Australia's environment in context (Institutional arrangements and limitations)

Independent Report to the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Australian State of the Environment Committee, Authors
CSIRO Publishing on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06745 0

Australia's environment in context (continued)

Institutional arrangements and limitations

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Environmental management

Environmental management in Australia is primarily the responsibility of states and territories with local government carrying out many environmental management responsibilities. The Commonwealth has limited responsibilities. The states and territories generally have the primary role in marine management to the three nautical mile limit (about 5.5 km) and the Commonwealth has jurisdiction beyond those waters to the outer boundaries of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Offshore Constitutional Settlement established jurisdiction between the Commonwealth and the states over marine matters in 1983.

Each state and territory distributes its management responsibilities among various agencies (see Appendix 4) and, in addition, devolve many of these 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 governmental legislation, policy and regulation
  • limited cooperation between public and private sectors in long-term environmental management.

Farmers at a crop management field day

Farmers at a crop management field day

Source: A Hamblin.

A regional approach exists in some administrations, for example the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and in some areas of water management such as in the operation of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and the Lake Eyre Basin Coordination Group involving state and Commonwealth agreements.

Public sector reforms in the 1990s created efficiencies, but also resulted in reducing the number of people with valuable technical skills. For example, agricultural extension staff were reduced in many states, thus removing a valuable conduit of information between farmers and scientists. Some environmental tasks were devolved to state or local government without additional resources to undertake them.

An emerging challenge is how to apply equitable property rights so that the actions of individual landholders do not stimulate or continue to promote long-term degradation of natural systems. This problem applies not only to farmers or graziers but also to those seeking to subdivide unsuitable land for residential purposes and protect such property from natural forces such as flooding, landslide or erosion.

The Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993 enriches the opportunity for Indigenous peoples to protect their heritage while not impairing the rights of non-Indigenous landholders to pursue their interests. The management of land and the marine environment has become more complex as a result of claims and challenges to the exercise of native title, especially regarding pastoral leases.