Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2008
Managing the department (continued)
During the year, the Federal Court determined a number of applications for the review of Ministerial decisions and other actions in which the department had an interest. These included the Gunns Pulp Mill (The Wilderness Society Inc v. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources); Wielangta forestry operations (Forestry Tasmania v. Brown, Commonwealth and Tasmania; Full Federal Court); Port Phillip Bay channel deepening project (Blue Wedges v. Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts); and McArthur River Mining (Lansen v. Minister for the Environment and Heritage). These decisions are set out in more detail in the second volume of this set of annual reports.
The Auditor-General tabled one report in 2007–08, which examined program delivery of the National Heritage Trust (NHT) and National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAP) in the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Audit Report No. 21 2007–08 Regional Delivery Model for the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality
The objective of this audit was to assess and report on the administration of the regional delivery programs.
The Australian National Audit Office made four recommendations designed to improve the delivery of the regional model through better management of risks, greater transparency and efficiency in the management of funds, closer compliance with bilateral agreements and more accurate reporting to Parliament.
Both departments broadly agree with the intent of the Audit report’s recommendations and consider that they provide a basis for strengthening future program delivery. Since the report was prepared, the government has initiated Caring for our Country which commenced on 1 July 2008. The new program to replace the NHT includes a comprehensive outcomes-based reporting framework and a revised monitoring, evaluation and reporting national framework has been developed.
In 2007–08 the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts tabled two reports relevant to the department’s work.
Inquiry into the Provisions of the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Bill 2007, tabled on 6 September 2007
With the change of government following the 2007 Federal election, and consequent changes to the Administrative Arrangements Order, the report is now the responsibility of the Department of Climate Change.
Inquiry into the Provisions of the Water Bill 2007 & Water (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2007, tabled on 14 August 2007
The Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts report into the Water Bill 2007 and Water (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2007 was tabled on 14 August 2007. The Committee recommended that the Bill be passed. The Committee Report included comments from the Labor Party and Australian Democrats and a Minority Report from the Australian Greens. The Senate passed the Bills on 16 August and they received Royal Assent on 3 September 2007. The Water Act commenced on 3 March 2008.
In addition to these reports the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts also tabled two reports late in 2006–07 which were unable to be addressed in the department’s 2006–07 annual report.
Inquiry into Australia’s Indigenous visual arts and craft sector, Indigenous Arts – Securing the Future, tabled on 20 June 2007
The Senate Inquiry was undertaken in response to reports of unscrupulous conduct in the sector and allegations of mistreatment of Indigenous visual artists. The report was tabled on 20 June 2007 and highlighted the economic, social and cultural benefits of the Indigenous visual arts industry while also identifying a number of challenges facing the sector. The Report’s 29 recommendations are broad, reflecting this sector’s diversity. Key themes include:
- the importance of Australian Government investment in supporting the operations and facilities of art centres
- the need for an industry code of conduct underpinned by voluntary self-regulation by the sector
- the need to address gaps in business skills, education and training
- a more coordinated and effective approach to showcasing Indigenous arts.
Following the change of government, responsibility for the report was transferred to the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.
Inquiry into the Provisions of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Legislation Amendment Bill 2007, tabled on 15 June 2007
The inquiry scrutinised the provisions of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Legislation Amendment Bill 2007, which aimed to implement key recommendations of the Review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975.
On the whole the committee was satisfied with the Bill recognising that, with the exception of the issue of Indigenous representation, there was broad support for it. On this basis the committee recommended that the Bill be passed.
In 2007–08 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts also tabled two reports relevant to the department’s work.
Sustainability for survival – creating a climate for change: report on the inquiry into a sustainability charter, tabled in the House on 17 September 2007.
This inquiry followed on from the Committee’s tabling of the Sustainable Cities report on 12 September 2005. The purpose of the inquiry was to make recommendation to the Australian Government on how they might frame a sustainability charter that could be proposed for ratification at a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
The Committee was to report on key elements of a sustainability charter and identify the most important and achievable targets, particularly for:
- the built environment
- ecological footprint.
The committee made three broad recommendations addressing: the establishment of a statutory national Sustainability Commission, headed by a Sustainability Commissioner; establishment of a national Sustainability Charter; and the leadership role of the Australian Government in advancing sustainability outcomes.
Managing the Flow – inquiry into the regulation of plumbing product quality in Australia, tabled in the House on 19 September 2007.
In consultation with relevant agencies, the department assisted in the preparation of the government response to the House of Representatives Standing Committee Inquiry into the Regulation of Plumbing Product Quality. Agencies consulted included the Departments of Finance and Deregulation; Innovation, Industry, Science and Research; Foreign Affairs and Trade; Treasury and Prime Minister and Cabinet. A final response is currently being considered by government.
There were no formal reports from the Commonwealth Ombudsman during the year.
This section is presented in accordance with the requirements of section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (‘the Act’). The Act gives the Australian community the right to access information held by the Australian Government. The only limits are exemptions needed to protect essential public interests and privacy.
Members of the public seeking access to documents under the Act should make a request in writing to the department and enclose the $30 fee payable for the request. Requests for information under the Act should include contact details and an Australian address to which notifications can be posted.
The department received 71 applications under the Act during 2007–08. There were no requests for review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Information about the department
Under section 8 of the Act the department has to make available information about its functions, organisation, operations and powers that affect members of the public. Relevant information is contained elsewhere in this annual report (the executive summary presents an overview).
Information about categories of documents
Under section 8 of the Act the department has to report details of certain categories of documents it maintains. The department holds a large range of documents in the following categories:
General policy – administrative files, consultants’ reports, memoranda of understanding, agreements, permits, licences, submissions, guidelines for programs, grant documents, financial records, staffing records, secretary’s instructions, legal documents, and tender evaluations
Specific – Australian Antarctic Division records, committee records, and court documents and records
Parliamentary – Briefing documents, Cabinet documents, ministerial submissions, policy advice, ministerial correspondence, explanatory memoranda for Acts, Ordinances and Regulations
Manuals – In accordance with section 9 of the FOI Act, the department maintains a list of unpublished manuals and other documents used by departmental staff as a guide to procedures and practices to be followed when dealing with the public. The list is correct as at 17 March 2008 and is available on request from the Freedom of Information Coordinator, any office of the National Archives of Australia, or the NAA website at www.naa.gov.au .
Some documents may have been transferred into archival custody or destroyed in accordance with the Archives Act 1983.
Arrangements for outside participation
Under section 8 of the Act the department has to report details of arrangements under which members of the public can participate in certain kinds of decision-making.
The department consults members of the public and bodies outside the Australian Government’s administration when developing policy and programs, and administering legislation and schemes. In addition to general public consultation, which may be a requirement of particular legislation, the department and the relevant minister receive advice from various scientific and expert committees and other bodies. A list is available at http://www.environment.gov.au/about/councils/index.html
Generally people can participate by making oral or written representations to the minister or the department, or by putting submissions to the various working groups chaired by the department.
Formal arrangements under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, Sea Installations Act 1987, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and the environmental impact assessment provisions of the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980, provide for proposals to be examined publicly and for comments to be received.
Formal arrangements under the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands Environment Protection and Management Ordinance 1987 provide for public consultation during the development of management plans.
Formal arrangements under the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978 provide for public consultation on scientific research programs and the effects on the environment of uranium mining operations in the Alligator Rivers region.
Several formal arrangements under the Water Act 2007 exist to facilitate input from Basin States, members of the public and other bodies. The term Basin State refers to New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia or the Australian Capital Territory.
Procedures for gaining access to information
Within the department Freedom of Information matters are handled by the Legal Section in the Policy Coordination Division. Contact details for the freedom of information coordinator are:
Phone: (02) 6275 2721
Fax: (02) 6274 1587
Written requests for access to documents should be addressed to:
The Freedom of Information Coordinator
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
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