Administrative Arrangements

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 fact sheet
Department of the Environment and Heritage, February 2002

What is Happening Overall?

Administrative arrangements for protecting the environment improved in the past five years as a result of major national reforms. These included the introduction of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), national cooperation on forestry management and public disclosure of major pollutants.

However, some responsibilities are fragmented between different spheres of government. There is a need to ensure compliance with environmental regulation and there is scope for more cooperation between the public and private sectors in long-term environmental management.

Why is administrative reform important?

Protecting the environment is the responsibility of every Australian but government policy, legislation and regulation play a pivotal role in conservation and sustainable use of resources.

Environmental management in Australia is primarily the responsibility of states and territories, with local government carrying out many responsibilities. The Commonwealth has responsibility for Australia's international obligations.

Important reforms to national administration

The EPBC Act, which came into force in July 2000, provides protection for matters of national environmental significance, including World Heritage properties and Ramsar wetlands. The Act provides greater certainty for proponents through timely assessment and reducing duplication between Commonwealth and state assessments. The Act also promotes ecologically sustainable development (ESD) by formally requiring ESD principles to be taken into account when considering project approvals.

Since 1996, the Commonwealth has committed more than $14 million to develop and support a public database listing the major pollutants entering the environment. This database, the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI), was established by an agreement of the National Environment Protection Council in 1998.

As part of its greenhouse gas reduction strategy, the Commonwealth is fostering greater use of renewable energy. The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 requires the generation of 9,500 gigawatt hours of extra renewable energy per year by the year 2010, enough power to meet the residential electricity needs of four million people.

Regional Forest Agreements between the Commonwealth and the states have provided a level of certainty for forest industries and have added more than 2.8 million hectares to the national reserve system.

What are the challenges for national cooperation?

Each state and territory distributes its management responsibilities for the environment among various agencies and devolves many responsibilities to local government. As a result, planning and management of the environment is often highly uncoordinated between the Commonwealth, the states and territories, and local government. There are five specific difficulties confronting the institutions involved in environmental management. They are:

  • varying regulatory arrangements applied to different land uses in adjacent areas, making it difficult to achieve conservation on a landscape scale;
  • responsibilities that are fragmented within and between the levels of government and various agencies;
  • differing philosophies and approaches between non-Indigenous and Indigenous environmental managers;
  • fewer resources to ensure compliance with government legislation, policy and regulation; and
  • limited cooperation between public and private sectors in long-term environmental management.

Regional cooperation is evident in administration of some protected areas, such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and in some areas of water management, such as the operation of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council and the Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Council.

What are some emerging challenges?

An emerging challenge is how to apply equitable property rights so that individual landholders can take decisions to promote long-term sustainability of natural systems and the most efficient use of scarce resources. This applies not only to farmers and graziers but also to people seeking to subdivide unsuitable land for residential purposes and to protect such property from natural forces, such as flooding, landslide or erosion.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed in 1994 to implement a Water Reform Framework with the goal of an efficient and sustainable water industry. The time and complexity involved in implementing the necessary legislation has been greater than expected, and further implementation will also be complex and demanding.