Review of the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity

Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4734 3

Changing landscapes for biodiversity conservation in Australia

Since the adoption of the Strategy in 1996, there have been a number of significant changes to the policy, legislative and regulatory environments for biodiversity conservation in Australia. The most significant Commonwealth initiatives are the Natural Heritage Trust (the Trust), the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and, most recently, the natural resource management policy initiative from which the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality was drawn. A range of other equally important State and Territory initiatives are outlined below.

Australia's Oceans Policy, the National Greenhouse Strategy, the National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation, the COAG Water Reform Framework (which has requirements for the provision of water for ecosystems and integrated catchment management), State of the Environment reporting, State of the Forests reporting, and the Regional Forest Agreement process have also been developed over the last few years. Victoria and New South Wales have developed State biodiversity strategies, the Australian Capital Territory has developed a nature conservation strategy, and local government has developed the National Local Government Biodiversity Strategy.

Natural Heritage Trust

The Trust is a major Commonwealth Government initiative to conserve, repair and replenish Australia's natural capital infrastructure. The Trust aims to facilitate practical on-ground biodiversity conservation in Australia. Many of the Strategy objectives are being addressed through the Trust.

The Trust was established under the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Act 1997. Over six years, from 1997 to 2002, $1.5 billion will be invested in Australia's natural capital. An important feature of the Trust is formal partnership agreements between the Commonwealth and each of the States and Territories. The partnership agreements identify the agreed natural resource and environmental investment priorities in each State and Territory.

The Trust focuses on five key environmental themes – biodiversity, vegetation, coasts and marine, rivers, and land. Appendix D lists Trust funding from 1996 to 2002. The following Trust programs support the biodiversity theme:

  • The National Reserve System Program assists with the establishment and maintenance of a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of reserves.
  • The Endangered Species Program aims to protect and conserve Australia's threatened species and ecological communities. The World Heritage Area Management and Upkeep Program seeks to identify, protect and present Australia's World Heritage properties.

The Trust addresses land and water degradation issues through support for sustainable land and water management activities with an emphasis on community participation. The land theme supports the following land management initiatives:

  • The National Landcare Program aims to develop and implement resource management practices that enhance Australia's soil, water and biological resources. These practices are to be efficient, sustainable, equitable and consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development.
  • The National Land and Water Resources Audit's goal is to provide information to assist natural resource managers across Australia to assess, develop and evaluate programs and policies; prioritise investment opportunities; and direct resource management, particularly by government.
  • The National Forest Inventory is a cooperative venture between the Commonwealth and all State and Territory Governments. It provides national and regional information describing public, private, native, plantation and farm forests. This information is available for use by government, industry and the public for economic, environmental and social forest-related decision making.
  • The goal of the National Feral Animal Control Program is to ensure effective management of the impact of feral animals on the natural environment and on primary production.
  • The National Weeds Program aims to reduce the detrimental impact of nationally significant weeds on the sustainability of Australia's productive capacity and natural ecosystems.

Through the following programs, the Trust vegetation theme aims to reverse the long-term decline in the extent and quality of Australia's vegetation cover:

  • Bushcare is the main Trust program for achieving this goal through working with government, industry and the community. Bushcare's target is no net loss of vegetation within Australia by July 2001.
  • The National Landcare Program, the National Rivercare Program and Murray-Darling 2001 are also active in this regard.
  • The Farm Forestry Program aims to encourage the incorporation of commercial tree growing and management into farming systems for the purposes of wood and non-wood production, increasing agricultural productivity and achieving sustainable resource management.

The Trust rivers theme addresses the decline in the health of Australia's river systems through community activities and large-scale projects:

  • The Murray-Darling 2001 Program contributes to the rehabilitation of the Murray-Darling Basin with a view to achieving a sustainable future for the Basin, its natural systems and its communities.
  • The National Rivercare Program seeks to ensure progress towards the sustainable management, rehabilitation and conservation of rivers outside the Murray-Darling Basin and to improve the health of these rivers.
  • The National Wetlands Program aims to promote the conservation, repair and wise use of wetlands across Australia.
  • The National River Health Program aims to provide the information needed to reverse the degradation of Australia's inland waters.
  • Riverworks Tasmania is a program to carry out remediation works to improve the environment and general amenity within the Mount Lyell west coast region, and the Derwent and Huon valley regions.
  • Waterwatch Australia aims to achieve healthy waterways through increased awareness, community involvement, partnerships and financial support.

The Trust coasts and marine theme addresses environmental problems of Australia's coasts and oceans. Coasts and Clean Seas provides a suite of programs to accelerate activities to achieve conservation, sustainable use and repair of Australia's coastal and marine environments. These programs include Clean Seas; Coastcare; Marine Species Protection; Coastal and Marine Planning; Marine Protected Areas; Marine Waste Reception Facilities; Introduced Marine Pests; and Fisheries Action

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

The EPBC Act, which came into operation on 16 July 2000, is a significant reform of Commonwealth environment laws. The EPBC Act enables the Commonwealth to join with the States and Territories in providing a national scheme of environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. The EPBC Act focuses on matters of national environmental significance, puts in place a streamlined environmental assessment and approvals process, and establishes an integrated regime for biodiversity conservation and the management of important protected areas.

The objectives of the EPBC Act are:

  • to provide for the protection of the environment, especially those aspects of the environment that are matters of national environmental significance;
  • to promote ecologically sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources;
  • to promote the conservation of biodiversity; to promote a cooperative approach to the protection and management of the environment involving governments, the community, landholders and indigenous people;
  • to assist in the cooperative implementation of Australia's international environmental responsibilities;
  • to recognise the role of indigenous people in the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of Australia's biodiversity; and
  • to promote the use of indigenous people's knowledge of biodiversity with the involvement of, and in cooperation with, the owners of the knowledge.

The EPBC Act will in the context of the Strategy:

  • improve protection and management of World Heritage properties;
  • improve protection for nationally threatened species and ecological communities and habitats critical to the survival of threatened species and ecological communities on Commonwealth land;
  • improve protection and management of Ramsar wetlands and migratory species;

The EPBC act also has the potential to address many of the environmental institutional reform objectives identified in the Strategy, including:

  • to enhance protection of marine species and strategic assessments of Commonwealth fisheries;
  • to improve protection and management of Commonwealth national parks and reserves;
  • to enhance community participation including through voluntary conservation agreements;
  • to enhance access to biological resources;
  • to reduce greenhouse emissions to address climate change;
  • provision for the preparation and implementation of wildlife conservation plans for key species such as internationally protected migratory species and marine species;
  • provision for regulations to address the impacts of invasive species;
  • provision for the preparation of bioregional plans; and
  • establishment by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage of a statutory Biological Diversity Advisory Committee to advise on the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of biological diversity.

Australia's Oceans Policy

Australia's Oceans Policy sets in place a framework for integrated and ecosystem based planning and management for all of Australia's marine jurisdictions. The policy outlines a number of actions that target the protection of marine biological diversity and aim to ensure the integrity of Australia's ocean ecosystems.

At the core of the policy, and a key action in the conservation and protection of Australia's marine biodiversity, is the development of regional marine plans. The plans will be based on large marine ecosystems and are aimed at establishing integrated management processes for Australia's marine jurisdiction. Other key actions regarding marine biodiversity include:

  • increasing information on marine ecosystem structure and function;
  • enhancing conservation of marine flora and fauna;
  • accelerating development of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas;
  • improving community, industry and government stewardship and participation; and
  • facilitating the participation of indigenous peoples.

Australia's Oceans Policy makes a commitment to the establishment of a comprehensive introduced marine pest incursion management system to minimise potential damage to both the environment and marine industries. This system will be developed in cooperation with the States and Territory Governments through ANZECC.

National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality

On 10 October 2000 the Prime Minister released Our Vital Resources – A National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality in Australia and committed $700 million in Commonwealth Government funding for the plan. Premiers and Chief Ministers endorsed the plan at the 3 November 2000 meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), with States and Territories agreeing to match the Commonwealth's financial contribution.

The action plan identifies high priority, immediate actions to address dryland salinity and deteriorating water quality in 20 priority catchments across Australia, along with accompanying reforms to ensure that actions will have long lasting benefits for Australia's environment and natural resource based industries. Key objectives of the action plan are to:

  • prevent, stabilise and reverse trends in dryland salinity affecting the sustainability of production, the conservation of biological diversity and the viability of Australia's infrastructure; and
  • improve water quality and secure reliable allocations for human uses, industry and the environment.

Central to the action plan will be the provision of funding to affected regions for the implementation of Integrated Catchment Management Plans. These plans will build on the existing work already done in many regions. They will include targets and standards for natural resource management, have strong accountability arrangements, and be developed by communities based on best available information and science.

They will require accreditation by the Commonwealth and States prior to government funding.

The action plan builds on and complements Natural Heritage Trust action and recent salinity initiatives proposed by State/Territory Governments and the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council.

The action plan was informed by:

  • community consultation on the discussion paper Managing Natural Resources in Rural Australia for a Sustainable Future (National Natural Resource Management Steering Committee 1999); and
  • key reports including A Full Repairing Lease: Inquiry into Ecologically Sustainable Land Management (Industry Commission 1998), the Murray-Darling Basin Salinity Audit (Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council 1999), and the Mid-Term Review of the Natural Heritage Trust (Commonwealth of Australia 1999).

Other national cross-sectoral and sectoral plans, programs and policies

A number of cross-sectoral strategies, plans and programs are contributing to the implementation of the Strategy's objectives.

The National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation (1999) is an ANZECC initiative to facilitate the Trust goal of reversing the long-term decline in the quality and extent of Australia's native vegetation cover by June 2001. The framework addresses this goal in a unified and consistent manner, against an agreed set of best practice management and monitoring measures. The framework comprises desired native vegetation outcomes including biodiversity conservation outcomes, best practice management and monitoring mechanisms, and Commonwealth and State/Territory work plans.

It is designed to provide a mechanism through which the native vegetation management commitments agreed to by all Australian Governments can be progressed in a consistent and coherent manner.

With the introduction of the National Greenhouse Strategy (1998) the Commonwealth is undertaking a $400 million greenhouse gas abatement program. This is the largest commitment of funding to address the challenge of climate change in Australia's history. The program helps to fulfil Australia's commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Commonwealth is setting up a scheme to control access to biological resources in Commonwealth areas. The scheme will provide certainty for industry, ensure benefit sharing, and protect traditional indigenous knowledge and biodiversity. To begin this process, the Minister for Environment and Heritage commissioned an Inquiry into Access to Biological Resources in Commonwealth Areas. The inquiry reported to the Minister on 4 August 2000.

In November 1998 the Australian Local Government Association adopted the National Local Government Biodiversity Strategy (1998). The strategy was developed in consultation with State local government associations and the Australian Local Government Association. It represents an agreed local government position at the national level on the management of Australia's biodiversity.

The document National Principles and Guidelines for Rangeland Management (ANZECC 1999) was developed by a working group representing community interests, governments and scientists from across the country. Both ANZECC and ARMCANZ have endorsed the document, which was published in April 1999. It aims to provide guidance to land managers in applying the principles of ecologically sustainable development to the rangelands. The support and involvement of land managers and local communities in Australia's rangelands will play a vital part in achieving this aim.

The Regional Forest Agreement process developed under the National Forest Policy Statement (1992) has largely been completed over the past five years. Regional Forest Agreements are agreements between the Commonwealth and State Governments which provide a blueprint for the future management of Australia's forests and the basis for an internationally competitive and ecologically sustainable forest products industry.

The 20-year agreements aim to establish a world class comprehensive, adequate and representative forest reserve system; and certainty for industries and regional communities, enabling the development of internationally competitive and ecologically sustainable forest based industries.

Regional Forest Agreements have been completed for the major commercial native forest regions in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia.

A draft national water quality management strategy is also being developed to address protection of Australia's water quality, a key component of biodiversity conservation.

In 1998 the Ministerial Council on Fisheries, Forestry and Aquaculture (MCFFA) and ANZECC endorsed a Framework of Regional (Sub-national) Level Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management in Australia (Montreal Process Implementation Group 1998), which is based on the internationally agreed Montreal Process national level criteria and indicators. The framework provides a coordinated approach to monitoring trends in forest conditions and the sustainability of forest management practices at the sub-national level for all forests in Australia. Conservation of biological diversity and maintenance of ecosystem health are two of the seven values covered by the framework. The framework enables data to be collected at sub-national level and aggregated for use at the national level.

State and Territory plans, programs and policies

Since the release of the Strategy, a number of States and Territories have developed planning documents that address biodiversity conservation and provide a strategic framework for addressing their obligations under the Strategy.

The South Australian Government is producing a series of regional biodiversity plans to assist in the management and rehabilitation of habitats. The Commonwealth Government, through the Trust, is assisting this program.

The first plan in the series, for the south-east of South Australia, was released in 1999. The plan aims to provide a regional context for conservation; provide guidance for management actions and conservation programs; increase community understanding and action; provide a regional framework for assessing proposals; and integrate with other natural resource management plans.

The strategy Victoria's Biodiversity, (Department of Natural Resources and the Environment 1997) was released by the Victorian Government in 1997, as required under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. The strategy takes a bioregional approach, and emphasises systematic prevention or reduction of the causes of biodiversity decline or loss. It focuses on direct, ecologically sustainable management of public lands and waters by government agencies in association with resource-based industries, and on cooperative management of biodiversity on private land in partnership with landholders, the community and local government. The strategy has been very well received, with many agencies committing to actions under the strategy. Bioregional networks have been established to focus land and water managers on local biodiversity asset management issues.

The ACT Nature Conservation Strategy (ACT Government 1998) has the goal 'to protect our biological diversity and maintain ecological processes and systems'. The strategy provides a framework for biodiversity conservation and the maintenance of ecological processes.

In New South Wales, biodiversity conservation is the joint responsibility of the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Fisheries. The NSW Biodiversity Strategy (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service 1999) is a whole-of-government strategy that commits all New South Wales Government agencies to working cooperatively towards conserving the State's (non-aquatic) biodiversity. An aquatic biodiversity strategy is currently being prepared to complement the existing State strategy. The New South Wales strategy focuses on five key themes, similar to those identified in the national strategy. Organised around these themes are a number of objectives, priority actions, supporting actions and performance targets.

The objectives and priority actions incorporate the broad range of New South Wales Government policies and programs that address issues relevant to biodiversity conservation. These include Government initiatives on water reform and vegetation management, and the development of a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system.

The NSW Biodiversity Strategy also identifies and establishes new projects, with the New South Wales Government providing funding of $5.268 million over three years from 1998-99 to 2000-01 to fund projects to implement eight of the priority actions identified in the strategy. The strategy identifies the lead and supporting agencies responsible for implementing each of the priority actions and sets up an implementation framework and reporting process.

The funded elements of the NSW Biodiversity Strategy are:

  • priority action 1: improving the accessibility of biodiversity information;
  • priority action 13: bioregional planning through the Integrated Biodiversity Conservation Assessment Program;
  • priority action 29: ex-situ conservation measures;
  • priority action 39: improving cooperative approaches to weed and pest management;
  • priority action 43: achieving better fire management by developing guidelines that identify appropriate fire regimes for the conservation of biodiversity within given ecosystems;
  • priority action 56: developing guidelines to help councils use existing planning mechanisms to achieve biodiversity outcomes through local biodiversity action plans.;
  • priority action 122: enhancing taxonomic research; and
  • priority action 130: implementing the Biodiversity Survey Program.

Tasmania is preparing a whole-of-government nature conservation strategy to 'protect Tasmania's natural diversity and maintain ecological processes and systems'. The process is being guided by the State Biodiversity Committee.

The strategy will aim to 'establish a way of doing business that ensures our social and economic needs go hand in hand with the needs of our natural systems' and to 'develop a plan of action that maintains productive and sustainable systems'. It will provide an overarching framework for all other Tasmanian nature-based policies and strategies. The draft strategy is to be released for public comment in early 2001, and will be revised and submitted to Cabinet once this process is completed.

Western Australia is preparing a biodiversity strategy as well as new biodiversity conservation legislation to replace the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950. A range of policy and program initiatives also contributes to implementation of the national strategy. These include the State Salinity Strategy (with biodiversity conservation as a goal, and emphasis on vegetation protection and revegetation); the Managing the Rangelands and New Horizons policies (including commitments to comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve systems on the rangelands and marine waters respectively); Western Shield and Western Everlasting (addressing threatened fauna and flora recovery respectively); and Perth's Bushplan.

A comprehensive guide to Queensland's ecosystems has recently been completed. This document will provide the background data for the State natural resource management and biodiversity strategy, currently in preparation. Consideration is also being given to the preparation of a State conservation strategy.

The Northern Territory has developed the Northern Territory Parks Masterplan (Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory (PWCNT) 1997), A Strategy for the Conservation through the Sustainable Use of Wildlife in the Northern Territory of Australia (PWCNT 1997), A Strategy for the Conservation of Species and Ecological Communities Threatened with Extinction in the Northern Territory of Australia (PWCNT 1998), and A Strategy for the Conservation of Biological Diversity of the Wetlands of the Northern Territory of Australia (PWCNT 2000).