Publications archive

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

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

Managing the department (continued)

External scrutiny

Courts and tribunals

On 19 December 2006 Justice Marshall of the Federal Court delivered judgment in Brown v Forestry Tasmania. Senator Brown applied for, and was granted, an injunction under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 restraining Forestry Tasmania from undertaking commercial forestry operations in the Wielangta State Forest.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 prohibits actions that have, will have, or are likely to have a significant impact on listed threatened species, unless the actions are taken with the approval of the minister (following referral and assessment under the Act) or unless some other provision of the Act permits the taking of the action. Certain forestry operations that are undertaken in accordance with a regional forest agreement as defined in the Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002 are permitted under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The applicant claimed that Forestry Tasmania's forestry operations in the Wielangta State Forest had had, would have or were likely to have a significant impact on three listed threatened species, the wedge-tailed eagle, the swift parrot and the broad toothed stag beetle. Senator Brown also claimed that the forestry operations were not undertaken in accordance with the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement because the agreement did not satisfy the requirements of the Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002 or alternatively, because certain obligations under the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement had not been met by Tasmania.

Justice Marshall found that Forestry Tasmania's actions had had and were likely to have a significant impact on the three listed threatened species. Justice Marshall also found that the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement satisfied the requirements in the Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002 for regional forest agreements. However, he found that Tasmania had not complied with clause 68 of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement which concerns protection of priority species through the comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system and management prescriptions. (The three listed threatened species in the case are priority species.)

The Commonwealth intervened in the case to make submissions to support the validity of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement, and in relation to the interpretation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The State of Tasmania also intervened in the case.

Forestry Tasmania has appealed against the decision to the full court of the Federal Court. The appeal is listed for hearing in August2007.

Auditor-General reports

The Auditor-General tabled two reports in 2006—07 which scrutinised the activities of the department.

Audit Report No. 23 2006—07 Performance Audit of the Application of the Outcomes and Outputs Framework

The objective of this audit was to assess how agencies apply the Australian Government outcomes and outputs framework and whether agencies have robust performance measures in place as a part of this framework. The audit consisted of an initial survey of 44 agencies subject to the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997, followed by detailed audit testing in three of the agencies, including the department. The Australian National Audit Office made five general recommendations to agencies and one to the Department of Finance and Administration. The department agrees with five of the recommendations.

The department reviewed its performance indicators for the 2007—08 Portfolio Budget Statements, and has prepared written guidance for employees on how to develop best practice performance indicators.

Audit Report No. 31 2006—07 Performance Audit of the Conservation and Protection of National Threatened Species and Ecological Communities

The objective of this audit was to assess how the department administers the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and its effectiveness in protecting and conserving threatened species and threatened ecological communities in Australia.

The Australian National Audit Office identified three issues constraining progress and limiting the achievement of the objectives of the Act, namely:

The department agrees with the recommendations made by the Australian National Audit Office and considers they provide useful guidance on pursuing the highest priority actions to assist in meeting the objectives of the Act. The department notes however that, even under the provisions of the Act as amended in 2006, its ability to fully implement all the recommendations will depend in part on the willingness of state and territory agencies to collaborate on actions.

Following the release of the audit the department received additional funding of $70.6million over four years in the 2007—08 Budget to achieve the objectives of the Act. This additional funding will assist in the better protection of threatened species and ecological communities.

The audit identified a number of administrative shortcomings and some key areas of non-compliance with the Act (prior to December2006). The Act was amended in December2006 and the matters identified as non-compliant are no longer legal requirements of the Act (see parliamentary committees).

Parliamentary committees

In 2006—07 the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Standing Committee tabled two reports relevant to the department's work.

Inquiry into the Provisions of the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1), report tabled on 21November2006

The inquiry scrutinised the provisions of the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006 which amends the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The Bill aimed to make improvements in four distinct areas: streamlining administration of the Act for efficiency and effectiveness, thereby cutting 'red tape' in government; being more strategic and flexible in directing Australian Government action on the environment; strengthening compliance with, and enforcement of, the Act; and implementing a range of minor amendments needed to overcome some technical deficiencies in the Act.

The committee made three recommendations:

All recommendations were resolved, and the amendments were passed by parliament on 7December2006, with the bulk of the amendments commencing on 19February2007. The Australian Government provided additional funding in the 2007 Budget to administer the Act.

Inquiry into Australia's National Parks, Conservation Reserves and Marine Protected Areas, report tabled on 12April2007

The inquiry considered the funding and resources available to meet the objectives of Australia's national parks, other conservation reserves and marine protected areas, with particular reference to:

The committee made 18 recommendations covering a range of matters including the need for increased funding for management of conservation estates, for earlier public consultation when establishing new reserves, for more effective planning processes, and for making parks more resilient to climate change. A response to the report is in preparation.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

There were no formal reports from the Commonwealth Ombudsman during the year. The Ombudsman investigated a complaint in relation to a tender process for a café in the department and provided advice to the department regarding the need for improved internal processes, particularly in dealing with potential conflict of interest situations. In response to the advice the department reviewed its procurement guidelines as part of an update of the Chief Executive Instructions.

Freedom of information

This section is presented in accordance with the requirements of section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The Act gives the Australian community the right to access information held by the Australian Government. The only limits are exemptions needed to protect essential public interests and privacy.

Applications received

The department received 33 applications pursuant to the Act during 2006—07. There were no requests for review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Information about the department

Under section 8 of the Act the department has to make available information about its functions, organisation, operations and powers that affect members of the public. Relevant information is contained throughout this annual report (the executive summary presents an overview) and on the department's website.

Information about categories of documents

Under section 8 of the Act the department has to report details of certain categories of documents it maintains. The department holds a large range of documents in the following categories:

General policy—administrative files, consultants' reports, memoranda of understanding, agreements, permits, licences, submissions, guidelines for programmes, grant documents, manuals, financial records, staffing records, instructions of the secretary, legal documents, and tender evaluations

Specific—Australian Antarctic Division records, committee records, and court documents and records

Parliamentary—briefing documents, Cabinet documents, ministerial submissions, policy advice, ministerial correspondence, explanatory memoranda to Acts, Ordinances and Regulations.

Some documents may have been transferred into archival custody or destroyed in accordance with the Archives Act 1983.

Arrangements for outside participation

Under section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 the department has to report details of arrangements whereby members of the public can participate in certain kinds of decision-making.

The department consults members of the public and bodies outside the Australian Government's administration when developing policy and programmes, and administering legislation and schemes. In addition to general public consultation, which may be a requirement of particular legislation, the department and the minister receive advice from scientific and expert committees and other bodies. A list is available at http://www.environment.gov.au/about/councils/index.html.

Generally, people can participate by making oral or written representations to the minister or the department, or by putting submissions to the various working groups chaired by the department.

Formal arrangements under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, Sea Installations Act 1987, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and the environmental impact assessment provisions of the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 provide for proposals to be examined publicly and for comments to be received.

Formal arrangements under the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands Environment Protection and Management Ordinance 1987 provide for public consultation during the development of management plans.

Formal arrangements under the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978 provide for public consultation on scientific research programmes and matters relating to the effects on the environment in the Alligator Rivers Region of uranium mining operations.

Procedures for gaining access to information

Freedom of information matters within the department are handled by the Legal Section in the Policy Coordination Division. Contact details for the freedom of information officer are:

Phone: (02) 6274 2721
Fax: (02) 6274 1587
Email: foi_contact_officer@environment.gov.au

Written requests for access to documents should be addressed to:

The Freedom of Information Coordinator
Legal Section
Department of the Environment and Water Resources
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601

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