Department of the Environment and Water Resources, 2007
Policy and influence
DEH is the Australian Government’s lead agency on environmental matters. Our Annual Report contains an extensive description of our policy and programme activities, so this sustainability report outlines our general approach to integrating sustainability in this part of what we do, and gives a concise example.
Our approach to sustainability
Sustainability for DEH means taking a long-term view of our natural and cultural environment: one that also includes social and economic concerns. One definition of sustainability for DEH, developed as part of national consultation in 1992, is:
using, conserving and enhancing the community’s resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased.
Our major piece of sustainability legislation is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which includes five general principles for ecologically sustainable development (ESD):
- decision-making processes should effectively integrate both long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equitable considerations;
- if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation;
- the principle of inter-generational equity - that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained and enhanced for the benefit of future generations;
- the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity should be a fundamental consideration in decision-making; and
- improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms should be promoted.
Agencies, including DEH, are required to include statements in their annual reports regarding how they integrate these sustainability principles into their policy, programme, regulatory, legislative and operational activities.
Our sustainability outcomes
DEH operates under the Australian Government’s managing for outcomes framework. This means that agencies are provided with funding and other resources (inputs) to produce a range of policies, programmes, laws, research, products and services (outputs), which then help to achieve desired results in the environment, the society and the economy (outcomes).
There are two outcomes DEH is especially responsible for contributing towards:
- Outcome 1: the environment, especially those aspects that are matters of national significance, is protected and conserved
- Outcome 2: Australia’s interests in Antarctica are advanced.
In the environment and heritage portfolio, progress towards those broad outcomes is tracked through the use of six themes:
- Climate change
- Land and inland waters
- Coasts and oceans
- Impacts of human settlements
- The Antarctic
These outcomes and themes are set by Government, after consultation with a range of agencies and other stakeholders. International treaties and agreements to which Australia is a party inform the setting of outcomes and outputs.
Stakeholders and policy
As an agency of government, DEH is required to take the concerns of stakeholders into account during the processes of policy development, regulation and programme delivery. Different policy and programme issues require different approaches to stakeholder engagement (such as whether a policy is of national or regional interest). As a general rule, consultation occurs with those people significantly affected by, or interested in, a particular issue. This can include individual companies, business groups, executive government, other Australian Government agencies, other jurisdictions in Australia, foreign governments, research institutions, the education sector, NGOs and the general public. The Regulatory Impact Statement process (administered by the Office of Best Practice Regulation in the Productivity Commission) includes stakeholder engagement as part of the policy process.
More information and examples
Reporting on the performance of our policy, programme, regulatory and legislative functions can be found in the DEH Annual Report for 2005-06.
As in our Triple Bottom Line report for 2004-05, we provide an example of how we incorporate sustainability into our policy and programme work:
The Community Water Grants programme provides grants of up to $50 000 for community groups to undertake practical projects in water conservation, recycling and reuse.