Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608
Phone: 02 62.. ....
Independent review of the EPBC Act 1999
GPO Box 787
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Independent review of the EPBC Act 1999
I am writing to provide a submission from Friends of Grasslands (FoG) to the review. 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 the conservation of grassy ecosystems, and carries out surveys and other on-ground work. FoG is based in Canberra and its more than 200 members include professional scientists, landowners, land managers and interested members of the public.
FoG's comments against the matters raised in the discussion paper are at Attachment A. FoG notes that the size and complexity of the act is reflected in the number of matters/questions that are provided to comment against. Unfortunately, as a small volunteer group, FoG is unable to do more than reflect on our experience of commenting on referrals under the Act in recent years; we cannot comment on all matters that may be of interest to us.
For your information, I have also attached extracts of two letters which are comments: provided to the Australian Government (AG) Environment Minister in October 2007 (not replied to) about administration of the Act (Attachment B); and on a draft agreement on EIA between Australian and ACT governments (Attachment C). And I draw your attention to the range of experience FoG has had with the EPBC in recent years - a listing of matters commented on is at Attachment D.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input to this review. FoG is very interested in the review's assessment of ToR 2(d) 'the effectiveness of the biodiversity and wildlife conservation arrangements' in particular, and seeks an improved EPBC Act that protects biodiversity (not simply documents what is to be lost) and provides opportunities for effective community participation in decision making.
19 December 2008
FoG responses to the discussion paper
(b) to promote ecologically sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources
[see answer at Scope Q1(b)]
(c) to promote the conservation of biodiversity
[see answers at various places below]
(d) to promote a cooperative approach to the protection and management of the environment involving governments, the community, landholders and indigenous people
[FoG has no basis on which to determine whether this object has been achieved. However, it suspects that without broad application of tools such as management agreements required under project conditions, and strategic environmental assessments where appropriate, it cannot be.]
Terms of reference
2(c) the appropriateness of current matters of [NES]
FoG's view is that NES could usefully include national level policies such as 'no-net loss' of native vegetation, negotiation of which has driven - over the past decade - the states to provide leadership in approaches to development approval in this area; especially given that 'land clearance' is a listed key threatening process under EPBC [see more at Q9]. Given the context of national climate change related policy, and the importance within that of protecting native vegetation and also the need to enhance it (through management), this would seem to be a good time to include something relevant in NES. [see also Q9]
3(a) to promote the sustainability of Australia’s economic development to enhance individual and community well-being while protecting biological diversity and maintaining essential ecological processes and systems [this is the integration of economic/social/environmental objectives required for effective ESD - see Scope Q1(b)]
3(b) to work in partnership with the states and territories within an effective federal arrangement
Scope of the Act
Q1(a) Are the objects of the Act appropriate to the Commonwealth’s role in environment
protection and management?
Yes, with updating of NES (see above) and real promotion of ESD. Also, FoG suggests improved wording at (c), equivalent to wording at (ca): 'to provide for the conservation of biodiversity', as 'promotion' does not seem to be working.
Q1(b) Are the principles of Ecological Sustainable Development (ESD) appropriate to the Commonwealth’s role in environment protection and management?
Entirely. However, in reality development approval tends to fall short of these seemingly 'aspirational' concepts.
Does the legislation provide an adequate framework to guide ESD decisions made under the Act?
Not yet - for examples see below.
Integration of economic/environmental/social. FoG's view is that far too often a decision is made on economic/social grounds, and the environmental values 'traded off', usually using the language of 'needing to balance between objectivesfor the public good'; this is not integration. Good examples in the ACT are provided in decisions relating to the Canberra International Airport (over many years) and ongoing suburban developments. Opportunities to retain/enhance environmental values are lost because of the economics of, and approaches to (e.g. greenfield), development.
Precautionary principle. In FoG's experience, decisions are often made without adequate understanding of the values of a site, and the likely consequences of the proposal, and the onus is on the respondent(s) rather than the proponent to prove that loss/degradation will not occur. FoG supports a system including 'reverse onus of proof', where proponents need to prove that a proposal will lead to at least a neutral outcome but preferably environmental enhancement rather than harm.
Conservation of biological diversity/ecological integrity as a fundamental consideration. See comments above under 'integration'. Rather than a fundamental consideration, conservation is too often treated as a nuisance; something to be dealt with minimally and 'pragmatically'. Consequently, opportunities for conservation are lost; and grassy ecosystems continue to disappear.
Promotion of improved valuation mechanisms. As noted elsewhere in this response, methods already being used at the state level (e.g. NSW 'biobanking' and Vic 'habitat hectares' - see comments at Q9) are not yet found at the national level through EPBC. The AG should be leading in this area - e.g. developing, promoting/using and evaluating approaches.
Q1(e) What kind of impacts should be considered under the Act? Does the Act adequately encompass not just direct but also indirect impacts?
A continuing concern to FoG is cumulative loss. Grassy ecosystems (native grasslands in particular) tend to be cryptic (despite the communities' complexity, many species are small and subtle and not always recognised by the general public as of value), on gentle slopes or valley bottoms, and dispersed (in very small to large remnants, across the landscape) and, therefore, extremely vulnerable to development; especially when they stand in the way of complicated or 'necessary' urban developments (suburbs, airports, prisons, low cost accommodation …). Development approval of remnants too easily written off as 'marginal' or unsustainable' - but actually irreplaceable - on a project by project basis leads to 'death [potentially extinction] by 1000 cuts'; lots of 'small' decisions. Accordingly, FoG's view is that EIA under EPBC needs to include some practical approach to cumulative assessment of significance of impacts - of all relevant proposals over time and space - on any particular threatened species or ecological community.
Further, there is a need to assess any project site as part of its landscape - how will the loss/degradation of individuals or a population of a threatened species, or a remnant of an ecological community, or ongoing use of the site (e.g. by residents of edging suburbs) affect adjacent areas. A good example of continuing loss, through lots of separate development approvals under mostly AG but also ACT legislation, is in the Majura Valley (including the Canberra International Airport site).
Q1(f) Does the test of significance, in the context of actions having a ‘significant’ impact on a matter of NES, operate effectively in practice? If you think that there should be another test, what should it be?
Threatened species and ecological communities are listed under both EPBC and ACT legislation; but there is not equivalent 'status' between systems. Existence of local/regional conservation strategies (e.g. Action Plan 27 and AP28 for grassy ecosystems) does not ensure adequate protection from developments proposed under EPBC. Even DEWHA recognises sub-threshold (to EPBC) matters, i.e. where 'a decision has been made that the proposed action is not likely to have a significant impact on matters of [NES] … may contain important local, regional or Territory environmental values', and decision passed back to 'rest with the ACT Government'. However, experience is that once a proposal has been passed under EPBC it is likely to get approval in the ACT. FoG suggests that the bar be raised, so that likely impacts on threatened species and ecological communities - especially vulnerable, disappearing grassy ecosystems on highly developable sites - are avoided.
Assessment and Approvals
Q2 Does the public understand their responsibilities under the Act to refer proposed actions to the Minister? and Q3 Are appropriate projects being referred for approval?
FoG is in no position to determine which actions are not referred, but encourages AG to find out, and to determine whether the gap is significant.
Q4 Do you think that the Act contains an effective hierarchy of environmental assessment approaches, ranging from assessment on referral information to assessment by public inquiry? Are the methods of assessment providing the required information for informed approval decisions?
FoG's experience is that, because of the complexity of process beyond referral, a proposal is unlikely to proceed beyond that stage and the bulk of assessment is at the referral stage. This may mean that some matters that should be assessed further are not, for simply (human) resource reasons. FoG notes that the EPBC Act was put in place on a 'cost neutral' basis, i.e. there were always going to be insufficient resources to administer it well.
In FoG's view, if most assessment is going to be at the referral stage, the AG should take the opportunity to place useful conditions on decisions, e.g. to ensure appropriate mitigation.
Measures to avoid/minimise potential impacts on threatened species and ecological communities are often not adequately specified in a referral. FoG often suggests such mitigation in its comments on referrals, and notes (with some relief) that DEWHA sometimes requires such mitigation through project conditions; however, this does not always happen. In the apparent absence of a standard approach - seeking consistent outcomes - FoG has developed some words on mitigation that we now choose from when making comments (Attachment E).
Q5 Does the Act provide appropriate scope for public participation and transparency in the
assessment and approval process under the Act?
Administration of the Act by DEWHA includes advising referrals (and related) via the Department's EPBC website. This is effective if relevant others (e.g. FoG) are well placed to 1. keep up with what is posted, 2. can meet the fast turnaround times (e.g. 10 working days) to find/consider/draft and clear a response/reply. In theory this is possible, nothing is hidden; in practice it is a process that can exhaust the resources of small groups.
As a participant, FoG is advised of the outcome of referrals, including about conditions if they have been applied.
On a different matter, whoever prepares the referral responds re the 'good standing' of the proponent; FoG suggests that this could be third party verified.
Q6 Does the Act operate effectively in conjunction with State and Territory planning and environmental impact legislation? Are existing bilateral agreements achieving the objects of the Act?
The ACT is slightly more complex than other jurisdictions because of the amount of Commonwealth interest in land (relative to the size of the Territory), e.g. because of the National Capital Plan, Defence land and the Canberra International Airport lease. This can result in very complex planning/decision making processes. [see example in Attachment B].
A related matter is AG working in with steps that 'state' jurisdictions take to reflect and recommend strategies. For example, FoG's position continues to be that the AG should delay any decisions under EPBC relating to grassy ecosystems in the ACT until the ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment completes and reports on her inquiry into grassland management and conservation. Recommendations from the inquiry will hopefully provide direction for future decision making - including potentially relating to EPBC.
Q7 Are there further opportunities to harmonise the Act with other State and Territory legislation, planning and approval processes?
Yes - see examples below.
- An agreements is proposed (finalised?) between the Aust/ACT governments on EIA. However, most assessment happens at the referral stage (i.e. below EIS level); there is sometimes an EPBC related referral, and also a Preliminary Assessment under ACT planning legislation. It would be useful if these steps could be harmonised. [see extract of FoG's letter in response to a draft AG/ACT agreement at Attachment C]
- Taking into account the listing and status of species/communities in the other jurisdictions, and the conservation strategies that relate to them in EPBC decision making.
- Harmonising listing.
Q8 Does the use of strategic approaches, such as strategic assessments and bioregional plans, provide opportunities for streamlining Commonwealth involvement in environmental issues? Do such approaches provide an appropriate means for dealing with cumulative impacts?
[see also comments at Q1(e)] FoG is entirely supportive of strategic assessment, and advocated for this approach to be used in proposed development of the Molonglo Valley - which is underway at present (and welcome). FoG will be interested to see how well this approach deals with matters in comparison to the approach to date. It is not just about 'streamlining', in the ACT is a about aligning the AG/ACT approaches and hopefully to achieve effective conservation.]
Q9 Does the Act provide an effective regulatory framework for the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity? If not, what improvements could be made?
Not yet - see below and also elsewhere in this response.
FoG has a concern about quality of documentation. Not all referral documents are well prepared (e.g. information is insufficient, values/risks are downplayed, mistakes included), which may indicate the quality of input or simply rushing (budget/time imperative). FoG's view is that referrals should be based on professional ecological evaluation, by accredited personnel. Timing also matters, e.g. sometimes survey work is not sufficient to cover all seasons, or include good years; recently, drought based assessments are likely to have understated the quality of grassland vegetation. Sometimes further investigation is required, but not done.
Evaluation needs to be on an objective basis, to determine existing values and what will be lost before any decision is made or works commence. FoG notes that some states - at least consistent with, and sometimes improving, on the national policy of 'no net loss' of native vegetation - already have legislation (e.g. providing for 'biobanking' in NSW and 'habitat hectares' in Vic) that includes appropriate methodology, underpinning 'offset' approaches.
'Under these systems clearing of native vegetation is allowed only as a last resort, after all feasible mitigation measures have been taken, and after it has been shown that the biodiversity loss resulting from clearance can be offset. Offsets do not replace cleared vegetation, rather clearing is only allowed if offsets enhance remnants to an extent that is expected to at least match the biodiversity loss caused by clearance. Offsets are determined through calculating the biodiversity lost in the clearance area, and matching that with biodiversity gains that can be made through long term conservation management actions in offset areas. The size of offsets required will vary depending on the size and condition of the clearance area, and the condition of the offset area and prescribed management actions.' Clearly it is appropriate for national legislation to be - at least - up to the standard of the best state systems; leadership in such matters would be even better. FoG understands that DEWHA/AWD is developing an offsets policy; and would like to see it.
Q10 What are your views on the process for nominating threatened species, ecological communities and key threatening processes? and Q12 What matters should the Minister consider when deciding whether to list a threatened species or ecological community?
Sometimes a species has not yet been listed - e.g. a nomination has not yet been made, or made and rejected, or plants are newly discovered but not described or insufficient info is available on their distribution. In these situations, FoG's view is that such species should be given special status, and perhaps trigger more investigation if a proposal is made that threatens them. Further, many rare plants are considered to be sufficiently protected as they part of a TEC; FoG's view is that such plants should be considered in their own right. Also, there should be some form of automatic recognition under EPBC if a species is listed in another jurisdiction.
Q11 Given the length of time required for the assessment of nominations, should the Act allow for the emergency listing of species and ecological communities which may be threatened (similar to the provisions for the emergency listing of National Heritage places)? Would the advantages of this be outweighed by the financial and administrative costs?
Anything along these lines would only be of value if conservation of biodiversity was actually treated as a fundamental consideration'. [see response at Q1(b)]
Q13 Are the categories of threat appropriate?
As noted previously, 'land clearance' is a listed key threatening process' under EPBC. However, until that listing drives better process outcomes (e.g. through implementation of an offset policy [see Q9] appropriateness is hard to judge.
Another possible threat is over abundant native species, in some circumstances e.g. if they threaten another species/community e.g. kangaroos on grasslands, and certain predatory or territorial birds on woodland bird species.
Q14 Are there opportunities to reduce duplication between the Commonwealth and State and Territory listing regimes or do overlaps between the regimes provide significant protection for threatened species and ecological communities?
Automatic acceptance of a listing in another jurisdiction. Better integration of AG and state/territory procedures.
Q15 What factors should be considered in setting priorities for recovery planning? and Q16 Does the planning regime support the effective recovery of threatened species and ecological communities?
Recovery planning seems to have been a failure of EPBC. Where RPs exist, and RP Teams are active, and with resources applied by the participants, there is some chance that positive action will be taken. However, RPs do not have any legal force e.g. to influence EIA decision making. Some useful priorities for RPs would be that:
- all TS and TECs have one (they could be for multiple TS/TECs), and that it is kept up to date (i.e. acted on, monitored, and reported against, then adjusted if need be)
- they have an implementation plan/team, with adequate resources
- the RPs are considered in EIA decision making.
For example, FoG is aware that the Natural Temperate Grassland RPT is considering its future because it is no longer funded. The goodwill and action that has been directed at protecting this TEC over many years is at risk.
Q17 Are there opportunities to improve the co-ordination between the Commonwealth and State and Territory recovery regimes? If so, what might these be?
Yes. Ask the RPTs which are well placed to comment from experience.
Q18 Are the provisions of the Act for the protection and recovery of threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species, listed marine species and cetaceans effective? What alternative approaches might be available?
Not yet: see various comments under other questions.
Q19 Does the Act provide an appropriate legislative framework for addressing climate change and other emerging pressures in the context of environmental protection and biodiversity conservation? If not, how can such matters be considered when making decisions under the Act?
No. But this is a huge amount of work if you want a real response, and beyond FoG's current consideration/resources. See earlier comments re approaches to native vegetation protection/management, at least (e.g. ToR2(c) and Q9).
Compliance and Enforcement
Q35 Does the Act provide for the appropriate follow-up of environmental assessment and approval decisions, including the monitoring, evaluation and auditing of actions? If not, what other actions could be taken? and Q37 Does the Act contain a sufficiently comprehensive and appropriate range of enforcement mechanisms? Are those mechanisms capable of deterring and responding to contraventions of the Act?
As noted at Q5, as a participant FoG is advised of any conditions. However, FoG has no idea about effective implementation of such conditions, or whether compliance/enforcement follows. Sometimes conditions are somewhat vague or non-quantifiable; and it is sometimes hard to know whether a condition is substantial or trivial.
FoG would be interested to know how many referral decisions are made which include conditions, and the nature (consistency?) of such conditions, whether/how compliance is followed up and enforcement that follows from non-compliance.
Decision-Making Under the Act
Q40 Does the Act provide sufficient guidance for decision makers in their consideration of uncertainty when making decision under the Act? If not, how should the Act deal with uncertainty?
[see FoG comment at Q1(b) re the precautionary principle]
Q41 Does the Act provide the appropriate opportunity for external input and scrutiny of decisions made under the Act? Is there sufficient transparency? Are the periods for public consultation adequate?
[see comment at Q5]
Text extract of FoG letter to AG Environment Minister re EPBC Act Oct 2007
'Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC)
I am writing to you to express Friends of Grasslands (FoG) concerns about administration of the EPBC Act.
FoG understands the practicalities of administering such a complicated piece of legislation for biodiversity outcomes: including both the listing of communities/species across Australia and assessment of potential impacts on them; in the context of other jurisdictions' processes; and with limited staff resources. However, our recent experiences have led to frustration - about the value of our participation, and our capacity to influence decision making.
Because of our recent track record - commenting on five project referrals during July-October - officers from DEWR provided an opportunity to meet to discuss our issues. This was a worthwhile meeting, which clarified some issues and highlighted opportunities for FoG to use the referral process effectively, but left a residue of concern.
What FoG seeks in providing comments on proposals that may affect grassy ecosystems is to protect sites of value wherever possible (i.e. prevent them being destroyed or degraded by works/developments), and to mitigate impacts where these are unavoidable. The issues that continue to concern FoG are as follows.
Complex decision processes. In the ACT there is ACT and Commonwealth land, including land designated under the National Capital Plan. The ACT Government has made a lot of progress in the past decade on listing communities/species under the Nature Conservation Act 1980, and to develop related strategies including Action Plans which describe/map values, describe issues/threats and identify conservation actions. When decisions are made that may affect threatened communities/species in the ACT things can get complicated, and the value and influence of state/local (i.e. ACT) level conservation arrangements - in the context of Commonwealth level decisions - are not clear. Two examples follow.
EPBC project 07/3554: caravan park servicing at Symonston. Also triggered a draft variation to the Territory Plan and a draft amendment to the National Capital Plan. This is a relatively small project, but FoG is concerned about the long term conservation outcome for the grassland earless dragon (GED), a threatened reptile in the area; although the site is less important for GED than some others, with the drought and poor management of habitat locally (see below), there is a risk the species could go extinct. FoG made submissions to all three processes, which is a big undertaking for such a small group. This is now a controlled action and may yet deliver a conservation outcome, but is a long way from finished.
EPBC project 07/3756: transfer of Defence land at Majura to DoTaRS, to be on-sold to the Canberra Airport Group (CAG) for construction of a road. There is a cascade of decisions, and the impacts will come at the construction stage. There is no detail yet of the road and its alignment, although subsequent approval of construction works will be being implied by the transfer/sale stages. The land includes an endangered ecological community and a range of threatened species, which are currently being inadequately managed by both Defence and CAG. ACT conservation provisions (via the Territory Plan) will cease to apply when the land is transferred. The 'need' for the road relates to previous inadequate planning/approval. FoG commented on the referral, and will try to stay engaged as this project goes forward - but the political influence of airport owners is profound.
Significance thresholds and cumulative impacts. Many projects are referred because they include threatened species/communities. FoG's view, supported by Action Plans, is that even small remnants are part of the bigger picture of grassy ecosystem conservation in the ACT region, and potential impacts should be considered very seriously and avoided where possible. Where DEWR does not make a 'controlled action' decision, it is less likely that the ACT (also under-resourced and in a political climate of 'development is good') will take action to protect remnants. This means that small sites with real value (e.g. containing local populations) continue to be lost or degraded or further separated by a series of 'small decisions', i.e. death by a thousand cuts. There appears to be no strategy to consider such decisions on a cumulative basis.
Recovery planning. A related feature of the EPBC Act is that listed communities/species have recovery plans. Such plans are useless unless they can influence decisions about land use and lead to long term protection and management for conservation. This means sufficient specificity to address future developments and unsympathetic land uses, adequate resources for implementation and follow through; not just documents that sit on shelves.
FoG encourages DEWR to work with jurisdictions such as the ACT to look beyond administration and procedures and to seek conservation outcomes for our threatened communities and species. A strategic approach to proposed development in the Molonglo Valley would be a good first step, to ensure that the design of future residential developments does not compromise the functioning of the relatively intact systems that remain there, and supports threatened communities and species. FoG also notes that the ACT Chief Minister, Mr John Stanhope, has called an inquiry by the ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment into the 'adequacy of the management of Canberra's grasslands, and the vulnerability of their ecosystems'. FoG's view is that it would be very poor process if any relevant EPBC project referrals were approved before this inquiry is completed.
The EPBC Act was an initiative of the Howard Government; it arrived with a fanfare, but the model of cost-neutrality in its administration has not delivered. The Commonwealth Government should lead in biodiversity protection and environmental impact assessment. Strategic and cumulative impact assessment have been part of the rhetoric since the beginning and need to be actively pursued.'
Text extract of FoG letter re draft agreement between Aust and ACT govts re EIA [to DEWHA] 6/08
agreement 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.'
EPBC referrals (and related) commented on by FoG 2007 and 2008
15 Dec 08
08/4621 Proposed construction of a sub-transmission line, Williamsdale to Theodore
14 Oct 08
08/4367 Proposed remediation at Belconnen Naval Transmission Station (Lawson)
26 Sept 08
[further to 08/4170 see below] Draft recommendations
26 Jun 08
Draft agreement between Aust/ACT governments on EIA
8 May 08
08/4175 Proposal for residential development at Crace
6 May 08
08/4170 Proposal for taxiway extension at Canberra International Airport
14 Feb 08
[further to 08/3554] Draft Management Plan for Narrabundah Long Stay Caravan Park
21 Dec 07
[further to 07/3756]
18 Oct 07
07/3756 Proposal to transfer Defence land at Majura (subsequent to on-sale and construction of an access road0
8 Oct 07
07/3734 Proposal for residential development at Macgregor
3 Aug 07
07/3554 Proposal to provide services to land (for a caravan park) and issue a lease to developer
19 Jul 07
07/3531 Proposal to prepare Inner Asset Protection Zones at 39 sites within Canberra Nature Park
13 Jul 07
07/3520 Proposal to develop a diplomatic mission site at Yarralumla
FoG's standard words on mitigation (for works what may affect grassy ecosystems)
Proposed mitigation, and techniques to be used, should be spelled out specifically and unambiguously in contracts, and must be sufficient to protect/enhance all retained native vegetation on the site, along a works corridor and in adjacent sites. Careful management of site works and mitigation is critical. Inadequate mitigation measures can result in accidental damage to conservation values - on- and off-site - during and after construction.
Know what is at risk. Employ recognised (preferably accredited) ecologists to do site/resource evaluation, and make recommendations.
Make supervisors and contractors responsible. The natural values being protected, and the need to avoid damage to them, should be recognised in contracts. Preferably, a site manager will be in charge at the site and responsible at all times. If agreed mitigation measures in contracts are breached, use a significant financial disincentive to remediate any damage caused. However, the emphasis should not move from prevention to simply monitoring and correction; fixing a habitat site ripped up by machinery is too late. If warranted, an ecological expert (e.g. ACT Government grassland/woodland specialist) should be engaged to oversee the activity.
Support site/works managers to understand the complexity of grassy ecosystem (especially grassland) management. Brief all relevant personnel/contractors before they go on-site, and remind them (e.g. use appropriate signs) on-site. Inform/train them to understand the values of the site and how to protect them.
Minimise the need for disturbance through appropriate location and good design.
Prevention or minimisation of damage to site, site values and adjacent environments (e.g. use but not expand existing alignments) should be the emphasis, rather than measures/monitoring/correction. Minimise disturbance on site such as by works vehicle traffic, storage and movement of equipment/materials, management of spoil, e.g.
- if necessary, temporary fences should be erected to limit movement by vehicles across the site
- wherever heavy machinery is proposed to be used, avoid soil compaction and disturbance by use of the smallest/lightest equipment, and with rubber tyres if possible
- wherever excavation is required its extent should be minimised
- works structures (e.g. sheds) must be placed so as to not damage/degrade otherwise unaffected vegetation
- if material is to be stockpiled, known or potential habitat for threatened species should be avoided
- avoid sensitive times - to avoid breeding or flower/seed set.
Avoid encroachment/intrusion, i.e. collateral damage to areas adjacent to the works site
- whether temporary or permanent, location of all proposed fencing should be mapped (identify boundaries of sites/areas to be protected with adequate buffers) and marked/laid out competently before construction
- specified to be constructed from within the project site
- constructed prior to site works commencing
- erected to prevent movement of vehicles and spillage of spoil
- vehicle access should not be through adjacent areas of high conservation value - any new tracks should be avoided
- should not be stockpiled off-site
- no services (including temporary arrangements) should be routed through adjacent areas of quality grassland/habitat
- no runoff or debris should be directed at areas of quality grassland.
Rehabilitate/revegetate disturbed areas within the works site sensitively and appropriately; using local species, and recognising the woodland/grassland values of the site and any adjacent areas. Any restoration, including use of seed mixes, should be consistent with the protection and long term management of site values - considering things like source of seed (local), species selection and appropriate methods/timing of works.
Prevent weeds. Avoid disturbance, and introduction of weeds (e.g. in landscaping material), and weed spread (e.g. through altered drainage resulting in increased water availability). All machinery going on site needs to be clean of weed seeds; a 'brush down' may not be sufficient.
Provide for low impact ongoing management (site use/maintenance) e.g.
- locate asset protection zones (for fire prevention) within the site
- avoid preparation for slashing that would likely result in disturbance of quality habitat
- manage linear structures as sensitively as possible - e.g. target problem (such as tall/woody) species rather than bulldoze lines.
Offset effectively, but as a last resort. Comply with principles of 'net gain' or at least 'no‑net-loss'. Recognise that 'reinstating' vegetation cannot replace the complexity of that lost. If biodiversity conservation legislation - to protect threatened species/ecological communities - is to be effective, some areas must be 'no go'.
Relocate individual plants/animals as a last resort. It is not sufficient to deal with inconveniently located occurrences by 'salvaging' them; this practice is not proven for conservation. A 'locate → identify → record → relocate' approach is likely to lead to death of individuals.
Where management agreements are part of a development approval (e.g. for ongoing site management or rehabilitation), emphasis should be on implementation and compliance monitoring. Where possible, connect remedies to the adjacent landscape - less disturbed and rehabilitatable vegetation needs to be managed sympathetically to buffer/connect the key remnants.
Require a whole-of-government approach, i.e. seek integration across functions of government(s) - conservation advice/management with development planning and approval, construction.
Manage anticipated future human impacts - e.g. foot traffic (appropriate fencing or paths), pets as predators (e.g. of the suburb being brought to the edge of the reserved lands through containment of cats), dumping.
 Proposed Molonglo urban developments and their significant impact on endangered woodlands, a report prepared by the Conservation Council ACT Region in June 2008
 for example, A vision splendid of the grassy plains extended: ACT lowland native grassland conservation strategy, Action Plan No. 28
 consistent with ESD principles - this is not about 'balancing' conservation and development, i.e. trading one off against the other, but rather about seeking to conserve while continuing to develop, without compromising the former beyond what is sustainable