Inland Waters Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Jonas Ball, Sinclair Knight Merz Pty Limited, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06750 7

Aquatic ecosystems (continued)

Protecting, restoring and managing aquatic ecosystems (continued)

Protection of other aquatic species and their habitats

  • Conservation Acts in action
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    All states and territories have legislation and policies that provide some protection to aquatic species and their habitats. Table 42 summarises relevant legislation and highlights key features for conservation and management of aquatic ecosystems, flora and fauna.

    Conservation Acts in action
  • Victoria's Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988
  • Queensland Fisheries Act 1994
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
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    Victoria's Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988

    The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (FFG Act 1988) provides protection for species and communities, and allows for the listing of threatening processes. The FFG Act 1988 lists eight threatening processes of relevance to the conservation of aquatic species and their habitats, including the alteration of natural flow regimes, degradation of native riparian vegetation and removal of woody debris. Although the FFG Act 1988 has not been tested in the courts, it has helped give groups such as catchment authorities the terms of the activities they undertake (Bill O'Connor, NRE, pers. com. 2001). For example, the threat of action against individuals who remove woody debris from streams or watercourses has been an effective mechanism in Victoria.

    The FFG Act 1988 also has considerable power to protect aquatic habitats through interim conservation orders granted by the minister. Interim conservation orders can be established for a listed species or communities under the Act and take precedence over all other legislation.

    The lowland riverine fish community of the southern Murray-Darling Basin, listed in 2000, was the first fish community in Australia to be recognised as threatened (Martin O'Brien, NRE, pers. com. 2001). This community has been recently recommended for listing under New South Wales legislation.

    The FFG Act 1988 has also affected the management of the Cardross Basins, a series of evaporation basins located near Mildura. The southern purple-spotted gudgeon (Mogurnda adspersa) was discovered in the Cardross Basins in 1995, having previously been thought extinct in Victoria. The lakes also contain three other FFG Act 1988 listed species. The future management and use of the lakes for irrigation has been modified by the requirements of the Act, in addition to requirements of the Water Act 1989, and the Fisheries Act 1995 (Water ECOscience, 1997).

    Queensland Fisheries Act 1994

    The Queensland Fisheries Act 1994 lists a range of protected freshwater and saltwater fish species, including the Queensland lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri). Occurring naturally in the Burnett and Mary river systems, and introduced into the upper Brisbane, Albert, Coomera and Stanley rivers and Enoggera Reservoir, the lungfish is not considered threatened, but is of great scientific and cultural significance. Consequently, the Queensland lungfish is a totally protected species and catching and possessing of these fish is prohibited.

    Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

    The Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) was enacted in July 2000 and is the most fundamental reform of Commonwealth environment laws since the first environment statutes were enacted in the early 1970s. The Act aims to enable the Commonwealth to join with the states and territories to provide a national scheme of environment protection and biodiversity conservation.

    Under the Act, actions that are likely to have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance (NES) are subject to a rigorous assessment and approval process. An action includes a project, development, undertaking, activity, or series of activities. Matters of NES include actions that have an impact on:

    • World Heritage properties
    • Ramsar wetlands of international importance
    • nationally threatened animal and plant species and ecological communities
    • internationally protected migratory species
    • Commonwealth marine areas
    • nuclear actions.

    The EPBC Act has some implications for the management of inland waters, especially those upstream of areas with national environmental significance. In these areas, management decisions such as flow regulation, catchment protection and water-quality protection may have to be formally assessed and approved. In some states a semi-formalised assessment and approval process is already undertaken, usually involving community and stakeholder consultation. This recognises that the support of community and stakeholder groups is required to effectively implement management plans. The Commonwealth Environment Minister may directly intervene in a situation where the Commonwealth considers that state-sanctioned activities may be impacting an area of national environmental significance.

    There is some debate about the potential effectiveness of a proposed new EPBC Act (e.g. Ogle 2000). Certainly greater protection will be provided for threatened species and ecological communities with the requirement for assessment and protection now mandatory for all land, not just Commonwealth land. There has been some debate about the bilateral agreements between the states and the Commonwealth Government, which devolve the development and environmental assessment and approval processes under the EPBC Act to state governments. There is concern that assessment and approval processes are not consistent, and that state interests could override matters of national environmental significance (Ogle 2000). A recent example is the Port Hinchinbrook development in Queensland, where state interests conflicted directly with the Commonwealth responsibilities to protect the adjacent World Heritage area. It is likely that similar conflicts will arise in relation to Ramsar-listed wetlands and upstream water extraction, where state interests to maximise and maintain water allocations for agriculture will be in conflict with the environmental water requirements of wetlands.

    Table 42: State and territory legislation to protect aquatic ecosystems
    State Legislation/Policy Description
    Tasmania Inland Fisheries Act 1995 Provision for the declaration of fauna reserves in inland waters.
      Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 Protection and management of threatened flora and fauna listed under the Act.
    Available mechanisms include development of threatened species strategies, determination of critical habitats and threatened species recovery plans.
    Queensland Fisheries Act 1994 Protection and management of the state's freshwater and marine fish resources, including their habitats.
      Nature Conservation Act 1992 Provides for the declaration of national parks.
    Lists threatened species and mechanisms for their protection.
    South Australia Water Resources Act 1997 Manage the state's water resources in accordance with ESD principles and lists specific and detailed environmental objectives.
    Protect watercourses, lakes, surface and groundwater from degradation and, where practicable, reverse degradation that has already occurred.
      Native Vegetation Act 1991 Provision of incentives and assistance to landholders for the preservation and conservation of native vegetation, to limit clearance of vegetation, and to encourage revegetation.
    Restricts clearance of riparian vegetation surrounding wetlands.
    Victoria Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 Legal and administrative structure to promote flora and fauna conservation and provides for procedures to encourage and facilitate this process.
    Listing of threatened species and potentially threatening processes.
    Interim conservation orders for conservation of critical habitat of a listed species on Crown or private land.
      Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 Framework for integrated and coordinated management of catchments.
    Aims to ensure that the quality of the state's land and water resources and their associated plant and animal life are maintained and enhanced.
      Water Act 1989 Declaration of water resource management areas.
      Fisheries Act Management of fisheries and aquatic ecosystems in accordance with ESD principles.
    New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 Covers the protection of listed species and the listing of species as endangered, extinct or vulnerable.
      New South Wales Fish Management Act 1994,
    and amended 1997
    Lists 6 (soon to be 7) threatened aquatic fish species and also lists protected aquatic habitats and prohibits the removal of large woody debris.
    Requirement for preparation of recovery plans.
      Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997 Facilitates preparation of regional vegetation management plans for conservation and management, protection of vegetation of high conservation value and promotes importance of native vegetation as part of ecologically sustainable development.
    Provision for requirement of a permit for vegetation clearance.
      Water Management Act 2001 Contains objectives for the protection of aquatic habitats.
    Northern Territory Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1977 Establishment of territory parks and other parks and reserves and the protection and conservation of wildlife.
    Declaration of areas for the purpose of protection generally or for particular species of flora and fauna.
      Conservation Commission Act 1980 Promotion of conservation and protection of the natural environment and the establishment and management of parks, reserves and sanctuaries.
    Western Australia Waterways Conservation Act 1976 Conservation and management of certain waters and of their associated land and environment.
      Conservation & Land Management Act 1984 Protection and management of certain public lands and waters and their flora and fauna.
      Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 Similar to threatened species legislation in other states, and is linked to the Conservation and Land Management Act and covers the declaration of flora and fauna as threatened species.
    ACT Water Resources Act 1998 Requires the preparation of 'environmental flow guidelines', which specify the flow regimes that must be provided for the environment before water can be allocated for other uses.
      Nature Conservation Act 1980 Responsibilities to protect the biological resources of lakes and streams in the territory, including threatened fish species such as trout cod, Macquarie perch, two-spined blackfish and Murray cray.