Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Annual Report 2012-2013

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2013

ISSN: 1441-9335

Secretary’s Review

Over the year 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013 the department supported the delivery of several major government policy initiatives to promote the conservation and sustainable use of Australia’s natural resources. The department continued to deliver a diverse ongoing work program spanning environmental regulation, program delivery and scientific research. Internally, a major focus was placed on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the department, including reducing staffing levels to meet government budget targets.

A major achievement in water reform was the passage into law of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan on 22 November 2012. After several years of intense stakeholder consultation, the plan seeks to balance the needs of communities and farmers with the need to sustain the ecological functioning of the Murray–Darling system. It sets sustainable limits for the use of water to ensure healthy rivers, strong communities and sustainable food and fibre production for current and future generations. In 2012–13 a record amount of 1272 gigalitres of Commonwealth environmental water was delivered across the Basin, helping to benefit its rivers, wetlands and floodplains.

In July 2012 four marine bioregional plans were finalised under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), aimed at helping improve how our oceans are managed. This was followed by the proclamation of the Commonwealth marine reserves network in November 2012.

As part of the broader national environmental regulation reform agenda, the department further progressed a ‘big-picture’ approach to environment and heritage protection through strategic assessments under the EPBC Act. This approach provides greater certainty for future investment by determining where development can occur, the type of development that will be allowed and the conditions under which it may proceed. Once strategic assessments are in place, individual developments can proceed without further need for assessment under the EPBC Act. For example, the strategic assessment of proposed urban development in Gungahlin, ACT undertaken in 2012, provided for the streamlined approval of six new suburbs with up to 13 000 homes.

The department continued to support substantial government investments in Australia’s unique biodiversity through the Caring for our Country and the Biodiversity Fund programs. These programs aim to achieve healthy, well-managed and resilient ecosystems in a changing climate. In December 2012 a Prospectus of Investment was released by the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. This first national biodiversity investment prospectus identified investment priorities across the Caring for our Country and Biodiversity Fund programs.

In regions and cities the department worked with state government agencies, local government and industry to implement the National Waste Policy, including making major inroads into the management of e-waste through the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme.

Several of the department’s programs are delivered in partnership with Indigenous communities. A major highlight in May 2013 was the hosting of a conference in Darwin to establish the World Indigenous Network for land and sea managers. This fulfilled an Australian commitment from the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Brazil in June 2012.

In May 2013 the first Sustainable Australia Report was released. This report included a wide ranging set of environmental and economic indicators to track the nation’s progress over time. Development of the report was overseen by the National Sustainability Council, which was established in late 2012 and is supported by the department.

The department was active on the international stage in pursuing matters of importance to Australia. Among other priorities, the department coordinated the Australian Government’s negotiations for the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a critical step in managing this potent neurotoxin. The department also continued to lead the Southern Ocean Research Partnership and to promote non-lethal whale research in the Southern Ocean. In a world first, Australia joined forces with scientists from Chile, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States to use acoustic technology to successfully find, track and study the Antarctic blue whale, the largest creature on Earth.