with good corporate governance, which includes managing environmental risks.
In the 2005 KPMG International Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting, which surveyed the top 100 publicly listed companies of 16 countries, Australia ranked 14th out of the 16 countries in terms of the percentage of companies publishing non-financial information either as a separate report or as part of an annual report. The average percentage of companies doing this across the 16 countries was 41 per cent, compared with 23 per cent in Australia.
The minister and the department are engaging with organisations in the finance community to enhance the level and quality of non-financial reporting in Australia. A key aspect is ensuring that the reports are meaningful and relevant to business and other stakeholders. The department maintains the Sustainability Reporting Library, undertakes an annual survey called the State of Sustainability Reporting in Australia, and has developed guidelines on preparing a sustainability report (see www.deh.gov.au/settlements/industry/corporate/reporting).
Internationally the guidelines published by the Global Reporting Initiative are increasingly accepted as the framework for triple bottom line (environment, social and economic) reporting. The department uses these guidelines to prepare its own triple bottom line reports. During the year the department published its first triple bottom line report, covering 2003–04, and began preparing a second triple bottom line report, covering 2004–05 (see www.deh.gov.au/about/publications/tbl and page 197).
See also: State of the Environment reporting.
New appliance rating labels for water efficiency
Encouraging consumers to use water efficient appliances is one way to conserve water. The department is implementing the government’s new water efficiency labelling and standards scheme, which requires manufacturers to label appliances like showerheads, washing machines and toilets with a star rating.
The ratings will give consumers a sense of how much water each appliance uses, with the aim of encouraging consumers to buy appliances that are more water efficient. The ratings also provide an incentive for manufacturers to improve the water efficiency of their products.
The department estimates the scheme will reduce domestic water use by 87 200 megalitres or 5 per cent per year by 2021, a saving of 610 000 megalitres over that period — more water than in Sydney Harbour.
On 18 February 2005 the parliament passed the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005, which establishes the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme. The scheme came into operation on 1 July 2005 on a voluntary basis, and will become compulsory for most products from 1 July 2006 .
The first report on the operation of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005 is included in the second volume of this set of annual reports, and additional information is available at www.waterrating.gov.au.
The National Pollutant Inventory is a publicly available database of pollutant emissions, which the department publishes at www.npi.gov.au. People use it to find out the types and amounts of pollutants being emitted in local government areas, including emissions by individual businesses. The National Environment Protection (National Pollutant Inventory) Measure underpins the inventory.
The 2003–04 National Pollutant Inventory results were published in January 2005 as required by the National Environment Protection (National Pollutant Inventory) Measure (see www.npi.gov.au; results for 2004–05 will be published in January 2006). The coverage of the inventory increased with the number of facilities reporting to the inventory rising to 3 618 (compared to 3 364 in 2003–04). Several industries undertook work to improve the accuracy of their data. Of the 90 listed pollutants, 44 substances had decreased emissions compared to last year and 46 showed increases. These changes could be due to a range of factors relevant to each facility, such as the installation of new equipment, better estimation of emissions, and changes in facility operations. It is not clear what proportion is attributable to improved environmental performance, the use of different estimation techniques, or changing production levels.
During the year the Environment Protection and Heritage Council decided to review the operation and design of the National Pollutant Inventory. The review, completed in April 2005, found that the inventory is delivering benefits to a range of groups but could be improved. The council decided on 1 July 2005 that it would consider varying the National Environment Protection (National Pollutant Inventory) Measure. The council will consider ways to improve the inventory’s effectiveness both as a source of information and as a driver of cleaner production.
The Australian Government extended base funding for the National Pollutant Inventory for four years in the 2004–05 Budget ($5.2 million over the period 2005–2009) and in the 2003–04 Budget committed $4.0 million over three years (2005–2008) to enhance the inventory.
The National Environment Protection Council is a statutory body with law-making powers established under the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 and corresponding legislation in the states and territories. The council now forms part of the Environment Protection and Heritage Council.
Each jurisdiction contributes funding to support the National Environment Protection Council with the Australian Government contributing 50 per cent. The department pays the Australian Government’s annual contribution. This contribution goes to the National Environment Protection Council Service Corporation, which provides secretariat, project management and administrative services. The 2004–05 contribution was $0.4 million.
Detailed outcomes are reported in the annual report on the operation of the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 available at www.ephc.gov.au/php/list_document_types.php.
- Strategic international approach to chemicals
- Persistent organic pollutants
- Informed consent to imports
- National risk management framework
The department is involved in a range of Australian Government initiatives to minimise the environmental and health impacts of hazardous substances. Internationally the department represents Australia ’s interests in the development of agreements designed to control hazardous chemicals (see www.deh.gov.au/industry/chemicals/international). Within Australia the department works through the Environment Protection and Heritage Council to develop nationally applicable guidelines and standards for hazardous chemicals in consultation with the states and territories, industry and community groups.
The department administers the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989, which implements Australia ’s obligations under the Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (the Basel Convention). In 2004–05 a total of 13 permit applications were processed (nine export and four import), and 12 permits were granted, with one export application refused.
Sampling of bulkier bags containing zinc sulfate contaminated with cadmium
Photo: Greg Rippon
Compliance and education are important aspects of administering the Act. In 2004–05 compliance activity included an analysis and audit of zinc sulfate and zinc oxide imported for agricultural use. Some recent imports of zinc compounds had been heavily contaminated with cadmium, which rendered them unsuitable for agricultural use. A survey of imports for 2004–05 was initiated. Samples were taken of seven separate imports at ports in Queensland , New South Wales , Victoria and South Australia , and chemical analysis showed that all were free of significant contamination by cadmium, lead or other undesirable heavy metals.
Some hazardous substances are particularly difficult to dispose of safely. The department is implementing the National Strategy for the Management of Scheduled Waste, which provides for the safe management and disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls, hexachlorobenzene and organochlorine pesticides wastes in cooperation with the states and territories (see www.deh.gov.au/industry/chemicals/publications/strategy-1992).
In early 2005 the department became aware of the export of large volumes of unsorted co-mingled household recyclable waste (which is classified as hazardous waste under the Act and the Basel Convention) from Western Australia to Hong Kong. Three containers were seized at Fremantle docks, and the minister ordered a further 10 containers already at sea to be re-imported into Australia . The department alerted municipal authorities, exporters and others concerned with the handling and disposal of domestic waste to the requirement for properly sorting recyclable components of waste (into plastic, paper, metals and so on) before export is legal under the Act.
The international trade in old electronic and electrical equipment (‘e-scrap’) is a growing problem, and in a series of meetings over 2004–05 the department and relevant sectors of industry developed criteria for deciding when old electronic and electrical equipment destined for export is a waste, and hence subject to control under the Act.
A detailed report on the operation of the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989, which covers the 7th meeting of the conference of the parties to the Basel Convention, and the development of new criteria for exporting and importing hazardous electronic waste, is included in the second volume of this set of annual reports.
In 2002 the World Summit on Sustainable Development urged international organisations to cooperate in improving international chemicals management. The Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme in February 2003 began developing a Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. The purpose of the strategic approach is to ensure that internationally chemicals are used and produced in ways that mitigate significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment by the year 2020.
The department is leading Australia ’s input. Australian priorities include agreement on domestic and international governance benchmarks for chemicals management, ensuring information on chemicals is generated and made available to those that need it, and extending existing cooperative models (especially those established through the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) to the wider global community. The department expects the outcomes of the work will be adopted at the Global Ministerial Environment Forum meeting in February 2006.
In a parallel process, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme agreed to an international programme aimed at reducing mercury emissions. As part of this effort the department began developing a plan to address mercury releases in Australia .
See also: United Nations Environment Programme.
In May 2004 the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants came into force. Australia ratified the convention on 20 May 2004 and became a party on
18 August 2004 .
The convention includes restrictions on 12 listed chemicals, including many of the substances in the National Strategy for the Management of Scheduled Waste agreed by the Australian Government and all states and territories more than a decade ago. The strategy provides for the safe management and disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls, hexachlorobenzene and organochlorine pesticides wastes in Australia .
Bans are already in place on the production and import of most of the chemicals listed in the convention. In 2004–05 Australia registered an exemption to use Mirex as a bait control for the giant termite in the Northern Territory, as no other pesticide is available to protect certain kinds of fruit trees from this particular pest (see www.pops.int/documents/registers/specexempt.htm). Research is under way to identify an alternative so that the exemption can be withdrawn.
The department led the Australian delegation to the first meeting of the conference of the parties to the convention, held in Uruguay 2–6 May 2005. Outcomes included the establishment of a Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee to assess new chemicals for possible inclusion on the convention, and an expert group to conclude the development of guidelines for best available technology and best environmental practices for reducing emissions of unintentionally produced persistent organic pollutants such as dioxins.
During the year the department began developing a national implementation plan that sets out how Australia will meet its obligations under the convention. This plan will reflect the achievements in phasing out, removing and destroying persistent organic pollutants in Australia over the past two decades as well as identifying further actions Australia will take to give full effect to its obligations.
The three-year National Dioxins Programme was established in 2001–02 to improve knowledge about dioxins in Australia and to determine appropriate measures aimed at reducing or eliminating releases. During the year the department commissioned further research to determine the extent to which dioxins are formed in bushfires. Results are due in late 2005.
On behalf of the Environment Protection and Heritage Council, the department developed a National Action Plan for Addressing Dioxins in response to the findings of previous studies funded under the programme. The council released the plan for public comment on 1 July 2005 (see www.ephc.gov.au/ephc/dioxins.html). The action plan will contribute to Australia ’s obligations under the Stockholm Convention in relation to dioxins.
With moves by some countries to recommend the inclusion of some brominated flame retardant chemicals on the Stockholm Convention, the department commissioned three studies to investigate the levels of these chemicals in the Australian population, indoor air and aquatic sediments. The results, which are expected in late 2005, will contribute to Australia ’s policy position in the convention’s review committee. The results will also contribute to a national assessment of these chemicals being undertaken by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme.
In February 2004 the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade came into force. The procedure set up under this convention enables countries to decide whether to allow the import of chemicals listed under the convention. Australia ratified the convention on 20 May 2004 and became a party on 18 August 2004 .
The department led the delegation to the first meeting of the conference of the parties, held in Geneva , Switzerland , from 20–24 September 2004. Prior to the meeting, countries had nominated new chemicals to add to the list under the convention. The conference added all these chemicals to the list. The department also participated in the first meeting of the convention’s Chemical Review Committee, from 11–18 February 2005, which reviewed Australia ’s nomination of chrysotile asbestos. The committee agreed to forward Australia ’s nomination to the next conference of the parties.
The department continued to work with the states and territories to develop the National Environmental Risk Management Framework for Chemicals. The proposed framework will establish agreed priorities for environment protection and:
- make sure that the agencies responsible for assessing chemicals consider environmental issues from the outset of assessment processes
- make sure that risk management actions are applied consistently across jurisdictions
- set up benchmarks and a national monitoring system.
As part of this work the Environment Protection and Heritage Council responded to stakeholder concerns about the difficulties of finding information about chemicals. As a result the National Chemical Information Gateway was launched in April 2004 (see hermes.erin.gov.au/pls/cig_public/!CIGPPUBLIC.pStart). During 2004–05 the gateway received over 60 000 hits. In addition the National Chemical Reference Guide was launched on 29 June 2005 . The guide brings together all environmental standards and guidelines in a central searchable database for over 600 chemicals.
The Gene Technology Regulator, within the Department of Health and Ageing, regulates genetically modified organisms under the Gene Technology Act 2000. This Act requires the regulator to seek advice from the Minister for the Environment and Heritage for each intentional release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. Advice is sought initially on the issues to be addressed when preparing risk assessment and risk management plans, and then later on the plans themselves once prepared.
In 2004–05 the Gene Technology Regulator sought the minister’s advice on 17 occasions in relation to 10 licence applications. The minister provided advice to the regulator on all occasions, and within the statutory deadline. As a result environmental factors were adequately addressed by the regulator for each licence granted.
In 2004–05 assessments were provided to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority on five agricultural applications involving the use of genetically modified organisms or biological control agents, to ensure there were no unintended adverse environmental effects as a result of these releases.
The department received $0.5 million under the National Biotechnology Strategy to improve basic knowledge and assist with the assessment of environmental risks for provision of advice to the Gene Technology Regulator. Contracts were let for seven projects covering:
- a survey of feral cottons in northern Queensland
- modelling the environmental impacts of genetically modified versus non-genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant canola
- future genetically modified organisms and their environmental impacts
- risks associated with the use of new and emerging technologies
- the persistence and effects on soil organisms of Bt-toxin from genetically modified cotton
- research into viral recombination and its environmental effects
- a review of viral vectors and viral genes used in genetically modified organisms, and their impacts.
Two additional consultancies were commissioned to research the potential environmental risks if genetically modified organisms that have been developed overseas were brought into Australia unintentionally or illegally. This will assist with the development of policies to manage the risk that genetically modified organisms are present in imports unintentionally.
The department provides other Australian Government regulators with advice on the environmental impacts of new chemicals.
(Service provided to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority)
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority regulates agricultural and veterinary chemicals. One test for registering a chemical product is whether the product is likely to harm the environment when used according to its instructions. The authority seeks the department’s advice when applying this test. The authority provides funding in return for this service under an agreement with the department. In 2004–05 the department received $0.6 million under this agreement in return for carrying out 94 environmental risk assessments for new uses of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, a slight decline from the previous year (chart below). The department increased its assessment efficiency, completing 95 per cent of assessments within the timeframe agreed with the authority, an increase from 70 per cent for the previous year.
Industrial chemical assessments (1998–present)
Number of assessments in 2004–05 = 208
As part of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority’s ongoing review of existing chemicals, the department prepared environmental risk assessments for the herbicides paraquat and diuron. These assessments and the department’s recommendations were forwarded to the authority for consideration. The department also began assessing the herbicide 2,4-D (dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and the nematocide fenamiphos.
The department also continued to advise on the proper disposal of used agricultural chemicals through industry programmes such as ChemClear and DrumMuster. ChemClear is the industry-driven initiative that aims to provide farmers with a disposal service for unwanted registered agricultural and veterinary chemicals. DrumMuster provides for the collection and recycling of empty chemical containers. Both initiatives ensure farmers are now better informed about the effects of chemicals on productivity, product quality, the environment and local communities.
(Service provided to the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme)
The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme regulates industrial chemicals. The department assesses the potential environmental impact of new industrial chemicals on behalf of the scheme. The scheme provides funding in return for this service under an agreement with the department. In 2004–05 the department received $0.4 million under this agreement in return for carrying out 208 environmental risk assessments for new industrial chemicals, the highest number since 1998–99 (chart below).
Agricultural and veterinary chemical assessments (1998–present)
Number of assessments in 2004–05 = 94
The department increased its assessment efficiency, completing 95 per cent within the agreed timeframe, an increase from 60 per cent for the previous year.
The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme is reviewing priority chemicals that have already been authorised for use. As part of the review programme the department continued work on environmental risk assessments for sodium cyanide and triclosan. A review of tris (2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate was completed.
The Alligator Rivers Region, some 220 kilometres east of Darwin , includes Kakadu National Park. The region contains a number of former, current and potential uranium mines, including:
- Ranger, which is currently being mined
- Nabarlek, where mining has ceased and rehabilitation is under way
- Jabiluka, which has been in long-term care and maintenance since December 2003
- Koongarra, a potential mine that is the subject of discussions between the traditional Aboriginal owners and the mining company, Koongarra Pty Ltd.
None of the sites listed above are within Kakadu National Park . Other, smaller uranium deposits were mined during the 1950s and 1960s in what is now the southern portion of Kakadu National Park .
Under the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978, the Supervising Scientist is responsible for making sure the environment in the Alligator Rivers Region is protected from uranium mining. Revised Working Arrangements, which set out the roles and responsibilities of the Supervising Scientist, the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mines, and the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources were signed off by Australian and Northern Territory government ministers on 30 May 2005 .
The Supervising Scientist carries out tasks such as routine inspections and audits of mine sites and research into the environmental effects of uranium mining in the region. The department’s Supervising Scientist Division supports this work.
Work to date indicates that the environment of the Alligator Rivers Region remains protected from the impacts of uranium mining.
On 30 August 2004 the Supervising Scientist’s reports of investigations into recent incidents at the Ranger mine were tabled in the Senate.
The first report investigated a water contamination incident. On 23–24 March 2004 process water (containing uranium and other toxicants) contaminated the mine’s drinking water supply. Some mine workers drank and washed in the contaminated water. Some of the contaminated water escaped into the environment through an overflowing holding tank at Jabiru East near the mine. The Supervising Scientist found that the maximum radiation exposure of workers was likely to have been much less than the regulatory limit, and that no harmful long-term health effects are likely.
The second report investigated three incidents between November 2003 and March 2004 where vehicles left the Ranger site without adequate radiation clearance. In two cases the vehicles had been inadequately cleaned but had been cleared to leave the mine site. In the third case, a vehicle had not been cleaned or cleared to leave the mine site, but was taken to nearby Jabiru. These incidents resulted in radiation exposure of a member of the public and his children. The Supervising Scientist found that radiation exposure estimates for the people affected by these incidents were approximately equal to the dose limit for members of the public, and that no harmful long-term health effects are likely.
None of the incidents resulted in any harmful impact on the environment outside the Ranger mine. The Supervising Scientist made recommendations for improving management practices at the mine site in both reports, and these formed the basis for a series of conditions imposed on Energy Resources of Australia Ltd by the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources under the Atomic Energy Act 1953.
The Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mines, as day-to-day regulators of the Ranger mine, subsequently charged Energy Resources of Australia Ltd under the Northern Territory ’s Mining Management Act 2001. Energy Resources of Australia Ltd was convicted of two charges on 31 May 2005 and fined a total of $0.2 million.
The Supervising Scientist is required to report annually to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. This report, which contains more detailed information about these and other developments, is available at www.deh.gov.au/ssd/about/corporatedocs.html.
|Performance indicator||2004–05 results|
|Product stewardship schemes|
|Number of projects or activities approved under each programme||39 projects (3 - plastic bags, 2 - degradable plastics, 2 - co-regulatory framework, 2 - newsprint waste, 30 - oil recycling)|
|Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output||High — major retailers achieved 27% reduction in bag use by the end of 2004; litter from lightweight, ‘singlet’-type plastic bags reduced
More ability to recycle used oil, with more than 800 collection facilities established nationwide
Over $13.5 million in benefits paid on over 220 million litres of recycled used oil
Other activities supported planned recycling schemes for tyres and televisions
|National Packaging Covenant|
|Number of projects or activities approved under each programme||2 activities (revised National Packaging Covenant, varied National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure)|
|Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output||Medium - evaluations found the previous covenant a qualified success; revised covenant should contribute significantly to improving environmental quality|
|Number of projects or activities approved under each programme||28 projects|
|Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output||High — focused on contributions to 2006 State of the Environment report|
|National Pollutant Inventory|
|Number of projects or activities approved under each programme||7 projects|
|Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output||High — focused on implementing or improving the National Pollutant Inventory|
|Hazardous substances regulation|
|Number of projects or activities approved under each programme||4 projects (1 - National Dioxins Programme, 3 - persistent organic pollutants)|
|Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output||High — will help assess environmental levels of dioxins and brominated flame retardants|
|Gene technology risk studies (excludes projects funded under agreement with Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources)|
|Number of projects or activities approved under each programme||7 projects|
|Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output||High — will improve basic knowledge for assessing environmental risks associated with genetically modified organisms|
|Extent to which (self-imposed, ministerial or external) timeframes are met||High — timeframes met in accordance with departmental standards|
|Accurate and timely approval, payment and acquittal of grants in accordance with legislation and guidelines||Funding was provided under financial agreements that reflect accountability, reporting and acquittal procedures|
|Accurate and timely payment of monies||100% of payments made in accordance with terms and conditions of financial agreements|
|Commonwealth Contribution to the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) Service Corporation
|The Australian Government’s financial obligation to the service corporation is met||Financial obligations were fully met|
|The Australian Government’s contribution to the operating costs of the service corporation is paid on time||Contributions were paid on time|
|Extent to which statutory timeframes are met under legislation||High — all permit applications were processed within the statutory timeframes|
|Number of permits or applications considered (granted and refused) under legislation||12 hazardous wastes permits granted (1 application refused)|
|Extent to which stakeholders meet legislative requirements||High|
|Percentage of written pre-meeting objectives at international meetings achieved||100%|
|Extent to which Australia ’s strategic objectives are achieved through international forums||High — all cables from delegations indicated that Australia ’s objectives were achieved, including engagement in meetings under multilateral environment agreements, as well as overarching multilateral forums such as the Commission on Sustainable Development and the United Nations Environment Programme|
|Information and education products distributed to stakeholders (measured by web site hits, information material distributed, etc)||Worked with retailers to deliver effective consumer awareness campaign on plastic bags
~300 information packages on oil recycling distributed to libraries, universities and TAFEs
Quarterly newsletter Degradable Plastics in Australia distributed
2 policy discussion papers on degradable plastics released to key stakeholders and policy workshop convened
2 test standards for biodegradability of plastics published by Standards Australia
Advertising in national newspapers and magazines promoted newsprint recycling and fully used the free advertising space worth $0.1 million provided by the Publishers National Environment Bureau
Average of 39 094 user sessions per month on the human settlements-related part of the department’s web site, 15 901 user sessions per month on the National Pollutant Inventory web site, 4 869 user sessions per month on the oil recycling web site, and 673 user sessions per month on the Supervising Scientist’s web site
National Chemical Information Gateway received over 60 000 hits since April 2004
Information and education material was provided by the Supervising Scientist on request throughout 2004–05
|Research, analysis and evaluation|
|Number of research reports, articles and papers prepared and publicly released||2 reviews of the Product Stewardship for Oil Programme released in November 2004
Presentations on product stewardship and degradable plastics delivered to the Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association, June 2005
Paper on National Dioxins Programme presented at Dioxins 2004 symposium (24th International Symposium on Halogenated Environmental Organic Pollutants and Persistent Organic Pollutants) in Berlin , September 2004
38 research reports, articles and papers on environmental protection at uranium mines in the Alligator Rivers Region
Annual report on the operation of the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 included in the second volume of this set of annual reports
Annual report on the operation of the Water Efficiency and Labelling Standards Act 2005 included in the second volume of this set of annual reports
Annual report on the operation of the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 at www.ephc.gov.au/php/list_document_types.php |
Annual report on the operation of the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 included in the second volume of this set of annual reports
Annual report of the Supervising Scientist on the operation of the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978
Captains Flat (Abatement of Pollution) Agreement Act 1975
Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978
Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989
Koongarra Project Area Act 1981
National Environment Protection Council Act 1994
National Environment Protection Measures (Implementation) Act 1998
Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000
Water Efficiency and Labelling Standards Act 2005
|Element of pricing||Budget prices¹
|Sub-output: Human settlements
Sub-output: Environmental protection at uranium mines in the Alligator Rivers Region
|Total (=Output 1.6: Human settlements)||31 597||29 323|
|Commonwealth Contribution to the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) Service Corporation||429||429|
|Total (Administered)||32 026||29 752|
|¹ Prices are the estimated full-year revenues for departmental outputs and full-year expenses for administered items that are shown in the 2004–05 portfolio additional estimates statements.|
See also: summary resource tables.