Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608
Phone: 02 62.. ....
Legislation Policy Section
Approvals and Wildlife Division
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
GPO Box 787
CANBERRA ACT 2601
between the Australian and ACT governments
relating to environmental impact assessment
Friends of Grasslands (FoG) is a community group dedicated to the conservation of natural temperate grassy ecosystems in south eastern Australia. FoG advocates, educates and advises on matters to do with conservation of grassy ecosystems, and carries out surveys and other on-ground work. FoG is based in Canberra and its around 200 members include professional scientists, landowners, land managers and interested members of the public. FoG has an ongoing interest in the assessment of potential impacts of proposed decisions and related developments on grassy ecosystems, and has been interested in administration of the EPBC Act in the ACT for many years: this has been communicated via comments on specific referrals, and has also been the subject of correspondence with your Minister.
FoG supports efficient EIA under relevant legislative and policy frameworks, such as through minimising duplication, but not at the expense of effective biodiversity protection. For example, the EPBC Act seeks to express a national approach in its listing of threatened species and ecological communities, and threatening processes, and in responding to actions or activities that may affect these; and is, presumably, adequately resourced to do so. FoG's view, based on experience of recent years, is that the ACT (while it does have biodiversity legislation, policy and strategies in place), as a small jurisdiction that includes a major regional centre both lacks administrative resources, and is exposed to ongoing and increasing development pressures. FoG suspects that 'additional implementation' funding (proposed at section 35) is unlikely to make up the shortfall in administrative resources, but would welcome better resourcing of EIA in the ACT, e.g. to ensure that environmental planners are involved in or consulted on proposals sufficiently (a lack in recent planning for suburban development in the Molonglo Valley).
As a small, volunteer based community group, FoG has limited resources to bring to analysis of legal documents, and has to accept that the approach proposed at Schedule 1 does meet the requirements of Part 8 of the EPBC Act, as stated. However, in reality most proposals will not reach this level of assessment. FoG assumes that, as stated at sub-section 9.1, DEWHA will continue to run the initial stage of considering referrals under EPBC (via the 'referral of proposed action' step) to determine whether an action is a 'controlled action', e.g. is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance (such as a nationally listed threatened ecological community); this would mean limited application of the proposed agreement.
FoG seeks clarification of the term 'approved conservation advice' (a definition of which could not be found in a quick search of the EPBC Act). Specifically, its use at sub‑section 18.2(d): does this reference include Conservator's Directions or, alternatively, should they be specified at 18.2(g)?
Regarding compliance checking, given that such monitoring is limited by available administrative resources , FoG is concerned that the ACT may not be well placed (except geographically) to either identify or follow up on non‑compliance.
FoG notes that referral reports of proposed actions under EPBC address both the 'environmental history of the responsible party' and the 'reliability of information'; however, regarding quality of ecological assessment, FoG is concerned that there may be cases where consultants are not sufficiently expert for the task. Although not specifically addressed by this agreement, FoG would welcome the Australian government taking a lead on ensuring that professionals involved - throughout the EIA process - are sufficiently trained and experienced to ensure adequate assessment of impacts, and recommendations for mitigation. This may include a requirement of registration of environmental consultants, e.g. by the decision making organisation, against criteria agreed with someone like the ACT Conservator of Flora and Fauna.
Ideally, FoG seeks a strategic approach to EIA - involving the Australian and ACT governments - rather than simply devolution of some part of the role to the ACT. For example, Box Gum Woodlands are listed under both EPBC and ACT legislation; however, decisions continue to be made that destroy or degrade such woodlands because each one is assessed individually (a 'tyranny of small decisions'). FoG's view is that an appropriate role for the Australian government is to ensure that decisions affecting such threatened ecological communities are considered cumulatively, across the landscape (and across jurisdictional boundaries) and time, so that national protection policies (e.g. retention targets for native vegetation types, no doubt relevant to sub‑section 18.1) are pursued practically and effectively.
FoG welcomes the opportunity to comment on this matter.
26 June 2008
cc John Stanhope, Chief Minister of the ACT
Andrew Barr, ACT Minister for Planning
Senator Gary Humphries
Senator Kate Lundy
Mick Gentleman, Chair, ACT Standing Committee on Planning and Environment
Dr Maxine Cooper, ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment