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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

Outcome 1 Environment

Vision

A natural and cultural environment, valued, enhanced and protected in harmony with the nation's social and economic goals

Mission

National leadership in the protection and conservation of the environment

The objectives of Environment Australia are to:

The environment, especially those aspects that are matters of national environmental significance, is protected and conserved

Environment Australia's responsibility is to play a national role to protect and conserve Australia's unique natural and cultural heritage, one of the most diverse and ancient in the world, within a framework of sustainable development.

Australia's environmental challenges, particularly those in and around our cities, are diverse but not unique. In the cities Australia continues to grapple with the environmental impacts of urban sprawl that include the loss of vegetation and habitat, the encroachment of development into areas of high conservation value, the impacts of the motor vehicle on urban air quality, the cumulative problem of managing landfill waste and the impacts of pollution on our waterways, estuaries and beaches.

In country areas, many of Australia's environmental challenges relate to conserving biological diversity, ensuring the adequate flow and quality of water, preventing soil losses and erosion, reversing the decline in the extent and quality of vegetation, undoing the damage caused by feral species, maintaining groundwater supplies, responding to salinity and minimising the environmental impacts of industry.

A major challenge is the sustainable management of Australia's marine resources, with the coasts and oceans providing resources for many industries including tourism, fishing, aquaculture and mining.

None of these problems is new but recently Australian governments, community groups and individuals have made a concerted effort to reverse accumulated environmental damage. Environment Australia has administered the Commonwealth Government's agenda and programmes.

It is not possible to resolve Australia's environmental challenges in a piecemeal, fragmented way. Environment Australia has followed broad themes of responsibility that come together to form an integrated approach.

For Environment Australia to conserve and protect the environment, particularly those aspects that are matters of national environmental significance, its programmes need to:

Themes

Focusing on broad themes:

Biodiversity
Land
Inland waters
Coasts and oceans
National parks and reserves
Natural heritage and culture
Atmosphere
Industry Assessments

Theme: Conserve biological diversity

As home to 10 per cent of the world's known species of flora and fauna, many of which are found nowhere else, Australia has a responsibility to conserve its biological diversity.

More than 1300 species of Australian plants or wildlife are listed as endangered or vulnerable to extinction. Over 20 per cent of native bird species are threatened with extinction as a result of habitat clearing.

At least 18 exotic mammals have established feral populations in Australia, with cats and foxes being blamed for the decline and extinction of several native animals. Introduced plants account for some 15 per cent of Australia's total flora, with many of these species causing substantial damage to native vegetation and habitats.

Environment Australia's effort to protect biological diversity has been strategically focused on five priority areas: reversing the decline in quality and extent of Australia's native vegetation; improving biological diversity conservation in protected areas; promoting recovery of nationally listed threatened species; combating invasive non-native species; and advancing the identification and classification of plants and animals.

One of the key objectives of the Natural Heritage Trust is to implement a comprehensive approach to protect Australia's biological diversity.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act provides an integrated framework for conserving biodiversity. With environment protection measures for threatened and migratory species, Ramsar wetlands, World Heritage properties and the Commonwealth's marine area, the Act provides additional protection to species and communities in Commonwealth areas and provides for world's best practice management of Commonwealth reserves and protected areas.

During the year the area of protected land increased by 4.25 million hectares; threat abatement plans for the feral animal species fox, cat, goat and rabbit were approved by the Minister; an action plan was published to protect 90 species of bat; and the Camoo Caves west of Rockhampton, where many bats live, were acquired under the National Reserve System programme.

Environment Australia played a leading role in the development, by the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council, of a National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation. The initiative is a consistent framework of best practice management and monitoring measures. It will ensure that all jurisdictions work in an integrated way to reverse the long-term decline in the quality and extent of Australia's native vegetation, and provides an independent yardstick for measuring the effectiveness of these efforts.

Environment Australia made significant contributions to institutional reform, the development of incentives, and investment in native vegetation management and biodiversity conservation. In particular, it offered innovative incentives for the protection and management of vegetation remnants. These included fencing assistance schemes, the Land for Wildlife programme, and establishing funds to purchase and then sell land with conservation value.

A series of research reports by CSIRO on incentives funded by Environment Australia has been instrumental in influencing policy discussion about nature conservation on private land across Australia. A ministerial statement on the Bushcare programme, entitled New Directions in Native Vegetation Management, was released. The statement outlined strategic directions for vegetation policies and programmes.

Environment Australia made a significant contribution to engaging local government in implementing the National Local Government Biodiversity Strategy. Across Australia, environment resource officers and Bushcare and Coastcare facilitators worked with local government to identify biodiversity conservation priorities.

Conserving biological diversity is pursued through the following programmes and departmental outputs:

Details are provided in the sections on programmes and outputs.

Theme: Manage land resources sustainably

Australian soils are generally of very poor quality and dependent upon vegetation cover for nutrients and stability. Excessive land clearing and water extraction and poor soil conservation have contributed to a substantial decline in the quality of land resources across Australia.

Soil erosion rates may be up to 10 times the rates of soil formation. Excessive clearing and irrigation have caused water tables to rise in much of Australia, resulting in waterlogging and salinisation.

One of the priorities of the Natural Heritage Trust, which is administered by Environment Australia and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Australia, has been to reduce land degradation. The bulk of the funds allocated through the Natural Heritage Trust has been spent on programmes with a heavy emphasis on improving land management. These funds are being invested in catchment-wide, community-based, on-ground actions that integrate environmental objectives with sustainable farming systems, and improve the condition of natural ecosystems affected by primary production. Much of the work is being done through the 4500 community-based Landcare, Bushcare and catchment groups.

The Trust's National Feral Animal Control and National Weeds Programmes also contribute to reducing land degradation. The goal of the National Feral Animal Control Programme is to ensure effective management of the impact of feral animals on the natural environment and on primary production, while the National Weeds Programme aims to reduce the detrimental impact of nationally significant weeds on the sustainability of Australia's productive capacity and natural ecosystems.

As part of its financial incentive programmes, Environment Australia provided advice to the Government on changes to the tax system that affect the economics of land management so that landholders have incentives to invest in more sustainable practices. Gifts of property worth more than $5000 to approved conservation and heritage groups will become tax-deductible, regardless of when the property was purchased.

The following programmes contribute to sustainable management of land resources:

Details are provided in the sections on programmes and outputs.

Theme: Achieve ecologically sustainable use of inland waters

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth. It has the least river water, the lowest run-off and the smallest area of permanent wetlands of any continent other than Antarctica.

One-third of the continent produces almost no run-off at all and Australia's rainfall and stream flows are the most variable in the world.

Because of the scarcity and variability of fresh water in Australia, extensive investments have been made in water infrastructure to drought-proof the economy. These investments in regional Australia have made a significant contribution to national wealth, underpinning the development of thriving cities and towns as well as the primary industry, mining and tourism sectors. Settlement and economic growth have relied upon large-scale damming, diversion, pumping and drainage of surface waters, land reclamation, loss of wetlands and extraction of groundwater for irrigation, stock, domestic and industrial use. Australia now has the highest per capita water storage in the world. Sydney, for example, stores 932 kilolitres of water per capita compared with New York's 250 and London's 18.2 kilolitres.

Water resource development has had a profound effect on many of our freshwater systems. Far too many of Australia's waters and water-dependent ecosystems are suffering extensive damage, with growing economic and environmental costs to the nation. Water is vital for a healthy environment. Integrating the needs of the environment, and the flows required to maintain and restore healthy rivers, with water allocation for consumptive uses is a major task facing Australian governments and communities.

Environment Australia, in consultation with other participating jurisdictions, contributed to the development by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission of a draft basin salinity management strategy and salinity targets, and a draft integrated catchment management statement. These documents create a framework for catchment level targets for water quality, salinity, water sharing, terrestrial biological diversity, and catchment and ecosystem health.

Ground water is essential to Australian agriculture and remote communities. Environment Australia has been working through the Great Artesian Basin Consultative Council to achieve the sustainable management of the basin's water resources and associated environmental and heritage values.

Through the National Wetlands Programme, Environment Australia continued maintenance of the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia (including Commonwealth land), which details information on the ecological values and management of Australia's most significant wetlands for decision makers.

Environment Australia continued to work with the States and Territories to prepare management plans for wetlands listed under the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran 1971) and to identify wetland sites for nomination under the Ramsar Convention.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, Ramsar wetlands of international importance are, for the first time, afforded statutory protection through a stronger and more significant assessment and approvals process and through the Australian Ramsar management principles.

The National Centre for Tropical Wetlands Research was established in Darwin as a research and training centre to coordinate tropical wetlands research and run training courses for local and international wetland managers.

Promoting, supporting and implementing the ecologically sustainable use of inland waters occurs through the following programmes:

Details are provided in the sections on programmes and outputs.

Theme: Conserve and sustainably manage coasts and oceans

Australia's marine environment rivals the terrestrial environment in its biological diversity but dwarfs it in scale by a ratio of more than two to one. Australia's marine biological diversity includes some 4000 fish species, 500 coral species in our northern reefs alone, 50 species of marine mammals and a wide range of seabirds. As many as 80 per cent of our southern marine species occur nowhere else.

With more than 14 million Australians living within 100 kilometres of the coast, and with the coasts and oceans providing resources for industries including tourism, fishing, aquaculture and mining, there are many pressures on coastal and marine ecosystems.

The establishment of the National Oceans Office in December 1999 in Hobart as an executive agency was a major step towards achieving the conservation and sustainable use and management of Australia's marine resources.

The declaration and management of marine protected areas are important tools in the protection and conservation of marine biological diversity. Three marine protected areas were declared: Lord Howe Island Marine Park, Cartier Island Marine Reserve and Macquarie Island Marine Park. Macquarie Island Marine Park covers an area of 16 million hectares in the Southern Ocean, making it the second largest marine protected area in the world after the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and the largest highly protected marine area according to the IUCN - World Conservation Union classification system. Plans of management were released for the Great Australian Bight Marine Park and Mermaid Reef Marine National Nature Reserve.

More than 55 exotic marine species have been introduced into Australian waters, with many of them damaging marine environments, threatening aquaculture and posing risks to human health. The National Taskforce on the Prevention and Management of Marine Pest Incursions made 57 recommendations on ways to remedy current deficiencies in preventing new pest incursions, to respond to new pest outbreaks and to control existing pest incursions.

Environment Australia has been active in the protection of marine species, including championing the establishment of a South Pacific whale sanctuary. In November 1999, Environment Australia agreed to a request by the international community to lead the global conservation of the albatross. A plan to reduce the impact of long-line fishing on albatrosses and other seabirds was implemented and a recovery plan to protect marine turtles completed.

In October 1999 an independent mid-term review reported that the Natural Heritage Trust's Coasts and Clean Seas initiative had been ‘enthusiastically embraced by stakeholders from the community, industry research organisations, water management authorities, and State and local governments'. The programmes under Coasts and Clean Seas funded a wide range of projects directed at conservation and sustainable use and management of coastal and marine resources.

Conservation and sustainable use of coasts and oceans was pursued through the following programmes:

Details are provided in the sections on programmes and outputs.

Theme: Conserve Commonwealth reserves and progress the National Reserve System

Environment Australia, through the Natural Heritage Trust, assisted the establishment of new ecologically significant protected areas as part of the National Reserve System. In total, a land mass larger than the area of Tasmania was added to the National Reserve System mostly in the form of indigenous protected areas. Land purchases were approved that added 1.7 million hectares to protected areas in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.

In June 2000 the Anangu Pitjantjatjara people of South Australia came to an agreement with Environment Australia to protect biological diversity and cultural heritage on 2 million hectares of their lands. The area, part of the Birksgate Ranges, has one of the highest diversities of reptile species found anywhere in the world and contains such rare and endangered species as the mallee fowl and the great desert skink.

Progressing the National Reserve System is managed through the following programmes:

Details are provided in the sections on programmes and outputs. Management of Commonwealth reserves is the responsibility of the Director of National Parks and Wildlife. For details, refer to the annual report of the Director.

Theme: Identify and protect natural and cultural heritage

Environment Australia identifies, protects and manages Australia's World Heritage areas. Currently there are 13 sites: the Great Barrier Reef, the Tasmanian Wilderness, the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Shark Bay, Kakadu National Park, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the Willandra Lakes Region, the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Naracoorte and Riversleigh), the Lord Howe Island Group, the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves (Australia), Fraser Island, Macquarie Island, and Heard and McDonald Islands.

In July 1999 Australia argued successfully that the World Heritage Committee not place Kakadu on the list of World Heritage in Danger. Australia was selected as a member of the World Heritage Bureau, and in December 1999 the committee accepted Australia's invitation to host and chair their next meeting.

In June 2000 the Minister announced the reform of the Commonwealth's heritage protection structures to achieve more effective protection of places of truly national heritage significance. Places on the national list will be identified as a matter of national environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The Act's framework will identify the role for the Commonwealth in protecting national heritage places while providing a mechanism for the accreditation of State management arrangements.

Supplementary information on the World Heritage values of the Greater Blue Mountains area was provided in order to advise the World Heritage Committee on inscription. The proposed nomination of a series of Australian convict sites was added to Australia's tentative World Heritage list in June 2000.

Environment Australia prepared five World Heritage nominations, working cooperatively with other governments. These included negotiations with the New South Wales Government on the nomination of the Opera House and with the Western Australian Government and the Kimberley Land Council over assessment of Purnululu.

The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Bill was drafted and introduced into the Senate.

Environment Australia also reviewed the existing agreement between the Netherlands and Australia concerning old Dutch shipwrecks, pursued an agreement with the United Kingdom regarding old Admiralty wrecks in Australian waters, coordinated Australia's participation in the development of a United Nations convention on the protection of underwater cultural heritage, and provided funds to locate the remains of HMB Endeavour in Newport Harbour, Rhode Island.

Activities concerning the Register of the National Estate and other work of the Australian Heritage Commission are reported in the separate annual report of the commission.

Identifying and protecting natural, historic and cultural heritage is brought about through the following programmes:

Details are provided in the sections on programmes and outputs.

Theme: Protect the atmosphere

Air pollution is still rated by the majority of Australians as their most serious environmental concern. The state of the air is a determining factor in the quality of life in Australian cities. Environment Australia implements national initiatives to reduce levels of air pollutants in the major metropolitan centres. It works cooperatively with other government agencies, States and Territories, and industry through forums such as the National Environment Protection Council, the National Road Transport Commission and the Motor Vehicle Environment Committee.

Environment Australia has concentrated on improving the environmental performance of the transport sector as it is the most significant contributor to urban air pollution. Increased congestion, longer idling times in traffic, further distances travelled by road and increased urban sprawl have required an integrated national response.

Three complementary strategies are being pursued: the progressive tightening of vehicle emission standards, the establishment of vehicle inspection and maintenance programmes, and the regulation of fuel quality. Initiatives to advance these strategies were announced as part of A New Tax System - Measures for a Better Environment.

The Measures for a Better Environment package consists of a suite of initiatives designed to improve the management of transport emissions and greenhouse gases. The former includes both vehicle-based and fuel-based initiatives. Vehicle-based initiatives target the emissions performance of new and in-service vehicles and promote the use of alternative-fuelled vehicles. The fuel-based initiatives facilitate the adoption of emerging vehicle engine and emission control technologies. This has been constrained by the lack of availability of fuel of suitable quality.

National action to address transport emissions, as well as other priority air quality issues, has also progressed under the Air Pollution in Major Cities Programme, funded by the Natural Heritage Trust. In addition to transport emissions, the focus has been on improved management of woodheater emissions, through industry codes of practice and national education campaigns, and on the monitoring and management of fine particle pollution.

Australia has led the world in phasing out ozone-depleting substances, in many cases well ahead of the requirements of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Australia's approach has been based on a highly cooperative partnership between industry, the community and all levels of government, coordinated by Environment Australia.

Protecting and improving the quality of the atmosphere is brought about through the following programmes:

Details are provided in the sections on programmes and outputs.

Theme: Improve the environmental performance of industry

Environment Australia is working with Australian industry to improve their environmental performance. As a result, an increasing number of companies view environmental protection as a benefit, not a cost, to their organisations. Environment Australia cooperated with several industry sectors to reduce their impact on the natural environment - both in terms of resource extraction and of waste released into the environment.

The national priority has been eco-efficiency (ecological and economic efficiency) improvement, recognising that sustainable development depends on Australian industry doing more with less. That in turn depends on businesses adopting the tools they need to make their operations more eco-efficient: environmental accounting, public environmental reporting, environmental management systems, environmental performance measurement and life cycle assessment.

Environment Australia developed and published the first National Framework for Public Environmental Reporting in March 2000. It also funded extension officers in the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to promote the concept of public environmental reporting to members of these major industry associations.

Environment Australia also worked with local government to efficiently target resources to biodiversity conservation. It collaborated with the Australian Local Government Association to conduct a national survey and identify resources being directed to local government conservation activities and priorities for further action.

The National Pollutant Inventory, which is an important incentive for adoption of cleaner production practices, came online in January 2000 after several years of cooperation and development with State and Territory Governments. It currently provides nearly 1200 facility reports and information on major airsheds and water catchments. The database was used nearly a quarter of a million times in its first five months of operation.

Environment Australia started the ChemCollect programme to collect and destroy obsolete farm chemicals across Australia. The programme is being carried out with the assistance of participating State and Territory Governments.

Figures released in June 2000 by Environment Australia's WasteWise programme showed that the construction industry is recycling up to 87 per cent of its waste, almost doubling the voluntary targets set under the programme.

Recognising and accelerating the efforts of Australian industries to improve their environmental performance is brought about through the following programmes:

Details are provided in the sections on programmes and outputs.

Theme: conduct environmental assessments

In undertaking environmental impact assessment activities, Environment Australia maintained the high standards expected by the community. There were no instances of breaches of the statutory timeframes set out in the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 or the Telecommunications Act 1999 and no legal challenges to decisions made under the Acts were successful. Environment Australia also provided advice to the Australian Communications Authority on projects referred by carriers under the Telecommunications Act and assisted in educational activities on the legislation.

Environment Australia coordinated environmental and heritage considerations of investment projects under the Government's investment promotion and facilitation initiatives. For all major facilitation projects requiring Commonwealth environmental impact assessment, Commonwealth assessment obligations were either completed or had progressed within the timeframes agreed.

A total of 314 projects were referred to Environment Australia under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act and the Telecommunications Act. The proposals included the Honeymoon uranium mine, corporatisation of the Snowy Mountain hydro-electric scheme, the Christmas Island satellite launch facility, Millmerran and Kogan Creek coal-fired power stations, the Comalco alumina project, the Stuart oil shale project stage 2, the Twofold Bay naval ammunition facility, the Basslink cable interconnection and the precision runway monitor at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport.

Details of all environmental impact assessments are reported in the section on outputs.

Conclusion

Environment Australia has achieved results in all of the broad theme areas.

Through the $1.5 billion Natural Heritage Trust, Environment Australia and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Australia have managed the mobilisation of some 300 000 people for on-ground environmental repair and protection - an investment of financial and human resources in sustainable development unrivalled in Australian history and probably anywhere in the world.

Environment Australia has prepared for environmental policy responses by making major changes to legislation. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act will help to ensure that Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments can respond to environmental threats in a more effective way than ever before.

With results on the ground, in the air, on the waterways and in the oceans, Environment Australia has provided national leadership in protecting, conserving and sustainably managing the Australian environment.