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

Chapter 3: Managing threatening processes

Australia has made some progress in managing its threatening processes. The long-term decline in the quality and extent of Australia's native vegetation communities is being addressed through a range of Commonwealth, State and Territory and local government programs. The ANZECC National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation (1999) is an example of a national approach to address this issue.

In addition to the clearance of native vegetation, major threats to biodiversity conservation are salinity, inappropriate water resource management regimes and invasive species.

Key results

3.1 Threatening processes and activities

Monitor, regulate and minimise processes and categories of activities that have or are likely to have significant adverse impacts on the conservation of biological diversity and be able to respond appropriately to emergency situations.

Assessment: Not achieved

Vegetation clearance, modification and fragmentation remain major threats to biodiversity conservation in Australia. Invasive species are a significant threatening process (see Objective 3.3) as well as inappropriate flow regimes (see Objective 2.5). In general the degradation of ecosystems through a range of processes is a major problem of growing importance.

Substantial progress has been made in ecological monitoring, particularly of aquatic ecosystems. This includes the national coordinated activities of the National Land and Water Resources Audit and the National River Health Program. However, outside these nationally coordinated activities much activity is taking place on an ad hoc basis. Complicating this issue there appears to be insufficient information exchange between the research institutes, government jurisdictions and others. A long-term monitoring approach is required (see Chapter 4: Improving our Knowledge).

More significantly perhaps, current monitoring measures are unlikely to be sufficient to protect specific species or rare genotypes, nor do they provide sufficient early warning of threatening processes and activities.

Whilst the EPBC Act provides a broad framework for regulating threatening processes (particularly for issues of national significance) it is in State and Territory jurisdictions that responsibility for regulation of many threatening processes lies.

Salinity has emerged as a potential significant threat to biodiversity, particularly in Western Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin. Other riverine systems are also being affected. The magnitude of the problem is not clearly known. Monitoring is important to identify the severity of the problem, the hydrological processes at work and possible response measures. Salinity is not only a threat to biodiversity but also a result of the loss of biodiversity.

  • The Commonwealth released the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality on 10 October 2000. The action plan supports regional communities and landholders to undertake targeted action in 20 highly affected catchments or regions.
  • The Western Australian Salinity Strategy (2000), which replaced the 1996 State Salinity Action Plan (Agriculture Western Australia, 1996), has as one of its goals the conservation of biodiversity at risk from increasing salinity. The State Government increased its expenditure on salinity by $10 million per annum under the 1996 plan.
  • The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council released in 1999 the findings of a comprehensive salinity audit of the Murray-Darling Basin. The audit takes a 100-year perspective and identifies the severity and scale of the salinity threat to the Murray-Darling Basin if there are no new management interventions. It identifies where improvement in management can be made.
  • The development and implementation of indicators for national State of the Environment reporting is well under way with work being undertaken by the Commonwealth, States and Territories to establish indicators that are consistent across all jurisdictions and consistent with work on sustainability indicators. For example, the data collected for frameworks of regional indicators for forests will be used for State of the Environment, State of the Forests and international reports such as the Montreal Process. This work is being undertaken though the national State of the Environment reporting process and through the adoption and implementation of the ANZECC core State of the Environment indicators by the Commonwealth Government and by State and Territory Governments.

    More short-term but resource intensive approaches include the National Land and Water Resources Audit. The Audit is a six-year $44.4 million Trust program. The Audit provides data, analysis and appraisal to facilitate improved decision making on land, vegetation and natural resource management by building an Australia-wide information system known as the Australian Natural Resource Atlas. The Audit has been directed to meet natural resource management needs in policy and program assessment and development, investment decisions and direct resource management, particularly by government.
  • The National River Health Program's Australia-wide assessment of river health uses a rapid, standardised method for assessing the ecological health of rivers known as AusRivAS . This is located on the internet at: . This is based on biological monitoring and habitat assessment. The assessment was established as a partnership between river management agencies across Australia, the Commonwealth Government, researchers and communities. Sites have been selected with State agencies, local governments, industry, catchment organisations, and communities, and having regard to key river and catchment management issues.
  • The development of biodiversity credit markets as outlined in chapter 2, Integrating Biological Diversity Conservation and Natural Resource Management, has the potential to minimise the effect of and reverse processes that are destructive to biodiversity.
  • In the Northern Territory, there is ongoing monitoring of the following: bushfires and feral animals across the Territory; clearing and development on a regional basis; pasture status in central Australia and the Barkly Tableland using satellites; and regional land condition in priority areas. Waste management and pollution control strategies and legislation are in place. A system of marine and coastal oil spill contingency planning and response is in place. Research has been undertaken on integrated weed control. All parks and reserves are subject to management programs for fire, weeds and feral animals. A cross-agency marine pest response team has been established.
  • In Victoria, over 30 potentially threatening processes have been listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, with several action statements produced, including on the introduction of marine exotics, predation by the red fox and the use of lead shot (which has since been banned).
  • New South Wales has listed six key threatening processes under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and has commenced preparation of threat abatement plans for foxes, bitou bush and Gambusia predation. A NSW Salinity Strategy has been developed and water reforms have been introduced.

See also COAG water reforms (Objective 2.5). Other activities are also given under Chapter 3, Objectives 3.2 - 3.8.

3.2 Clearing of native vegetation

Ensure effective measures are in place to retain and manage native vegetation, including controls on clearing.

Assessment: Not achieved

Considerable progress has been made in putting measures in place to control land clearing since the Strategy was released. There are critical gaps in coverage and some of the legislation currently in place may need to be strengthened in order to achieve this goal. Targets and on-ground action need to be incorporated into the State, Territory and Commonwealth work plans developed under the National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation (1999). The identification and listing of critical habitat under the EPBC Act will also be relevant to achieving this goal.

  • The Trust is founded upon partnership agreements between the Commonwealth and all States and Territories. The Bushcare schedule to these agreements commits the States and Territories to prevent any clearing of endangered ecological communities, any clearing which changes the conservation status of a vegetation community, and any clearing which is inconsistent with the sustainable management of biodiversity at a regional scale. Continued Trust funding is contingent on these commitments being progressively implemented.
  • The EPBC Act sets the Commonwealth framework for protection of the environment, especially those aspects that are matters of national environmental significance. In the context of native vegetation, such matters include nationally threatened species and ecological communities and specific areas including Ramsar-listed wetlands and World Heritage properties.
  • Under the EPBC Act there is provision for voluntary conservation agreements, which may cover environmentally significant private land. Such agreements are an important tool in the Government's efforts to promote off-reserve conservation and the reduction of land clearing. A conservation agreement binds all successors to any interests covered by the agreement, ensuring that it will continue to protect biodiversity in perpetuity.
  • The ANZECC National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation (1999) sets out a national approach to the management of Australia's native vegetation and provides a process through which Commonwealth, State and Territory commitments can be met. It describes what is meant by 'best practice' measures for native vegetation management, and provides for an independent evaluation process that will report on progress being made by each jurisdiction.
  • The Northern Territory has established a process for developing regional natural resource management plans. Ten Draft Regional Native Vegetation Management Plans, together with Victoria's Draft Native Vegetation Management Framework (Department of Natural Resources and Environment, 2000) were released in August 2000. The framework details management responses needed to move to a net gain in the quality and quantity of native vegetation by 2004.
  • Controls over vegetation clearance were first introduced in South Australia in 1983 through regulations under the Planning Act 1992. The level of clearance was considerably reduced in 1985 with the advent of the Native Vegetation Management Act 1985 which included the provision of financial assistance for placing refused areas under a conservation covenant registered on the land title. The introduction of the Native Vegetation Act in 1991 effectively ended broad-scale clearance.
  • The New South Wales Native Vegetation Act 1998 provides for the control of clearing; the preparation of regional vegetation management plans as the principal instrument for vegetation management; and the preparation of a Native Vegetation Conservation Strategy. New South Wales has also increased its commitment to monitor and map vegetation to support the management and planning processes. The Native Vegetation Conservation Strategy will complement the NSW Biodiversity Strategy (1999). A Native Vegetation Fund has been established to resource property agreements under the Act. This is in addition to existing programs such as voluntary conservation agreements that encourage conservation of biodiversity on private land.
  • Legislative clearing controls are in place in Western Australia and are complemented by programs to assist landholders in the management of vegetation, such as the Remnant Vegetation Protection Scheme.
  • The Commonwealth released the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality on 10 October 2000. The action plan recognises that land clearing in salinity risk areas is a priority cause of dryland salinity and states that any Commonwealth investment in catchment/region plans will be contingent upon land clearing being prohibited in areas where it would lead to unacceptable land or water degradation.
  • The Queensland Vegetation Management Act 1999 was proclaimed on 15 September 2000 and addresses the clearing of native vegetation on freehold land. It requires landholders to obtain a development approval before clearing remnant vegetation. The approval process operates through the planning and development assessment procedures set down under the Integrated Planning Act 1997. The operation of this new legislation complements arrangements for the protection of vegetation on leasehold land under the Land Act 1994. The framework protects remnant endangered regional ecosystems on freehold land, remnant endangered and 'of concern' regional ecosystems on leasehold land and other vegetation. It ensures that regional ecosystems do not move to a lower conservation status and the total extent of remnant vegetation within a bioregion does not fall below 30 per cent of the pre-clearing extent. Vegetation is protected in areas where clearing may cause land degradation such as salinity or soil erosion.
  • In Queensland the Land Protection Bill is expected to be enacted in 2001. Included in the principles underlying the Land Protection Bill is the recognition of the multiple use of stock routes including for conservation. Stock routes can contain remnants of native vegetation, some of which could be considered endangered in some areas.

3.3 Alien species and genetically modified organisms

Control the introduction and spread of alien species and genetically modified organisms and manage the deliberate spread of native species outside their historically natural range.

Assessment: Partially achieved

The Environmental Indicators for National State of the Environment Reporting: Biodiversity states those exotic and alien organisms outside cultivation or captivity is a major pressure on biological diversity. The report goes on to state that the number of such organisms outside cultivation and captivity is reasonably well known for vertebrates, higher plants and some invertebrates, but knowledge is poor for most other organisms except the more obvious problem organisms such as Phytophthora cinnamomi in south-western Australia.

The role of the Commonwealth in invasive species management has traditionally been barrier control through the Quarantine Act 1908 and the assessment of environmental impacts on native species through the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982. Commonwealth involvement is otherwise restricted to Commonwealth lands.

Local and State Governments have a range of legislative and regulatory mechanisms covering invasive species. The management of invasive species within Australia is primarily the responsibility of individual landowners or land managers. There has been a focus in the past on managing invasive species that threaten economic production rather than environmental values. This, however, is changing as States and Territories, through threat abatement processes, aim to reduce invasive species pressure on threatened or endangered flora or fauna. There has also been a shift towards classifying invasive species by their impact on biodiversity rather than their economic effects.

There has been considerable activity on terrestrial and marine invasive species in all jurisdictions with a number of success stories. Despite this, invasive species continue to pose a major threat to biodiversity and ongoing action is essential.

  • In July 2000, the EPBC Act became the primary Commonwealth legislation for protecting the environment. It replaces a number of existing pieces of legislation relating to invasive species management. The EPBC Act provides for the preparation of binding threat abatement plans for key threatening processes (which could include invasive species) and includes provisions for regulations to control non-native species.The regulations may inter alia regulate or prohibit bringing into the Australian jurisdiction species that do, may or would be likely to threaten biodiversity. The regulations may also regulate intra-territorial and extra-territorial trade in such species.
  • A number of centres provide research into pests. The CRC for Biological Control of Pest Animals aims to achieve significant and continuing benefit to Australia by reducing the devastating environmental and economic impact of introduced pest animals. The CRC for Weed Management Systems is committed to develop multidisciplinary approaches, using herbicides, biological control and vegetation management to produce integrated weed management programs for temperate ecosystems in Australia. The CSIRO Centre for Research on Introduced Marine Pests develops techniques and methods to detect and control the introduction and spread of marine pests, and undertakes port surveys.
  • The introduction and spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is currently regulated by the Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and its Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee in respect of contained work and field trials. The interim office was established in 1999 in the Department of Health and Aged Care to develop a national regulatory system for GMOs to safeguard risks to human health and the environment. The Minister for Health and Aged Care controls general releases of GMOs under interim arrangements announced by the Commonwealth in August 1999.
  • A new system of national regulation is being finalised. Good progress has been made, including the passage through Parliament of the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000. This will be administered by a permanent office of the Gene Technology Regulator, which is to be established during 2001.
  • Interim marine pest emergency response arrangements are to be supported by a Coordinating Committee for Introduced Marine Pest Emergencies with a $5 million fund to be established by Commonwealth, State and Territory contributions. In the longer term the Australian Ballast Water Management Advisory Council will be reconfigured as the Australian Introduced Marine Pests Advisory Council.
  • In the Northern Territory, all potential introductions of alien and interstate species of animal are subject to strict regulation of the import and keeping arrangements. The Northern Territory Government responded immediately and successfully to the black-striped mussel incursion in Darwin.
  • A Weed Strategy for South Australia (1997) was prepared by the Natural Resources Council in 1998 to complement the National Weeds Strategy (1999). The South Australian strategy provides a framework for achieving an integrated approach to weed management and identifies responsibilities. Operation Bounceback in the Flinders Ranges is implementing goat, rabbit, fox, cat and weed control over large areas, and includes national parks and private lands. There has been an increase in recruitment and survival of the threatened yellow-footed rock wallaby in these areas.
  • Foxes have been effectively controlled over 3.5 million hectares in south-western Western Australia under Western Shield, leading to recovery of native fauna including the removal of three mammal species (the woylie, quenda and tammar wallaby) from the threatened fauna list. Research on effective feral cat control is well advanced. High priority is also given to conserving native flora and ecological communities threatened by Phytophthora cinnamomi dieback. A Draft State Weed Plan has been prepared for public comment, and legislation is in place regulating the keeping, import and control of invasive plants and animals.
  • The NSW Biodiversity Strategy identifies the need to improve cooperative approaches to weed and pest management as a priority action. Building on the NSW Weeds Strategy, the threat abatement planning process and the ongoing work of the New South Wales Pest Animal Council, the New South Wales Government has provided additional funding for key weed and pest control programs to implement this priority action ($1.1million over three years). An example of a project that is partially funded through the NSW Biodiversity Strategy is the strategic management of bitou bush on coastal ecosystems, which includes developing a statewide bitou bush strategy.
  • In 1998 New South Wales introduced the New Weed Incursions Strategy which outlines procedures to identify and address significant new incursions. NSW Agriculture investigated 46 potential weed incursions in the first year. The majority of the new reports originated from the WeedAlert system established with the Royal Botanic Gardens. The WeedAlert system is a database designed to identify and assess the potential threat posed by new weed incursions see also Chapter 3.3.
  • The New South Wales Noxious Weeds Act 1993 provides for the identification, classification and control of noxious weeds in the State. All weed species which have been declared 'noxious' by the responsible Minister in New South Wales are classified into one of four categories according to their potential to affect the agricultural industry or the environment. Noxious weed control is required under the Act by private landowners and occupiers of public land including local authorities and management trusts.
  • Preparation of threat abatement plans for invasive species listed as threatening processes under the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, will ensure management of these species is targeted at minimising impacts on biodiversity.
  • NSW Agriculture in association with Rural Land Protection Boards has produced density distribution maps for a range of pest animals including foxes and rabbits. To date two series of density maps have been produced (in 1993 and 1998). With assistance from NSW Agriculture, all Rural Land Protection Boards have produced pest animal management plans. These are plans undertaken on a group basis thus providing efficiencies in their production and promoting integration and coordination of pest animal management amongst the various boards.
  • The NSW Weeds Strategy has been developed to identify and address significant new and existing weed incursions, through the preparation and implementation of management plans to control priority or noxious weeds.
  • An Internet early warning system, WeedAlert, established by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, alerts agencies as soon as potential weeds are identified, allowing early action and huge financial and environmental savings.
  • The Australian Weeds Committee is developing national management plans for incursions of new weeds into Australia.
  • In Queensland the Land Protection Bill is expected to be enacted in 2001. New features will include pest and stock route management plans for local government areas, provision for control of non-declared pests in areas of environmental significance, greater recognition of pests having environmental impacts generally, and the need to develop, implement and review State strategies for weeds and pest animals.
  • A draft Queensland Weeds Strategy and a draft Queensland pest Animals Strategy have recently been released for public comment, and State strategies have been developed for several individual pest species. Queensland was the lead State in the development of ten of the 20 Weeds of National Significance. A new geographic information system based pest mapping system (PESTINFO) has been developed and its use extended to many local and State Government operations.
  • Rubber vine has the potential to completely destroy all deciduous vine thickets in northern Queensland, which would lead to the loss of entire unique ecosystems and the extinction of many plant and animal species. However advances in research and best practice management, including biocontrol and the use of fire, have resulted in the view that this threat can be abated.

3.4 Pollution control

Minimise and control the impacts of pollution on biological diversity.

Assessment: Partially achieved

Pollution continues to be a threat to the conservation of biological diversity in Australia. Air pollution ranks as the Australian public's number one environmental health concern. Control measures established to protect human health could be effective in protecting a wide range of other species.

Marine and freshwater pollution is a particular threat to biodiversity, as pollutants tend to accumulate and concentrate in these environments. Problems of marine pollution are usually linked to major centres of human population. For example, the main source of oil pollution in marine environments is urban runoff. This source can also include more toxic pollutants – for example, heavy metals such as lead, mercury and zinc – and is thus dealt with by State and Territory environment protection agencies.

  • At the national level the Natural Heritage Trust funds specific projects such as Clean the Air, which is part of the $16 million Air Pollution in Major Cities Program.
  • The threats to Australia's wetlands and waterways are also being addressed through the Trust. Relevant programs include: Waterwatch Australia, which is a national volunteer water quality monitoring and education program.
  • Waterwatch helps people to get together with their local governments, water authorities, industry and other organisations to discuss the water quality issues in their catchments and to develop strategies to deal with these issues;
  • The National Wetlands Program, which promotes the conservation of Australia's wetlands through a variety of actions such as surveys, management research, training programs and awareness raising; and
  • The first national assessment of river health, currently being undertaken as part of the National River Health Program. This assessment is identifying 'stressed' or priority rivers for further investigation and management action.
  • Through the National Environment Protection Council, the Commonwealth and States have created the National Pollutant Inventory, a national Internet database of pollutant emissions. From 1 July 1998, large Australian industrial facilities which use a specified level of listed chemicals must report their emissions to the National Pollutant Inventory.
  • The National Water Quality Management Strategy aims to deliver a nationally consistent approach to water quality management. It is being developed in response to growing community concern about the condition of the nation's water. The strategy sets out a national framework within which all stakeholders can contribute to better water quality management. Guidelines covering key elements of the water cycle – including groundwater, aquatic ecosystems, agricultural water use, management of sewerage systems, effluent and water quality management for a variety of industries – are an integral part of the strategy.
  • Through the Coasts and Clean Seas initiative the Commonwealth Government is providing $141 million to tackle Australia's coastal and marine environmental problems, now and into the future. Coasts and Clean Seas is the coastal and marine component of the Trust. Australia's Oceans Policy tackles marine pollution, including through the Coastal Acid Sulfate Soils Program and finding alternatives for the toxic anti-fouling substance tributyltin.
  • The Urban Stormwater Initiative is providing $11 million for stormwater management to improve the health of urban waterways in major coastal cities and centres. Other sources of pollution include the dumping of waste from ships. Australia currently regulates the deliberate loading, dumping and incineration of waste at sea under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 and the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment Act 1986.
  • In the Northern Territory, waste management and pollution control strategies and legislation are in place. Erosion and sediment control plans are required for new developments, and guidelines have been prepared to assist developers.
  • The New South Wales water reforms outlined under Objective 2.5 'Water', include the identification of water quality objectives for each river valley and the development of river and groundwater management plans. Other activities in the State include the urban stormwater management program, the National Strategy for the Management of Coastal and Sulfate Soils (National Working Party on Acid Sulfate Soils, 2000) and environment protection licensing by the Environment Protection Agency including load based licensing.

3.5 Fire

Reduce the adverse impacts of altered fire regimes on biological diversity.

Assessment: Partially achieved

With the increasing awareness of the importance of maintaining biological diversity, appropriate fire regimes which take into consideration the frequency and extent of disturbance are, for the most part, being developed and implemented by forest and other land management agencies. Management agencies face resource constraints that limit their ability to maintain traditional fire regimes. Other objectives, such as the protection of human life and property, have to be balanced with biodiversity conservation objectives.

Not enough information is available on whether biodiversity conservation is effectively addressed by State fire management planning. There needs to be wider agency participation and coordination. This issue also needs to be considered across all land tenures and ecosystems. Further work in these areas is required.

  • The report Australia: State of the Environment 1996 identified altered fire regimes as a potential threat to biodiversity. It recommended that the extent, frequency, seasonality and impact of fire by vegetation types should be monitored.
  • The Commonwealth has funded the Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Savannas, which is continuing its research program on fire and tropical savannas.
  • Throughout the Northern Territory, volunteer bushfire brigades are maintained and monthly monitoring of bushfires is carried out. The ecological effects of fire are being monitored in conservation areas. Techniques for monitoring fire using remote sensing are being researched. There are community education and involvement programs in three biogeographic regions.
  • New South Wales is developing guidelines for ecologically sustainable fire management. The guidelines will identify appropriate fire regimes for the biodiversity within given ecosystems. These guidelines can be used in the full range of fire management planning initiatives in the State, thus ensuring the deliberate use of fire regimes that conserve biodiversity.
  • The Fire and Biodiversity Consortium has been established in south-east Queensland with the assistance of Natural Heritage Trust funding to bring together and disseminate information on fire management practices that will support conservation of the area's biological diversity. The consortium includes representatives from local authorities, the Rural Fire Service, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Primary Industry, Greening Australia, universities, and Landcare Australia.

3.6 Impacts of climate change on biological diversity

Plan to minimise the potential impacts of human-induced climate change on biological diversity.

Assessment: Not achieved

If global climate change causes climatic zones to shift across the continent of Australia, integrated strategic planning will be essential to ensure Australia's biodiversity survives. Plants and animals are adapted to particular climatic regimes and are limited in their distribution by this. Significant climate change will mean that biodiversity must either gradually move away from areas that become unsuitable or, if possible, adapt to the new climate. Reserves need to be selected, designed, linked with vegetation corridors and managed to provide the conditions for biodiversity to be able to gradually alter its distribution in response to climate change.

Within the agricultural community there is a growing awareness of the need for integrated management practices which include more sustainable farming systems to enhance productivity and long-term viability. New greenhouse response measures in the agricultural sector aim to build on this awareness by providing appropriately tailored and targeted information to incorporate consideration of greenhouse issues into agricultural management practices.

Considerable effort is being put into a range of revegetation activities as part of Australia's greenhouse response measures. This work needs to be planned to ameliorate the impact of climate change on native biodiversity.

  • The ANZECC contact group on greenhouse has identified some priority areas of interest including adaptation strategies for climate change. A draft work program has been developed which indicates that the actions required include:
    • identifying priority issues for discussion; and
    • compiling a report of activities undertaken by all jurisdictions that could contribute to developing adaptation strategies. These could include current regional program activities conducted by the States, agricultural extension work, and town and regional planning programs. The Commonwealth is responsible for the development of detailed adaptation plans for biodiversity of national environmental significance threatened by climate change.
  • The Northern Territory has developed the concept of 'Greater Parks' that cover a broad latitudinal range and has partially implemented this.
  • New South Wales has developed the NSW Greenhouse Action Plan (1998).

3.7 Rehabilitation

Repair and rehabilitate areas to restore their biological diversity.

Assessment: Partially achieved

Given the scale of land clearing, dry land salinity and other impacts on biodiversity, areas needing rehabilitation can be expected to increase for many years. Projects funded under the Natural Heritage Trust and by the States and Territories are detailed under Activities. There is a continuing need for investment in this area by governments and, increasingly, by the private sector to reverse the long-term decline in the quality and extent of Australia's native vegetation.

  • The ANZECC National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation (1999) describes a best practice approach to and platform for institutional reform that has as its outcomes:
    • restoring, by means of substantially increased revegetation, the environmental values and productive capacity of Australia's land and water;
    • retaining and enhancing biodiversity and native vegetation at both regional and national levels; and
    • improving the condition of existing native vegetation. The Northern Territory has spent over $3.5 million in six years to restore and rehabilitate extensive freshwater wetlands devastated by saltwater intrusion.
  • The Revegetation Strategy for South Australia (State Revegetation Committee 1996) aims to improve coordination of revegetation activities to ensure value for effort. A series of regional revegetation strategies are being prepared for the agricultural lands to provide a framework for sustainable land use and biodiversity at the local and property level. A plan for the upper south-east of the State was published in 1998 and a draft plan for the Mount Lofty ranges was released for public comment in late 1999.
  • The Western Australian Salinity Strategy (2000) includes a specific commitment to, and funding for, a 'natural diversity recovery catchment program', under which priority areas for investment are selected based on their biodiversity values.

3.8 Environmental assessment

Ensure that the potential impacts of any projects, programs and policies on biological diversity are assessed and reflected in planning processes, with a view to minimising or avoiding such impacts.

Assessment: Achieved

Environmental impact legislation is in place in the Commonwealth and each State and Territory. The application and scope of such legislation varies considerably between jurisdictions. The COAG Heads of Agreement on Commonwealth/State Roles and Responsibilities for the Environment provides for the Commonwealth to focus on matters of national environmental significance. This approach is being implemented through the EPBC Act which came into effect on 16 July 2000. To eliminate duplication, the Act sets out the basis for bilateral agreements with the Commonwealth for accreditation of State and Territory environmental impact assessment processes.

Strategic environmental assessment provides the opportunity for environmentally significant factors to be taken into account in the development, approval and implementation of policies, plans and programs. It may also be applied to classes of development proposals, or to staged development proposals, in order to facilitate early consideration of environmental matters and more efficient assessment and approval processes.

Ongoing action is required to implement Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation and to make environmental impact assessment compulsory for programs and policies.

  • The legislation governing Commonwealth environment impact assessment is the recently enacted EPBC Act. Under the EPBC Act, Commonwealth environmental assessment and approval will be triggered by actions that have, will have, or are likely to have, a significant adverse impact on matters of national environmental significance. The EPBC Act incorporates the capacity to undertake strategic environmental assessment of policies, plans and programs, but only where they impact on matters of national environmental significance or involve Commonwealth areas or Commonwealth actions.
  • Some State Governments are currently reviewing their environmental assessment legislation to incorporate strategic environmental assessment.
  • In the Northern Territory, environmental impact assessment of new developments specifically addresses regional and local biodiversity issues.
  • In New South Wales, the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, Fisheries Management Act 1994 and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 require that a species impact statement is prepared for any development where it is likely to significantly affect threatened species, populations or ecological communities.
  • The concurrence of the Director-General of the National Parks and Wildlife Service or the Director-General of Fisheries (as appropriate) must be obtained before consent can be granted. Funding has been provided to develop threatened species survey and assessment guidelines for the purpose of informing development-oriented assessment (including Environmental Impact Statements and Species Impact Statements). These guidelines will provide a set of general principles which can be adapted to suit local circumstances and form a basis for local councils wanting to develop their own guidelines. The process of their development will involve wide consultation.
  • At the local government level in Australia, planning legislation in each State or Territory generally requires bodies making decisions on development applications to consider environmental impacts. This is in addition to any requirements that might apply under environmental impact legislation.