Biodiversity Theme Report
Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Dr Jann Williams, RMIT University, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06749 3
Roles and Responsibilities (continued)
Australia has around 700 local government authorities, including large city councils with many hundreds of staff; rural councils with large land areas and few human and financial resources; wholly urban councils; and Indigenous community councils. Councils have a range of policy and management functions, including:
- land use planning and development control, within the framework of state and territory planning legislation
- maintenance and development of physical infrastructure, such as drainage and roads
- waste management, including household and industrial wastes and sewerage treatment and disposal
- provision of local community educational infrastructure (e.g. libraries) and community awareness programs
- management of open space for recreation and conservation
- pollution control.
These and other functions are highly relevant to the local and regional management of biodiversity, which is a relatively new responsibility for local government. Over recent decades, the number and complexity of local government functions have increased, but support in terms of policy, legislation, information and human and financial resource has very often not kept pace. Full discussion of the implications of this situation with respect to native vegetation management can be found in Binning et al. (1999), Cripps et al. (1999) and Binning and Young (1999).
The importance of local government in biodiversity conservation is recognised in the NSCABD. Over recent years, considerable policy development has occurred through revised planning schemes, local conservation strategies and the Local Agenda 21 initiative that flowed from the 1992 United Nations (UN) Conference on Environment and Development. More recently, a national policy for local government biodiversity management has been developed (ALGA 2000). Two examples of how local governments are responding to these challenges are given in Vegetation and koala protection in Redland Shire and Manningham City - Greenprint and LEAF.
Redland Shire, to the south-east of the main Brisbane city area, contains a mixture of urban and non-urban land uses and has the range of environmental and biodiversity issues typical of such an area. It is a high-population growth area with many pressures for development and significant remnant native vegetation areas. Among other specific issues, some vegetation in the Shire is habitat for the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) and is subject to the Queensland Government's State Planning Policy (SPP) 1/97 Conservation of koalas in the Koala Coast. Redland Shire Council's gazetted Strategic Plan of 1998 incorporates detailed provisions for environmental protection and ESD, including habitat protection and the implementation of SPP 1/97 (Strategic plan S3.1.1c).
Redland reflects a wider trend in local government to extend traditional 'tree preservation orders', that concentrated on urban trees and their visual amenity, toward more broadly based vegetation protection policies including a range of biodiversity values. In Redland Shire Local Law No. 6: Protection of Vegetation (No. 1 of 1998), the Shire sets out the process for permission to remove or damage vegetation, assessment procedures, possibilities for removing protection orders, and so on. The definition of 'significant vegetation' in the Law covers a wide range of values, including Indigenous cultural significance, role as wildlife habitat or wildlife corridor, rare or threatened species status, educational or recreational use, aesthetic appeal, and importance to 'maintaining life-supporting capacities of ecological systems for present and future generations'. While, as with all recent policies and laws, implementation of this measure cannot be assessed as yet, this is an example of some of the key definitions and intents of the Convention for Biodiversity being translated into practical local contexts in a relatively short time.
For each, there is a defined range of targets, indicators for each target, and evolving action plans and time lines. The proposed actions for zero extinction include maintenance of a database of flora and fauna, various strategies for pest and weed control, promotion of the use of native plants in gardens and development of incentives for conservation on private land. Targets relevant to biodiversity conservation include:
- number of nurseries in Manningham City stocking more than five environmental weeds or potential weed species; currently ten, target zero by the end of 2004.
- number per area of properties in Manningham registered under the Victorian governments 'Land for Wildlife' program; currently 37 properties, target 70 by the end of 2004
- area of land per number of properties under conservation covenant; currently one property per 119 ha, target 10 properties by end of 2005.
To encourage conservation on private land, in 1999 the council made $40 000 available through the Local Environment Assistance Fund (LEAF). Under this program, landholders can gain assistance for conservation in the form of Land Protection Works grant (dollar-for-dollar up to $800), a Property Management Planning Course, and through Melbourne Water's Rural Stream Frontage Program.
Manningham City covers 113 square kilometres, 12 km north-east of the Melbourne central business district, with a population of 110 500. The council area comprises suburban, rural and natural areas, with significant scenic and biodiversity values attached to some riparian zones and to remnant forest areas. Manningham City's overall Greenprint and specific biodiversity programs are characteristic of evolving trends in environmental management in local government. The former City of Doncaster and Templestowe produced a conservation strategy in 1991 and following the 1992 Earth Summit was active in Local Agenda 21. Review of these experiences led to the development of the broader Greenprint, which is a council-wide strategy. Greenprint includes the Council's EMS, staff training programs, and public awareness initiatives. Core to the strategy are five 'stretch goals' to be pursued in the longer term:
- zero climate damage
- zero extinction
- zero pollution
- zero soil degradation
- zero waste.
Source: Manningham City Council (1998).
Local government provisions for biodiversity [BD Indicator 23.1]
In November 1998, the National General Assembly of Local Government unanimously voted to endorse a National Local Government Biodiversity Strategy (NLGBS). This important development establishes a common policy direction for all local government bodies across Australia, recognising the importance of biodiversity and the need for integrated local government approaches and actions. It complements the national biodiversity strategy. The Strategy defines the following objectives and suggested actions to address five key issues (ALGA/BDAC 1999).
- Awareness, training and education : to develop a national awareness, training and education program. Suggested actions include : establishing a local biodiversity support network, promotion of success stories and establishment of an award system, and provision of specific support to rural councils to develop and implement local planning regulations to assist biodiversity conservation.
- Local government resourcing : Local government resourcing is needed to ensure adequate resource for all interested Councils or regional organisations in order to have a greater role in biodiversity conservation. This includes addressing the specific requirements of Indigenous communities. Suggested actions include : auditing of existing programs to ensure cost effective delivery, supporting environmental officers in Councils or regional groups to develop and implement local biodiversity conservation strategies, and introducing rate rebate schemes for biodiversity conservation (see Binning & Young (1999) for a discussion and examples).
- Regional partnerships and planning : To encourage regional partnerships and planning, preferably along existing regional boundaries. Suggested actions include : directing resources to regional planning and implementation and, where appropriate, providing statutory support for regional authorities to have a coordinating role, integrate biodiversity concerns with existing processes and programs (e.g. catchment planning, NHT); and support regionally administered incentive schemes (e.g. Greening Australia's fencing incentives program).
- Legislative frameworks : to encourage state governments to review, and possibly amend legislation relating to the role of local government in managing biodiversity (e.g. planning, local government and environment Acts). Suggested actions include : developing all catchment and regional plans in cooperation with local government and incorporating them into Council planning schemes; allowing local government to raise special purpose levies, if they wish to have a greater role in biodiversity conservation (as is done in Brisbane City and elsewhere); and encouraging consistency between states and state Acts that relate to biodiversity.
- Information and monitoring : to establish a nationally coordinated information and monitoring system which is integrated with existing databases, to provide Councils with basic information on biodiversity in their area. Suggested actions include : ensuring local government has access to existing state and national data systems, preferably on GIS; establishing data standards and protocols, and ensuring data are delivered at a relevant scale; and providing training, tools and technology transfers to local managers.
These objectives serve to focus efforts, and provide a basis for monitoring and evaluation of local government needs and achievements in biodiversity conservation.
The Commonwealth, through Environment Australia, funds environment resource officers (EROs) at state level to serve as a focus and a resource for local government in environmental management, operating at the strategic level of state local government associations. EROs report quarterly to EA and their reports serve as a valuable interjurisdictional information flow. Much of their work is directly relevant to biodiversity. Examples include fauna road-kill education programs in Tasmania, assistance to local councils in accessing NHT funding in Queensland, representation of a local government perspective into SoE reporting in New South Wales, and development of urban biodiversity programs (e.g. Bush Forever) in the Perth region in Western Australia.
Recent surveys have begun to build a picture of the financial and human resources committed to biodiversity and other environmental issues by Australian local authorities. On the basis of resources committed, the ABS (ABS 2000) established that local government has a significant part in managing Australia's environment.
In 1998 to 1999, it is estimated that local governments spent $2.1 billion in environmental expenditure, or an average of $114 per capita. Of the total, 90% was sourced from council's household and business rates rather than from intergovernmental transfers (the states provided $118 million and the Commonwealth $20 million to total revenue in this area). Tasmania spent more than other states on a per capita basis, and Western Australia the least. Of the total, most was spent in traditional areas such as waste water treatment and waste management. But $106 million was spent on measures directly relevant to biodiversity, such as tree planting, preventing land degradation, weed control and protecting streams. Relative to other areas of local government environmental expenditure, biodiversity programs were more reliant on grants and subsidies from other levels of government.
A progress report [BD Indicator 25.1]
The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) completed a recent study (ALGA 2000) that explored the situation and progress with implementing the NLGBS. This survey provides a very important baseline data set, with some two-thirds of local authorities responding. At the broadest level, 40% of responding councils have incorporated biodiversity considerations into their corporate planning exercises, indicating a significant level of 'mainstreaming' of biodiversity at this level of government. More specifically, 46% of councils own or manage natural or constructed wetlands and 58% have planning provisions aimed at wetland conservation. One-quarter of councils have or are drafting recovery plans for threatened species, and 43% have policies for the management of native vegetation occurring on roadsides. About 34% have developed a Local Agenda 21 or ESD plan.
The work of many staff in local government involves them in biodiversity issues, but the clearest indication of commitment is the provision of a dedicated environmental officer. The ALGA survey (ALGA 2000) provides the percentage of councils (that responded to the survey) that have environmental officer (Table 67).
The ALGA survey also sought to determine the number of councils with an environmental conservation strategy (Table 68).