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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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
As previously reported, Australian women see environmental issues as a major concern, prompting the inclusion of the environment as an issue for action in the New National Agenda for Women 1993-2000 which was developed by the Office of the Status of Women and launched in February 1993.
Australia's National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD) requires the development of ecologically sustainable development (ESD) related policies, programs and actions which incorporate the particular concerns of women, while ensuring that actions to achieve ESD do not have inequitable effects on women. The Commonwealth Government and State and Territory Governments have undertaken to ensure women's access to information and decision-making processes in relation to ESD, although women remain under represented at senior decision-making levels in government (including the political and bureaucratic arms) and industry. Decision makers are explicitly requested to assess, and make efforts to minimise where inequitable or disadvantageous, the gender impacts of ESD related decisions.
Australia continues to address the issue of increasing the influence of women in environmental decision-making in a number of ways. These include supporting the involvement of women and their organisations in environment policy processes particularly in relation to ecologically sustainable development. For example, government funding was provided for the Women and the Environment Conference held in March 1995. The final report of the conference, organised by a number of non government organisations, outlined strategies relating to biodiversity, natural resources, forests, greenhouse gases, the economy, trade, Indigenous peoples, health and women.
Measures aimed at increasing women's participation on Commonwelath Government bodies dealing with environment, resource and industry issues include regular reporting on the gender breakdown of Commonwealth appointments and on portfolio strategies to maximise the merit-based appointment of women. To assist portfolios to consider suitably qualified women candidates, the Commonwelath Office of the Status of Women operates the Register of Women, a database of women willing to serve on Commonwelath boards and advisory bodies. Information from the register is provided to portfolios in line with the provisions of the Privacy Act 1988. The register is also available for use by the private sector.
A cooperative approach will continue to be pursued by the Commonwealth Government and State and Territory Governments to improve levels of training in environment based occupations with particular attention to reducing barriers to the participation of women. Australia is also working to reduce labour market barriers to women in industry sectors which rely on natural resources and in which women are under-represented.
Women have a major role in the long-term sustainability of agriculture through their work on farms, support of community initiatives such as Landcare and participation on rural industry boards. Initiatives such as the Rural Partnership Program and the Rural Communities Access Program also provide opportunities for women to participate in sustainable development in rural communities.
Rural women's desire to integrate social, environmental and economic factors into an overall vision of agriculture have been highlighted in significant international and national forums. In July 1994, Australia hosted an international conference on Women in Agriculture: Farming for our Future, where sustainable development was a key theme. In June 1995, the first National Rural Women's Forum focused on issues related to improving women's access and participation in government decision making, increasing the status and recognition of rural women and the need to ensure economic viability through clean, green agricultural practices.
The Government has taken an active role in improving the access of rural women to government programs and decision making processes. A Rural Women's Unit has been established to address community needs, and part of its work is to consult widely with existing rural women's networks to bring a national focus to rural issues.
Australia supports international programs addressing women and environmental issues through the Australian Agency for International Development(AusAID). AusAID provides funding to a number of United Nations agencies which work closely with women, including the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, the United Nations Environment Program and the United Nations Development Fund for Women. AusAID also assists women in developing countries through its funding of individual bilateral projects and through non-government organisations. Australia supports the activities of United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) in, inter alia, promoting the equitable employment of women in the workforces of developing countries. In 1995-96 AusAID undertook to provide A$415 000 as contributions to the budgets of these agencies.
Also at the international level, Australia's participation in the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in September 1995, reflected the Government's commitment to fully integrating the principles of ecological sustainability into all aspects of regional, national and global development and to ensure that women participate on an equal basis in this process. The Australian report for the conference highlighted key issues for women and the environment including the recognition that women's involvement is central to achieving sustainable development and women should have a decision making role in environment and development policy and planning. Australia was pleased that the conference accepted its proposal that states make specific commitments at Beijing. One of the Australian Government's commitments was to provide assistance to NGOs in the Pacific region to implement action arising from United Nations conferences.
In the 1995-96 financial year the Australian aid program will support around 140 bilateral projects which have direct benefits for women. Some examples include the following.
This chapter seeks to ensure the survival, protection and development of the world's children and young people so that they can fulfil their personal, economic and social aspirations. Australia's children and young people will have responsibility in the future into which they are growing for protecting the environment and pursuing sustainable development at both domestic and international levels. The Australian Government consults with young people through the Australian Youth Policy Action Coalition (AYPAC), the national non-government youth peak organisation. The Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment and Development group (ASEED), which is a member of AYPAC, is a non-government youth organisation which aims to coordinate young people to act on environmental issues, to promote communication and share information. To ensure intergenerational equity, decision makers must take into account the views of youth and the future effects of decisions and actions on the ecological sustainability of the environment.
Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in December 1990 and ratified the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children in May 1991. Australia has encouraged multilateral agencies to promote the goals of the World Plan of Action for Children in their programs. The aid program is concerned to encourage a reduction in child exploitation through its contribution to the economic and social development of developing countries.
A national program of action is currently being developed to address issues relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, women's health and education, food and nutrition, child health, water and sanitation, basic education, children in difficult circumstances, monitoring, research and evaluation and international cooperation. Australia also made a strong commitment to the International Year of the Family 1994. As part of Australia's National Program of Action for Children, the development cooperation program will place greater emphasis on priority areas for children such as immunisation, family planning, enhancing the status of women, refugee assistance and basic education.
The National Child Protection Council seeks to reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect. Its proposed National Strategy for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect aims to identify and change factors which contribute to harmful parenting practices and to create a community environment which better supports and assists adults in parenting children.
Homeless young people are a particularly disadvantaged group who usually experience a multiplicity of barriers to job readiness. In addition to lack of access to secure accommodation, these factors can tend to include the lack of a supportive family environment, ill health, low self esteem and poor motivation levels, and often a disturbed or interrupted educational background.
Homeless young people often require special assistance with these problems before they can effectively participate in employment, education and training. While major government programs have provided assistance to young homeless people, there was concern to ensure that a comprehensive range of approaches were pursued. To tackle youth homelessness, the Government introduced several important measures under its Homeless and at Risk Youth Action Package (HARYAP).
HARYAP includes the development of a long-term preventive strategy to reduce the incidence of homelessness among young people; coordination of streamlined Commonwealth assistance and services to be delivered in schools and in the community to pre-empt the drop-out of students who become homeless, which will build on previous experience with Education Counselling for Young People and other grants programs; and seed funding for innovative projects to assist the young homeless and test models for initiatives such as Youth Training Initiative (YTI) (for those under eighteen) and New Work Opportunities (for those over eighteen).
The Commonwealth Government has provided funding of $13 million over four years for youth suicide prevention initiatives, of which approximately $2 million will target a variety of initiatives in rural and remote areas. Young people in rural and remote areas have been identified as a key target group under this initiative. The aims of the initiative include:
Under Australian constitutional arrangements, primary responsibility for school education and curriculum lies with the State and Territory Governments. Commonwealth and State/Territory Ministers of Education have agreed, however, to Ten Common and Agreed National Goals for Schooling in Australia. One of these goals aims to develop in students an appreciation and understanding of, and concern for, balanced development and the global environment. Agreement to this goal ensured the inclusion of environmental education into the statements and profiles for Australian schools, most notably, studies of society and the environment, science, technology and health and physical education. The Ministers have also accepted the recommendation of the Working Parties on Ecologically Sustainable Development, that ESD be included as a cross curriculum perspective in the curriculum framework.
The first editions of the Australian curriculum statements and profiles in eight learning areas were published for use by schools and school systems early in 1994. Since the release of these documents, State and Territory curriculum and syllabus initiatives have been based on the key elements of these documents, including the incorporation of ESD perspectives across the learning areas and the specific focus on environmental stewardship in the studies of society and the environment learning area.
Commonwealth programs designed to enhance the professional development of teachers in Australian schools and which also stimulate environmental awareness amongst teachers and students include the National Professional Development Program (NPDP) and the Projects of National Significance Program. The Departments of the Environment, Sport and Territories and Employment, Education and Training have also provided funding to the Australian Association for Environment Education to convene a workshop on improving the development, availability and use of environmental education resources as well as improved cooperation and collaboration between the different players. This was attended by Commonwealth and State environment and education officers as well as representatives from non-government organisations. Further information is provided in the chapter of this report titled 'Education, Public Awareness and Training'.
In accordance with the NSESD, the Australian Research Council commissioned a study in 1994 to develop a conceptual framework and methodology for classifying research in terms of ESD-relatedness and to analyse the ESD-relatedness of research supported under Australian Research Council (ARC) funding programs. An investigation has shown that some thirty per cent of funds under these programs for 1993 and 1994, or around $100 million, supported research relevant to ecologically sustainable development to some degree.
The Commonwealth Government in collaboration with the States and Territories, employers and industrial parties has embarked on a process of reform to develop a national vocational education and training system, known as the Australian Vocational Training System(AVTS). The new system encompasses a broad range of flexible learning pathways which combine education, training and structured learning in the workplace and addresses competencies required in the labour market. It is designed to allow young people to make the transition from school to work by enabling them to develop skills necessary to participate in the workforce.
AUSTUDY is a form of financial assistance, paid as a fortnightly allowance, provided to young people over sixteen who are studying full time in either secondary or tertiary educational institutions. Eligibility for AUSTUDY, and the rate of assistance received, is dependent on meeting the assets and income tests criteria and whether the student has dependent or independent status. In recognition of the special circumstances of farming families, the Federal Government introduced a concession to the assets test which, in effect, allowed for a fifty per cent discount on the value of farm assets. The maximum dependent rate for a student over eighteen years in 1996 will be $4409 per annum, with the independent rate for a student with no dependants being $6691.
Although the primary objective of Australia's labour market programs is to assist the unemployed secure continuing employment, there are several which also provide environmental benefits for the community. These include the Landcare and Environment Action Plan (LEAP), the New Work Opportunities Program (incorporating Regional Environmental Employment Projects) and Jobskills. LEAP provides young Australians with opportunities for the development of vocational and general life skills. Each LEAP project offers a combination of formal vocational training that is generally accredited and can articulate with other vocational courses, complemented by practical experience in areas of cultural heritage, conservation, landcare and the environment. Particular emphasis is placed on young people with a genuine interest in landcare, conservation, the environment and protecting the national heritage.
The Youth Training Initiative (YTI) has been helping unemployed fifteen to seventeen year olds gain education, training, work experience and jobs from January 1995. YTI offers case management at thirteen weeks of unemployment and access to training, work experience and other labour market programs. At the end of August 1995 there were over 45 000 YTI clients. Recent changes to YTI enable case managers to use labour market programs more flexibly and allow them to create a pathway to employment by identifying barriers and addressing them.
Starting in October, Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) will be consulting and talking to young people across Australia about the services available to them and how these services are delivered. In this way the opinions of young people will impact directly on services for youth.
Internationally, Australia's commitment to education and training issues is reflected through bilateral and regional programs with developing countries; participation in multilateral fora such as Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); support for the United Nations' specialised agencies including World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF); support and contributions to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank; provision of consultancy services to regional projects funded by international finance institutions; and the establishment of the Australian International Education Foundation. Australia has signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) on education and training with the United Sates of America, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Hungary and Brunei Darussalem.
Two major initiatives being implemented through the development cooperation program, are aimed at improving the health of children in developing countries. The four year, A$130 million Population Initiative funds family planning and maternal and child health activities which expand the choices available to women and help to reduce child mortality rates. The four year A$110 million Health Initiative announced in the 1994-95 budget will enable Australia to increase its contribution to the campaign to eradicate polio and eliminate neonatal tetanus, two diseases which particularly affect children. In 1994-95 over A$100 million was spent on population and health projects.
To improve the nutritional status of the poor, especially children, Australia spent $95 million on food aid in 1994-95. Australia also supports projects aimed at providing vital micronutrients such as Vitamin A and iodine.
Basic education, with equal access for girls, is essential for sustainable and equitable development. Recognising this, an increased focus was given to basic, technical and vocational education for children and youth in this year's budget with the commencement of major aid activities in the Philippines, Laos, Papua New Guinea, the West Bank and Gaza, Bangladesh and the South Pacific as part of a A$25 million initiative. This will increase funding for primary and secondary education activities from A$12 million in 1994-95 to around A$27 million this financial year.
Funding for NGOs includes an allocation in 1995-96 of over A$34 million for community programs. Many of these, and other NGO funded grassroots programs, directly benefit children and young people. AusAID is also devoting increased attention to the problem of child labour. Assistance includes programs to provide basic services to working children, income generating opportunities for affected families and support for community awareness raising campaigns.
The role of land in Aboriginal life is of fundamental importance to any understanding of Aboriginal attitudes and perceptions of land use issues. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people derive their self-identity from the land. Consequently, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a different relationship to land than non-Aboriginal Australians and speak about 'belonging' to the land rather than about land belonging to them. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aspirations and perceptions of land management and environmental issues are strongly influenced by responsibilities and rights contained within Aboriginal law. These are expressed in the complex matrix of social and customary laws which control action on the land and which set the parameters for management practices and the acceptance of new ideas.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise approximately 1.6 per cent of the total Australian population and currently own approximately fifteen per cent of the land. However, there are a number of characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land which have implications for environmental and land management issues. Although much Aboriginal land is largely agriculturally non-productive it contains localised areas which are rich in resources and which are the focus for many competing land uses. Aboriginal land use is a mixture of traditional and introduced, small scale and extensive, high impact and benign land uses that interact and overlap with each other. Aboriginal land managers are faced with the complexity of these often interrelated and overlapping land uses and their sustainability.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are aware that they need to access new information and technologies to deal with the increasing range of environmental and land management issues that impact on their lands. The geographic and demographic situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people necessitates different approaches to environmental and land management issues. Isolated Aboriginal communities often face problems in common but also face many difficulties in working together on these problems. Responsibilities for looking after land are culturally and socially defined rather than stemming from where they may currently reside. Often communities face an issue alone within a region because of the types of land use that are permitted or restricted by their land tenure situation. When land has been acquired, it is also often degraded, with feral animals and weeds, and requires intensive management, but resources are often not available.
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are among the most disadvantaged groups within the Australian community. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody concluded that improved living standards in most communities will not be achieved without security of land tenure and self determination. Enhanced environmental circumstances, community control and improved delivery of health, housing, education and other social programs also depends, to a considerable extent, on the security of land title and the perceived level of self determination within the Indigenous communities receiving these programs. The Commonwealth Government and State and Territory Governments have given support, and in some instances implemented, the recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody relating to land needs.
The Commonwealth Government has fully recognised the importance of strengthening the role of Indigenous peoples through the enactment, in 1989, of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act. That Act established a statutory body whose corporate objectives and functions specifically seek to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the development of policies and operations of government programs.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) is a decentralised organisation, combining representative, policy-making and administrative elements. It was designed to put into effect the principle of self-determination for Indigenous Australians. ATSIC's representative arm consists of Regional Councils, established through the election of representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in electoral areas throughout Australia. They have a direct input into the setting of expenditure priorities for ATSIC which has a budget approaching A$900 million.
Aboriginal Land Councils represent Indigenous people in relation to land matters in a number of geographic regions. They also participate in a number of related environmental and social issues. Some of the major Land Councils include the New South Wales Land Council, Cape York Land Council, Northern Land Council, Tiwi Land Council, Anindilyakura Land Council, Kimberley Land Council, and Central Land Council.
Aboriginal groups have for some time been jointly managing a number of national parks, including the major parks of Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Kakadu, Gurig and Nitmiluk in the Northern Territory. This experience has led to similar proposals for joint management of national parks in Western Australia and Queensland. The management of these areas increasingly seeks to incorporate traditional practices and knowledge. The Commonwealth Government has returned areas of the Jervis Bay Territory, including Jervis Bay National Park, to the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community to jointly manage the area.
The Ministerial Council for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (formerly the Australian Aboriginal Affairs Council) commenced work in 1990 on the development of a national policy on the protection and return of significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural property. That policy is expected to be finalised shortly. ATSIC, and other agencies, have also given a commitment to address in the future the protection of the intellectual property aspects of traditional knowledge, customary information, designs etc.
A number of education and labour market programs are targeted to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, although these do not usually have a specific focus on environmental matters. Extensive consultation mechanisms are in place in the education and employment fields.
Several federal programs include community level initiatives to improve health and community self-determination: such as the Rural Health Support, Education and Training Program to improve the recruitment and retention of health workers in remote communities; and the National Reference Group on Relationships Between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and Local Governments to improve conditions and relationships at the local level.
The Australian Heritage Commission (AHC) provides funding through its National Estate Grants Program for the identification and documentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander places which have national estate significance, or for conservation of such places already in the Register of the National Estate or on its Interim List. The AHC also has a program to raise awareness in Indigenous communities of the AHC, its functions and programs, and to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island community participation in the AHC nomination process, and other AHC programs, in line with current AHC policy.
The Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency is currently examining ways of making the environmental impact assessment process more responsive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural, social and heritage concerns. The agency is also looking at how the process needs to be modified to improve the opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to participate in government decision making through environmental impact assessment.
In order to promote the contribution that Australia's Indigenous peoples can make to natural resource management, the Commonwealth has established the Contract Employment Program for Aboriginals in Natural and Cultural Resource Management. This initiative and other community-based conservation and employment programs, including the training and employment of community rangers, have been widely acclaimed. Barriers to these programs achieving their full potential were identified by the Resource Assessment Commission Coastal Zone Inquiry and the Commonwealth is working with Indigenous communities to identify ways of improving such programs.
The National Landcare Program, established in 1992 aims to enhance the efficient, sustainable and equitable management of the nation's natural resources for the benefit of all sectors of the community. The level of commitment of Aboriginal groups in Landcare is increasing. Groups have received funding support for activities relating to education, land management demonstrations, land resources assessment, water supply and waste water management, dust suppression, revegetation, and property management planning.
A significant event influencing Australian domestic policy on Indigenous peoples, and the environment, is the High Court Mabo decision of June 1992 on native title.
The Native Title Act 1993, was the Commonwealth Government's response to the Mabo judgement, which sought to strike a balance between the recognition and protection of the rights of native title holders and the land development needs of all Australians. The Act recognises rights and interests possessed under the traditional laws and customs observed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders including title to land and hunting, fishing and gathering rights, where: traditional law continues to be observed; there has been continuing connection to the land; and there has been no government Act which has extinguished native title. The Act provides a process for determining whether native title exists through the National Native Title Tribunal. Once a claim is before the tribunal, there are specific provisions under the Act which seek to encourage parties to reach agreement through negotiation and mediation prior to any determination being made.
Native title derives from Indigenous people's connection with and occupation of the land in accordance with traditional laws, customs and usages. By implication Indigenous peoples are recognised as stewards and guardians of the land. However, few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be able to successfully claim land under native title.
The Land Fund and Indigenous Land Corporation (ATSIC Amendment) Act 1995 established a Land Fund to facilitate the purchase of land for those people who cannot successfully claim land under the Act. In 1994-95, the Federal Government put aside $200 million to establish the fund and another $121 million in each of the next nine years. In 1995, the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) was established as a body independent of government to buy land for Indigenous communities using monies drawn from the Land Fund and to assist communities to manage their land in a sustainable manner. The ILC will draw up a national strategy and regional strategies to guide it in its land purchasing and land management activities.
The Australian Government is committed to consulting widely with the community on domestic and international environment matters.
The formal mechanism for Australian Commonwealth Government and State and Territory Governments to consult with non-government organisations (NGOs) on issues arising from the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development is the Ministerial level intergovernmental roundtable. The roundtable has met twice since the strategy was endorsed in 1992 and is due to meet again in 1996. To supplement these meetings, the Intergovernmental Committee for Ecologically Sustainable Development (ICESD) has invited NGOs to participate in annual ICESD/NGO consultative meetings and the inaugural meeting was held in April 1995.
Meetings of a group of peak conservation organisations with the Environment Portfolio Minister, department and agencies are held on a regular basis and an informal dialogue is maintained at officer level with both industry and environment NGOs. More detailed consultations take place on a range of specific environmental issues covered by chapters in Agenda 21. Forests, coastal areas, and ocean and freshwater resources, are all areas of particular importance for Australia and consultations on them with NGOs are extensive.
There are individual consultative groups on the major conventions which meet on an ongoing basis; climate change, biodiversity, desertification, transboundary movement of hazardous wastes, and ozone layer depletion conventions are all covered in this way.
The Australian Government established a high-level NGO Consultative Forum on International Environmental Issues in 1993 which looks at the international agenda in an integrated way. It was set up as part of Australia's follow up to the Rio Earth Summit (UNCED) which saw a need for community participation and involvement at all levels of the ESD process.
The forum provides a channel between the Government at Ministerial level and the community for the exchange of views and information on international environmental issues and conventions. There are seventeen peak community bodies on the forum, drawn from conservation groups, business and industry groups, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and women's and youth organisations. The forum meets biannually with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories.
The Australian Government encourages participation by NGOs on Australian delegations to international environment convention meetings, at their own expense. Two NGO advisers join Australian delegations to a number of the major environmental meetings, one from an environment/development organisation and one from business. In the case of delegations to meetings of the Convention on Climate Change, the Government made a third place available for a union representative/adviser.
The Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories administers a program of grants to voluntary conservation organisations (the GVCO program). The program aims to help environmental organisations, both nationally and internationally, to protect and enhance ecological processes and conserve natural resources as essential components of the well-being of current and future generations. Assistance is given to organisations which raise community awareness and understanding of environmental issues and ecologically sustainable development principles. Funding is provided under the program to maintain or enhance the operational capacity of eligible organisations to pursue their programs.
The purpose of the grants is to assist eligible environmental organisations with their administrative costs as distinct from program, project or campaign costs. These costs include salaries and salary on-costs for executive and administrative staff, office accommodation and equipment, communications, photocopying, printing and travel.
In 1995-96, sixty-two separate groups received assistance under the program through grants which totalled $A1.691 million.
Assistance is also provided by some State Governments; the Queensland program of grants to conservation groups, for example, provided a total of $170 000 to twenty-five different groups in 1994-95.
NGOs contribute in a unique way to grass roots development and the building of personal contacts between Australians and people in the developing world. In 1995-96 total Australian Government funding to NGOs is expected to exceed A$100 million as official development assistance. In addition the Government will contribute an estimated A$40 million in revenue forgone on tax deductible private donations to NGOs. The central mechanism through which the Australian Government provides funding to NGOs is the allocation of development project subsidies from the AusAID-NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP). AusAID administers this program in consultation with the NGO community through the Committee for Development Cooperation (CDC). AusAID provides funding to an Australian NGO peak agency, Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA), to assist with the coordination of efforts between Australian NGOs to represent the NGO community's views on significant issues and to improve professional standards of NGOs.
The Australian Government holds consultations every four months with Australian environment and development NGOs on environment aid policy and programs. An NGO Environment Initiative was introduced in 1989. The scheme is open to all Australian NGOs that have the capacity to implement environmental projects in developing countries. Funding is expected to total A$1.6 million in 1995-96. Biannual consultations on gender and development are held by AusAID with NGOs. AusAID also chairs the Advisory Group on International Health (AGH) which is a departmental advisory committee consisting of representatives of peak Australian health and medical organisations.
NGOs also participate in a wide range of special programs funded by Australia's development cooperation program including women in development, human immunodeficiency virus/ acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), and maternal and child health. Projects are in various locations including South Africa, the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam, and for development education in Australia. Australian NGOs also cooperate extensively with AusAID in the delivery of emergency relief and refugee assistance, and implementing activities under country programs.
There are approximately 740 Councils in Australia which vary in size, population, geography and budget. Local Government responsibilities also vary depending on the State jurisdiction, but include land use planning and management, and infrastructure and service provision.
Local Government activities can significantly influence the management and protection of the environment, for example, urban planning, environmental health, water supply, pollution control, sewage treatment, waste management and disposal, and natural resource management. For this reason, many Councils are involved in developing conservation and management strategies to improve their environments within their municipality and region.
Most Councils in each State and Territory are represented by their respective Local Government Association. These associations are represented nationally by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA).
ALGA's core business is intergovernmental relations, and involves representation on the Council of Australian Governments and intergovernmental committees including the Intergovernmental Committee for Ecologically Sustainable Development (ICSED).
Over the last year, there were two significant developments in respect of intergovernmental relations.
As part of a national response to address coastal zone management issues, a memorandum of understanding was developed between the Commonwealth, and the respective State Government and Local Government Association for the implementation of the Coastal Action Program (see Oceans Chapter 17).
In November 1995, the Australian Prime Minister and President of ALGA signed an accord on behalf of the Commonwealth Government of Australia, and Australian Local Government. The accord provides under Schedule 4, a commitment to working cooperatively to responsibly manage environmental resources. This schedule provides the focus for policies and programs over the next few years.
The Municipal Conservation Association has taken a lead in translating Agenda 21 into practical measures to assist its implementation by Local Government. Funded by the Commonwealth Government, 'Local Agenda 21, Managing for the Future' provides a guide to successfully implement Local Agenda 21. Many Councils are developing Local Agenda 21s, or are involved in processes which are consistent with its principles.
The New South Wales Local Government Act 1993 requires local councils to report annually on progress in achieving the objectives and performance targets set out in their yearly management plans. Their reports must include details of the state of the environment of the local area as well as programs undertaken during the year to preserve, protect, restore and enhance the environment.
Australian trade unions play a role in reducing the economic and human costs associated with poor occupational health and safety (OHS) and environmental performance through their activities in specific workplaces.
More broadly, trade unions work through tripartite processes in the development and implementation of economic, social and environmental policies and programs, for example they were involved in the development of the NSESD. The process brought together trade unions with industry and conservation and community groups so that their interests and concerns in ESD could be discussed.
In recent years the Commonwealth Government and the State and Territory Governments have introduced OHS legislation based on co-regulation by managers and employees. Common features include an express duty of care on employers and employees, and provisions for the appointment of employees as OHS representatives or on OHS committees. It is the role of these representatives to bring potentially dangerous situations to the notice of management and workers and to liaise between the two parties on matters concerning the health and safety of all at the workplace.
In 1985 the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) was established. Comprising representation from employee and employer organisations and the Commonwealth Government and State/Territory Governments, NOHSC leads national efforts to provide healthy and safe working environments, and to reduce the incidence and severity of occupational injury and disease. NOHSC operates on consensus principles and consults widely, including through formal public consultation processes on draft national OHS instruments. State and Territory OHS jurisdictions generally involve trade unions and employers in policy, program and standards development processes through formal consultative structures.
In 1994-95 the ACTU participated in the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) reference group process. As a result, several unions and Trades and Labour Councils have adopted resolutions strongly supporting the creation of the NPI and associated Community Right to Know legislation to ensure that employees, their families and communities have access to information regarding (at least) emissions and storage of hazardous substances, including agricultural chemicals and pesticides.
The ACTU also participated in the Australian Government's NGO Forum on International Environmental Issues and the National Greenhouse Advisory Panel. In addition, the ACTU participated in Australian delegations to the Commission for Sustainable Development and to the First Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC).
In 1994-95, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) in conjunction with the Commonwealth EPA conducted a 'Working for the Environment' project which aimed to: increase the capacity of shop stewards to identify workplace environmental issues and initiate environmental improvements, increase the number of enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs) which contain environment improvement clauses, and produced (and launched on World Environment Day 1995) a shop stewards' guide to identifying and initiating environmental improvements.
In 1995, the ACTU Environmental Committee passed a resolution to include environment clauses in all future EBAs. The ACTU is in the process of developing resource materials to support union workplace delegates and organisers in implementing environment clauses in enterprise agreements.
From 1993 to August 1995, the ACTU formed the Green Jobs Unit (GJU) with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF). It undertook ground breaking research to identify employment growth occurring in environment industries and recommended strategies for further growth. Areas identified were cleaner production, waste management, ecotourism, water, recycling, and renewables.
Following from the work of the GJU, the Cut Waste and Energy Initiative was launched on 5 June 1995. This program aims to provide green jobs on the ground by training and placing personnel in companies to assist in energy and waste reduction. In 1995, sixty people will be placed with thirty employers. The program will continue under a new organisation - Environment Employment Strategies Australia - which reports to a broader based body, the Advisory Council on Environment Employment Opportunities (ACEEO) on which the ACTU and the ACF are represented.
The ACTU is active in urging the ratification of all relevant International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions on health and safety, at the earliest possible opportunity.
The ACTU played a leading role as head of workers' representatives to the ILO in negotiating the adoption of a new convention on safety and health in mines at the ILO General Conference in June 1995. The ACTU, together with overseas aid and environment NGOs, has emphasised the importance of worker and community health and safety issues in negotiations relating to the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Wastes.
In developing countries, the increase in the labour force is occurring at the same time as many countries are moving from protection to greater integration with international markets, and from state intervention to market economics. The challenge is to ensure that the benefits of these changes are distributed equitably, and that work is safe, productive and environmentally sound. International assistance can play an important role in supporting governments to develop and implement appropriate standards, and assisting with safety nets for those who are left behind in the changing work environment. Australia is well placed to contribute to improvements in workers' rights and conditions in the Asia-Pacific region.
Improvements in labour standards are fundamental to the aid program's goal of raising the living standards of people in developing countries. Over the past five years or so, the aid program has supported a number of relatively small labour relations projects, although in recent years, assistance has increased. In 1995-96, expenditure is estimated to increase to approximately $13.2 million, up from $4 million in 1994-95.
In the area of labour standards (other than exploitative child labour), Australian assistance focuses on the promotion of freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, anti-discriminatory labour practices and the provision of safe and healthy working conditions. Assistance focuses on developing local capacity and is based upon a tripartite approach, ensuring an appropriate balance in the provision of relevant assistance to each of the social partners (departments of labour, employer and employee groups) in order to achieve effective and sustainable improvements. In the area of exploitative child labour, the Australian approach focuses on providing assistance to at-risk children and their families in order to prevent them from entering exploitative employment, and protecting working children from exploitation, including specific remedial action where necessary. To these ends, assistance is being directed at basic education and advocacy projects and targets, where possible, the most egregious cases, such as bonded child labour, child prostitution and children working in hazardous occupations.
The Australian Government recognises the central role played by business and industry in the economy and in efforts to move towards a more ecologically sustainable pattern of development. The Government has therefore involved industry closely in the development of strategies and initiatives aimed at promoting ecologically sustainable development. This has included the development of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development and the National Greenhouse Response Strategy.
Industry and business involvement has been through major industry associations including the Business Council of Australia, the National Farmers Federation, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Chamber of Manufacturers and the Environment Management Industry Association of Australia. In addition, individual enterprises have been involved in discussions on environmental issues of particular relevance to the activities of those firms.
Business and industry representatives are welcome on delegations attending international meetings on environmental issues, including meetings of the Commission on Sustainable Development and meetings to discuss international environmental agreements and conventions such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity>, the Desertification Convention and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes.
There is a wide range of initiatives occurring within government and industry to encourage more sustainable practices. For example, the Western Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy has published a 'Code of Practice for Exploration in Environmentally Sensitive Areas'. The aim of this document is to promote responsible land use practices during exploration which minimise environmental impacts and preserve future land use options. Other publications include 'Environmental Management in the Western Australian Mining Industry Policy and Practice' and 'The Environmental Management Review Guide', both of which address mining practices in respect of ecologically sustainable development principles. Industry has shown it can provide leadership in demonstrating best practice approaches, such as Alcoa's rehabilitation program at a Western Australian mine site, which was recognised by the United Nations Environment Program for its excellence and is now part of the Global 500.
In 1995 the Commonwealth Government launched the 'Greenhouse Challenge', a cooperative initiative between industry and government to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency and other measures. Over fifty major companies and industry associations have already indicated their participation. The program is expected to make a significant contribution to reducing the growth in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. Further information is provided in the chapter of this report titled 'Atmosphere'.
The Government has also provided assistance to industry to promote the adoption of environmentally sound practices. This occurs through a number of cleaner production programs such as the Cleaner Production Demonstration Program, the Eco-Redesign Program and the AusIndustry National Industry Extension Service Environmental Management: A Business Approach Program. Cleaner production information and assistance to industry to improve its environmental performance is also provided through Local Government, unions, industry associations and educational institutions.
In addition, the Government has a range of programs in place to support innovation activities undertaken by industry. These programs have provided assistance to enterprises undertaking research and development into environmentally sound processes and products. The Government provides funding to support cooperative research centres (CRCs) that bring together industry and government research groups. There are sixty-two CRCs and a further five will be established following an announcement of further funding through the Government's Innovate Australia statement. Industry contributes about twenty per cent of the total resources for all CRCs. Many CRCs undertake research into specific environmental issues and the development of environmentally sound technologies where industry has committed support. An environmental Project Development and Technology Diffusion Network has also been launched as part of government industry policy.
The Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency (EPA) aims to facilitate environment protection in Australia and the region by bringing Australian technological and managerial solutions to environmental problems. A key focus is to facilitate the growth of Australia's environment management industry based on both domestic and export markets. A strong and growing environment industry serves to promote environment protection and has an underpinning role in supporting ecologically sustainable development. Strengthened environmental protection and environment industry development are seen as symbiotic. The EPA works collaboratively with the environment management industry and has a good working relationship with the peak industry body, the Environment Management Industry Association of Australia (EMIAA). There are a number of other programs aimed at facilitating the growth of the Australian environment industry.
A National Environment Industries Database (NEID) has been established by the Commonwealth EPA and was launched in December 1995. The aim of the database is to improve environment protection in Australia and the region by documenting technologies and skills available in Australia to solve environmental problems, and make this information available to those with such problems. The NEID is a network of databases and information sources on Australia's environment management capabilities. The main audience for the database is expected to be small to medium sized enterprises and governments in Australia and the region. Direct access to the databases is provided through the Internet and a helpline has also been established to assist those without Internet access.
The Australian Government is also promoting the development and transfer of environment technologies and services through the Environmental Cooperation with Asia Program (ECAP). This program seeks to strengthen commercially based environmental relations in the region by enhancing awareness in Asia of Australian environmental management expertise. The program is expected to enhance Australia's share in the growing Asian market in environmental technologies, as well as contribute to stronger environmental management in partner countries through measures aimed at the development of markets for Australian environmental goods and services. The program is part of the Australia in Asia: Economies Growing Together initiative announced by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs in March 1993. ECAP is administered by the Commonwealth EPA and provides grants to companies, organisations and individuals in Australia's environment industry to undertake projects such as pilot demonstrations of environmental technologies, workshops demonstrating Australia's environmental expertise and business seeking missions.
The transfer of environment technologies often occurs within the private sector. The Commonwealth EPA cooperates closely with the Australian Environment Management Export Corporation Ltd (Austemex), the export arm of the Environment Management Industry Association of Australia, in developing strategies to enhance the awareness of and the business of Australian environment management companies in the Asian region. The EPA has participated in trade missions and funded a project development officer for Austemex.
Recognising the role of industry and business in ESD, the Australian aid program also provides a wide spectrum of support for the development of a vibrant private sector in developing countries. The Australian program's mix of policies, such as training programs and infrastructure improvement, and newer initiatives, including support for micro-enterprise development and assistance to adjust to the post-Uruguay Round trading environment, provide a strong basis for encouraging private sector growth. The effectiveness of these projects is critically dependent on the recipient country's ability to establish a sound enabling environment which is supportive of the private sector and capable of attracting direct foreign investment.
The Australian Government recognises the important role Australia's scientists, technicians and engineers will play in addressing economic, social and environmental problems and is considering, and acting on, many of the issues raised in this chapter.
Australia has a long tradition of independent research and a well-organised and often vocal scientific and technological community, and these contribute to the essential public debate about science and its importance to the economy and the environment.
Establishing and strengthening links between the scientific and technological community and the broader community, in government, in education, in industry and elsewhere is an important part of more effective decision-making processes concerning environment and development. Whilst government can facilitate and encourage these links, ultimately they are the responsibility of individual scientists, technicians, engineers and the institutions in which they work.
Scientific expertise is integrated into policy-making at all levels of government. At an operational level, most agencies have working relationships with scientists and engineers and their expertise is instrumental to effective policy making in line areas of policy like health, environment, industry, communications, defence, education and so on. New information technologies are being used in decision support systems that can integrate large quantities of data from a variety of sources, including remote sensing, so that this information can be utilised in a meaningful way.
Distinguished scientists and engineers provide advice to the highest levels of government through the Australian Science and Technology Council and the Prime Minister's Science and Engineering Council. Parliamentary committees regularly examine science-related issues of national importance, holding public hearings across the country. More specialised bodies such as the National Greenhouse Advisory Committee provide expert scientific advice on specific issues of importance to the Australian Government.
Science and industry has been a focus of government policy and this profile. A number of initiatives were released in December 1995, encompassing research and development, commercialisation, international collaboration, business relationships and workplace innovation, and global information networking.
Seven science projects were selected as part of the statement. The seven 'Major National Research Facilities', for which over $60 million was set aside in 1994, included an upgrade of the Australia Telescope, a genome research facility, a national airborne research facility including a high flying plane for remote sensing, a proteome analysis centre, a plasma fusion research facility, a seismic imaging resource, and a synchrotron research program. The facilities link industry with large scale collaborative research to keep Australia abreast of the world's most advanced technologies.
The Government continued its support for industry research and development through the 150 per cent research and development tax concession, which will be fine tuned to improve accessibility, management and cost effectiveness.
As part of the Greenhouse 21C package the Commonwealth Government committed $13.5 million over several years to support a CRC with a central focus on systems for renewable energy collection and use which have the long term practical potential to overcome constraints to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector. Related greenhouse gas abatement technologies which substantially augment the renewable energy systems' application will also be included as part of the CRC's work program.
Australia has developed its own National Greenhouse Research Program, as other countries' programs tend to focus on northern hemisphere issues. Australia's National Greenhouse Response Strategy and the Framework Convention on Climate Change both require Australia to conduct research to further our understanding of the causes, effects, magnitude, timing and consequences of climate change. Further information is contained in the chapter of this report titled 'Atmosphere'.
The Government is also concerned that scientific practice is undertaken safely and humanely, and has developed stringent guidelines for work in hazardous areas like nuclear science, toxic chemicals and genetic manipulation. Voluntary guidelines include the code of practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, guidelines for small scale genetic manipulation work, guidelines for large scale work with recombinant DNA, and procedures for assessment of the planned release of recombinant DNA organisms.
The Australian Science and Technology Council recently initiated a study to explore Australia's future needs for science and technology into the next century, focusing towards the year 2010. The study, 'Matching Science and Technology to Future Needs: 2010', has been overseen by a specially established advisory body to ensure it remains responsive to the needs and concerns of a wide range of Australians both now and in the future. A final report is due to be released in March 1996.
Australia is actively participating in a number of international programs, through the United Nations, and other international organisations like the OECD. These are detailed in other chapters.
The Academy of Science is the national member of the International Council of Scientific Unions and a number of Australian scientists are active participants in the programs which operate under the auspices of individual unions and committees, like the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research, the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research, the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment and the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. Most Australian scientists maintain contact with their peers throughout the world, through professional journals, meetings and conferences and the scientific unions.
Australian scientists are active in the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program's various activities, with the Global Change Terrestrial Ecosystem's core project office located in Canberra and receiving support from a number of Australian Government agencies.
AusAID, in collaboration with Australia's Chief Scientist, supports the work of a non-profit company, the Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management (CPTM). The CPTM provides advisory services and voluntary expertise to Commonwealth developing country governments, identifying and applying appropriate technologies to development. In 1995-96 AusAID will provide A$100 000 to the CPTM.
Australia, through the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), provides funding to the Commonwealth Science Council for the same purposes, and contributed A$303 000 in 1994-95.
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which is funded under Australia's development cooperation program, promotes research into improving sustainable agricultural production and natural resource management in developing countries. In 1995-96 ACIAR's budget has been increased to A$30.5 million. In addition, Australia's official funding to the twenty-two international agricultural research centres (including those of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) totalling A$9.1 million in 1995-96, is provided through ACIAR. These centres are playing a crucial role in developing new sustainable agricultural technologies that are enabling developing countries to feed their growing populations.
Australia supports the developmental efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) through its Technical Cooperation Fund (TCF). The fund finances technology transfer projects that promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, for example in medical, mineralogical, agricultural and industrial applications. In 1995-96 AusAID will provide US$1.3 million to the TCF. AusAID also directly finances bilateral and regional activity in this technological sector.
Approximately one third of Australia's population live in rural and remote areas and a significant proportion of these people are farmers and their families. Social and economic opportunities for these communities are vital to the sustainable development of the nation's economy and future.
A community-based approach, directly involving farmers and rural community groups, supported by government, has proved to be the most effective model to progress sustainable development in regional and rural areas. This is consistent with the market-based approach to agricultural development and the achievement of self-reliance of farmers. The Government also consults a wide range of farmer and community groups on both a formal and informal basis through peak industry and welfare associations.
This is underpinned by linkages and coordination between Commonwealth programs, State/Territory initiatives and other activities of government agencies, agribusiness and rural communities at a regional level.
The Department of Primary Industries and Energy has acted as the support agency for the then Prime Minister's Land Management Task Force which has published the report 'Managing for the Future'.
The report makes recommendations in relation to the Government's goal of a viable, self reliant agriculture sector, focusing on the adoption of principles of sustainable agriculture and use of strategic planning and business management processes by farmers.
Using property management planning, land managers identify their goals and develop a management program to fulfil these goals through the application of principles on business management, risk management, natural resource management, financial planning and control, marketing management and personal and staff management. This initiative emphasises that the key to sustainability is better management through the adoption and ownership of planning processes rather than plans.
The Government recognises that rural communities do not have the same capacity as urban areas to raise public revenue, yet rural industries are major export earners in the Australian economy. State Governments have a major role to ensure adequate infrastructure, education and health facilities, telecommunications and law enforcement.
The distribution of the pool of Commonwealth general revenue assistance between the States is determined at the annual Premier's Conference in the light of the recommended per capita relativities of the Commonwealth Grants Commission (CGC). The CGC's per capita relativities are based on its independent assessments of the relative fiscal disabilities of the States and Territories in a number of areas, including the costs of providing services to rural and remote communities. Under the CGC's per capita distribution, a State with relatively severe fiscal disabilities receives an above average per capita amount of Commonwealth general assistance in order to provide it with the capacity to provide an average standard of State public services to its population.
Australia has a strong commitment to social justice and places a high priority on improving the delivery of government services to rural and remote communities. This is being achieved through geographic targeting of education, health, social security, business support, community and other services, and innovative approaches to providing these services. Special attention is directed to improving access to information and using opportunities provided by modern telecommunications and computer technology.
A number of measures for improving the access of people living in rural and remote areas to information and services has been linked with the Government's rural and regional policies through the Rural Communities Access Program. Elements of this program include 'Countrylink' and the Australian Commonwealth Information Service which provides information on Commonwealth services and programs, the Rural Access Program and Telecentres Program that assist communities plan, organise and deliver projects that will improve their access to services, telecommunications, opportunities and information, and the Business Advice for Rural Areas Program that provides business facilitators to assist local industries and encourage sustainable economic development in rural communities.
The Rural Counselling Program is a community group-based service which provides free and confidential financial counselling services to financially distressed farmers. The counsellor is employed by the community and funding is shared equally between the Commonwealth Government and the community.
Australia's social security system provides a range of income and welfare support payments, as well as social counselling services, for individuals and families in need. There are four main types of support payments generally available - pensions (aged, sickness), allowances (Job Search and Newstart for unemployed workers) and Family Payments. Assistance for education related expenses is also provided through education and training allowances (AUSTUDY) and Assistance for Isolated Children. Eligibility for receipt of these payments is based on income and assets tests.
Under the Farm Household Support Scheme, support is available to farmers who are no longer able to obtain credit from commercial sources. For these farmers, support for up to two years is provided to meet day to day living expenses while they work to return their farm to profitability, or decide to leave the farming sector.
As part of the drought package announced on 21 September 1994 a new Drought Relief Payment was introduced. The Drought Relief Payment is equivalent to Job Search Allowance in monetary terms and is available to farm families living in areas assessed to be in exceptional drought. An income and non-farm assets test applies.
Regional development is a high priority for the Commonwealth Government. The Regional Development Strategy, announced in 1994 recognised that:
The Regional Development Strategy is being managed by the Commonwealth Department of Housing and Regional Development which, in consultation with communities, will establish some forty regional economic development organisations across Australia.
The Department of Housing and Regional Development is working with a number of State, Territory and Commonwealth departments to integrate and coordinate funding of regional and rural area projects.
The Rural Partnership Program approach complements the economic development strategies of the larger regional development program by focusing on the development of smaller communities based around agricultural industries. The Rural Partnership Program provides a framework through which communities in rural regions can, in a single submission, access a range of existing programs including the Rural Adjustment Scheme, National Landcare Program, Agribusiness Programs and the Rural Community Access Program.
The rural partnership approach provides an opportunity for communities to put their collective knowledge, skills and experience together to develop integrated proposals for governments to deliver sustainable development in rural regions. It provides the potential to access a range of different programs, in some cases from different portfolios or even different governments.
It is an opportunity for the production of plans and planning processes for area development and improvement in a strategic way. It also demonstrates a commitment by governments to better integrate funding mechanisms and to coordinate service delivery, avoiding duplication and fragmented approaches.
There is an increased emphasis on broad-based community consultation in government policies and programs for rural communities. The success of this approach has been demonstrated under the National Landcare Program outlined in Chapter 10 of Australia's 1995 report to the UNCSD. The Government's Regional Development Strategy and rural policies and programs also adopt this approach to ensure that relevant policies and programs are established and that ownership of new developments is in the hands of the relevant community.
The Government also consults a wide range of community groups on both a formal and informal basis. These groups include the National Farmers Federation (NFF), a wide range of rural industry associations, the Country Women's Association, the Australian Council of Social Service, the Isolated Children's Parents' Association, the National Rural Health Alliance, the Australian Mining Industry Council, Australian Women in Agriculture, the Foundation for Australian Agricultural Women, and the Rural Adjustment Scheme Advisory Council.
The National Farmers Federation (NFF) is the main organisation representing farmers. It comprises independent State and commodity organisations, is voluntarily funded by farmers, and represents all major pastoral and cropping industries throughout Australia. State and commodity organisations make representation in relation to State or commodity-specific issues respectively. The NFF represents farmers on issues which impact on more than one commodity or State. The NFF addresses broad national issues such as economic policy, industrial relations, trade, transport and conservation. It also represents farmers' and rural communities' interests on social welfare, education, research, quarantine and animal health issues.
The Government has also established a Rural Women's Unit in the Department of Primary Industries and Energy (DPIE). Its main functions are to improve access to the policy process, and to develop policies and programs that will improve the status of rural women and enhance the role of women in primary industries. The unit will consult with rural women, rural women's groups and relevant government agencies on issues and policy responses and will work cooperatively with state and national networks on these issues and policy responses.
In conjunction with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) the DPIE has been involved in the development of a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rural Industry Strategy. The strategy addresses key issues for current and future Indigenous landowners and residents, plus Indigenous people who seek to participate in a broad range of mainstream rural industries and other land-based activities.
DPIE also collaborated with ATSIC on a guide to Commonwealth Programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in rural areas. The guide identifies opportunities for employment and enterprise development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the aim of fostering economic independence.
Enhancing the role of farmers is integral to government policies and programs directed towards economic and social reform for regional and rural areas. The Australian Government recognises the importance of consultation with representatives of rural communities and community based approaches which build local commitment by ensuring that goals, strategies and performance criteria are developed within the communities to address social and economic development. Community ownership is important in ensuring proper resolution of conflict and community commitment to outcomes. The Government plays an important role in policy and program formulation and acts as a catalyst for development while relying on broad-based consultation with the relevant communities.