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Department of the Environment and Heritage annual report 2005–06

Volume two
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006
ISSN 1441 9335

Legislation annual reports 2005–06 (continued)

Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

1. Protecting environment and heritage

1.1 Matters of national environmental significance

An important means of protecting matters of national environmental significance is through identifying them as controlling provisions for actions that are likely to have significant environmental impacts and therefore require assessment and approval under the EPBC Act. Provisions of the EPBC Act also require certain actions to be undertaken in a particular manner to avoid adverse impacts on matters of national environmental significance. This year 270 matters of national environmental significance were protected through these processes. Where proposals involved Commonwealth land or agencies, the overall environment was protected (see Table 5, Appendix 1 of this report).

In 2005–06 the most frequent controlling provision was again listed threatened species and ecological communities, followed by listed migratory species. Listed threatened species and ecological communities were determined to be a controlling provision for 65 proposed actions, or 92 per cent of all actions determined to require approval. Listed migratory species were also determined to be a controlling provision for 38 of these proposals. There were seven controlled action decisions where the ecological character of a Ramsar wetland was the matter protected, and 18 proposed actions where world heritage values were determined to be a controlling provision. For the second year of operation of the new national heritage provisions, one proposed action (out of three referrals) was determined to require approval due to likely significant impacts on national heritage values. There were seven controlled action decisions where the controlling provision was the Commonwealth marine environment; these were predominantly projects relating to petroleum exploration and development. One nuclear action was proposed.

More than one matter protected under Part 3 of the EPBC Act was determined to be a controlling provision for 45 of the 71 proposals determined to require approval. These actions typically involved potential impacts on species listed as both threatened and migratory, or listed species found in or near the Commonwealth marine environment, world heritage properties or Ramsar wetlands. For example, a proposal to expand the existing Bowen Marina on the central Queensland coast, including dredging a new marina basin and access channel, was determined to be a controlled action for impacts on three matters of national environmental significance. The relevant matters were the world heritage values of the adjacent Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, listed threatened species that may be present such as the false water rat, and listed migratory species including dugong and marine turtles in the adjacent Edgecumbe Bay Dugong Sanctuary.

A total of 35 actions were approved in 2005–06 with a range of conditions to ensure that matters of national environmental significance and the environment were protected. No proposals were approved without conditions and two proposals were rejected. At 30 June 2006, 91 actions affecting matters protected by the EPBC Act were under assessment; that is, a decision had been made on the assessment approach but the assessment was still to be completed. These ongoing assessments include 36 assessments conducted under bilateral agreements and 29 assessments conducted under state or territory processes that have been accredited on a case-by-case basis. Table 6 in Appendix 1 of this report lists the types and number of assessment approaches used during 2005–06.

The focus of the EPBC Act on protecting matters of national environmental significance continues to positively influence the way in which developers design projects, using best practice methods and measures to minimise potential impacts on these protected matters thereby avoiding or minimising the need for assessment and approval under the EPBC Act.

1.2 Proposals involving Commonwealth land and/or actions

Actions by the Australian Government and actions on Commonwealth land

In 2005–06 five actions were determined to require approval under the EPBC Act because of likely significant impacts on the environment on Commonwealth land, and a further three actions by Australian Government agencies were determined to be controlled actions.

One of these actions, submitted by the Australian Government Department of Defence, was to decommission and remove masts, aerials and associated infrastructure at the Royal Australian Naval Transmitting Station, Lawson, Australian Capital Territory. The transmitting station, completed in 1939, was the most powerful naval wireless station in the British Empire and the largest naval or commercial station in the southern hemisphere. The station is important for its association with the development of Australian naval communications from 1938 in the lead up to the Second World War 1939–45.

The proposal was deemed to be a controlled action under the EPBC Act, as the dismantling and removal of the masts and aerial were likely to have a significant impact upon historic Commonwealth heritage values at the site, and on listed threatened species and communities through disturbance of natural temperate grasslands.

The proposal was approved with conditions on 19 January 2006. Under the conditions of approval, Defence was required to conduct a workshop to determine the most effective means of removing the infrastructure to minimise impacts. The conditions also required Defence to take actions to record and maintain certain historic Commonwealth heritage values of the site.

Another example of an action proposed by the Australian Government, also on Commonwealth land, was the joint submission of a proposal by the Defence Housing Authority and Canberra Investment Corporation Limited to construct 690 residential lots on 77.3 hectares of Australian Government owned land at Lee Point in the new northern suburb of Lyons, Darwin, Northern Territory.

The development was determined to be a controlled action as this relatively large urban precinct had the potential to have a significant impact on well established eucalypts with hollows used by threatened native bird species as well as native vegetation in and around the Sandy Creek Conservation Park.

On 13 March 2006, the development was approved with conditions, one of which required the proponents to satisfy the minister that the conservation park and the eucalypts in question are protected and managed in the long term.

Advice on authorising actions

Section 160 of the EPBC Act requires Australian Government agencies, or employees of the Australian Government, to obtain and consider advice from the Minister for the Environment and Heritage in relation to authorisation for specific actions, where those actions are likely to have a significant impact on the environment. Actions on which advice has been sought have involved dredging sea bed materials and sea dumping.

During 2005–06 advice was sought under section 160 on four occasions (see Table 8, Appendix 1 of this report). These projects included sea dumping as part of the Pluto liquefied natural gas project on the North West Shelf of Western Australia. On 30 January 2006, the project proponent applied for a permit under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 to dispose of spoil that would result from dredging a shipping channel and berthing area for the liquefied natural gas export facility. It was determined that advice should be sought under section 160 of the EPBC Act for potentially significant impacts on the environment, before a permit decision could be made under the Sea Dumping Act.

The project had also been referred for potential impacts on matters of national environmental significance. On 26 August 2005 the project was determined to be a controlled action, with assessment to be by a public environment report. This report will also be used for the assessment required under section 160 of the EPBC Act. Once the assessment is completed, section 160 advice will be provided to inform the permit decision under the Sea Dumping Act.

Exemptions

During 2005–06 no exemptions were issued under the EPBC Act in relation to the referral, assessment and approval requirements.

1.3 Intergovernmental cooperation

Bilateral agreements

In December 2005 an approvals bilateral agreement was entered into with the New South Wales Government for the Sydney Opera House. The agreement provides for the protection of the world heritage and national heritage values of the Sydney Opera House and aims to ensure an efficient, timely and effective process for environmental assessment and approval of actions in accordance with the management plan for the Sydney Opera House. As part of the process of developing the bilateral agreement, the management plan has been accredited under the EPBC Act.

The assessment bilateral agreement with Tasmania was reviewed, prior to its expiry on 14 December 2005 after five years of operation. The review demonstrated that the agreement was meeting its objects and recommended that the agreement be remade under the EPBC Act and that the replacement agreement accredit the same Tasmanian environmental assessment processes. A second assessment bilateral agreement with Tasmania commenced operation on 12 December 2005.

Assessment bilateral agreements are also in place with the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland. Such agreements ensure that proponents are required to prepare and submit only one set of assessment documentation, with the transparency of the process maintained through comprehensive public consultation requirements. Australian Government scrutiny is maintained through the Minister for the Environment and Heritage still being required to grant approval and set conditions for the projects. During the year 42 projects had been or were being assessed under a bilateral agreement.

Development of assessment bilateral agreements with the other states is progressing. In the absence of an assessment bilateral agreement, duplication of Australian Government and state or territory assessment processes continues to be significantly reduced through the use of case-by-case accreditation and coordinated assessments. Accredited assessments meet at least those standards that would be required under a bilateral agreement. During the year 34 projects had been or were being assessed under state or territory processes accredited on a case-by-case basis.

Heritage management

As a signatory to the World Heritage Convention, the Australian Government cooperates closely with state authorities to ensure the protection and promotion of state-managed world heritage properties is consistent with Australia’s national undertakings under the convention. During 2005–06 the Australian Government took part in consultations over, and funding of, reviews of management plans and strategic plans for the Fraser Island and Greater Blue Mountains world heritage properties.

During 2005–06 the Australian Government worked with the states on a wide range of projects. These included projects to protect and manage world heritage values such as developing partnerships with leaseholders to eradicate noxious weeds on Lord Howe Island, community based rainforest weeding and rehabilitation works in the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves (Australia), and the employment of a project officer to develop a plan to eradicate rabbits and rodents from Macquarie Island. Other projects aimed to facilitate stakeholder involvement in the protection and management of world heritage properties through funding world heritage community and scientific committees and presentation of world heritage values. An example is the project to enhance visitor precincts at Thirlmere Lakes and Nattai national parks in the Greater Blue Mountains.

This year the department commissioned two studies to define how the values of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area are expressed on Magnetic Island. These studies also contributed substantially to the department’s understanding of the island by drawing together data on species and developing a preliminary methodology to consider how the world heritage value of ‘exceptional natural beauty’ may be expressed on the island. Based on this information, the department is developing a robust basis for future decision-making under the EPBC Act for Magnetic Island and its world heritage values.

Species Information Partnerships

Through the Species Information Partnerships the department, with the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, continued to work towards improving consistency between Australian Government, state and territory threatened species lists, and increasing the exchange of information to support the listing and recovery of threatened species.

Species Information Partnerships allow for targeted expenditure of limited conservation resources, and facilitate the best possible conservation outcomes for threatened species.

During 2005–06 the South Australian, Tasmanian, Western Australian and Northern Territory governments provided information on endemic species as part of Species Information Partnership agreements. The Threatened Species Scientific Committee assessed many of these endemic species for listing as threatened under the EPBC Act.

The committee met with representatives from the South Australian Department for Environment and Heritage in December 2005 and the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water in March 2006 to progress threatened species conservation.

National Partnership Approach for the Sustainable Harvest of Marine Turtles and Dugongs in Australia

The department is implementing the national partnership, which the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council identified as a priority at its 27 October 2005 meeting.

The partnership body includes senior officials from the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australian governments, the Torres Strait Regional Authority, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and three members from the Indigenous Advisory Committee. Up to 10 Indigenous members from key communities with an interest in dugong and turtle conservation will be nominated to the partnership body. A preparatory meeting chaired by the department was held in March 2006.

1.4 Assessment and approval process

Referrals

During 2005–06, 341 actions were referred to the Australian Government for a decision on whether approval was required under the EPBC Act. Approximately 7 per cent of these referrals were the result of compliance action taken by the department, a slight decrease from last year. A total of 78 actions (71 after reconsideration) were determined to be controlled actions and a further 64 (67 after reconsideration) were determined not to be controlled actions if taken in a particular manner. A total 187 (191 after reconsideration) of these referrals were deemed not to be controlled actions and required no further assessment.

Profile of actions referred under the EPBC Act

As in previous years the largest number of referrals came from Queensland, which continues to have the highest number of controlled action decisions. This reflects the continuing development along the Queensland coast, potentially impacting on the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics world heritage properties and a number of Ramsar wetlands. Table 3 in Appendix 1 of this report lists the numbers of referrals and decisions by jurisdiction made during 2005–06.

Numerous referrals were received in the categories urban and commercial development, energy generation and supply and mining. Table 4 in Appendix 1 of this report lists the numbers of referrals and decisions made by activity category during 2005–06.

Meeting statutory timeframes (referrals)

The EPBC Act allows 20 business days from receipt of a referral for deciding whether an action requires approval. This includes a 10-day public comment period. This year there were 64 late decisions, or 19 per cent of the total. This compares with 37 late decisions last year (11 per cent of the total). Referral decisions were late an average 3.4 business days in 2005–06, compared to an average of 2.6 days since the commencement of the EPBC Act.

Where the statutory timeframe was not met, this was due to the increasing number of detailed and complex projects being referred.

The 20-day timeframe for decision-making on referrals was suspended 32 times in 2005–06. This was due to the need to seek further information before a decision could be made.

Decision trends–particular manner decisions

The EPBC Act provides for the minister to decide that a referred proposal is not a controlled action provided it is undertaken in a particular or specified manner. This provision may be used when there is clear evidence that a particular mitigation or avoidance measure will be employed to avoid significant impacts. Under section 77A of the EPBC Act, penalties apply to breaches of particular manner decisions.

This year 67 referrals (three of which were established after reconsideration) were decided to be not-controlled actions provided they were carried out in a particular manner.

Through ongoing education, the department encourages proponents to design projects and activities in a manner that avoids impacts on matters of national environmental significance. The particular manner provision allows the minister to support this design approach. The particular manner provision promotes and supports industries and individual developments that are shifting to better environmental practices.

Case study

Using the particular manner provision to deliver better environmental outcomes—Kagara Pty Ltd Dome Polymetallic mine, Queensland.

Kagara Pty Ltd proposed to re-open the mining operation at the existing Red Dome Mine and associated satellite ore deposits near Chillagoe, north Queensland. A key issue was impacts from blasting vibration on nearby caves used by the endangered greater large-eared horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus philippinensis). As part of its referral documentation, Kagara provided data on the bat obtained as part of mine baseline studies. As few studies of this species have been conducted, the data have contributed to a better understanding of the bat and its distribution in the Chillagoe region.

Kagara consulted with bat experts and state agencies to identify likely impacts of mining on the greater large-eared horseshoe bat, and prepared measures to minimise these impacts as part of its referral documentation. Kagara undertook to establish conservation zones and buffers to protect cave sites, use minimal lighting at the tailings storage facility and process ponds to reduce their attractiveness to insects and hunting bats, provide artificial lighting stations to attract insects and bats away from mine areas, implement blast protocols to avoid or minimise disturbance risks, and rehabilitate the area as soon as possible after disturbance.

A specialised monitoring programme will also be implemented to assess the effectiveness of the mitigation measures and to improve understanding of the impact of mining activities on bat species in general. A decision was made that there are not likely to be significant impacts on the greater large-eared horseshoe bat, provided the specified mitigation measures are implemented.

Statements of reasons

Subsection 77(4) of the EPBC Act allows a person taking an action that the minister has decided is a controlled action to request reasons for the decision. During 2005–06 the department handled 12 such requests.

Reconsideration of decisions

Seventeen referral decisions were reconsidered in 2005–06; 15 decisions were revoked and a new decision substituted (see Table 2, Appendix 1 of this report). The number of reconsiderations is small in comparison with the total number of referral decisions and through consultation with key stakeholders and interest groups the department ensures that reconsiderations maintain the transparency and public accountability inherent in the overall framework of the EPBC Act.

Reconsideration can be justified where there is substantial new information on likely impacts on matters protected by the EPBC Act and the new information can contribute to better environmental outcomes.

Assessments

The assessment of potential environmental impacts of proposed actions uses the best available science, with comments and analysis sought from relevant experts within the department, other Australian Government or state and territory government agencies and, when necessary, external scientific institutions and organisations.

The EPBC Act provides a range of assessment approaches to ensure that an environmental assessment reflects the nature of the proposed actions, the quality of the information already available, the level of public interest and the nature and scale of the likely impacts. Decisions on the level of assessment for controlled actions during 2005–06 are summarised in Table 6, Appendix 1 of this report.

During 2005–06 the department completed 36 assessments following finalisation of relevant documentation by the proponent, 18 by preliminary documentation, three by a public environment report, four by an environmental impact statement and 11 under an accredited process or a bilateral agreement. A further 91 assessments were in progress at 30 June 2006.

Meeting statutory timeframes (assessments)

Six out of 31 decisions on the appropriate assessment approach (19 per cent of the total) were made outside the statutory timeframe in 2005–06. Factors contributing to late decisions included the need for additional assurances from states and territories that accredited assessment processes would meet Australian Government requirements and the need to clarify and consult on information in preliminary documentation.

The EPBC Act requires the minister to prepare written guidelines for the content of public environment reports and environmental impact statements within 20 business days from the date on which the assessment approach was decided. During 2005–06 the department prepared guidelines for three public environment reports and three environmental impact statements.

Once the minister has accepted final preliminary documentation, a finalised public environment report, or a finalised environmental impact statement, an assessment report must be prepared for the minister within 20 business days. During 2005–06 there were 13 late assessment reports out of 18 for assessment by preliminary documentation, three out of three for assessment by public environment report and two out of four for assessment by environmental impact statement. Delays in these cases mostly resulted from the need to adequately consider complex technical issues raised by the assessment process and the need to seek further detailed information from the proponent.

Case study

Industrial subdivision in outer Melbourne, Victoria

The proponent proposed to clear all vegetation on a 42 hectare parcel of land on the fringe of an industrial area in outer western Melbourne, Victoria. The land would be subdivided into 19 lots, each approximately two hectares, for various light industrial uses.

The primary concern was the possible impact of the development on listed threatened species, in particular the critically endangered spiny or plains rice flower (Pimelea spinescens var. spinescens). This concern was heightened when, as part of a targeted survey of the site, the proponent found about 200 individuals of the species, estimated to represent between 1.2 and 10 per cent of the known population of the species in the wild.

The proponent recognised its responsibility for protecting the critically endangered plant but there were difficulties in resolving how best to do so. In particular, it was unclear how an approval under the EPBC Act would be able to guarantee long-term protection of the spiny rice flower after the development had been completed and sold to new owners.

In the end, the minister entered into a conservation agreement under the EPBC Act with the developer which formed the basis of the subsequent approval decision. The conservation agreement also provided the basis for a formal agreement between the Australian Government, the developer, the Victorian Government, the local government authority and a non-government trust with a charter to manage land for conservation purposes. The formal agreement between all these parties guaranteed the long-term arrangements to protect the spiny rice flower.

Measures included increased funding for the management of a Victorian Government conservation reserve, and the translocation of a small number of spiny rice flower plants to that site; funding for the creation of a new Pimelea conservation reserve controlled by the local council which already contained some 400 spiny rice flower plants; and the establishment of a trust fund to provide for surveys, research and conservation of the species, as well as the management of the two reserves. The overall package was worth almost $1 million.

This project is a good example of how an innovative approach to the provisions of the EPBC Act (in this case, in relation to conservation agreements) can result in significant environmental advances while providing industry with appropriate opportunities for sustainable development.

Approvals

In 2005–06, 35 controlled actions were approved; a further six were awaiting decision at 30 June 2006 (see Table 7, Appendix 1 of this report). Actions approved include Murray Valley Drain 11, Numurkah, Victoria; development of East Busselton, Yalyalup, Western Australia; development of Blacktip gas field, Joseph Bonaparte Gulf; Yarra Valley golf course, Healesville, Victoria; and Hay Point coal terminal, near Mackay, Queensland. Conditions attached to approvals include managing the environmental impacts of construction, providing compensatory habitat, monitoring programmes, independent audits, and measures for managing impacts on cetacean species.

Meeting statutory timeframes (approvals)

Eleven out of 37 approval decisions (29 per cent of the total) were made outside the statutory timeframe in 2005–06. As in previous years, these delays were due to the complexities of the issues under consideration and the need to resolve a range of social and economic issues. Other contributing factors included complex condition setting and the need to acquire up-to-date information on the distribution and population size of listed threatened species. The need for additional consultation with the proponents and with state and territory governments, and discussions with other Australian Government agencies, also provided challenges to meeting the statutory timeframes for approval decisions.

Case study

Environmental impact assessment and approval of the Hay Point Coal Terminal dredging works near Mackay, Queensland

The Ports Corporation of Queensland referred a proposal on 10 September 2004 to carry out dredging at the Hay Point Coal Terminal. The action involved dredging seabed material to create a new vessel manoeuvring area and departure channel to accommodate larger ships and increase output. The dredged material would be disposed of within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Key issues in the assessment were the potential impacts on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, listed threatened and migratory species including turtles and dugongs, and impacts on the Commonwealth marine area. As the action was proposed to take place in state waters, Commonwealth waters, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, approval under several pieces of legislation was required, including the EPBC Act, the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975.

The proponent approached the department very early in their development of the proposal, which allowed the department to advise on information required for assessment as well as coordinate a process with each of the regulators–the department, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the Queensland Environment Protection Agency. The result was a coordinated assessment process, with one environmental impact statement being released for public consultation, and the regulators communicating and agreeing information requirements with the proponent at each of the key stages.

The project was approved on 8 December 2005, with conditions. The key condition was the requirement for an environmental management plan that included measures to directly protect turtles and dugongs and extensive monitoring, and triggers for management measures to manage turbidity plumes that could adversely affect coral areas. The proponent had collected extensive information that was used to support and verify the impacts predicted by modelling. A management reference group was established to monitor the project’s progress and to determine management actions, should unpredicted impacts be found. The proponent has engaged a consultant to monitor the project and has developed, in conjunction with the GBRMPA, a system that allows real-time tracking of turbidity plumes and key indicators.

The proactive and cooperative approach adopted towards the project by all parties has resulted in a comprehensive assessment process and approval conditions that are responsive to both the practical requirements of the dredging and the need for high environmental performance.

Case study

Refusal of the American River subdivision and development on Kangaroo Island, South Australia

A small urban subdivision and development at American River on Kangaroo Island was determined to be a controlled action under the EPBC Act due to the potential significant impact on listed threatened species and ecological communities, in particular the endangered South Australian glossy black-cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami halmaturinus).

The proposed action involved the subdivision of one allotment into five lots. Four lots were proposed for residential development. The proposed action involved clearing up to 1.7 hectares of remnant native feeding habitat for the South Australian glossy black-cockatoo.

The species, once known to inhabit the Fleurieu Peninsula on the South Australian mainland, is now found only on Kangaroo Island with a total population of between 290–300 birds. The birds are loosely segregated into six flocks around Kangaroo Island, and the flock that lives around American River forms part of the eastern flock. The feeding and nesting habitat (drooping she-oak and sugar gums) in the American River area is limited compared to other areas on Kangaroo Island, and critical habitat at the site has been identified as at risk in the Glossy Black-Cockatoo Recovery Plan. Furthermore, the recovery plan identified the American River habitat as important in helping the species to move back into its former range on the South Australian mainland.

The minister refused the American River subdivision and development proposal on 31 December 2005. The refusal was based on the fact that it would result in an unacceptable loss of critical habitat, which would be a serious threat to the survival of the eastern population of the South Australian glossy black-cockatoo. It was also found that the proposed action would impede recovery of the species through the planned expansion of the species’ current distribution into its former range on the South Australian mainland.

Review of the administrative guidelines on significance

The guidelines provide guidance on actions that should be referred to the minister for a decision on whether assessment and approval are required under the EPBC Act. A review of the guidelines, involving public comment and interviews with a range of stakeholders, was completed in 2005–06. New and revised guidelines, called Significant Impact Guidelines 1.1—Matters of National Environmental Significance, are part of a new framework of EPBC Act policy statements aimed at providing the best possible guidance to stakeholders. Significant Impact Guidelines 1.2—Actions on, or Impacting upon, Commonwealth Land, and Actions by Commonwealth Agencies was also released in 2005–06.

Development of new industry sector guidelines was progressed to provide more detailed guidance to the aquaculture, agriculture (land-clearing), wind farm and urban development sectors. Development of a guideline for local government also commenced.

Strategic assessments
Offshore petroleum exploration and appraisal activities in Commonwealth waters

A strategic assessment is being undertaken to describe the offshore petroleum exploration and appraisal activities undertaken in Commonwealth waters, and assess the likely environmental, social and economic impacts of these activities. The public comment period for the draft strategic assessment prepared by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources closed on 14 March 2006. Due to the complexities surrounding this assessment, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources is yet to finalise the strategic assessment.

Sustainable fishery assessments

Under the EPBC Act, the department assesses the environmental performance of fisheries management arrangements to ensure that fisheries are managed in an ecologically sustainable way and to identify areas for improvement. Under the EPBC Act, all Commonwealth managed fisheries and all state and territory fisheries with an export component are required to undergo assessment.

In 2005–06, 25 fisheries were comprehensively assessed, including seven Commonwealth-managed fisheries and 18 state-managed fisheries in Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. All fisheries assessed in 2005–06 received export approval.

For an additional eight fisheries short-term decisions were made, allowing export of product from the fisheries to continue while further improvements are made to their management arrangements in the short term.

A total of 121 fisheries (113 full-term and eight short-term decisions) have been declared as either exempt from the export provisions of the EPBC Act for five years, or as approved wildlife trade operations for periods up to three years.

As a result of the fishery assessment process, a broad range of recommendations have been agreed between the department and fishery management agencies that require the fishery management agencies to demonstrate improved environmental performance, and improve the fisheries’ ecologically sustainable management in the short to medium term. The outcomes are published in detailed reports on the department’s website at www.deh.gov.au/coasts/fisheries/index.html.

Development of a reassessment process continued for the next round of fishery assessments. This has involved extensive consultation with fishery managers from the Australian Government and all states and territories to ensure that all stakeholders have the opportunity to contribute to this process.

The Torres Strait dugong and turtle fisheries are to undergo a strategic assessment once terms of reference are finalised in May 2006.

1.5 Transparency and public awareness

Increasing stakeholder and public awareness

During 2005–06 significant upgrades were made to databases and websites supporting the EPBC Act, improving both public access to information and transparency of decision-making. The EPBC Act website was upgraded to improve useability, and to streamline access to key information. A major website on whales and other cetaceans was launched, which included a new online database for sightings and strandings, and a section to meet the needs of school children. The referrals and assessments database was upgraded, improving access to public notices for industry sectors and other users.

Listed threatened species and ecological communities

The department continued to publish new nominations of threatened species, threatened ecological communities and key threatening processes on its website, and to provide a formal two-month public comment period. The website also contains amendments to the lists of threatened species, threatened ecological communities and key threatening processes, as well as the Threatened Species Scientific Committee’s advices to the minister.

A significant development in public information is the new online natural resource management conservation advice search module. The search module makes it easier for people to search for conservation advice by specific natural resource management regions. Prior to the completion of recovery plans, conservation advice provides guidance to regional planning bodies, community groups, landholders and other stakeholders on recovery and threat abatement activities that can be undertaken immediately to assist the conservation and recovery of newly listed species and ecological communities. Conservation advice was developed and published on the department’s website for species and ecological communities listed in 2005–06. Information sheets on listed ecological communities also include this conservation advice.

The department began to publish the Communities for Communities newsletter. This quarterly online newsletter will keep the public informed about threatened ecological communities nominated for listing, listings made under the EPBC Act and information and resources available on the department’s website. The aim is to provide community groups with an information source they can use when compiling their own newsletters. Community groups are encouraged to use any articles and pictures from the newsletter (see www.deh.gov.au/ biodiversity/threatened/publications/communities-newsletter/index.html).

Community meetings with stakeholder groups were held in Brisbane, to discuss the littoral rainforest ecological community, and in Bega, to discuss four ecological communities nominated in the local region. Advertisements in regional newspapers in Queensland and New South Wales notified the community of the release for public comment of the Coolabah–Blackbox Woodlands Technical Workshop report.

Species Information Partnerships are an initiative to improve the consistency of information across jurisdictions. The partnerships work to improve consistency between Australian Government, and state and territory threatened species lists, and to exchange information to support the listing and recovery of threatened species. The Species Information Partnerships have proved very successful. The Australian Government has developed partnerships with five states and territories and will continue to work with jurisdictions not yet involved in the project.

Marine species

A number of projects aimed at assisting the recovery of marine species listed as threatened under the EPBC Act were completed this year, and final reports made available on the department’s website. Reports and other publications include Identification of Western Australian Grey Nurse Shark Aggregation Sites, a set of marine species identification guides and the Marine Turtle Recovery Newsletter.

In 2005–06 four public consultation forums were held in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth to contribute to the development of the wildlife conservation plan for 36 species of migratory shorebirds.

Enhancing community participation
Presentations and workshops

During 2005–06 the department held information sessions around Australia with local and state government agencies and community groups interested in understanding more about the EPBC Act. These presentations and workshops were conducted on request. In addition, the department has supported activities designed to enhance the understanding of the EPBC Act for the community, farmers and rural stakeholders.

Case study

Enhancing community participation in listing ecological communities

In 2005–06 the department gave presentations at a large number of conferences and met with many stakeholder groups regarding the process of assessing and listing ecological communities under the EPBC Act to increase community involvement.

Conferences included the Australian Network for Plant Conservation annual conference, Australian Wildlife Management Society annual conference, Conservation Management Network annual conference, Ecological Consultants Association annual conference, and the Stipa Native Grasslands Association annual conference. Meetings were held with key stakeholders as part of an ongoing process of stakeholder meetings relating to nominated and listed ecological communities and the EPBC Act generally. Stakeholders included Arnhem Land traditional owners, the Conservation Council of South Australia, Humane Society International, the Local Government Association of South Australia, the NSW Farmers Association Cooma branch and the South Australian Farmers Federation.

Strategic regional planning

The department has sought a closer working relationship with local and regional bodies through strategic regional planning projects in Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland.

Strategic regional planning projects aim to improve information and policy advice to the public about matters protected by the EPBC Act in the region so that potential users can determine with greater certainty if they require approval under the EPBC Act. These projects seek to increase engagement with state and local planning authorities to ensure Australian Government requirements are incorporated into local planning instruments, resulting in fewer individual projects requiring approval under the EPBC Act.

The department is examining ways to provide incentives and opportunities for developers to present large projects for approval under the EPBC Act early in the planning process. Projects such as industrial estates and coastal developments can be assessed more effectively using strategic assessment processes, rather than ad hoc and time-consuming consideration of individual components late in the planning phase.

The department is working to develop a shared understanding of the risks to matters of national environmental significance with stakeholders, local governments and relevant regional bodies in Bunbury/Busselton, Western Australia; Mission Beach and Magnetic Island in Queensland; and the Geelong–Surf Coast area, Victoria.

EPBC Unit

The EPBC Unit was a joint project of WWF Australia (World Wildlife Fund), the Australian Council of National Trusts and the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, with funding assistance from the Australian Government. The purpose of the EPBC Unit was to increase community awareness of the EPBC Act, and to assist community interests to become involved in the Act’s operation through presentations and workshops. The EPBC Unit made a significant contribution to the successful operation of the EPBC Act through engaging stakeholders in the operation and requirements of the EPBC Act, including the heritage system. The EPBC Unit project was finalised at the end of 2005–06 after successfully meeting its objectives.

National Farmers’ Federation EPBC Act Information Officer

In 2005–06 the department and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) continued to support the role of the NFF EPBC Act Information Officer in providing advice and assistance to farmers and rural stakeholders on the EPBC Act.

The EPBC Act Information Officer continued to foster improved relationships between the department, rural stakeholders, conservation groups, state and territory agencies, and local governments, and to give EPBC Act presentations to farmers and rural stakeholders, particularly at the request of state and territory farming organisations, commodity groups, and state and territory government agencies in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria.

A successful initiative has been working with the AgForward team (under AgForce) to present workshops in Queensland to assist farmers to understand and work with Australian Government and state environmental regulatory requirements of farm business. This has been particularly successful in regions where broad-acre farming may impact on EPBC Act protected matters such as the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area of far north Queensland, the bluegrass ecological communities of the brigalow belt bioregion in central Queensland and areas where farmers need to clear brigalow regrowth. Farmers were introduced to the differences between Australian Government and state environmental legislation, why they need to comply with the legislation and how to go about referring activities under all relevant legislation. These presentations, as well as radio interviews, have raised EPBC Act awareness in the farming community and increased legal certainty for farm businesses.

The department, in collaboration with the EPBC Act Information Officer, continued to consult with farming organisations on nominations for listing threatened species and ecological communities under the EPBC Act, to improve processes for listing threatened species and ecological communities and to develop information products for rural stakeholders. The department and the EPBC Act Information Officer updated the webpage ‘Farmers and the EPBC Act’ which leads farmers quickly to the information they need to work with the EPBC Act (see www.deh.gov.au/epbc/farmers). ‘Plain English’ information and fact sheets on the NFF website were updated. These are particularly useful for farmers coming into contact with the EPBC Act for the first time (www.nff.org.au/pages/epbc.html).

Consultation register

Under section 266A of the EPBC Act a register is maintained for persons or bodies interested in being invited to submit comments on permit applications relating to listed threatened species and ecological communities, listed migratory species, cetaceans and listed marine species. The registration period is 12 months. At 30 June 2006 20 people were registered.

Advisory committees
Threatened Species Scientific Committee

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee is appointed under subsection 502(3) of the EPBC Act. The committee’s role is to advise the Minister for the Environment and Heritage on amending and updating the lists of threatened species, threatened ecological communities and key threatening processes and on making or adopting recovery plans and threat abatement plans. The committee may also provide additional advice to the minister on issues relating to these responsibilities. The functions, terms of reference and current membership of the committee are listed in Appendix 3 of this report.

In 2005–06 the committee met four times: on 6–8 September 2005, 29 November–1 December 2005, 7–9 March 2006 and 30–31 May 2006. The committee focused on the assessment of the conservation status of a large number of Western Australian, South Australian and Tasmanian species as part of the Species Information Partnerships. Many of these species are inconsistently listed under the EPBC Act and state legislation. Information to support the committee’s assessment was provided by the relevant state governments.

The committee finalised advice for several complex threatened species nominations, including the koala and orange roughy. The committee provided a recommendation to the minister on the eligibility of these species for listing.

The committee discussed several strategic issues within its terms of reference, including the assessment of translocated populations, conservation of marine species, investigating mechanisms for strategic assessment of threatening processes, and effective solutions to the challenges of listing threatened ecological communities.

Biological Diversity Advisory Committee

The Biological Diversity Advisory Committee met on 6–7 December 2005 and 11–12 April 2006. The main issues discussed at both meetings were taxonomy, biodiversity communication, and how climate change may help the spread of invasive species. The functions, terms of reference and current membership of the committee are listed in Appendix 3 of this report.

As a result of the December 2005 meeting the committee, in conjunction with the Australian Biological Resources Study, wrote a submission to the minister outlining future issues for taxonomy and identified means of managing these issues.

The 2004–2007 National Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan is one of the first national plans in the world to identify actions to reduce the impact of climate change on biodiversity. The committee has been instrumental in driving the climate change and biodiversity agenda with meetings and workshops which enabled the Australian Government to promote its commitment to protect Australia’s biodiversity from climate change. This was a substantial policy development initiative. As a result of the April 2006 meeting, the committee agreed to organise and run a workshop investigating the effects of climate change in helping the spread of invasive species.

At the department’s request, the committee contributed to the National Weeds Strategy and the Review of the National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia’s Native Vegetation. The committee will continue to provide input to the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity and the National Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan.

The committee has identified communicating biodiversity as an important issue. Market research is being undertaken by the department to examine public use and understanding of the term with the assistance of the committee.

Indigenous Advisory Committee

The Indigenous Advisory Committee normally meets at least twice a year, sometimes jointly with the Biological Diversity Advisory Committee. Meetings are rotated around states and regions. In 2005–06 the committee met twice: in December 2005 at Booderee National Park and in June 2006 in Canberra.

The committee advises the minister on Indigenous issues under the EPBC Act. The functions, terms of reference and current membership of the committee are listed in Appendix 3 of this report.

In 2005–06 the committee advised the minister on:

Australian Heritage Council

The Australian Heritage Council is established under section 4 of the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003. The council is the principal adviser to the Australian Government on heritage matters. Its functions include assessment of nominations for the National Heritage List and the Commonwealth Heritage List; advising the minister on the protection of places in the national or Commonwealth heritage lists; and keeping the Register of the National Estate. The functions, terms of reference and current membership of the committee are listed in Appendix 3 of this report.

In 2005–06 the council met 17 times. The meetings were held in Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney and via teleconference. A total of 76 assessments for the National Heritage List were provided to the minister and 22 assessments for the Commonwealth Heritage List. The council also considered several strategic issues related to its functions, including raising the profile of the National Heritage List; possible improvements in the application of the national heritage assessment criteria; fully integrating heritage assessments to take account of historic, natural and Indigenous heritage values; and the Productivity Commission report on the Inquiry into Policy Framework and Incentives for the Conservation of Australia’s Historic Built Heritage Places.

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