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Report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Covering the period 16 July 2000 to 30 June 2001
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4770 X

3. Monitoring and compliance

During the Act's first year of operation, a mix of approaches designed to build a strong underlying compliance system has been used. In terms of protecting matters of national environmental significance, the Department initially focused on assisting people to meet the requirements of the Act through working cooperatively with people who may be considering undertaking actions.

An awareness and education campaign was undertaken during 2000-01 to inform community and industry of the operation of the Act and their potential obligations. These activities are detailed in Part 1.5 of this report.

Over 100 reports were received about activities that have the potential to contravene the Act. Approximately half of these reports required further examination. The reports were concerned overwhelmingly with listed threatened species, wetlands of national importance and listed migratory species. From a State perspective, the highest number of reports concerned activities in Queensland.

The approach taken to follow up reports has been successful in achieving referrals in many instances. Generally the follow-up action commences with a letter and information pack being provided to people who may be considering undertaking an action with the potential to impact on matters protected under the Act. A stronger response is made where the risks associated with the activity are high. In one case, a combination of correspondence and a site visit led to the referral of a major development.

Where there is resistance to refer activities that may have a significant impact on matters protected by the Act, the compliance response escalates. The Act includes considerably stronger provisions for dealing with breaches of the legislation than existed in previous Commonwealth environment legislation. These include civil penalties of up to $550 000 for individuals and $5.5 million for bodies corporate. Criminal penalties can include custodial sentences of up to seven years.

The regulatory framework of the Act fosters the participation of a broad range of individuals and organisations concerned with conservation issues. This participation is achieved through transparency in decision making and access to information about reasons for decisions. More specifically, Section 475 of the Act effectively confers standing on these individuals and organisations in proceedings for injunctions to restrain conduct that would contravene a provision of the Act. Similarly, Section 487 of the Act confers standing on a broad range of persons in proceedings for administrative review of decisions made under the Act.

Two applications for interim injunctions were made during the year by persons with standing provided under the Act. The cases were Booth v Bosworth [2000] FCA 1878 (13 December 2001) which related to the electrocution of spectacled flying foxes in Queensland; and Schneiders v State of Queensland [2001] FCA 553 (4 May 2001) which related to the culling of dingoes on Fraser Island. In both cases the Federal Court decided not to grant an interim injunction. Hearing of the Booth v Bosworth matter for the grant of an injunction had not occurred as of 30 June 20014.

Monitoring and compliance under the Act is a greatly expanded area of responsibility for the Department. A challenge for the coming year is the building of resource capacity with appropriate expertise and skills sets to develop and implement a strategic compliance strategy to deal with current and emerging priorities.


Footnotes

4. The matter was heard in the Federal Court of Australia on 18-20 July 2001 and the decision handed down on 17 October 2001. An injunction was subsequently granted.

Report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999