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Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
10 April 2003
The Federal Government's national environmental reforms are protecting the environment in a thorough, efficient and timely way, according to the Auditor-General.
The Australian National Audit Office report into the administration of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) has been welcomed by the Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp.
"The ANAO report is a strong endorsement of the most comprehensive and powerful national environment legislation ever enacted in Australia," Dr Kemp said.
"The EPBC Act is delivering substantially greater protection for matters of national environmental significance - World Heritage properties, Ramsar wetlands of international significance, listed threatened species and ecological communities, listed migratory species and the Commonwealth marine area.
"Prior to the EPBC Act commencing operation in July 2000, the Commonwealth often had no capacity to be involved in many of the nation's most important environmental decisions. For example, large new urban subdivisions with likely impacts on nationally threatened species could proceed without Commonwealth environmental impact assessment unless there happened to be a significant foreign investor. Now the test is whether there is a significant environmental impact on a matter of National Environmental Significance.
"It is particularly telling to note the positive impact the Act is having on the management and protection of Australia's World Heritage properties. Since the Act came into effect, World Heritage issues have been considered in relation to more than 100 proposed developments, with 33 of these developments required to undergo assessment and approval under the Act. This is in marked contrast to the previous 16 years, when the Commonwealth made only six decisions in total on World Heritage issues.
"The operation of the EPBC Act has resulted in better environmental outcomes in a wide range of significant activities such as major mining developments, offshore seismic surveys, urban development, infrastructure projects and energy production."
Dr Kemp said the audit has provided a valuable review of the way Environment Australia undertakes its responsibilities in administering the EPBC Act and provided useful guidance to areas of further improvement.
"The report strongly supports the quality and timeliness of environment assessments and approvals under the EPBC Act," Dr Kemp said.
"In an overwhelming majority of cases examined, the ANAO found the reasons for my decisions or delegate's decisions were documented and consistent with appropriate government guidelines and legal principles.
"Staff in Environment Australia were also found to be active in assisting organisations undertaking an action to determine whether their action is likely to have a ‘significant impact' and would need an approval under the EPBC Act.
"The timeliness of decision making was also deemed to be in accordance with the timeframes specified in the Act with more than 90% of statutory decisions being made on time. As part of its compliance strategy, Environment Australia was also found to be building awareness of the EPBC Act by informing stakeholders of their obligations."
Dr Kemp said Environment Australia has accepted the report's six recommendations without qualification and has already begun working to implement the recommendations.
The main ANAO recommendations include:
To address these recommendations, Environment Australia has:
Catherine Job (Dr Kemp's office) 0408 648 400