Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2009
Secretary of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
Robyn Kruk AM
The department has stewardship of policies, programs, legislation and stakeholder relationships which help to sustain and enhance the natural and cultural fabric of Australia. This is a great responsibility.
I have joined the department at a very exciting time. The environment and cultural agenda has been presented with opportunities and challenges by the downturn in global economic conditions in 2008-09.
In February 2009, together with a number of other Australian Government agencies, the department commenced work on implementing the $4 billion Energy Efficient Homes Package announced as part of the Australian Government's $42 billion Nation Building - Economic Stimulus Plan. The Plan is helping to stimulate employment and the economy and assist the community in adapting to a low-carbon future, by improving the energy efficiency of homes, businesses and community organisations.
Job creation and support for emerging artists and performers has also featured in the department's artistic and cultural agenda. Over 500 arts and culture jobs were created during 2008-09 for Indigenous people previously engaged by Community Development Employment Projects. The department's Artbank program invested an unprecedented $1 million in the purchase of artworks from emerging contemporary artists. Funding of $11.8 million over four years is enabling ongoing cultural development in regional and remote Australia, and assistance for the professional skills development of regional artists.
Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government's central piece of environmental legislation. Section 522A of the Act requires it to be reviewed every 10 years from its commencement. On 31 October 2008 the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts commissioned an independent review of the Act. The review, led by Dr Allan Hawke and supported by an expert panel, was undertaken during 2008-09. The department provided secretariat support for the review. The review assessed the operation of the EPBC Act and the extent to which its objectives have been achieved. The interim report was released in June 2009 and the final report will be presented to the minister in the latter half of 2009.
The Council of Australian Governments affirmed its commitment to introducing a comprehensive National Strategy for Energy Efficiency to help households and businesses reduce their energy costs, improve the productivity of our economy and reduce the cost of greenhouse gas abatement under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The scope of the strategy encompasses all areas in the economy where substantial cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities exist. These include commercial buildings, residential buildings, appliances and equipment, industry and business, government, transport, skills, innovation, advice and education. During 2008-09 the department delivered a suite of initiatives aimed at helping households and businesses to become more energy efficient and stimulating economic activity, including the early delivery of the Homeowner Insulation Program, the Low Emissions Assistance Plan for Renters and the enhanced Solar Hot Water Rebate Program.
Caring for our Country initiative
On 1 July 2008 the Australian Government commenced its Caring for our Country initiative which seeks to achieve an environment that is healthy, better protected, well-managed and resilient, and provides essential ecosystem services in a changing climate. In its first five years (from July 2008 to June 2013), the Australian Government will invest over $2 billion through the initiative to secure improved strategic outcomes across six national priority areas.
Under Caring for our Country, six Indigenous Protected Areas, covering over 330 000 hectares, were declared in 2008-09. The program also promotes the integration of Indigenous ecological and cultural knowledge into the management of these areas. Caring for our Country funding of $50 million over five years is contributing to a significant expansion of environmental and cultural outcomes on Indigenous Protected Areas with a total of $4.6 million expended in grants and support of projects during 2008-09.
The National Biodiversity Strategy made substantial progress during 2008-09. The draft Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-20, was released for public consultation on 23 March 2009. The consultation draft of Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-20 sets national directions for biodiversity conservation over the next decade. The department is the secretariat to the review task group.
The Australian Government is providing $60 million for heritage projects as part of its $650 million Jobs Fund. Of the total $60 million, $6 million was committed during the 2008-09 financial year to ensure benefits start to flow to communities immediately. A number of high quality heritage projects, focused on protecting, conserving and promoting Australia's natural, Indigenous and historic heritage, have been identified by the department, approved by the minister, and commenced during 2008-09.
Australia's World, National and Commonwealth Heritage places are of natural, Indigenous or historic significance or any combination of the three. The department supports the Australian Heritage Council which provides assessment advice to the minister on nominations to the National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists, and advises property managers of listed places on heritage management plans and strategies. In 2008-09 the department finalised the nomination of Ningaloo Coast with its addition to the Australian World Heritage Tentative List. The minister listed three National Heritage places: the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout; the Australian Alps; and the QANTAS Hangar, Longreach.
In 2008-09 the department dealt with 22 applications for protection of places under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (ATSIHP Act). This recourse is available only when there is no effective protection under state or territory laws. The department achieved its target of dealing with all of applications under the ATSIHP Act before threatening activity commenced.
In January 2009 the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts announced the review of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986. The department is providing secretariat support to the review. This major review will consider the operation of the legislation and the extent to which it is achieving its purpose. Submissions, which closed in March 2009, were sought from state and territory governments, members of the community and industry. The outcomes of the review are expected in the latter half of 2009.
The International Polar Year activities concluded at the end of the 2008-09 season. Australian scientists participated in 72 of the 228 projects, led 8 of them and co-led three projects. The department also actively participated in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting with Australia:
- leading the Parties to agree to improved treaty-level arrangements for the conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora, and
- securing an update to the Antarctic protected area management plans for Mawson's Huts.
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) also provided support to the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), in return for support by a USAP ski equipped Hercules Aircraft in the medical evacuation of an injured Australian expeditioner from Davis Station at the start of the season. A total of eight flights were provided for the USAP, moving a total of 570 passengers between Christchurch and McMurdo Station.
Water shortages for cities and towns, farmers and the environment, particularly in southern Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin, have kept this vital resource near the top of the national agenda. The department is working to prepare Australia for a future with less water through the Water for the Future initiative. A key reform was finally achieved in December when the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) gained powers to manage water use in the Basin on a sustainable basis. By 2011, the MDBA's Basin plan will set new limits on diversions for every Basin catchment and aquifer.
A priority is to help rural communities achieve long-term sustainability in this new environment. The first of many rural infrastructure projects was completed in South Australia in early 2009, on time and under budget. Grants are available for operators of irrigation systems and rural communities to plan for a future with less water. Meanwhile, the program to purchase water entitlements is closing the gap between present and likely future diversion limits, and individual farmers can use the injection of capital to adapt. Extensive formal and informal dialogue with stakeholders informs the department's policy formulation and decision making.
Major urban programs are successfully delivering infrastructure that will improve the water security of cities and towns, and encourage smarter, more efficient use of water by individuals, families, communities and businesses.
The continuing drought in the south-east puts relentless pressure on unique river and wetland ecosystems. A highlight of the year was the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder's first use of water at ten high priority environmental sites in the Murray Darling Basin. Programs and policies now exist to ensure that we progressively restore the balance by steadily increasing volumes of water for priority environmental sites.
The inaugural Prime Minister's Literary Awards presentation was held on 12 December 2008. These prestigious literary awards - the nation's most generous - are designed to recognise Australia's great talent, as well as foster and inspire new generations of writers.
On 4 December 2008 the National Portrait Gallery opened its highly acclaimed new building to the public. The inaugural hang in the new building included over 400 paintings, sculptures, photographs and new media portraits displayed across seven gallery spaces. Increased provision of public learning and recreational opportunities were also a significant part of the Gallery's expanded program. Greatly increased visitor numbers demonstrate the success of the Gallery's new building and programs, with 447 782 people visiting since its opening to 30 June 2009.
Support for the Indigenous arts, languages, culture and broadcasting sectors was expanded during 2008-09, with over 500 jobs for Indigenous people being created in regional and remote areas. The department drove development of a national Indigenous Contemporary Music Action Plan funding five emerging Indigenous groups or musicians in its pilot program; the Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records program supported 69 projects across Australia, totalling $8.892 million, and incorporating in the order of 200 languages; the Indigenous Culture Support program supported 140 projects, totalling $6.928 million; the National Arts and Crafts Industry Support program provided $8.23 million for 87 activities; and the Indigenous Broadcasting program supported 71 activities nationally worth $13.926 million.
The department also made significant progress in the development of a national arts and disability strategy, whose working group is chaired by the department. The group is gathering information on activities across jurisdictions which aim to increase access and participation in the arts for people with a disability. More than 115 submissions were received from a broad range of stakeholders on issues of importance and ideas for improving access and participation for people with a disability in arts and cultural activities. This feedback will inform the development of the strategy which is expected to be finalised during 2009-10.
1 July 2008 marked a new approach for supporting the film industry with the successful establishment of two new screen agencies - Screen Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive. Bilateral film co-production agreements with Singapore (16 October 2008) and China (19 December 2008) entered into force. It was a strong year for Australian film with highlights including Adam Elliot's Mary and Max, Warwick Thornton's Samson and Delilah and Baz Luhrmann's Australia.
In December 2008 the department bid farewell to Mr David Borthwick, Secretary of the department since February 2004. I would like to thank Mr Borthwick for his work in developing this department into what it is today. Before Mr Borthwick's departure, much work was done at the start of 2008-09 to improve the integration of the arts and culture responsibilities into the portfolio.
The formal introduction and operation of the department's new project management framework in June 2009 has also played a key role in ensuring that the government's priorities are being carefully implemented, monitored and met.
In the lead up to the 2009-10 Budget, the department also developed a set of new outcome statements which seek to better align our work with the government's priorities. I look forward to presenting the 2009-10 annual report against these 'sharper lines', and to continuing to improve the way in which we measure our performance against these outcomes and improve accountability.
The Strategic Plan outlines the department's mission and priorities, goals and directions for the 2009-10 financial year with a vision of where the department wants to be in five year's time. The Plan is a living document that will be updated annually to ensure we understand our priorities and can review our progress against them. It provides the basis for DEWHA's business planning - for division, branch, section and individual performance plans linked to our key Outcomes in the Strategic Plan and Portfolio Budget Statements 2009-10.
During the year the department's Executive Management Group was focused on developing a common purpose and shared vision within our diverse portfolio. This effort resulted in the development of a revised departmental Strategic Plan which is now available on the department's website. This important document will help ensure that the department maintains a unified direction for business planning.
Robyn Kruk AM
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