Australian Actions to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation

National Report by Australia on Measures Taken to Support Implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
Commonwealth Intergovernmental Working Group for the UNCCD, April 2002

Domestic Initiatives to Combat Desertification (continued)

Legislative and Jurisdictional Arrangements

The Australian Constitution does not deal explicitly with environmental powers. Most responsibility for the environment rests with the State and Territory governments. The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment of 1992 coordinates the approach to environmental management by the three tiers of Australian government: federal, state and local.

At the Federal level, the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry - Australia and the Department of the Environment and Water Resources are the main agencies responsible for environment and natural resource management policy. The Federal Government has responsibility for environmental issues of national significance, national environmental reporting and the implementation of international treaties and obligations.

States and Territory governments are involved in the management of land and water use and environmental protection. While the severity and extent of environmental problems vary across jurisdictions, they generally have similar land management and environmental legislation and programs. The amount of land management and environmental legislation in each State and Territory is substantial, totalling some 300 individual Acts. All jurisdictions have legislation covering aspects of natural resource management, including land use planning, water quality and management, environmental protection, soil conservation and biodiversity conservation.

At the local and regional level, Local Government plays a key role in planning and management decisions, such as land-use zoning and tree preservation or clearing by-laws.

Coordination of environment and natural resource policies and decision-making within Australia is achieved in a number of ways. Ministerial Councils, which comprise Ministers from the relevant portfolios of the Federal, State and Territory Governments, play an important role. These Councils include:

  • the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), composed of First Ministers from; Federal, State and Territory Governments and a representative of local governments;
  • the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council (a recently formed council that subsumed the Natural Resource Management issues from the Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand (ARMCANZ), the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) and the Ministerial Council on Forestry, Fisheries and Aquaculture (MCFFA));
  • the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (a recently formed council that subsumed the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC), the non-NRM component of ANZECC and the Heritage Ministers' Meeting); and
  • the Ministerial Council on Energy.

These councils are supported and coordinated through inter-governmental committees of officials.

Standards and Targets

Australia is facing natural resource degradation through increasing salinity, deteriorating water quality and loss of biodiversity. These have direct and indirect impacts on agricultural production, towns and infrastructure and the viability of Australia's regional communities.

The Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments, in partnership with regional communities, are implementing two initiatives, the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, to tackle natural resource management (NRM) problems. Under these programs, Governments will invest in priority actions under agreed natural resource management plans developed for Australia's catchments and regions.

Regional communities will establish targets as part of their plans, based on an assessment of the current state of the natural resources, and the outcomes we are seeking.

NRM regional targets are tools to:

  • help communities set strategic regional objectives for their on-ground activities;
  • focus action on priority issues and locations; and
  • measure the success of efforts made though joint government and community investment.

Regional targets will set out a particular actions or outcome to be achieved by a specific date. Long-term targets will establish the resource condition outcome a region believes it can achieve within say 10-20 years, for example, changes to groundwater levels; stream salinity and vegetation cover. Short-term targets will identify the steps that will contribute to achieving the long-term targets, and focus largely on management actions or capacity-building, for example, the length of riparian zone protected; percentage of farms with whole farm plans in place; or area of revegetation.

The Commonwealth and State / Territory Governments will invest in the implementation of accredited regional plans, including the achievement of regional targets. Program investment will support both on-ground action, and also capacity building, including the development of skills, knowledge and information required for regions and individuals to respond effectively to the new challenges posed by integrated planning and target setting.

Agreed regional targets will help align activities at the local regional, state / territory and national levels, so that effort is more strategic and effective.