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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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.

Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2002-03

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2003
ISSN 1441 9335

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 2002-03, 337 actions were referred to the Minister under the Act. The Minister decided that 75 actions would have, or were likely to have, a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance.

Listed threatened species and ecological communities continued to be the matter of national environmental significance most often requiring projects to be controlled by the Act (i.e. requiring approval). Sixty-one of the 75 actions requiring approval during the year had listed threatened species or ecological communities as a controlling provision. Urban and near urban development, tourism, mining, marine construction, and water infrastructure projects continued to be the major industry sectors involved.

Impacts on listed migratory species were involved in 28 projects requiring approval. In most cases the species involved were also listed as threatened. Projects near important coastal roosting sites and wetlands often involved likely threats to migratory bird species. Whales and other cetaceans which migrate through Australian waters are potentially affected by offshore infrastructure projects. Strict compliance with the Guidelines on the Application of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to Interactions Between Offshore Seismic Operations and Larger Cetaceans meant that many seismic survey projects did not require approval under the Act.

Nine projects required approval because of likely significant impacts on the Commonwealth marine environment. These were predominantly deep-water projects, mainly in the oil and gas industry, or actions in Australia's external territories where Commonwealth waters extend to the high water mark rather than to the external boundary of state waters. This does not include assessments under the Act of Commonwealth fisheries which are controlled by Part 11 of the Act.

Eight referral decisions cited World Heritage values as controlling provisions. As in previous years, these projects predominantly involved actions in, or adjacent to, the Great Barrier Reef or the Wet Tropics of Queensland, and included tourism, urban development and aquaculture projects.

Seven decisions involved potential impacts on Ramsar wetlands.

There were no projects requiring approval because they were nuclear actions.

Compared to the two previous years, and taking into account the decline in the proportion of projects requiring approval (discussed elsewhere in this report), 2002-03 saw a relative decline in the proportion of 'controlled actions' involving World Heritage values and Ramsar wetlands. The reasons for this decline are not clear. However, greater awareness of the requirements of the Act in those areas experiencing substantial development near World Heritage and Ramsar properties may be having an impact on planning and project design. Feedback to the Department from state and local government officials confirms a rising awareness of the values of, and protection given by the Act to, these properties.

Twenty-nine of the 75 actions requiring approval were triggered by more than one matter of national environmental significance. Typically these involved potential impacts on species listed as both threatened and migratory or listed species found in or near to the Commonwealth marine environment, World Heritage properties or Ramsar-listed wetlands.

As of 30 June 2003, 62 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). These included four bilateral assessments. Appendix 1 to this report 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 environment 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-five actions were approved in 2002-03 with a range of conditions to ensure matters of national environmental significance were protected. In one of those cases, the preferred site for the action was rejected and it was approved subject to its location in one of two alternative sites. One proposal was denied approval on the basis that unacceptable impacts on a matter of national environmental significance could not be mitigated.

Table 1. Controlling provisions for actions requiring approval
Controlling provision
Frequency in decisions
Division 1 Matters of national environmental significance
Section 12 World Heritage values of a World Heritage property
8
Section 16 Ecological character of a declared Ramsar wetland
7
Section 18 Listed threatened species or ecological community
61
Section 20 Listed migratory species
28
Section 21 Nuclear activities with a significant impact on the environment
0
Section 23 Commonwealth marine environment
9
Division 2 Proposals involving the Commonwealth
 
Section 26 Commonwealth land
7
Section 28 Commonwealth or Commonwealth agency activity
1
 
Total
121
Table 2. Frequency of controlling provisions in controlled actions
No. of controlling provisions in each controlled action
No. of controlled actions
One
46
Two
16
Three
10
Four
2
Five
1
Total controlled actions
75