1 Introduction

Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Beeton RJS (Bob), Buckley Kristal I, Jones Gary J, Morgan Denise, Reichelt Russell E, Trewin Dennis
(2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee), 2006

1. Introduction

Australia is blessed with a mega-diverse continent and seas. Increasingly, our attention is directed at managing and sustaining it. Australia State of the Environment 2006 (SoE2006) is the third independent national stocktake of the Australian environment. It covers the five-year period 2001 to 2006, and reports on all aspects of the environment through the themes of human settlements, atmosphere, biodiversity, coasts and oceans, inland waters, land, natural and cultural heritage, and the Australian Antarctic Territory, and a number of commissioned integrative commentaries.

Since 1996, three Australian state of the environment reports (SoE) have been prepared. Yet because of the lack of accurate, nationwide environmental data, the Committee is still not in a position to give a clear national picture of the state of Australia’s environment.

Within the limitations of the available data, this report sets out to objectively and accurately describe the reality of the circumstances, to recognise what has been achieved, and to identify future options. This is no easy task. It is far more demanding than just listing everything that is wrong or lost, or celebrating everything that has been saved or restored. This report acknowledges the long sequence of human occupation and interaction with the natural environment of Australia that has shaped and layered the landscape—a natural and cultural heritage that is valuable and worth conserving in its own right. The report also recognises the profound impacts of people on Australia’s natural ecosystems.

The relationships between environmental pressures, conditions and responses are diverse, and environmental management is a complex process. Nevertheless, there is a rising level of debate about Australia’s environment, how it should be managed and how the public is informed and involved in its management. This has significant implications for policy and practice. Nevertheless, there is an increasingly mainstream debate about Australia’s environment and how it should be managed. The environment is everybody’s business.

SoE2006 is a key contribution to the ongoing process of environmental reporting. It is the only mandated national reporting process for which data from different aspects of the environment are brought together and assessed by independent experts. The process of state of the environment reporting focuses attention on environmental problems and progress. It provides access to data and it is a basis for all Australians, and people interested in Australia, to evaluate, comment and act on environmental issues.

To assist with the independence of the reporting process, the Australian State of the Environment Committee commissioned commentaries on each of the major themes: human settlements, atmosphere, biodiversity, coasts and oceans, inland waters, land, natural and cultural heritage, and the Australian Antarctic Territory. Additionally, the Committee commissioned commentaries on associated issues that were seen as critical to understanding the state of Australia’s environment and improving the debates that surround it. All commentaries were peer reviewed and are published on the website as the authors’ own works. An additional series of short reports on current and emerging issues was also prepared (see Appendix 2). These all support SoE2006 but they are not formally part of it.

SoE2006 reflects the diversity of views that can arise from the differing ways of interpreting the same data and drawing out messages. In preparing this report, the Australian State of the Environment Committee has looked at all the available data and interpretations, with a view to contributing to a healthy environmental debate. The Committee does not expect that this report will be the last word and has designed a total product that will allow progress to be debated and monitored.

The SoE2006 product comprises seven elements, all of which are available in a fully integrated website at http://www.deh.gov.au/soe. The main SoE2006 is available in printed form and on CD-ROM as well, and it is this component that is provided to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage for tabling in the Australian Parliament. A printed summary document that includes a CD-ROM is also available. Other elements of SoE2006 include the data reporting system, theme commentaries, integrative commentaries and short reports, and numerous data links in an organised system that includes a late news section (see diagram below). The content of the main report is built upon these elements. Those who want further information than is presented here, including the source data and analysis, should look to these other elements.

The report that follows provides the key findings of SoE2006 along with an overview of the issues associated with each theme. Those interested in pursuing these issues can, by CD-ROM and Internet, access commentaries, short reports and data systems through a search engine and links system that attempts to make all relevant information available to all who are interested in Australia’s environment.

Diagram of the relationship between the main SoE2006 report and it's associated products