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Department of the Environment and Water Resources annual report 2006–07

Volume two
Department of the Environment and Water Resources, 2007
ISSN 1441-9335

Legislation annual reports 2006–07 (continued)

Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Introduction

This annual report is prepared in accordance with section 516 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). It covers the operation of the Act from 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2007.

The report examines the operation of the EPBC Act against its key priorities. These are:

Overview

The Australian Government, through the operation of the EPBC Act, protects matters of national environmental significance—namely the ecological character of internationally important wetlands, nationally listed threatened species and ecological communities, listed migratory species, the Commonwealth marine environment, the values of properties in the World Heritage List, the values of places in the National Heritage List and protection of the environment from the impact of nuclear actions. The EPBC Act also provides protection for the environment in relation to proposals involving Commonwealth land and regulates activities of Australian Government agencies that might significantly impact on the environment.

In 2006—07 the Australian Government put in place significant changes to improve the operation the EPBC Act.

The EPBC Act has been in operation for nearly seven years and during this time the Act has gained wide acceptance by the Australian community, and has achieved real results in protecting the environment. Nevertheless any piece of legislation can be improved and on 7 December 2006 amendments to the Act were passed by parliament. The bulk of the amendments commenced on 19 February 2007. The amendments:

Further details are outlined throughout this report.

In the 2007—08 Budget the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Water Resources received $70.6 million over four years in new funding to strengthen protection for the environment. From this funding the Approvals and Wildlife Division, which has principal responsibility for administering the EPBC Act, will receive $16 million in 2007—08 (a 60 per cent increase over funds available in 2006—07).

The funding will be used to improve administration of the Act, including by addressing the findings of the Australian National Audit Office report on the administration of the EPBC Act (The Conservation and Protection of National Threatened Species and Ecological Communities, Audit Report No. 31, 2006—07). (For more information on the audit, see the section on external scrutiny in the first volume of this set of annual reports.)

Specifically, the increased funding will deliver substantial benefits in EPBC Act administration by:

In relation to the recommendations made in the Australian National Audit Office report, the following matters will also be addressed:

As at 30 June 2007 a restructure of the Approvals and Wildlife Division was being undertaken to implement these improvements.

The 2007 amendments to the EPBC Act established the List of Overseas Places of Historic Significance to Australia. This list provides for symbolic recognition of overseas places which are of outstanding historic significance to Australia. The minister subsequently entered Anzac Cove, Turkey; the Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea; and Howard Florey's laboratory, United Kingdom, in the list.

It is now possible for police and other law enforcement agencies authorised under the EPBC Act to pursue criminal offences for conduct that are prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions or state prosecutors. Previously, that conduct could only be dealt with via a civil penalty application in the Federal Court. This new power should provide greater access and deterrence to illegal activities and has the potential to significantly improve the protection of biodiversity and heritage in Commonwealth reserves.

The amendments also reduce duplication in the assessment of applications to export or import wildlife and wildlife products. International trade provisions for cetaceans were consolidated under Part 13A. To coincide with these amendments, a legislative instrument was gazetted on 14 February 2007 having the effect of uplisting all cetacean (whale and dolphin) species to CITES Appendix I (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) as a stricter domestic measure.

For imports of CITES Appendix II species for commercial purposes, the requirement for a commercial import programme to be approved before import can take place has been removed other than for species specified by the minister.

A legislative instrument was gazetted on 26 February 2007 establishing a list of CITES Appendix II specimens which require a commercial import programme. The specimens are:

In 2006—07 there were a number of matters brought to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Federal Court relating to the EPBC Act (see part 4 of this report). The Administrative Appeals Tribunal upheld the minister's decision in relation to kangaroo commercial harvesting on King and Flinders islands. At 30 June 2007, dates are yet to be set for the appeals against the New South Wales kangaroo management plan and the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery wildlife trade operations. A decision was also still pending on the minister's decision to declare the harvesting of specimens taken in the New South Wales Ocean Trap and Line Fishery as an approved wildlife trade operation.

To ensure that proponents are required to submit only one set of assessment documentation, the Australian Government has put in place environmental impact assessment bilateral agreements with several states and territories including Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. In January 2007 an environmental impact assessment bilateral agreement under the EPBC Act was entered into with the New South Wales Government. The agreement will allow the minister to rely on environmental impact assessment processes specified by New South Wales in assessing actions under the EPBC Act.

In 2006—07 the bilateral agreement between the Australian Government and the Northern Territory relating to environmental impact assessment was reviewed after five years of operation. As a result of the review report minor amendments were made to the bilateral agreement and the agreement continues to operate.

In 2006—07 the department initiated two significant projects to help meet wetland management commitments under the Ramsar Convention and responsibilities under the EPBC Act:

An assessment of Commonwealth heritage values is being undertaken in accordance with the requirements of the EPBC Act for the Australian Antarctic Territory, the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands and places owned or controlled by the Commonwealth on Macquarie Island. A management plan is also in preparation for the national heritage listed Mawson's Huts Historic Site at Cape Denison, as required by the EPBC Act. The draft plan will be available for public comment in July 2007.

The Australian Government's world-leading programme of marine bioregional planning gained pace in 2006—07 with planning under section 176 of the EPBC Act beginning in four of Australia's five marine regions—the South-west, North, North-west and East. The first planning process to be progressed is the South-west, taking in Commonwealth waters from Kangaroo Island off South Australia to Kalbarri off the mid Western Australian coast. A regional profile is well advanced for this marine region and a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Australian and Western Australian governments for cooperation in marine planning.

Since the EPBC Act came into force in 2000, 122 fisheries have been assessed against the Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries. The minister has declared all of these fisheries as either exempt from the export provisions of the EPBC Act for five years, or as approved wildlife trade operations for periods of up to three years. The outcomes of each fishery assessment are published in detailed reports on the department's website.

In 2006—07 assessments were completed for 15 fisheries. Two fisheries were assessed for the first time under the EPBC Act and both were declared as wildlife trade operations for three years. Thirteen fisheries were assessed for the second time, six of which were declared exempt and seven as wildlife trade operations. Eleven short-term wildlife trade operations were reviewed and extended.

The department funded a joint research project to study the impact of marine debris on marine turtle survival and behaviour around northern Australia. The research was a partnership between Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation, Parks and Wildlife Service Northern Territory, and the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance. Marine debris that causes death or damage to marine species by entanglement and ingestion is listed as a key threatening process under the EPBC Act. The project will increase knowledge of the impact of marine debris on protected marine turtle species and test measures for implementing the marine debris threat abatement plan.

This year 28 places were added to the National Heritage List bringing the number of places in the list to 59 at 30 June 2007. Places added to the list include the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the world's largest and widest single-span steel arch bridge. One place was added to the Commonwealth Heritage List, bringing its total to 340 places at 30 June 2007.