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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Environment Australia Annual Report 2001-02

Environment Australia, 2002
ISSN 1441-9335

Reports - Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (continued)
1. Protecting the Environment

1.1 Focusing on matters of national environmental significance

The Act continued to provide comprehensive protection for matters of national environmental significance. In 2001-02, 309 actions were referred to the Minister under the Act. The Minister decided that 94 actions would have, or were likely to have, a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance. One additional action, while not impacting on a matter of national environmental significance, did require approval under Division 2 of Part 3 of the Act (Protection of the environment from proposals involving the Commonwealth). As a result, 95 actions in 2001-02 became subject to environmental assessment and approval under the Act.

The matters of national environmental significance identified in the Act as possible controlling provisions are the World Heritage values of declared World Heritage properties, the ecological character of declared Ramsar1 wetlands; listed threatened species and ecological communities; listed migratory species; the Commonwealth marine environment; and nuclear actions that have, will have or are likely to have a significant impact on the environment. As shown in Figure 1, ‘listed threatened species and ecological communities’ is the matter of national environmental significance triggered most often in controlled actions (75 times) followed by ‘listed migratory species’ (57 times). Sixty-four per cent of controlled actions triggered more than one matter of national environmental significance, while 21 per cent triggered more than two (see Appendix 1 of this report for details of all controlling provisions).

As of 30 June 2002, 55 actions affecting matters of national environmental significance were undergoing an assessment process (i.e. a decision had been made on the assessment approach but assessment had not been completed). Appendix 1 provides information on the types of assessment approaches used. There were no significant differences in the application of the different assessment approaches to the various matters of national environmental significance. The exception was the Commonwealth marine area where a relatively higher number of actions triggering this matter were being assessed by environmental impact statement or public environment report and a lower number of actions being assessed through an accredited assessment process. This reflects the scale of these actions and their location in the Commonwealth jurisdiction where assessment cannot be undertaken through state or territory processes.

Twenty-six actions were approved in 2001-02 with a range of conditions to ensure matters of national environmental significance were protected.


Matters of National Environmental Significance Triggered by Controlled Actions

Figure 1. Matters of National Environmental Significance Triggered by Controlled Actions

The following summarises the significant issues that have arisen with referral of actions in relation to each of the matters of national environmental significance.

World Heritage
Following initial screening, 30 actions were further scrutinised by Environment Australia to determine whether they were likely to have a significant impact on the World Heritage values of a World Heritage property. Referrals were spread across 14 activity categories with over half of the total represented by the tourism, recreation and conservation, mining and aquaculture categories. The largest proportion of referrals received (37 per cent) related to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area, while there were no referrals received in relation to seven of the 14 World Heritage properties (Appendix 1 of this report).

Of the 30 actions scrutinised in relation to their impact on World Heritage values, 13 were found to be controlled actions. The largest number of these (five) was in relation to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage property followed by the Wet Tropics of Queensland (four). The Greater Blue Mountains area triggered two controlled actions while Willandra Lakes and Fraser Island triggered one each.

During 2001-02, three controlled actions that had World Heritage as a controlling provision were approved. Two of these related to the Great Barrier Reef while the third related to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

Wetlands of international importance
Following initial screening, 76 actions were further scrutinised by Environment Australia to determine whether they were likely to have a significant impact on the ecological character of a Ramsar wetland. It was decided that 20 actions were controlled actions.

Ramsar wetlands that were most commonly affected by proposed actions tended to occur within developed areas, often on the coastline, such as Moreton Bay (Queensland), Newcastle’s Kooragang Nature Reserve (New South Wales) and Port Phillip Bay (Victoria). Water transport (including port developments, dredging and associated works) was the most common activity category affecting Ramsar wetlands, followed by energy generation and supply. The most common potential impacts on Ramsar wetlands from water transport activities relate to changes to hydrology and changes to nutrient/chemical/sediment levels. These impacts could in turn result in destruction and/or modification of areas of wetland habitat.

During 2001-02, four controlled actions that had Ramsar wetlands as a controlling provision were approved.

Listed threatened species and ecological communities
Following initial screening, 284 actions were further scrutinised by Environment Australia to determine whether they were likely to have a significant impact on a listed threatened species and/or ecological community. It was decided that 75 actions were controlled actions.

The most common actions potentially affecting listed threatened species and ecological communities in the marine environment were those related to aquaculture, coastal development, oil and gas activities and marine construction. The main issues considered were impacts on marine turtles and cetaceans through degradation of feeding and breeding habitat critical to the survival of the species in question. Activities that may influence an animal’s behaviour or movement in such a way as to impair successful migration, reproduction or feeding also required consideration.

The majority of terrestrial actions referred for wildlife impact in 2001-02 were property developments in south-east Queensland, or on the urban fringe of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, where the relatively high level of development activity is encroaching on significant wildlife habitat. Proposals to develop wind farms in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia all involved possible conflict with important habitat for orange-bellied parrots which favour the windswept coastal heathy woodlands and saltmarshes.

During 2001-02, 20 controlled actions that had threatened species and ecological communities as a controlling provision were approved.

Case study: Tasmanian Natural Gas Pipeline - Stage 2 and Stage 3 Duke Energy International

The Tasmanian Natural Gas Pipeline connects Tasmania with the mainland gas supply network. Stage 1 of the project (from Victoria to Bell Bay, Tasmania) was assessed under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 (repealed in 2000). Stages 2
and 3 (Stage 2 from Bell Bay south to Hobart and Stage 3 from Bell Bay west to Port Latta) were the first projects to be assessed under the bilateral agreement with Tasmania.

Both projects required approval under the Act because of potential construction impacts on listed threatened and migratory species (including the wedge-tailed eagle (Tasmanian subspecies), the swift parrot and the spotted-tail quoll). Potential environmental impacts on the key listed species were addressed through both assessment and approvals phases. The pipeline route was modified during the environmental assessment process to avoid threatened species habitats as much as possible. In setting the conditions of approval, Environment Australia drew on the outcomes of the Tasmanian assessment process and the mitigation measures proposed by the proponent.

The conditions of approval are both prescriptive and open ended in nature. For example, the width of the cleared construction area was limited to 20 metres in areas of sensitive swift parrot habitat. Another condition required the submission of a swift parrot management plan to address, amongst other things, the rehabilitation of degraded habitat to ensure no net loss of swift parrot habitat. The proponent’s performance will be audited against this plan and the other conditions of approval.

Listed migratory species
Following initial screening, 279 actions were further scrutinised by Environment Australia to determine whether they were likely to have a significant impact on listed migratory species. It was decided that 57 actions were controlled actions.

Actions associated with coastal developments and marine infrastructure developments (for example, ports and land reclamation activities) were assessed in terms of potential habitat degradation, changes in water quality and physical interference. The main migratory species affected were marine turtles, cetaceans and dugong. Controlled actions tended to be those that potentially impacted on important feeding and breeding areas for listed migratory species.

Oil and gas exploration, seismic surveying and mining activities were more of a concern for large migratory cetaceans. There has been increasing concern about the effect that seismic activities may have on cetacean behaviour and physiology. Environment Australia liaised with the Department of Defence over several referred actions to determine acceptable noise levels emitted by sonar equipment and acoustic explosives. Although the Guidelines on the Application of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to Interactions Between Offshore Seismic Operations and Larger Cetaceans were developed for seismic activities, the recommended sound levels were used to establish benchmarks of significance when assessing other marine noise-related referrals.

Migratory waterbirds were also affected along the coastline of Australia. Manufacturing and energy generation and supply were the most common activity categories affecting listed migratory waterbirds, followed by water transport. The most common potential impacts on listed migratory waterbirds relate to habitat modification and/or destruction (particularly roosting and feeding sites) and physical and/or noise disturbance from activities undertaken in close proximity to areas of important habitat.

During 2001-02, 16 controlled actions that had migratory species as a controlling provision were approved.

Protection of the environment from nuclear actions
Three referrals involving potential nuclear actions were received in 2001-02. A proposal by Compass Resources NL to develop and operate a polymetallic (copper, nickel, cobalt and silver) mine in the area known as Browns and Browns East approximately 65 kilometres south of Darwin in the Northern Territory was decided to be a controlled action. The Browns East deposit overlaps the abandoned Rum Jungle uranium mine and its associated tailings and overburden emplacements, and there is the potential for radioactive materials to be mobilised during the project. This proposal is being assessed by an accredited approach, namely an environmental impact statement under the Northern Territory Environment Assessment Act 1982.

A proposal at the Lucas Heights Science and Technology Centre at Lucas Heights in Sydney to construct a waste treatment and packaging building, and a separate proposal at the same site for placement of fill from the site of the replacement research reactor, were decided not to be controlled actions under the Act.

Assessments continued during the year on two controlled actions involving nuclear actions. A proposal by Steritech Pty Ltd to construct and operate a gamma irradiation, sterilisation and decontamination facility at Narangba in Queensland was assessed and approved with conditions. Potential impacts on local residents and the environment that needed to be addressed included leakage of radiation from activities such as the transport, storage and use of the radioactive source. The assessment documentation was also reviewed by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.

The other nuclear controlled action was the proposal by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training to construct the National Low Level Radioactive Waste Repository in the north of South Australia. The action involves the establishment, operation and decommissioning of a near-surface repository for low-level and short-lived intermediate level radioactive waste, sourced from establishments such as hospitals, scientific and educational facilities throughout Australia. Potential impacts include contamination of underground aquifers, and exposure of people and the environment to radioactivity during the conditioning, transport, handling and storage of low-level radioactive materials. These issues are being examined in a comprehensive draft environmental impact statement released for public review in July 2002. The assessment of this proposal is not yet complete.

Marine environment
Following initial screening, 85 actions were further scrutinised by Environment Australia to determine whether they were likely to affect the marine environment. It was decided that nine were controlled actions.

The impact of petroleum activities and marine infrastructure developments on habitat and marine biodiversity were the main concerns associated with controlled actions. Dumping of dredge material, noise associated with drilling and seismic surveys, and impacts on water quality were assessed for potential habitat degradation and possible interference with cetaceans.

A problem in addressing impacts on species in the marine environment is the lack of information on species distribution and abundance and the need to establish significance benchmarks. Environment Australia is working to address these issues through further research and capacity building activities.

During 2001-02, one controlled action that had the marine environment as a controlling provision was approved. This was the proposal by Agip Australia Limited for light crude oil production.

Further statistics concerning matters of national environmental significance are in Appendix 1 of this report.

1.2 Protecting the environment where proposals involve the Commonwealth

Actions on Commonwealth land and Commonwealth actions
Following initial screening, 24 actions were further scrutinised by Environment Australia to determine whether they were likely to trigger the controlling provision in the Act relating to Commonwealth land. It was decided that ten were controlled actions. Twenty-nine actions by the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth agency were referred to Environment Australia with six actions triggering the Act. All controlled actions except one also triggered matters of national environmental significance. This action was the proposal by Australian Defence Industries Ltd for the modernisation of the Mulwala Munitions Plant (New South Wales).

Actions referred by the Department of Defence, the CSIRO and Australia Post included remediation of contaminated sites on Commonwealth land. Several proposals outside Commonwealth land but with the potential for impact on Commonwealth land were also referred under section 26(2) of the Act. These included a proposed 50 hectare municipal landfill about 500 metres from Commonwealth land at the Puckapunyal Army Base, Victoria. In relation to this proposal, Environment Australia decided that significant impacts on the environment of the Commonwealth land were not likely because risks from contaminated runoff, dust, odour or other landfill impacts were low.

The Department of Defence also referred a proposal to develop a new headquarters to accommodate up to 1000 people near Bungendore, New South Wales. This was determined to be a controlled action. Several proposals to upgrade infrastructure on Christmas Island were also referred and determined to be controlled actions.

During 2001-02, one controlled action that had Commonwealth land as a controlling provision was approved. This was the proposal by Voyage Hotels & Resorts Pty Ltd for a luxury wilderness tented campsite at Ayers Rock Resort. One controlled action with Commonwealth actions as a controlling provision was also approved - the proposal by the Shire of Christmas Island for Lily Beach recreational facilities.

Advice on authorising actions
Section 160 of the Act requires Commonwealth agencies or employees of the Commonwealth, before authorising certain actions, to obtain and consider advice from the Minister, where those actions are likely to have a significant impact on the environment. These actions include foreign aid projects, managing aircraft operations in airspace, adopting or implementing airport development plans and other actions prescribed in the Regulations. During 2001-02, three projects, all relating to airport development plans, were referred to the Minister under section 160. These were a multi-level car park at Melbourne Airport (Australia Pacific Airports (Melbourne) Pty Ltd), the Qantas Aircraft Maintenance Base at Brisbane Airport (Qantas Airways Ltd), and office buildings at Sydney Airport (Sydney Airports Corporation Ltd). Environmental assessments were completed and advice was provided on all three actions.

A summary of the status of actions referred to the Minister for advice under section 160 is in Appendix 1 of this report.

1.3 Increasing intergovernmental cooperation and reducing duplication

Bilateral agreements are a key feature of the Act and their establishment continues to be a high priority. Through a bilateral agreement, states and territories are delegated the responsibility for conducting environmental assessments under the Act and, in limited circumstances, the responsibility for deciding whether to grant approval for an action. The focus continues to be on assessment bilateral agreements that will accredit state and territory environmental assessment processes and promote best practice assessment.

A bilateral agreement between the Commonwealth and Tasmania has been in place since 15 December 2000. A number of projects have been assessed under the agreement including stages 2 and 3 of the Tasmania Natural Gas Project, to construct and operate a gas pipeline from Victoria to Tasmania, and the Meander Dam proposal. The accredited Tasmanian assessment process for both projects was the Development Proposal and Environment Management Plan under the Tasmanian Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994.

Experience to date with Tasmania indicates that assessment of projects under the bilateral agreement provides the necessary information for the Minister to make well-informed decisions on whether or not to approve the actions, as well as saving time, effort and cost to proponents and both governments.

In May 2002, an assessment bilateral agreement was established between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory to accredit the preparation of public environment reports and environmental impact statements under the Northern Territory Environmental Assessment Act 1982, and inquiries carried out under the Northern Territory Inquiries Act. In 2001-02 no assessments were conducted under the agreement.

In June 2002, Western Australia also signed an assessment bilateral agreement which accredits the preparation of public environment reports and environmental review and management programmes under the Western Australian Environmental Protection Act 1986.

Development of bilateral agreements with New South Wales and Queensland is well advanced. It is expected that public comments will be sought early in 2002-03 on a revised Queensland bilateral agreement.

Further progress on the development of bilateral agreements with Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory awaits the outcome of reviews being conducted by both jurisdictions of their environment protection legislation.

The former South Australian government declined to participate in the development of a bilateral agreement. The views of the new South Australian government on this matter have been sought.

In the absence of bilateral agreements, intergovernmental duplication between Commonwealth and state/territory environmental assessment processes is being minimised through the use of case-by-case accreditation of assessment processes, and coordinated assessments.

1.4 Providing a more efficient, timely and effective assessment and approval process with greater certainty

Environment Australia has put in place administrative arrangements to ensure timely and efficient processing of referrals, assessments and approvals. These are being refined as experience is gained with the operation of the Act. Many decisions are being made well within the maximum times provided for in the Act.

In 2001-02, 309 actions were referred to the Commonwealth for decision on whether approval was required under the Act. The Minister decided that 95 actions were controlled actions. Twenty-six actions were approved.

The status as of 30 June 2002 of actions referred for approval is shown in Figure 2.

Referral for Approval Process Stream

Figure 2. Referral for Approval Process Stream

Further statistics on referral screening, assessment and approval are in Appendix 1 of this report.

Screening of referred actions
The overall number of referrals received, state and sectoral breakdowns and percentage of controlled action decisions were consistent with trends in 2000-01. Queensland has a significantly higher percentage of controlled action decisions when compared to the other states. This may reflect the high values of much of the Queensland coast as represented by the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area and important Ramsar wetlands. The distribution of referrals received and controlled actions in 2001-02 is shown in Figure 3.

Distribution of Referrals and Controlled Actions 2001-02

Figure 3 Distribution of Referrals and Controlled Actions 2001-02

Activity categories for which a relatively large number of referrals continue to be received are energy generation and supply (particularly wind farms) and tourism, recreation and conservation management. The high number of wind farm referrals may reflect progress in achieving the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target Measure required by the Commonwealth Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000.

Tourist and recreational projects referred include Castaway Bay at Cliffords Beach on the Queensland Whitsunday Coast, upgrade of the Happy Valley Resort on Fraser Island, upgrade of access and walking track facilities at Cradle Mountain, Tasmania, upgrade of the Myall Shore Eco-Tourism Resort at Myall Lakes, New South Wales and the proposed North Arm Cove Resort on the shores of Port Stephens, New South Wales.

The number of late decisions on whether an action requires approval (over the 10/20 business days stipulated under the Act) continued to decline. There were 19 late decisions in 2001-02, which is 6 per cent of the total referral decisions made in the year. This compares with 45 late decisions in 2000-01 (17 per cent of total referral decisions for that year).

The average days late since the Act commenced on 16 July 2000 is less than three business days. Where the statutory timeframe was not met, this was due to the need to seek legal advice on issues related to the decision, and/or the need to seek further advice on complex or difficult proposals, and/or delays caused by travel or absence of decision makers.

The 20-day period includes a ten day opportunity for public comment. This has been facilitated by publishing referrals for comment on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation web site. Comments were received on 50 referrals.

Sub-section 77(4) of the Act allows a person taking an action that the Minister has decided is a controlled action to request reasons for the decision. During 2001-02, 13 such requests were handled, one of which was withdrawn. The timeframe for meeting these requests was not met for six requests due to the need to seek legal advice or the need to meet other statutory timeframes associated with referrals. Performance in meeting this timeframe has, however, improved since 2000-01 and continued to improve throughout 2001-02.

Section 77(3) of the Act provides for the Minister to decide that a referred proposal is not a controlled action provided he/she believes it will be taken in a particular or specified manner. This provision may be appropriately used when there is clear evidence that a particular mitigation measure can and will be employed to avoid significant impacts.

Seventeen referrals during 2001-02 did not require approval because of the specified manner in which they were to be undertaken. Six of these related to offshore seismic petroleum surveys and the remainder to pipelines and various onshore developments. The manner for the seismic survey proposals typically specified timing of the survey to avoid key periods when whales could be present and also required compliance with the Guidelines on the Application of the EPBC Act to Interactions between Offshore Seismic Operations and Larger Cetaceans (Environment Australia, October 2001).

The Minister exempted one action - the Christmas Island Immigration Reception and Processing Centre - from Part 3 of the Act under section 158 and Part 13 under section 303A.

On 9 November 2001 the Minister, in the interests of Australia’s defence and security, declared that actions undertaken outside the Australian jurisdiction that are directly related to the deployment and operation of Australian Defence Force elements in Central Asia in support of the international efforts against terrorism are actions to which section 28 of the Act does not apply.

Assessment of controlled actions
The Act provides a range of assessment approaches to ensure that environmental assessment reflects the nature of the activity, the adequacy of information already available, the degree of public interest and the nature and scale of the likely impacts.

In 2001-02, the Minister made a decision on assessment approach for 63 controlled actions (see Figure 4). Assessment by accredited process was decided upon for 24 projects reflecting increasing cooperation between the Commonwealth and states and territories. Assessment by public environment report was decided for four projects and assessment by environmental impact statement for eight projects. A full list of projects undergoing assessment through a public environment report or environmental impact statement is in Appendix 1 of this report.

Assessment Approach Decisions

Figure 4. Assessment Approach Decisions

Once again, compliance with timeframes in the Act is continuing to improve. Ninety-two per cent of the 63 decisions on assessment approach were made within the statutory timeframes of 20 or 30 business days of deciding that the action is a controlled action, or after the proponent has provided preliminary information, whichever is the later. This compares with 82 per cent for 2000-01. Where the statutory timeframe was not met, this was due to the need to seek legal advice on issues related to the decision, and/or the need to seek further advice on complex or difficult proposals, and/or delays caused by absence of decision makers.

The Act requires the Minister to prepare written guidelines for the content of a public environment report or environmental impact statement within a 20-day statutory timeframe. Three guidelines prepared during 2001-02 were outside the timeframe: two due to staff absences over the Christmas-New Year period, and one due to the need to provide further advice to the Minister on aspects of the guidelines.

Environment Australia completed 25 assessment reports following preparation of relevant documentation by the proponent. All of these reports were completed within the 20-day statutory timeframe except for one report where there was a delay in obtaining specialist advice. This again demonstrates that proponents have been able to rely on a predictable and timely assessment and approval process under the Act.

Approval of controlled actions
Twenty-six controlled actions were approved in 2001-02, and a further eight were awaiting a decision on approval as of 30 June 2002. Approval has not been refused for any action. Actions approved included the Dendrobium Coal Mine in New South Wales, the Emu Mountain Residential Development on the Gold Coast, the Woolnorth Wind Farm in Tasmania and the Protech Cold Steel Mill Facility in Newcastle.

Only one approval decision was made outside the statutory time frame. This delay was due to the complexity of the issues under consideration and did not result in any delays to the project. Many approval decisions were made well before the statutory deadline, often in order to accommodate proponents’ commercial timeframes. For example, the Apache/Simpson Oil Field Development was approved on 17 September 2001, although the statutory deadline was 11 October, and construction of new recreational facilities on Christmas Island was approved on 20 February 2002, although the statutory deadline was 8 March. This did not compromise full consideration of relevant environmental impacts.

Most approvals granted were conditional. The conditions attached to approvals were designed to safeguard the matters protected by the Act. Some examples of conditions are requirements to avoid activities at certain ecologically critical times; take specific measures to control turbidity; relocate populations of key species; and prepare detailed plans for the Minister’s approval to reduce impacts of operations on various aspects of the environment.

Environment Australia has established a system for following up conditions of approval. The system is risk-based and balances the need to ensure that conditions of approval are observed with the need to reduce the compliance burden on proponents. Environment Australia’s emphasis is on a cooperative approach which helps proponents comply with their obligations under the Act. For example, where conditions require that management plans be submitted for the Minister’s approval, Environment Australia contacts the proponent before the plan is due to ensure that the requirements are understood and to offer advice in meeting them.

Strategic assessment
Draft terms of reference for a strategic assessment by the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources on oil and gas exploration activities in Commonwealth marine waters were made available for public comment in October and November 2001 and were being finalised as of 30 June 2002.

Commonwealth managed fisheries are required to initiate strategic assessments within five years of the date of implementation of the Act. Assessment of the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery was completed during the year. Over half of the Commonwealth managed fisheries have now commenced assessment. The status of all fisheries assessments is shown in Appendix 1 of this report.

Transitional arrangements
Transitional arrangements under the Environmental Reform (Consequential Provisions) Act 1999 made provision, under certain circumstances, for projects to continue assessment under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 (EP(IP)). Proponents who chose to remain in the EP(IP) process have until 16 July 2002 to finalise public environment reports or environmental impact statements.

Assessment reports for 16 projects were completed in 2001-02. It is expected that assessment reports for a further 11 projects will be completed before 16 July 2002 and that proponents will finalise public environment reports and environmental impact statements for a further five projects. The remaining projects that had been designated under the EP(IP) Act will now, where applicable, be subject to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

1.5 Increasing transparency and public awareness

Increasing stakeholder and public awareness
Environment Australia continues to place a high priority on increasing stakeholder and public awareness of the Act. The web site for the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC web site) (http://www.ea.gov.au/epbc/) was updated and enhanced throughout 2001-02 to better meet the needs of users. Strategic assessments were added to the public notifications page, refinements were made to assist users to more easily find information on the site and a comprehensive page providing information on the history of the Act and Regulations was developed.

The Environment Australia and EPBC web sites were also progressively updated to inform stakeholders and the public of changed requirements arising from the implementation of the wildlife trade amendments to the Act. The amendments, which replaced the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982, came into force on 11 January 2002.

During 2001-02, the EPBC web site received 75 710 visits, with the home page (http://www.ea.gov.au/epbc/) visited 50 894 times and the public notifications page (http://www.ea.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/epbc_ap.pl) visited 16 729 times.

A number of publications were developed or revised during the year. Full details are in Appendix 2 of this report. These included supplements to the administrative guidelines on significance on the nationally endangered bluegrass ecological community, and interactions between offshore seismic operations and larger cetaceans. Draft supplements on the grey-headed flying fox and spectacled flying fox were released for public comment.

Stakeholder-specific information explaining the implications of the wildlife trade amendments was also prepared and posted to known traders, interest groups and their industry or community associations. About 1000 information packages were posted. Advertisements highlighting the amendments were placed in relevant publications, including those targeting tourists, Australian travellers and travel agents. In addition, over 65 training sessions were conducted for SeaNet and over 1000 staff of the Australian Customs Service to acquaint them with the implications of the new provisions.

Environment Australia continued to provide presentations on the Act to key industries and organisations, whilst giving priority to responding to enquiries from client and stakeholder groups, and targeting specific regions. Over 50 presentations on the Act were given during 2001-02 to a combined audience of more than 1000 people. Audiences have included state government agencies, Commonwealth Government authorities, peak industry and planning conferences, local government, professional associations, students and members of the public. Issues of interest to stakeholders, as indicated by requests for presentations, include the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area; Christmas Island; flying fox management; aquaculture; the role of local government; and the management of vegetation communities in southern Queensland (such as brigalow and bluegrass communities).

Presentations on the Act were also made for a major meeting of Australian and international World Heritage managers held in the Blue Mountains and several on-site World Heritage managers and advisory committees. A feature of these activities was the participation of Indigenous managers and traditional owners.

Environment Australia made the first payment of a $15 000 grant to the Environmental Defender’s Office to assist in the production of a public guide to the Act with the working title A Guide to Public Participation in Commonwealth Environment Laws.

With the benefit of two years experience with the Act, Environment Australia has commenced a review of communication activities and products to ensure a continued focus on client and stakeholder needs.

Enhancing community participation
The Act provides for community participation in:

The public notifications page on the EPBC web site is used for public comment, stakeholder involvement, and public awareness of key referral, assessment and approval decisions. Environment Australia also met notification and publication requirements under the Act and Regulations by publishing weekly notices in the Commonwealth Government Gazette. Statutory timeframes for publishing notices were met in nearly all cases - after implementing quality assurance procedures for data relating to the processing of referrals for approval, a small number of missed public notifications were identified. None of these related to opportunities for public comment. These notifications were subsequently made in the week commencing 1 July 2002.

Public consultation is required prior to the Minister making a decision to approve a wildlife trade operation (section 303FN), to approve (section 303FO) or accredit (section 303FP) a wildlife trade management plan or to issue a permit under the exceptional circumstances (section 303GB) provisions of the Act.

To facilitate public consultation, Environment Australia developed a notification page on the EPBC web site and wrote to organisations known or expected to have an interest in these matters to inform them of the site’s existence. Notice of proposals under these sections of the Act are provided on the site, with sufficient information provided to enable persons and organisations with an interest to consider adequately the merits of the proposal. Public comments are invited within a specified period.

All lists of threatened or migratory species, recovery plans, threat abatement plans, action plans, conservation plans and conservation agreements made and approved by the Minister under the Act are published on the Environment Australia web site. During 2001-02 Environment Australia established arrangements to ensure that people who do not have access to the internet can purchase these documents from the Government Info Shop in each capital city or from the Administrator of each Australian external territory. As these documents are regularly revised, these arrangements involve the outlet downloading the document from the Environment Australia web site and charging a modest handling cost. In addition, people can telephone Environment Australia using a freecall number to have a copy of any of these documents posted to them.

A new process providing for public consultation on new nominations for listing threatened species, ecological communities and key threatening processes has also been established.

Previously, consultation on nominations occurred through the Register of Interested Parties whereby only those interested people or organisations listed on the register received notification of new nominations. The new process involves placing all new nominations on the Environment Australia web site so that any members of the public may gain access to relevant information and provide advice or comments to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee on possible listing. This streamlined approach to consultation has enhanced the transparency of the consultation process and ensures that nominations are freely available to all interested individuals and organisations.

Consultation registers
Under section 266A of the Act, a register is maintained allowing interested people or organisations to be consulted on permit applications relating to listed threatened species and communities, migratory species, whales and other cetaceans, and listed marine species. Sixty-six people and organisations are currently registered.

Advisory committees
The Act establishes three advisory committees - the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, Biological Diversity Advisory Committee and Indigenous Advisory Committee - to advise the Minister on matters regarding implementation of the Act. The functions and membership of these committees are outlined in Appendix 3 of this report. Section 511 of the Act makes provision for establishment of further advisory committees if necessary.

Threatened Species Scientific Committee
The Threatened Species Scientific Committee advises the Minister on the amendment and updating of national lists for threatened species, threatened ecological communities, and key threatening processes, and on the making or adoption of recovery plans and threat abatement plans. The committee met on four occasions: 16-17 October 2001, 13-14 December 2001, 19-20 March 2002 and 11-12 June 2002. The work of the committee is detailed in Part 2.1 of this report.

Biological Diversity Advisory Committee
The Biological Diversity Advisory Committee advises the Minister on matters relating to the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of biological diversity.

The committee met four times: on 2-3 July 2001, 17-18 October 2001, 28 February-1 March 2002, and 29-30 May 2002.

The committee continued its work on objectives and targets for biodiversity conservation, particularly on how these are applied to the second phase of the Natural Heritage Trust and to natural resource management initiatives under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. Committee members held an intersessional meeting to examine the extent to which a representative cross-section of draft regional plans are integrating biodiversity outcomes into the process of the National Action Plan.

Other issues considered by the committee included the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, the value of biodiversity goods and services, the incorporation of biodiversity considerations into environmental management systems for farmers, the impact of tourism on biodiversity, and biodiversity education for local government.

Indigenous Advisory Committee
The Indigenous Advisory Committee advises the Minister on the operation of the Act, taking into account the significance of Indigenous people’s knowledge of land management and the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The committee addresses only issues related to the Act.

The committee met in March 2002 and provided advice to the Minister on: