Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012
Corporate outcome: External scrutiny
Courts and tribunals
There were no significant judicial or administrative decisions directly affecting the department's operations.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman did not issue any formal reports about the operation of the department.
The department received four notifications of investigation in relation to particular programs. Of the four matters, one has been finalised on the basis of the Ombudsman's determination that no further investigation was warranted, and the remaining three matters are yet to be finalised.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) released two performance audits specific to the department during 2011-12.
Audit Report No. 14 2011-12 Indigenous Protected Areas
The National Reserve System (NRS) is Australia's terrestrial network of protected areas. The Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) program was implemented in 1997 as a vehicle to support Indigenous land management and to increase the size of the NRS and improve its comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness.
The ANAO found that overall the program was effective in increasing land contributed to the NRS, and particularly successful in bringing Indigenous land into the NRS through its effective model of consultative engagement with Indigenous landowners. The department noted the finding that ongoing funding is needed to support the management of IPAs and is working to develop options for future funding.
Audit Report No. 38 2011-12 Administration of the Private Irrigation Infrastructure Operators Program in New South Wales
Under the Private Irrigation Infrastructure Operators Program in New South Wales, the Australian Government provides funding to NSW private irrigation infrastructure operators in the Murray-Darling Basin. The funds are to acquire water entitlements resulting from water savings from eligible projects to improve the efficiency of water use. The department applies a grants-based framework to administer the program and help secure a sustainable future for irrigation communities.
The ANAO assessed the effectiveness of the department's administration of the program. The department is working to implement the three recommendations made by the ANAO.
Parliamentary committee reports
Environment and Communication References Committee—The koala: saving our national icon
This report was tabled in September 2011 following the Senate Inquiry into the status, health and sustainability of Australia's koala population. Information gathered during the inquiry for the report was taken into consideration by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee in its assessment of the status of the koala under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Joint Standing Committee on Treaties
Treaties tabled on 7 February 2012-Amendments to Appendices I and II to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn, 23 June 1979) at Bergen on 25 November 2011.
As is the case for all treaties, it is a requirement that when any amendments are made to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Appendices, a National Interest Analysis must be tabled in parliament for the scrutiny of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. A National Interest Analysis was tabled in parliament on 7 February 2012 which outlined obligations arising from the inclusion of the eastern curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) and the giant manta ray (Manta birostris) on the appendices to the CMS. Departmental officers appeared at a public hearing on the matter on 1 June 2012 and the committee’s report was tabled in parliament on 21 June 2012. The committee concluded that the National Interest Analysis should be supported with binding action.
Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-30
On 28 May 2012, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts tabled its first interim report Case studies on biodiversity conservation: Volume 1. The committee reserved its right to provide recommendations in the final report.
Joint Standing Committee on Treaties—Measure 1 (2005) Annex VI to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty: Measure 4 (2004) Insurance and contingency planning for tourism and non-governmental activities in the Antarctic Treaty area; Liability arising from environmental emergencies; and Measure 15 (2009) Landing of persons from passenger vessels in the Antarctic Treaty area. Report 120 of 12 October 2011.
The department attended a hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties on 22 August 2011. The hearing discussed three measures adopted under Article IX of the Antarctic Treaty and Article 9 of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The committee recommended that binding treaty action be taken in respect of each measure.
House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts—Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011.
On 24 November 2011, the House Selection Committee referred the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 to the Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts for an advisory report. During its inquiry the committee received a private briefing from the department to discuss aspects of the bill. A statement was made on behalf of the committee to the House of Representatives on 16 February 2012 discharging the committee's requirement to make a report.
Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills—Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011. Alert Digest No 1 of 2012.
The Bill amended the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 to implement Australia's international obligations under three measures adopted under Article IX of the Antarctic Treaty and Article 9 of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The committee's report (Alert Digest No. 1 of 2012) noted and provided comment on items within the Bill concerning commencement, the reversal of onus of proof, and standing appropriations. No follow-up action was requested.
Joint Standing Committee on Treaties—Amendment to Annex 1 of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels
On 1 June 2012, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties considered a proposal to amend Annex 1 of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels to add the northern hemisphere petrel species, the Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus) to the list of species covered by the Agreement. The committee agreed to deal with the amendment as a minor treaty action.
Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories—Public Hearing on the Advancement of Australia's Interests in Antarctica
On 27 June 2012 the department gave evidence to this Committee on various issues relating to the achievement of Outcome 3, including on Antarctic operations, science and tourism.
Inquiry into the provisions of the Water Act 2007
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee Inquiry report, A Balancing Act: Provisions of the Water Act 2007, was tabled on 10 June 2011. The department coordinated the government's response, which was tabled on 27 March 2012.
The Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications—Legislation Committee
The National Water Commission Amendment Bill 2012 (the Bill) was referred to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee on the recommendation of the Selection of Bills Committee in its report of 22 March 2012. The Committee's Inquiry report on the National Water Commission Amendment Bill 2012 was tabled on 1 May 2012. The Committee recommended the Bill be passed before 30 June 2012. The Bill was passed and given royal assent on 27 June 2012.
The Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development) Bill 2012 [Provisions]
The Bill amended the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) to establish an Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development as a statutory authority to provide federal, state and territory governments with scientific advice on coal seam gas and large coalmining developments which may have significant impacts on water resources. The Committee’s report was tabled on 20 June 2012.
Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Protecting Australia's Water Resources) Bill 2011
The Bill amended the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to provide that mining operations require Commonwealth approval if they will have, or are likely to have, significant impact on the quality, structural integrity or hydraulic balance of a water resource; and impose penalties. The Committee’s report was tabled on 27 February 2012.
Senate Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee Management of the Murray-Darling Basin Interim report: the impact of mining coal seam gas on the management of the Murray-Darling Basin
This committee's inquiry into the coal seam gas industry is a subset of its broader inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin and its capacity to maintain its position as a significant food producer in the context of reduced availability of water for agriculture, both as a result of water management decisions and, potentially, as a consequence of changing weather patterns resulting from climate change. The Committee’s Interim Report was tabled on 30 November 2011.
House of Representatives Committee on Regional Australia Inquiry into the impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in Regional Australia
The Committee's report, titled Of drought and flooding rains, was tabled on 2 June 2011.
The department coordinated the government's response, which was tabled on 24 November 2011.
Inquiry into the Performance of the Department of Parliamentary Services
On 1 July 2011 the Finance and Public Administration Legislative Committee invited the Australian Heritage Council (the council) to provide a written submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Performance of the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS). The invitation referenced item (b) policies and practices followed by DPS for the management of the Heritage Values of Parliament House and its contents.
In its submission, provided on 12 August 2011, the council commented on delays in the finalisation of DPS's Heritage Strategy under the EPBC Act. The department also met with DPS officers to discuss progress with the strategy. The council is now satisfied with DPS's progress in relation to the heritage protection of Parliament House, including the development of a Heritage Management Framework as revisions to its draft Heritage Strategy, previously submitted in 2008. DPS also established a Heritage Advisory Board and invited a departmental officer as an adviser to the Board.
Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
On 17 August 2011 the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, the Hon. Simon Crean MP, asked the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories to inquire into and report on the administration of the National Memorials Ordinance 1928. This Ordinance covers the building of memorials of national significance in Canberra. In its submission, the department recommended giving explicit reference in the ordinance to the possible need for approvals to be obtained under the EPBC Act.
On 23 November 2011 the Committee tabled its report, titled Etched in Stone, which recommended, among other matters, that the Ordinance be repealed and replaced and that new heritage impact processes be incorporated into the principal features of the proposed new legislation.
Hawke Review of the National Capital Authority
The department provided input to the Australian government's response to Dr Allan Hawke's review into the future role of the National Capital Authority in February 2012. Two recommendations related to heritage matters.
The Australian Government response to the Hawke Review was released in May 2012.