The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is Australia’s primary national environmental legislation. It provides for the protection of the environment, in particular those aspects of the environment that are matters of national environmental significance. The EPBC Act defines nine matters of national environmental significance, which are:
- world heritage properties;
- national heritage places;
- wetlands of international importance;
- listed threatened species and ecological communities;
- listed migratory species;
- protection of the environment from nuclear actions;
- Commonwealth marine areas;
- the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; and
- protection of water resources from coal seam gas development and large coal mining development.
Effective administration of referrals, assessments and approvals of controlled actions under the EPBC Act reduces impacts on the environment and facilitates economic development. Previous ANAO audits have identified shortcomings in the department’s administration of regulation under the EPBC Act in relation to the timeliness, consistency and effectiveness of regulatory actions.
- Despite being subject to multiple reviews, audits and parliamentary inquiries since the commencement of the Act, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s administration of referrals, assessments and approvals of controlled actions under the EPBC Act is not effective.
- Governance arrangements to support the administration of referrals, assessments and approvals of controlled actions are not sound. The department has not established a risk-based approach to its regulation, implemented effective oversight arrangements, or established appropriate performance measures.
- Referrals and assessments are not administered effectively or efficiently. Regulation is not supported by appropriate systems and processes, including an appropriate quality assurance framework. The department has not implemented arrangements to measure or improve its efficiency.
- The department is unable to demonstrate that conditions of approval are appropriate. The implementation of conditions is not assessed with rigour. The absence of effective monitoring, reporting and evaluation arrangements limit the department’s ability to measure its contribution to the objectives of the EPBC Act.