Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments
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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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.
Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 6422 4868 0
Australia's response to the challenge of sustainable development - its priorities and approaches - must be seen against a background of national circumstances which are briefly outlined in this section.
Agenda 21 recognises that policies for sustainable development must be informed by, and made in the context of local circumstances. Resource endowments and economic and social conditions, no less than political structures and ecological processes, must be taken into account by communities and institutions when acting to give effect to the shared objective of global sustainability. This is true of nations, regions and local communities.
By world standards, Australia enjoys a high standard of living, a robust economy, a peaceful and well educated society, an open and democratic political framework and a high level of personal freedom. Australians value these characteristics, just as they value their unique natural heritage.
Australia is the only nation to occupy an entire continent. In land area (7 682 300 square kilometres) it is the world's sixth largest nation. Australia lies in the southern hemisphere between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and has seven external territories including the Australian Antarctic Territory. Its closest neighbours are New Zealand to the east, Papua New Guinea to the north and Indonesia to the north west.
Australia has a tropical monsoon climate in the north, a Mediterranean climate in the south and a vast, arid interior. The continent has a generally flat land surface, with relatively low precipitation and runoff rates. Mountain ranges in the south-east are often snow covered in winter, but Australia generally experiences mild winters and hot summers. Australia is the second driest continent with its river and underground freshwater resources having a limited capacity. Drought is a recurring climatic feature over most of the continent.
Many Australian soils are derived from ancient material and the rate of soil formation is slow. As a result, soils tend to be shallow and infertile.
Significant deposits of minerals are found across the continent. These include oil, coal and gas, iron ore, bauxite, copper, nickel, zinc, gold, mineral sands, manganese, diamonds and uranium.
Australia has been geographically isolated from other countries since it separated from Antarctica thirty five million years ago. A unique and diverse biota has evolved. Australia is classified as one of around a dozen 'megadiverse' countries. The continent has a high degree of endemism many species, genera and families of animals and plants occur nowhere else.
Most major terrestrial ecosystem types are represented in Australia - temperate and tropical forests, rangelands, deserts, wetlands and alpine meadows can be identified, along with a wide range of less common habitat types. A complex range of vegetation communities and habitats has evolved to exploit local scale variation in soil type, topography and climate. The occurrence of fire and the low fertility of many soils have played special roles in the evolution of Australia's unique sclerophyllous flora.
Evidence of human settlement in Australia is dated at more than 50 000 years. The ancestors of Australia's aboriginal people are believed to have entered the continent from the north as a hunter gatherer people skilled in the use of wooden tools and fire.
European settlement dates from 1788, eighteen years after the continent was claimed for Britain.
Australia's population in December 1995 was estimated to be approximately eighteen million. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders account for 1.6 per cent of the total population. Australia's population has more than doubled in the last forty-five years, with immigration accounting for about half of the increase. Today, over twenty-two per cent of Australia's population was born in another country, contributing to its multicultural character.
The Australian population is projected to increase to twenty six million in 2031 assuming a continuation of current fertility, mortality and migration levels. Population growth rates have been declining over the past few years from 2.07 per cent in 1970 to 1.02 per cent in 1993. The average life expectancy of Australian males is seventy-four years and of females eighty years. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have mortality rates more than twice the national rate, in all age groups.
Although Australia covers a land area of 768 million hectares, which is several times greater than that of Western Europe, the population of Australia is only about five percent of the population of that region. The population density of Australia is two people per square kilometre. The population is, however, highly urbanised with more than six million people, about thirty-five per cent of the total population, live in the two major cities, Sydney and Melbourne. Nearly seventy-five per cent of Australians live in or within fifty kilometres of Australia's coastal cities.
The Australian economy has performed well through the last century and reflects a country that has grown from a small totally resource-based economy to one with a diversified manufacturing and services sector with a significant export orientation. The Australian economy has undergone considerable diversification and expansion over the last thirty years, much of the expansion being related to the tertiary sector. There has been significant investment in export oriented mining and energy products.
The Australian economy was affected in the early 1990s by recessionary influences similar to those affecting most of the world's economies. The soundness of the economy is demonstrated by a growth rate of 3.3 per cent in the year to September quarter 1995. This growth rate, however is not uniformly spread geographically throughout the country with some States and Territories, notably Western Australia and Queensland expanding at greater rates than other areas of Australia. An important feature of growth in the economy is that it is accompanied by a relatively low rate of inflation.
Australia's political system is a stable, democratic, constitutional monarchy which encourages a role for a free press and community groups.
Australia is a federation of six self-governing States and two self-governing mainland Territories. The Commonwealth (federal) Government's powers and responsibilities are defined in the Australian Constitution and the State and Territory Governments are responsible for all other matters. The Commonwealth Parliament is bi-cameral with a House of Representatives and a Senate, and its powers encompass, among other things, interstate trade and commerce, taxation, postal and telecommunications services, defence, external affairs, banking, immigration, and social welfare.
The State and Territory Governments also have established systems of Local Government and there are around 740 of these authorities throughout Australia. Local Government is responsible for the provision of local services such as environmental health regulation, road building and maintenance, municipal waste management, land use planning and development control, pollution control and monitoring, traffic management, parks and open space, recreation facilities and community services.
Environmental powers are not specifically dealt with in the Australian Constitution and are not the sole province of any one sphere of government. Most environmental legislative responsibilities rest with the State and Territory Governments, although the Commonwealth does have powers to enact laws affecting the environment and sustainable development. Australia has a vibrant non-government sector which is actively involved in the policy development process.
There is a recognition in Australia that many environmental and ecologically sustainable development (ESD) issues need to be dealt with on a local, regional, national and international scale. A consultative approach is the cornerstone to Australia's policy development and considerable effort is devoted by all three spheres of government, non-government organisations and community groups to cooperative approaches to these issues. This is reflected in the development of national strategies, agreements, and organisations and forums which specifically deal with national and international environment and sustainable development matters.
Australia has a number of key strategies in place to support sustainable development. The principal and overarching strategy is the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD) which seeks to address sustainable development issues from a distinctly Australian perspective.
Recognising a core goal of 'development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends', the NSESD has three core objectives:
The NSESD was developed by working groups comprising representatives from industry, trade unions, conservation and community groups, women and youth and all spheres of government. The strategy was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in December 1992 and is undergoing a major review, the first stage of which will be completed in early 1996.
Other key strategies and programs which focus on the sectors being reviewed by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in 1996 include the National Greenhouse Response Strategy, Greenhouse 21C - A Plan of Action, and the Commonwealth Coastal Policy.
In order to oversee the development and implementation of national strategies and other policy issues concerning the environment and ecologically sustainable development, there are mechanisms which provide an administrative and ministerial framework for coordinating input and advice. The Intergovernmental Committee for Ecologically Sustainable Development (ICESD) provides the forum for governments to meet at an administrative level, while Ministerial committees such as the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) provide for a political focus.
The InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE) is an agreement between all spheres of government concerning their roles and responsibilities in the decision-making process and sets out mechanisms for resolving national issues. The agreement outlines the roles and responsibilities of the three spheres of government and provides for the establishment of mechanisms that are aimed at contributing to a more cooperative approach to environmental decision making.
The IGAE establishes an approach to environmental policy making and program implementation which recognises the need for effective integration of economic and environmental considerations. The IGAE is based on the acceptance of ecologically sustainable development principles by all Australian Governments. It includes nine schedules that deal with a range of issues such as data collection and handling, resource assessment, land use decisions and approval processes, environmental impact assessment, establishment of the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC), climate change, biological diversity, national estate, world heritage and nature conservation.
Australia has undertaken substantial measures to integrate and promote the principles of ESD throughout the development cooperation program. The original policy basis was set out in the 1991 interim policy statement on ESD in international development cooperation prepared by Australia's aid agency, AusAID. This drew on the World Commission on Environment and Development's report, Our Common Future.
In October 1994, the Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs, released a new policy statement on ESD and the development cooperation program, Towards a Sustainable Future. This statement placed ecologically sustainable development as the development philosophy underpinning the whole of Australia's development cooperation program. It updated Australia's aid policy in light of Agenda 21 and the release of the NSESD. The updated ESD policy focuses on the key themes of Agenda 21, namely: the economic and social dimensions of development, the conservation and management of resources for development, and strengthening the role of major groups. The policy paper also identified the ESD priorities of the developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The aid program provides a flexible vehicle for the provision of Australian expertise and technology to assist the countries of our region achieve their ESD goals. Finally, the paper outlines how the ESD policy will be implemented and monitored by AusAID.