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Publications archive - Annual reports

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Environment Australia Annual Report 1999-2000

Environment Australia, 2000
ISBN 0642450420
ISSN 1441-9335

The Secretary's review of environment
Australia's Achievements

Environment Australia continued to advance the Commonwealth Government's environmental priorities. Highlights included the reform of environmental legislation and innovative approaches to environmental protection and the conservation of biological diversity.

Environment Australia undertook work to prepare for the commencement of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 on 16 July 2000. The Act represents the most fundamental reform of Commonwealth environment laws since the first environment statutes were enacted in the early 1970s. The Act enables the Commonwealth to join with the States and Territories in providing a national scheme of environmental protection and biological diversity conservation. It will focus the Commonwealth on matters of national environmental significance, allowing a streamlined environmental assessment and approvals process, and an integrated regime for the conservation of biological diversity and the management of important protected areas.

Changes in the Commonwealth's statutory involvement in environmental assessment and approval of development projects required significant work. There were changes in departmental structures, systems and processes as well as a major staff training and development exercise. A tracking and workload management database and an information system to support the efficient administration of the new legislation were designed and implemented.

An important milestone in implementing Australia's Oceans Policy was the establishment of the National Oceans Office in Hobart as an executive agency under the Public Service Act 1999. A key responsibility of the office is the development of large ecosystem-based regional marine plans, the first of which is focused on the south-east region of Australia's marine jurisdiction.

Three Commonwealth marine protected areas were declared in 1999-2000: Lord Howe Island Marine Park, Cartier Island Marine Reserve and Macquarie Island Marine Park, the second largest marine park in the world after the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Establishing marine protected areas, which have been negotiated through a participatory decision-making process, provides an important demonstration of the commitment of marine stakeholders to harmonising marine conservation values with multiple use. Environment Australia placed on the international agenda the conservation of biological diversity on the high seas, including through the establishment of marine protected areas.

The National Taskforce on the Prevention and Management of Marine Pest Incursions was convened in August 1999 and tabled its report in December. The taskforce comprised Commonwealth, State and Northern Territory Government representatives and was chaired and supported by Environment Australia. The taskforce recommended interim and long-term measures aimed at providing a more effective and integrated emergency and management response to marine pest incursions.

Environment Australia worked in partnership with indigenous people to declare another three large indigenous protected areas, adding a further 2.56 million hectares to the National Reserve System. The significance of this partnership with indigenous people was recognised internationally on World Environment Day in June 2000. The Nepabunna community in South Australia received a United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 Award for their achievement in declaring Australia's first indigenous protected area in August 1998.

Funding for over 3880 environmental and natural resource projects, amounting to more than $305 million, was approved through the Natural Heritage Trust. Funding was provided for a wide range of activities including re-establishing vegetation, protecting remnant vegetation, increasing the community's knowledge of how to address local environmental problems and providing greater protection for Australia's biodiversity, coasts and oceans.

A mid-term review of the Natural Heritage Trust's activities found that the Trust has been very successful in raising awareness of environmental issues and empowering communities to take responsibility for environmental solutions. More than 300 000 Australians have participated in Natural Heritage Trust activities.

Environment Australia worked closely with other relevant portfolios to support the High Level Ministerial Group on Natural Resource Management. The ministerial group, consisting of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, is developing Commonwealth goals for natural resource management in Australia. The group has a broad scope, encompassing rural, urban, coastal and estuarine environments, and is addressing the full range of natural resource management issues including water quality, salinity, biological diversity and soil loss.

During the past year Environment Australia has worked closely with the Minister and his office to develop a Commonwealth position on Queensland land clearing. The Prime Minister's Forest Taskforce worked to advance this issue. As the Commonwealth prepared for negotiations with Queensland on State vegetation management legislation, Environment Australia provided policy and technical advice to the taskforce. This advice included development and analysis of potential mechanisms for implementing the proposed vegetation reforms within the context of the Commonwealth's environmental objectives for land degradation, the greenhouse effect and biological diversity.

The Living Cities Programme was created to address urban environmental problems, including air quality, urban waterways, waste management, chemical collection, urban vegetation and coastal water quality. Considerable progress has been made. Chemical collections under the Chemwatch programme began in April; applications for the Urban Stormwater Initiative were called for in February with the first project announced in June; and the Cleaner Water Initiative began in February. The Air Toxics Programme delivered a working draft report on the state of our knowledge of toxic air pollutants.

Progress was made on a number of initiatives announced under A New Tax System - Measures for a Better Environment. Legislation was passed in June 2000 to implement product stewardship arrangements for waste oil; preparatory work for the Diesel National Environment Protection Measure has identified a leading edge in-service emissions test for diesel vehicles that will be evaluated in a pilot study during 2000-01; new vehicle emission standards have been introduced to come into effect in January 2002; and national fuel quality legislation is being drafted for introduction by December 2000.

A major expansion of the substance list for the National Pollutant Inventory (commencing from 1 July 2001) was announced in June. This database allows all Australians to check what is being emitted by industry and other sources into their local environment. There is public access to nearly 1200 reports on emissions from industrial facilities across Australia, as well as information on diffuse or mobile emissions into major airsheds and nutrient emissions into priority water catchments. The number of facility emission reports will be greatly expanded from February 2001, when the data from the second full year of reporting is released.

Australia was elected to the World Heritage Bureau, chosen to host the World Heritage Committee in late 2000 and elected to chair the committee for the following year. The World Heritage Committee decided not to place Kakadu National Park on the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Environment Australia supervised uranium mining activities in the Alligator Rivers region to ensure they did not adversely affect the environment of Kakadu National Park. An investigation of a tailings water leak at the Ranger uranium mine showed that there was no detectable impact on the environment of Kakadu National Park. It also identified measures to enhance the environment. The report was tabled in the Senate on 27 June 2000.

The National Centre for Tropical Wetlands Research was established in Darwin in December 1999, with Environment Australia as a major partner. This centre will coordinate tropical wetlands research and run training courses for local and international tropical wetland managers.

Legislation to be introduced into Parliament will establish a new heritage regime to identify, conserve and protect places of truly national heritage significance. Places will be entered on a national list having been identified as matters of national environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Australia was chosen by the United Nations Environment Programme to be the host of official international World Environment Day activities for the year 2000. Major events in Adelaide, the official host city, included the presentation of the Global 500 Awards (the United Nations Environment Programme's prestigious Roll of Honour for Environmental Achievement) and a meeting of the Australian Youth Parliament for the Environment. The Prime Minister announced the winners of the Prime Minister's Environment Awards to acknowledge Australia's environmental achievers.

On 8 June, the Olympic flame arrived in Australia at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, to begin its journey around the country. The park is Aboriginal land, jointly managed by its Anangu traditional owners and Parks Australia. The torch was passed through the hands of senior traditional owners before being carried through the park. Twenty Anangu people selected by their community as torchbearers then carried the flame around Uluru.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources adopted an Australian proposal for a catch documentation scheme which verifies the origin of toothfish catches and bans toothfish imports without valid documentation. The scheme represents a significant advance in protecting the toothfish stocks, which faced commercial extinction in many areas, and was a breakthrough in Southern Ocean fisheries management. Adoption of the scheme required the agreement of 29 countries with very differing views on the issues. Its adoption only one year after the concept was formally proposed was the culmination of intense negotiations, considerable work by officers of the department and the involvement of the Minister.

A summer survey of pack-ice seals covered more than 1 million square kilometres - one of the most ambitious wildlife surveys ever undertaken and the largest in antarctic waters - to establish numbers of these top predators and to help develop sustainable Southern Ocean fisheries targets. The first detailed midwinter investigation of an antarctic coastal polynya (an area of open water within the pack ice) was undertaken by the icebreaker Aurora Australis in 1999, gathering data on processes believed to have a major influence on global ocean circulation.

The Minister adopted the recommendations of the Antarctic Air Transport Study conducted by Environment Australia and approved further investigations of options for the use of wheeled aircraft flying from Hobart to a compressed snow runway near Casey station, 3430 kilometres south-west of Hobart, with smaller feeder aircraft providing links to other areas. Competitive tendering for the provision of antarctic shipping and helicopter services to 2002-03 resulted in the selection of the vessels Aurora Australis (P&O Polar) and Polar Bird (Polar Ship Management), and the Australian helicopter company, Helicopter Resources Pty Ltd.

Environment Australia also made considerable progress during the year in responding to the Government's public sector reform agenda. The first phase of reviewing the prices of its outputs was completed in January 2000, testing the reasonableness of the prices of its corporate services and programme administration. Corporate service elements are being market tested. It is expected that the second phase of the output pricing review will be completed in November 2000.

The legislative framework governing the management of human resources underwent fundamental change with the commencement of the new Public Service Act in December 1999. Within a short time, the necessary changes were implemented, successfully laying the groundwork for more effective human resource management.

The Environment Australia Certified Agreement 1998-1999 continued to contribute significantly to the alignment of people management policies with the core business of the organisation - to achieve programme objectives. The agreement is designed to improve efficiency, effectiveness and productivity and enhance the quality of the working lives of its staff.

During the year a second certified agreement for Environment Australia was finalised. The agreement is expected to be certified by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in August 2000. The second agreement builds on the achievements of the first, with emphasis on a competitive and streamlined package of remuneration and employment conditions, which enables employees to balance work and personal responsibilities, and on the new Performance and Development Scheme, which is designed to contribute significantly to Environment Australia's productivity.

A major effort was made to develop a new performance management scheme. The scheme features team planning, individual performance agreements and development plans, feedback and performance assessment that will assist in maintaining a high performance culture in Environment Australia.

Environment Australia continued its commitment to achieving the Investors in People standard, the internationally recognised quality standard for improving the organisation's performance. A diagnostic report was considered by the Executive and by a series of staff discussion groups. An action plan was prepared to address performance gaps against the Investors in People standards. The aim is to gain accreditation by 1 October 2001.

The Commonwealth Government introduced an accrual accounting framework across all departments and agencies on 1 July 1999. This involved a substantial change to the structure of the Commonwealth Budget and the way in which departments and agencies manage and account for their use of resources. Systems and management techniques were adopted to make the new framework operate efficiently and effectively.

The framework also devolved responsibility for banking and investments to individual departments and agencies. As a result, policies and procedures were developed for the management of Environment Australia's cash resources.

Environment Australia established a project to manage implementation of the new tax system. The project was completed on schedule on 30 June 2000.

The year ahead

Major challenges for the coming year include implementing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, promoting better natural resource management, raising the environmental performance of Australian industry, enhancing our national heritage protection regime and implementing the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act comes into effect on 16 July 2000. Environment Australia will work to ensure that the new Act is implemented smoothly and effectively, through regulations, guidelines and administrative processes. Cutting edge technology will deliver information support to industry and the public via the Internet. A priority will be to finalise bilateral agreements with the States and Territories for the assessment of proposals under the Act. Environment Australia will also work on the incorporation of the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982 into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

A Natural Resource Management Taskforce was established, to ensure that relevant portfolio interests and activities are reflected in the development of Commonwealth goals for natural resource management.

Early in 2000-01 the Commonwealth is preparing to enter negotiations with the Queensland Government on the issue of land clearing.

The environmental performance of Australian industry will be raised by using levers and incentives in the Business of Sustainable Development programme and through the implementation of measures under A New Tax System - Measures for a Better Environment. Environment Australia will develop partnerships with industry to pursue our objectives of encouraging the uptake of eco-efficiency and minimising environmental harm and risks associated with hazardous chemicals and organisms.

Australia will host the 24th extraordinary session of the World Heritage Bureau and the 24th session of the World Heritage Committee during the period 23 November - 2 December 2000. The meeting, to be held in Cairns, will be chaired by Australia, and will provide an opportunity to showcase our management of World Heritage properties.

Environment Australia will work on details for new Commonwealth legislation to establish a new regime for the identification, conservation and protection of a list of places of national heritage significance as well as developing ways to ensure that the Commonwealth-owned heritage properties are better managed and protected.

Environment Australia will be ready to administer new legislation for protecting indigenous heritage places.

Environment Australia will work in partnership with the Australian Greenhouse Office to ensure that our programmes provide for early and effective implementation of the Kyoto Protocol in a way that reflects Australia's position and conditions.

A priority activity in 2000-01 will be working towards ecologically sustainable use of Australia's managed fisheries. Measures include conducting environmental assessments on Commonwealth-managed fisheries (under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) and export fisheries (under the changes to Schedule 4 of the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act).

In July 2000 Australia will host an international meeting involving 12 countries and five international organisations to facilitate the development of an agreement for the conservation of albatrosses and petrels of the Southern Hemisphere. Australia will maintain the momentum gained so far.

A national action plan for environmental education will be announced in July 2000. A key feature of the plan is the establishment of a National Environmental Education Council to advise the Minister. The plan provides for the establishment of an environmental education network to improve efficiency and raise standards across the nation. The network will comprise representatives of environment and education departments of Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments. Environment Australia's environmental education Internet site will be upgraded and provision will be made for environmental education projects in the guidelines for all funding programmes. The plan also aims to increase the profile of environmental education and its integration into mainstream educational institutions.

The Bureau of Meteorology has major international commitments, including: providing weather forecasting services for the Sydney Olympic and Paralympic Games, working at the same time with representatives of the National Meteorological Service of Greece to aid their preparations for the 2004 Games in Athens; taking a lead role in implementing the decisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change related to global climate monitoring; cooperating with the China Meteorological Administration for the operation of the new geostationary meteorological satellite Fen Yung II; and implementing the recommendations of the 1999 review of the Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre.

Major antarctic climate change research programmes will undertake sea-floor mapping and drilling in Prydz Bay, Antarctica (to improve understanding of sediment deposits and the climate changes they indicate); investigate ice shelf movement and ice-sea interaction (to improve prediction of sea level changes); and examine geological formations in the Prince Charles Mountains (to help determine the history of climate fluctuations as indicated by the size of the ice sheet).

Heard Island studies will focus on the World Heritage property's volcanic structures and what they reveal about the formation of continents, the island's unique indigenous animal and plant communities, and the cultural heritage remaining from the days of whaling and sealing.

Potential Australia-Antarctica air link suppliers will undertake a familiarisation flight to Antarctica in summer 2000-01. Evaluation of the total costs of such an air link will be completed and the tender process to select the supplier will begin, along with a comprehensive environmental assessment of the whole air project.

Environment Australia will continue to advance the Government's public sector reform agenda and strive for best practice in all of its operations.

Corporate reform will continue. A new corporate plan, which sets Environment Australia's corporate agenda for the period 2000-2005, was collaboratively developed with staff and will be introduced early in the new financial year. A Strategic Plan for 2000-2001 has been developed to complement the corporate plan.

In February 2000 market testing of the full range of Environment Australia's corporate services started. This initiative will better align service requirements with service provision and is expected to result in significant cost efficiencies. The project will be concluded in the first half of 2001. The outcomes-outputs framework has been reviewed and a revised structure, which better conveys Environment Australia's focus and objectives, will be introduced in time for the next Budget.

Organisational changes will enhance the flexibility to respond to new challenges and to cut across issues. A new position of Chief Information Officer will improve the information flow and improve information management through the delivery of services on the Internet.

The Certified Agreement for Environment Australia 2000-2002, which includes a performance and development scheme, will contribute significantly to productivity.

Environment Australia will continue to strengthen the focus on people through development and planning linked to objectives and key directions. In order to achieve excellence in people management, Environment Australia will continue to work towards meeting the Investors in People standards.