Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335
Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (continued)
1. Protecting environment and heritage
- 1.1 Focusing on matters of national environmental significance
- 1.2 Proposals involving Commonwealth land and/or actions
- 1.3 Increasing intergovernmental cooperation
- 1.4 Providing efficient, timely and effective assessment and approval process
- 1.5 Transparency and public awareness
1.1 Focusing on matters of national environmental significance
An important means of protecting matters of national environmental significance is through their identification as controlling provisions for actions likely to have significant environmental impacts, and therefore requiring assessment and approval under the EPBC Act. Provisions of the EPBC Act also require certain actions to be undertaken in a particular manner to avoid adverse impacts on matters of environmental significance. During the year a total of 169 matters of national environmental significance were protected through these processes (see Table 5 in Appendix 1 of this report).
During the year the most frequent controlling provisions were listed threatened species and ecological communities and listed migratory species. These two controlling provisions were included in approximately per cent of controlled action decisions.
The Koolyanobbing Iron Ore Expansion project
The Koolyanobbing Iron Ore Expansion proposed by Portman Iron Ore Ltd was determined to be a controlled action due to the likely significant impacts to four listed threatened species - including three species of tetratheca, namely Tetratheca aphylla, T. paynterae, T. harperi and the Malleefowl.
The project as originally proposed would have impacted about 90 per cent of the population of the endangered T. paynterae. The project was refused by the Western Australian Environmental Protection Agency but this decision was overturned on appeal. On the recommendation of the Appeals Convenor, the Western Australian Minister allowed Portman to remove 30 per cent of the tetratheca population and then a further 20 per cent if mining operations do not impact on the remaining population. On this basis the project was considered for approval under the EPBC Act. The EPBC Act approval conditions mirrored the Western Australian approval by allowing access to up to 50 per cent of the area covered by T. paynterae in two stages. The EPBC Act conditions however are more stringent. Access to the initial 30 per cent requires Portman Iron Ore to:
- develop plans to manage the impacts of mining on the plants, such as dust, access, weeds, and ground and surface water. This plan was reviewed and approved by the Department; and
- develop a Recovery Plan and a Research and Management Plan for the species backed by a $900 000 bank guarantee;
After mining begins, Portman must commission an independent audit and provide an annual certificate stating compliance with the approval conditions.
Before Portman Iron Ore accesses the next 20 per cent of the area, they must demonstrate in an independent report that adequate recovery measures have been introduced and that the first phase of mining has had no significant impact on the remaining plant population. Areas of adjacent land have also been permanently protected to provide continuity with the surrounding environment and to further safeguard the remaining population of T. paynterae.
In response to the approval conditions imposed by the Australian Government under the EPBC Act, an intensive survey programme has been undertaken and found that the population size and distribution of T. paynterae is now much greater than initially estimated. This survey data will be used in monitoring the impacts of mining operations on plant health and condition as per the Tetratheca management plan. The approval decision provides strong, ongoing protection of the T. paynterae, T. harperi and the Malleefowl, while at the same time, boosting the regional infrastructure, economy and employment.
Also, 26 proposed actions were referred where World Heritage values were likely to be significantly impacted. As in previous years, these projects predominantly involved actions in, or adjacent to, the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics of Queensland and included tourism, urban development and aquaculture. World Heritage was determined to be a controlling provision on six occasions.
Thirty-four of the 54 controlled actions requiring approval were triggered by more than one matter of national environmental significance. These actions typically 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 wetlands.
A total of 26 actions were approved in 2003-04 with a range of conditions to ensure that matters of national environment significance were protected. One proposed action was refused on the basis that approval of the action would have had a significant detrimental impact on the outstanding cultural heritage qualities and environmental characteristics of adjacent Commonwealth land. Refusal of the action was recommended, as the adverse environmental impacts of this proposal could not be adequately addressed through mitigation methods.
At the end of the 2003-04 period, 72 actions affecting matters protected by the Act were undergoing assessment. That is, a decision had been made on the assessment approach but the assessment was still to be completed. These ongoing assessments include six assessments conducted under bilateral agreements and 35 assessments conducted under processes that have been accredited case by case. Appendix 1 to this report provides information on the types and number of assessment approaches used during 2003-04.
On 1 January 2004, the new heritage protection legislation came into effect protecting Australia's National Heritage, which comprises exceptional natural, Indigenous and cultural places that have helped shape Australia's unique identity. Such places are living and accessible records of the nation's evolving landscapes and experiences. Passage of this legislation followed extensive consultation over seven years with government, non-government, industry and community groups, involving discussion papers, technical workshops, a National Heritage Convention in 1998, and more than 70 briefings held nation-wide.
With the passage of the legislation, the National Heritage values of a National Heritage Place become matters of national environmental significance and so are protected under the EPBC Act. The EPBC Act requires that approval be obtained before any action takes place, which has, will have, or is likely to have, a significant impact on the National Heritage values of a listed place. Proposals for actions, which could affect such values, will be rigorously assessed.
Australian International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
Australia International Council on Monuments and Sites is a non-government professional organisation that promotes expertise in the conservation of cultural heritage. It was formed in 1965, and has a responsibility to advise UNESCO in the assessment of sites proposed for the World Heritage List.
Following the passage of the new heritage legislation, Australia International Council on Monuments and Sites, in partnership with the Heritage Division of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, organised seminars for practitioners on the new national heritage system. Seminars were held in every capital city except Darwin (which will take place in the future). Practitioners throughout Australia were given the opportunity to discuss the new heritage system with government officers involved in its implementation. Participants were also able to workshop hypothetical listings and management situations to obtain greater clarity and understanding of the new legislation. The feedback on these sessions has been very positive and Australia International Council on Monuments and Sites has taken the view that working closely with the government offers the best chance of realising the full potential of the new arrangements for protecting Australia's heritage. Following the success of these workshops, it is anticipated that there will be future opportunities for the two organisations to work in partnership to assist in the implementation of the new heritage system.
1.2 Proposals involving Commonwealth land and/or actions
Actions by the Australian Government and actions on Commonwealth land
Three actions were determined to require approval under the EPBC Act because of likely significant impacts in relation to Commonwealth land. A further four actions by Australian Government agencies were also controlled actions. These actions also can be controlled actions because of potential impacts on matters of national environmental significance.
The Australian Antarctic Division of the Department referred a proposal to remove heritage-listed buildings known as the 'Old Donga Line' from the Davis station site. This proposal was determined to be a controlled action. The Donga Line is currently being assessed and a decision on assessment approach will be made shortly.
Actions approved that had Commonwealth land as a controlling provision included the modernisation of parts of the existing munitions facility at Mulwala, New South Wales by Australian Defence Industries Limited. The construction of a residential building and associated infrastructure at Kingston, Norfolk Island, located on Commonwealth land was referred but was not approved due to threats on the outstanding cultural heritage qualities and environmental characteristics of the adjacent Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area.
Advice on authorising actions
Section 160 of the EPBC Act requires Australian Government agencies or employees of the Australian Government to obtain and consider advice from the Minister in relation to the authorisation for specified actions, where those actions are likely to have a significant impact on the environment. Actions include providing foreign aid, managing aircraft operations in airspace or implementing a major development plan for an airport.
During 2003-04, advice was sought on 12 occasions under section 160. These projects included eight major airport development plans and a permit under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981. Major airport development plans were referred for the Brisbane (two), Melbourne (two), Canberra, Gold Coast, Parafield and Essendon airports. Major development plans included proposals for runway extensions, aircraft maintenance facilities, mail facilities, and office and commercial developments.
The Westralia Airports Corporation proposed the development of a warehouse and distribution park at Perth Airport. Advice from the Minister concluded that the environmental impacts of the proposal should not prevent the Minister for Transport and Regional Services approving the proposed major development plan subject to conditions. Advice to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services on an extension to the terminal at Canberra International Airport determined that there were no unacceptable environmental impacts associated with the proposal.
The 2003-04 year also saw the completion of the assessment and advice for the installation of a new 106 metre by 58 metre multi-level tourist pontoon at Moore Reef in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park near Cairns, Queensland. The Minister provided advice to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on minimising the adverse effects that the design and operation of the pontoon could have on the values of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.
Chevron Texaco applied for a permit under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 to dredge, excavate and dispose of 12 million cubic metres of dredge spoil from channels adjacent to Barrow Island in Western Australia. The proposed action was referred under section 160 of the EPBC Act and is currently being assessed by an environmental impact statement (EIS) still in preparation as of 30 June 2004.
During 2003-04 no exemptions were issued under the EPBC Act.
1.3 Increasing intergovernmental cooperation
Alignment of threatened species lists
The Department, in association with the EPBC Act Threatened Species Scientific Committee, has been working towards improving the alignment of the Australian Government, state and territory lists of threatened species. During 2003-04, the Department met with Northern Territory Government officials and held preliminary discussions with Queensland Government and New South Wales Government officials to progress the alignment of lists. The committee held a meeting in Perth Western Australia in June 2004, where it met with representatives from the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management and the Western Australian Scientific Committees to discuss the streamlining of threatened species listing processes.
A key objective of the EPBC Act is to promote a cooperative approach to the protection and management of the environment that involves governments, the community, landholders and Indigenous peoples. The EPBC Act proposes that this will be achieved in part through bilateral agreements which strengthen intergovernmental cooperation and minimise duplication.
To this end bilateral agreements have been established with Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. An agreement with Queensland is close to completion. Agreements with the other states and the Australian Capital Territory are progressing, although to date South Australia has not taken up the offer to enter into a bilateral agreement. Development of bilateral agreements have enabled early, transparent and effective accreditation of state and territory environmental assessment processes. During the year, six projects have been or are being assessed under bilateral agreements.
The Australian Government has also streamlined assessment of projects involving state or territory processes through case-by-case accredited assessments. A total of 35 actions have been assessed this way. These assessments meet at least those standards that will be required in the bilateral agreement with the state or territory in which the action is to take place. Accreditation ensures that proponents and the public need only deal with a single assessment process but does not reduce the scrutiny that the Australian Government applies to projects which it approves.
The Australian Government is continuing to promote better management for Australia's World Heritage places in partnership with the states and territories. It supports activities that relate directly to discharging Australia's World Heritage responsibilities and priorities that reflect the national interest including promotion, community engagement, and the development of strategic partnerships. The Australian Government continues to work with the states and territories to create opportunities that increase the involvement of Indigenous people in the management of World Heritage properties.
Australian Government and state and territory officials continue to work at strengthening collaboration in relation to World Heritage properties. The Australian World Heritage Managers' Workshop was held in Cairns in May 2004 and discussed a wide range of issues. Australian Government representatives also attended a number of World Heritage property meetings, including the second meeting of the Purnululu Park Council on 7-8 May 2004, where they provided briefings on priority project funding, the new national heritage legislation and joint sustainable tourism initiatives.
1.4 Providing efficient, timely and effective assessment and approval process
Referral activity report
During the 2003-04 financial year, 292 actions were referred to the Australian Government for decision on whether approval was required under the EPBC Act. Approximately nine per cent of these referrals were the result of compliance action taken by the Department. A total of 54 actions were determined to be controlled actions and a further 38 actions were non-controlled action if taken in a particular manner.
Profile of actions referred under the EPBC Act
The largest number of referrals came from Queensland, which continues to have the highest number of controlled action decisions. These figures reflect the pattern of development along the Queensland coast, potentially impacting on the Great Barrier Reef, the Wet Tropics World Heritage Areas and a number of Ramsar wetlands.
Activity categories for which a relatively large number of referrals were received include new urban and commercial development; tourism, recreation and conservation management; land transport; mining; energy generation and supply; and water management and use. There was an increase in the number of tourism projects referred during 2003-04 compared to previous years.
Urban and commercial developments referred during 2003-04 included the Fairway Waters Retirement Village in Pakenham, Victoria; the East O'Malley residential estate in Canberra; the Wyndham Cove marina and residential development at Werribee, Victoria; the Coconut Point residential development on Queensland's Capricorn coast; and a canal housing development at Meningie in South Australia. Examples of tourism, recreation and conservation management-related referrals include the Port Hinchinbrook Stage II development near Cardwell, north Queensland; the construction of an ocean access boat ramp at Bastion Point, near Mallacoota, Victoria; and the rehabilitation of the Hexham Swamp at Newcastle, New South Wales.
There were 40 late decisions on referrals during 2003-04, or 14 per cent of the total number of referrals. This compares with 14 late decisions in 2002-03 (four per cent of the total referral decisions for that year). The average number of days late was 1.9 business days, compared to an average of 2.7 days late since commencement of the EPBC Act.
Where the statutory timeframe was not met, this was due to the increasing number of detailed and complex projects being referred. In addition, there was the need to seek legal advice on issues related to certain decisions and also to deal with some complexities arising from amendments made to the EPBC Act on 23 September 2003 in relation to referrals that form a component of a larger action and penalty provisions applicable to specified manner decisions.
The 20-day decision period includes a ten-day opportunity for public comment. This is facilitated by the publication of referrals for comment on the Department's web site. Public comments were received on 54 referrals during 2003-04.
The EPBC Act provides for the Minister to decide that a referred proposal is not a controlled action provided it will be taken in a particular or 'specified' manner. This provision may be used when there is clear evidence that a particular mitigation or avoidance measure will be employed to avoid significant impacts.
In September 2003, the EPBC Act was strengthened with the addition of section 77A which provides the ability to enforce the Minister's decision that an action does not require approval because that action would be taken in a 'particular manner'. Under section 77A, new penalties apply to breaches of particular manner decisions.
A total of 38 referrals during 2003-04 were not controlled actions due to the fact that they were to be carried out in a particular manner. The number of particular manner decisions during 2003-04 continues to reflect the overall improvement in the quality of referrals and the sophistication of proponents in addressing relevant environmental concerns prior to submitting a referral. Projects that receive a particular manner decision are often specifically designed to minimise or eliminate adverse impacts on matters of national environmental significance.
The Department actively encourages proponents through its education activities to design projects and activities in ways that avoid impacts on matters of national environmental significance. The use of the particular manner decision allows the Minister to lock in these design approaches. The Department believes that the use of the particular manner decision is an effective way of promoting and supporting a shift to better environmental practices by key industries. This is demonstrated by the offshore oil and gas industry's commitment to the use of seismic survey guidelines to minimise impacts on cetacean species.
Using particular manner decision to deliver better environmental outcomes - the Rehabilitation of Hexham Swamp, New South Wales
The Hunter Catchment Management Trust proposed to rehabilitate Hexham Swamp by reinstating the natural freshwater/saltwater interface to the 2000 hectare wetland. The previous estuarine values of the wetlands and values for migratory birds had been lost through the operation of tidal gates that prevented the inflow of sea water. The original hydrology was to be reinstated by opening the tidal gates, thus allowing the natural tidal flows. Hexham Swamp is directly linked to the Hunter Estuary Ramsar wetland and had become potential habitat for the Green and Golden Bell Frog that is listed as vulnerable. The Department was concerned that inundation by saline tidal waters into the freshwater wetlands might inadvertently result in the loss of suitable breeding habitat for the Bell Frog and that retention of some suitable habitat might be required.
The size of Bell Frog population was unknown and the extent of potential impacts unclear so the Department first sought additional information from the Trust. It was determined that the proposal was not a controlled action provided it was taken in a particular manner involving mitigation measures that included:
- monitoring the effect of inundation on salinity within the swamp;
- installing flood gates to prevent intrusion of saline water during king or other extreme tides that would adversely effect potential key habitat (including breeding habitat) of the Bell Frog; and
- monitoring of frog populations during the three-year inundation project to determine if Bell Frog populations are maintained.
The Trust welcomed the particular manner decision and have installed monitoring equipment to measure water levels and salinity. No inflows of saline water into key freshwater areas have occurred to date.
The Hexham Swamp rehabilitation project provides a good example of a particular manner decision that has been satisfactorily implemented by the applicant. It also demonstrates that projects aimed at enhancing the environmental values of an area may nevertheless still require referral because of potential inadvertent adverse impacts.
Suspension of timeframes
The decision timeframe for decision-making on referrals was suspended on 42 occasions. This exemplifies a trend of increasing complexity of referrals and the need to seek further information for the decision-maker.
Statement of reasons
Sub-section 77(4) of the EPBC Act allows a person taking an action that the Minister has decided is a controlled action to request reasons for the decision. During 2003-04, the Department handled nine such requests.
Reconsideration of decisions
The number of requests for reconsideration of referral decisions during 2003-04 was similar to that for the previous year, with 18 requests for reconsideration and 70 per cent of decisions being remade. Reconsideration decisions are detailed in Table 2 of Appendix 1.
While the number of reconsiderations is small when compared to the total number of referral decisions, by consulting with key interests the Department ensured that any reconsideration decisions maintain the transparency and public accountability inherent in the overall framework of the EPBC Act. Reconsideration can be justified, and can contribute to better environmental outcomes, where there is substantial new information on the impacts on the matters protected by the Act.
Assessment of controlled actions
The assessment of potential environmental impacts from proposed actions utilises the best available science with comment and analysis sought from the relevant experts from within the Department, other Australian or state and territory government agencies, and external scientific institutions and organisations.
The EPBC Act provides a range of assessment approaches to ensure that an environmental assessment reflects the nature of the proposed action, the adequacy of information already available, the degree of public interest and the nature and scale of the likely impacts. Decisions on the level of assessment for controlled actions are summarised in Table 6 in Appendix 1.
During 2003-04, the Department completed 27 assessments following finalisation of relevant documentation by the proponent. A further 72 assessments were in preparation as at 30 June 2004. Thirty-three preliminary documentation assessments were completed or are under way.
Decisions on assessment approach were made within the statutory timeframes on 83 per cent of occasions. Factors contributing to late decisions included the requirement for additional assurances from states and territories that accredited assessment processes would meet Australian Government requirements and the need for clarification and consultation on information in preliminary documentation.
The EPBC Act requires the Minister to prepare written guidelines for the content of public environment reports and environmental impact statements within a 20-day statutory timeframe. During 2003-04, guidelines were prepared for three public environment reports within the statutory timeframes. Guidelines for the two environment impact statements required under the Act were both prepared outside the statutory timeframe. They were both joint assessments with the state and the delay was caused by the requirement to publish draft guidelines to ensure that the requirements of both jurisdictions were satisfied.
Environmental impact assessment of the Geographe and Thylacine gas field development
The Department assessed this proposed gas field development based on an environmental impact statement prepared by the proponent, Woodside Energy Limited. The proposed action consisted of the drilling of hydrocarbon wells at the Geographe and Thylacine gas discoveries in the Otway Basin. The action included installation and operation of offshore production facilities, a gas pipeline to onshore Victoria and an onshore gas treatment plant in the vicinity of Port Campbell.
Fourteen public submissions were received on the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) which largely related to the operation of the gas plant. Other issues of concern related to the onshore pipeline shore crossing and offshore drilling and pipeline.
Public comments and those of relevant government agencies were considered in preparation of the assessment report. The key issues related to impacts on the Commonwealth marine environment including seabed flora and fauna and historic shipwrecks, cetacean species such as the Southern Right Whale and Blue Whale, and listed threatened species such as the Southern Brown Bandicoot, Long Nosed Potoroo, and the Yarra Pygmy Perch. Given the importance of these issues, the Department carried out its own analysis, taking further advice from other agencies including the Australian Government Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, and Parks Victoria. The analysis demonstrated that the methods proposed by Woodside were acceptable and that, provided a range of conditions were met, it is unlikely the action would have an unacceptable impact on matters of national environment significance. Accordingly the action was approved.
This case demonstrates the importance of the Department's detailed and independent analysis of assessment documentation. It also highlights the capacity for the Department to obtain required expert advice from other Australian Government and state Government agencies.
Twenty-six controlled actions were approved in 2003-04, and a further two were awaiting decision as of 30 June 2004. Actions approved include the Koolyanobbing Iron Ore Expansion in Western Australia (see the case study in section 1.1), the Crocodile 03 military exercise in Queensland, the Thylacine and Geographe gas field developments in Bass Strait, the Meander Dam in Tasmania, the installation and operation of an irrigation system in western Victoria, the Henley Golf course in Victoria, and the Warkworth Coal Mine extension in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales.
Approval has been refused for one action, the construction of a residential building and associated infrastructure at Kingston, Norfolk Island. The action was not approved because it would threaten the outstanding cultural heritage qualities and environmental characteristics of the adjacent Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area, which is located on Commonwealth land.
Five approvals were made outside the statutory timeframe. These delays were due to the complexities of the issues under consideration and included the resolution of legal issues. Other factors contributing to delays included complex condition setting, the need for a number of management plans for different species in various locations, and detailed consideration of state or territory conditions which apply to Commonwealth land. The need for added consultation with the landholders, proponents, and state or territory governments, and discussions with other Australian Government agencies also provided challenges to meeting the statutory timeframes for approval decisions.
Proposal to construct a residential building and associated infrastructure, Kingston, Norfolk Island
The construction of a residential building, garage, underground reservoir and garden on Middlegate Road, Kingston, Norfolk Island was refused by the Minister as the action would have a significant detrimental impact on the outstanding cultural heritage qualities and environmental characteristics of Commonwealth land within the Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area (KAVHA). KAVHA is a monument to the convict origins of European settlement in Australia, comprising a large group of buildings from the convict era, substantial ruins and standing structures, archaeological sub-surface remains, and landform and cultural landscape elements, which represent an outstanding example of the development of global convict transportation.
Adverse environmental impacts of this proposal could not be adequately addressed through proposed mitigation methods with the proponents indicating that there were no alternatives to the action. In making his decision, the Minister considered economic and social implications as well as matters of national environmental significance. KAVHA constitutes part of a unique inheritance that should be maintained for future generations.
Post referral and approval monitoring and auditing
The Department continues to develop its strategies and processes for effectively monitoring actions referred under the Act. As a growing number of proposals move through the referral, assessment, and approval phase of the statutory process, conditions applied for post-approval verification, monitoring and auditing assume an increasing burden and will require allocation of additional resources. Conditions generally include for example, post-approval of construction management plans, environment management plans for operations, monitoring and third party audit reports. A risk assessment is currently completed for each proposal at the time of approval so that appropriate follow-up can be programmed. Approvals are required to stipulate a length of approval; these are generally over 40 years. The cumulative burden of approved projects requiring post approval activity will test the Department's capacity as a regulator. A series of trial audits were carried out in 2003 for actions determined to be non-controlled actions provided they were undertaken in a particular manner. These trial audits undertaken in cooperation with the companies were completed in 2003-04 and allowed the evaluation of compliance with particular manner requirements as well as the effectiveness and efficiency of the Department's decision-making processes.
The audits found that where the particular manner was based on the Cetacean Interaction Guidelines the requirements were generally met by all proponents, however compliance with other elements of the particular manner decision were more variable.
The audits indicated that departmental staff provide a high level of assistance through the EPBC Act process; although, some concerns were raised over the length of assessment timeframes given the relatively fast release of Australian petroleum acreage. The companies that were audited expressed concerns regarding the practical application of the Department's Cetacean Interaction Guidelines that formed part of the particular manner decision. On the basis of the trial audits, a review of the Cetacean Interaction Guidelines was commissioned and includes consultation with industry representatives, environmental organisations, cetacean researchers, and government agencies. The audits have identified opportunities for improvement for both the Department and the companies involved.
Australian National Audit Office performance audit
In mid-2002 the Australian National Audit Office commenced an audit of the implementation of the EPBC Act. The objective of the audit was to examine and report on the quality and timeliness of environmental assessments and approvals under the EPBC Act, as well as on departmental activities that ensure compliance with the Act. The Australian National Audit Office made a number of positive findings as a result of the audit. Six recommendations were made, all of which were accepted by the Department without qualification.
In April 2004, a report on progress against the Australian National Audit Office audit recommendations found that substantial progress was made by the Department across all recommendations contained in the audit report, with many elements of the recommendations being fully implemented.
Review of the Administrative Guidelines on Significance
At the time the Administrative Guidelines on Significance for the EPBC Act were released in July 2000, the former Minister, Senator the Hon Robert Hill, indicated that they would be reviewed following experience gained in the operation of the Act in order to provide the best possible guidance to stakeholders. In August 2003, this review commenced with an invitation for public comments complemented by targeted interviews of stakeholders by an independent consultant. The guidelines are being revised taking into account the outcomes of the consultation and to incorporate guidance about the new heritage amendments to the EPBC Act.
Revised guidelines and additional guidelines will be published as part of a new framework of EPBC Act policy statements. The framework will include: principal significance guidelines, which consist of revised guidelines for matters of national environmental significance, and guidelines for Australian Government actions and actions impacting upon Commonwealth land; and supplementary guidelines which will include industry guidelines, guidelines for nationally protected places and properties and guidelines for nationally threatened species and ecological communities. The supplementary guidelines will include revised guidelines for interactions between offshore seismic operations and larger cetaceans. A new category of guidelines, practice guides, will provide information about best practice environmental protection and conservation, and specific guidance about elements of the EPBC Act.
Tiger Quoll - supplementary Administrative Guidelines on Significance
The Tiger Quoll is a reddish brown to dark chocolate brown coloured mammal, with white spots on its body and tail. The Tiger Quoll is a forest dependent species, and has been recorded in rainforest, wet and dry sclerophyll forest and woodland habitats.
The southern subspecies of the Tiger Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus maculatus) has a Tasmanian population and a southeastern mainland population. These two populations were previously listed as one species in the vulnerable category under the EPBC Act. The Minister recently decided to change the threatened status of the southeastern mainland population of the Tiger Quoll from vulnerable to endangered. This change recognises an increased decline in the species.
There are a number of threats to the Tiger Quoll, including land clearing, loss of habitat such as hollow logs and earth burrows, competition from foxes and feral cats, road traffic, poisoning and trapping. One possible threat to the Tiger Quoll is the impact of 1080 poison baiting control programmes for wild dogs and dingoes.
The Department has prepared supplementary Administrative Guidelines on Significance that provide information on the Tiger Quoll (south-eastern mainland population) and the use of the poison 1080 in pest animal control programmes. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist stakeholders decide whether their proposed 1080 baiting operations in known or potential Tiger Quoll habitat need to be referred to the Australian Government for approval under the EPBC Act.
The stakeholder guidelines and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee's advice to the Minister on the listing of the Tiger Quoll (south-eastern mainland population) are available under: www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species.
The Australian Government has responded to ongoing concerns about the environmental impacts of fishing and the risk of over-exploitation of marine resources by incorporating ecological sustainability requirements into Australian Government environment and fisheries legislation.
Under the EPBC Act, the Department assesses the environmental performance of fisheries management arrangements to ensure that fisheries are managed in an ecologically sustainable way and to identify areas of improvement. Ecological sustainability is being promoted with a shift from a target-species approach to focus on ecosystem-based management.
Under the Act, all fisheries with an export component, including state-managed fisheries, must be assessed before 1 December 2004. A total of 118 fisheries have been identified for assessment, and during 2003-04 thorough and high quality assessments were completed for 19 fisheries. This brings the total number completed to 38 (see Appendix 1, Table 11 for details). A further 64 other fisheries were under active assessment during 2003-04.
Fisheries are assessed for their impacts on target species, by-catch, protected species and the whole ecosystem against the Australian Government Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries. The assessments are labour intensive and lengthy as the focus is on introducing reforms to fisheries management rather than being simple audits. To complete the task within a reasonable timeframe, and at a standard that will see the best possible outcome for the long-term sustainability of these fisheries, will require an expansion in capacity so that the rate of assessment can be escalated above what has been achievable to date with the current resources.
Other outcomes include:
- publication of the Government's approach to sustainable fisheries in various journals;
- undertaking training initiatives at the Australian Maritime College; and
- presentations at national and international workshops.
The outcomes of the fishery assessment process have increased industry certainty on the ongoing sustainability of fishing operations and have highlighted the value to industry of management arrangements that are capable of adjusting quickly to environmental concerns.
As a result, fishery management agencies are demonstrating a commitment to ecologically sustainable fisheries management practices, such as spatial management, independent research and data collection, cross-jurisdictional management approaches, harvest strategies for by-product species, mitigation and monitoring of protected species interactions, the development of biological reference points for target species, and the development of compliance systems and measures to reduce illegal take.
1.5 Transparency and public awareness
Increasing stakeholder and public awareness
Referral, assessment and approval
The EPBC Act web site (www.deh.gov.au/epbc) continues to play a vital stakeholder and public awareness role, thus facilitating community involvement. The principal decisions in relation to referral, assessment and approval process are posted on the site along with invitations to comment. During 2003-04, public comments were received on 54 referrals.
During 2003, the EPBC Act was amended to require weekly publication on the Internet of information on all permits issued or granted under the Act and a list of all matters required by the Act to be made available to the public. These notifications can be viewed at www.deh.gov.au/epbc/publicnotices/weekly. Public notifications relating to the new heritage provisions can be found at www.deh.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/heritage_ap.pl
The EPBC Act Protected Matters Search Tool, available on the EPBC Act web site at www.deh.gov.au/erin/ert/epbc, was upgraded to include a local government area search and to ensure that all protected matters are included in the search, including Commonwealth lands, Commonwealth Heritage places and places on the Register of the National Estate.
Since the introduction of the new heritage protection legislation, briefings have been provided to Australian Government agencies, state and territory officials, Indigenous stakeholders, industry and community groups. Letters and information on the new heritage protection legislation have been sent to some 9000 stakeholders. Officials from the Department, in cooperation with Australian members of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, have participated in briefings and workshops throughout Australia (see the case study on the Australian International Council on Monuments and Sites in Section 1.1). In addition, the previously established EPBC Unit within the World Wildlife Fund, which provides information services to the community on the EPBC Act, expanded to cover the new heritage system.
A suite of information products was produced to increase public awareness of the new heritage system. These include fact sheets, guidelines and forms for nomination, a comprehensive web site and displays. To ensure transparency in the nomination, assessment and Ministerial listing decision processes, a comprehensive database was developed to allow interested parties to access information on the new heritage system quickly and efficiently.
A National Heritage Protocol, agreed by the Environment Protection and Heritage Council, will ensure all states and territories are actively informed about newly received National Heritage List nominations. The protocol is based on principles of cooperation and minimising unnecessary duplication and overlap between governments. Where the nominations are in the assessment and listing process, the EPBC Act provides for consultation with owners, occupiers, interested parties and Indigenous persons who have rights or interests in the place.
Listed threatened species and ecological communities
Information sheets for listed ecological communities continue to be updated and improved. The inclusion of A3 maps within the information sheets now makes it clear where the listed ecological community may occur, with larger-scale inserts for those regions requiring greater attention. Recent information sheets published include the Swamps of the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia and the Mabi Forest in Queensland.
Publications developed during the year included information sheets for a number of newly listed threatened species, including the Australian Lungfish, Murray Cod and Australian Painted Snipe. An information sheet on harmful marine debris as a key threatening process also was published.
The Department has revised the Administrative Guidelines on Significance - Supplements for the Grey-headed Flying-fox and the Spectacled Flying-fox, which aims to assist landholders decide whether their actions need to be referred to the Australian Government for approval under the EPBC Act. The Department has worked cooperatively with state governments to revise these guidelines.
The National Turtle Recovery Group (NTRG) proposed that the Department prepare a newsletter on current turtle projects and conservation initiatives for distribution to stakeholders, interested communities and organisations, and the first edition was issued in June 2003-04. The NTRG also proposed that an education campaign targeted at Indigenous communities on the benefits of sustainable management of marine turtles and dugong be undertaken as a priority.
Following the listing of 46 Norfolk Island threatened flora species, an information booklet was developed to increase stakeholder awareness and understanding of how the EPBC Act operates on Norfolk Island. Departmental officers also visited Norfolk Island to talk to a range of stakeholders about the new threatened species listings and to seek feedback on the draft information booklet (see the case study below).
In addition to the presentations on Norfolk Island, during the year the Department provided presentations to a range of stakeholders including:
- Seanet, which provides an environmental extension service to the Australian seafood industry;
- the Marine and Coastal Community Network, which is a national non-government organisation that facilitates community involvement in marine conservation initiatives;
- stakeholders with responsibility or an interest in the ecologically sustainable management of Murray Cod;
- presentations to customs officers, importers of live animals (such as zoos) and to participants at a pet expo on wildlife trade regulations (approximately 40 presentations this year); and
- training sessions conducted throughout Australia for approximately 600 staff of the Australian Customs Service and state wildlife agency officers, to enable them to enforce the wildlife trade provisions of the EPBC Act.
Listing of 46 flora species on Norfolk Island
In November 2003, 46 Norfolk Island plants were listed as threatened under the EPBC Act. Thirty-three of these species are only found on Norfolk Island and 11 species have fewer than 50 individuals remaining.
As part of the Australian Government's commitment to keeping interested stakeholders informed of decisions which affect them, representatives from the Department visited Norfolk Island in November 2003 to talk to local landholders, the Norfolk Island Government and interested groups about how the new listings could affect them and how they may get involved in the conservation of these species.
An information booklet was developed which was aimed at increasing stakeholder awareness and understanding of how the EPBC Act operates on Norfolk Island. It gives a plain English explanation of the Act, what it means for residents and how they may be affected in the future. It also contains a list of threatened species with images, and provides contact details on where to go for more information.
Copies of the draft booklet were made available for consultation on the Department's web site and on Norfolk Island prior to the departmental visit. The Department received a number of comments from the Norfolk Island Government and interested groups which were incorporated into the booklet to make it a more useful resource for the residents of Norfolk Island. The booklet has been distributed on Norfolk Island and may be viewed on the Department's web site at www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/publications/norfolk-island.
The Australian Government will continue to work with the island community to help conserve the territory's unique biodiversity. The Department is planning to negotiate a number of conservation agreements with Norfolk Island landholders, which will assist them to protect threatened species. Recovery plans for the 46 threatened plant species on Norfolk Island will be developed as multi-species plans where possible. The Department is planning to engage one or more consultants to prepare these recovery plans and consultation with people on Norfolk Island will be an integral part of this process.
Enhancing community participation
The Department continues to publish new nominations of threatened species, threatened ecological communities and key threatening processes on the Department's web site and provides a formal two-month period for public comment on all nominations. This year, the Department informally increased the time period for public comment to facilitate public participation in the listing process. Any additional submissions received after the formal two month public comment periods are now taken into account if practicable within the decision-making timeframe.
Amendments to the lists of threatened species, threatened ecological communities and key threatening processes, including the Threatened Species Scientific Committee's advice to the Minister, continue to be published on the Department's web site.
National Farmers' Federation EPBC Act Information Officer
Advice and assistance to farmers and rural stakeholders in relation to the EPBC Act continued to be provided through the National Farmers' Federation EPBC Act Information Officer. The Information Officer provides:
- clear, free explanations and advice about relevant aspects of the Act;
- assistance with referrals, assessments and approvals and other features of the Act;
- information products such as guides, fact sheets, and various web sites to make it easier for farmers and rural stakeholders to work with the legislation;
- information and training on the EPBC Act to the National Farmers' Federation and associated organisations and rural stakeholders;
- assistance with consultative processes such as comments on nominations for threatened species, ecological communities, key threatening processes and recovery plans; and
- provision of feedback to the National Farmers' Federation and the Department on the operation of the Act.
Throughout the year the Information Officer has continued the programme for educating farmers and rural stakeholders about the EPBC Act. As a result, the national coverage of education on the EPBC Act for this sector has substantially increased. Numerous presentations were given to meetings organised by state and territory farming organisations as well as those state and territory government agencies with a rural focus in the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria. The presentations were well received and the increased awareness of the EPBC Act has resulted in greater legal certainty for individual farmers who have referred their farming activities under the EPBC Act. In addition, the increased awareness has also improved the dialogue between farmers, state government agencies, local government, conservation groups and parliamentarians in most jurisdictions.
Due to the increased awareness of the EPBC Act amongst the rural sector, farmers and rural stakeholders have taken the opportunity to seek further advice from the Information Officer in relation to their farming activities and how they may relate to the EPBC Act. As a result, information and assistance has been provided to a number of farmers needing to refer new activities that may impact on matters of national environmental significance.
The position provided assistance to the Department by encouraging state and territory farming organisations to participate in consultation processes under the EPBC Act. In particular, the nomination of numerous threatened species and ecological communities, the development of recovery plans for listed threatened species and ecological communities and nominations for natural Indigenous and historic places to be included on the National Heritage List.
Assistance to farmers in the Bluegrass region of central Queensland.
The National Farmers' Federation and the Department are working together to develop information that will be used to improve decision-making processes under the EPBC Act as well as improve the management of an endangered vegetation community through possible future EPBC Act conservation agreements for farmers in the Bluegrass region of central Queensland.
The Bluegrass grasslands of the Brigalow Bioregion was listed as an Endangered Ecological Community under the EPBC Act after it was found that over 90 per cent of the original extent of this community had been destroyed or severely degraded.
The active management by graziers experienced in the management of native pastures represents the best chance for the survival of this vegetation community. As a result, the Australian Government has been working with farmers in central Queensland to support their stewardship of these unique areas.
In early 2004, the National Farmers' Federation EPBC Act Information Officer and officers from the Department held discussions with Queensland Government officers and cattle farmers in the Emerald and Clermont area of Central Queensland on farming activities that may impact on the nationally listed Bluegrass ecological community. The aim of these discussions was to facilitate referral under the EPBC Act of proposed new cropping actions which are likely to have a significant impact on the Bluegrass ecological community thus ensuring the effective consideration of potential impacts on these plant communities. The discussion provided an opportunity to provide further training on the EPBC Act to state government staff, to discuss EPBC Act related issues, to establish contacts and to inspect potential areas for the development of EPBC Act conservation agreements.
The Information Officer helped facilitate a referral to cultivate 800 hectares in and around Bluegrass ecological community on one property. The Department has engaged an expert to map the Bluegrass ecological communities on a number of properties in the area to provide accurate information on the distribution and quality of the communities on each property.
Under section 266A of the Act, a register is maintained for persons or bodies interested in being invited to submit comments on permit applications relating to listed threatened species and ecological communities, listed migratory species, cetaceans, and listed marine species. The registration period is 12 months. At the time of writing this report, 16 persons were registered.
The Threatened Species Scientific Committee
The Threatened Species Scientific Committee is appointed under subsection 502(3) of the EPBC Act. The role of the committee is to advise the Minister for the Environment and Heritage on the amendment and updating of lists for threatened species, threatened ecological communities, and key threatening processes together with the making or adoption of recovery plans and threat abatement plans. The committee may also provide additional advice to the Minister on issues relating to these responsibilities. The current membership of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee is listed in Table 12 of Appendix 3 of this report.
In 2003-04, the committee met on four occasions: on 29-30 September 2003, 11-12 December 2003, 5-6 April 2004 and 24-25 June 2004. At these meetings, the committee continued to provide scientific advice on the eligibility of threatened species, threatened ecological community and key threatening process nominations for listing under the EPBC Act. In 2003-04, the committee also provided advice on the making or adoption of more than 50 recovery plans.
A focus for the committee this year was the development of a more effective and efficient recovery planning process for threatened species and ecological communities. New initiatives included the introduction of conservation advice at the time of listing and the development of more targeted and streamlined recovery plans.
The Department in conjunction with the committee continued to progress the alignment of Australian Government and state and territory lists of threatened species. The June 2004 committee meeting was held in Perth, Western Australia and included a one-day workshop with state government agency and scientific committee representatives to discuss issues relating to the identification and protection of threatened species, including the streamlining of threatened species listing processes. Working with the states and territories on this issue will continue to be a priority for the Department in 2004-05.
In June 2004, the committee held a workshop to progress the identification of nationally threatened ecological communities and to identify ways to ensure effective conservation outcomes for listed ecological communities. The workshop was attended by a number of experts and stakeholders including representatives from state agencies, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Humane Society International, Agforce, the New South Wales Farmers' Federation, the New South Wales Conservation Council and the Threatened Species Network.
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 twice on 19-20 November 2003 and 18-19 May 2004.
The committee continued significant work from its October 2002 national workshop Climate Change Impacts on Bio-diveristy in Australia, and provided input to and comment on the National Resource Management Ministerial Council Task Group's consultation paper, leading to the draft National Action Plan for the Management of Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity, on which the committee also commented.
The committee initiated a national Economic Value of Biodiversity workshop, held in Melbourne on 22-23 October 2003. The workshop - sponsored by the Department and Land and Water Australia - involved economic and ecological experts and policy makers, and reviewed current understanding and experience, and research potential in understanding the economic value of biodiversity. The workshop identified key messages and issues in pursuing such valuation. A summary of the workshop was circulated to participants, and a guide drafted for a broader audience.
The committee has continued to focus attention on regional natural resource management (NRM) planning. At its 11th meeting (November 2003), the committee met with five chairs from regional bodies to discuss biodiversity considerations in NRM planning. The committee continued to consider ways to improve outcomes from NRM planning, for example to engage local government.
The Indigenous Advisory Committee
The Indigenous Advisory Committee advises the Minister on significance of Indigenous people's knowledge of the management of land and the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, particularly in relation to the operation of the EPBC Act. The committee met twice in 2003. The committee also met with the Biological Diversity Advisory Committee May 2004. The committees' discussions were focused around the functions of the EPBC Act, the management of endangered species, and Indigenous engagement in World Heritage Areas. The Indigenous Advisory Committee provided input into the review of the EPBC Act Administrative Guidelines on Significance as part of the public consultation process commenced by the Department in August 2003.