Annual Report 1997-1998

This page contains the 1997-98 Annual report from the Office of the Commissioner for the Environment .

Highlights

September 1997 we submitted our Executive Summary and Recommendations for our third ACT State of the Environment Report to the then Minister for the Environment, Land and Planning, Gary Humphries.

February 1998 we finalised production of the 1997 comprehensive State of the Environment Report for the ACT on interactive CD-ROM as part of the first comprehensive State of the Environment Report for the Australian Capital Region.

May 1998 we submitted a special report, Investigation into the ACT Government's Use of Chemicals for Pest Control, to the Minister for Urban Services, Brendan Smyth.

All reports were enhanced by the voluntary assistance of experts on reference groups for the state of the environment reports (56 people in five groups for a total of 28 meetings) and on a steering committee for the chemicals report (14 people). This co-operation highlights professional and community commitment to better environmental understanding and management.

National and international interest was also reflected in invitations to speak at a total of 12 conferences or meetings during the reporting period.

Dr Joe Baker, the Commissioner for the Environment, was re-elected as one of five members of the International Scientific Committee on Problems in the Environment, and he has continued to be involved in the progressive consideration of the (international) Guidelines for Practical Assessment of Progress towards Sustainable Development (the Bellagio Principles).

Commissioner's Summary

1997-98 was both an exciting and a demanding year for the office with completion of the major reports outlined above, while managing an office relocation and staff adjustment through long-service leave and subsequent resignation of one of my two permanent support staff.

I provide more detail on various aspects of the reports in the section, Our Achievements 1997-98

Dr Joe Baker
Commissioner for the Environment

Our Organisation

We continue to be a very small team, with the appointment of the Commissioner for the Environment as part-time (approximately 80 days a year), supported by two permanent full-time officers. For the 1997 calendar year, while the Australian Capital Region State of the Environment (SoE) Report was being prepared, the Commissioner's appointment was extended by two days a month. That extension was paid out of the shire contributions.

In late 1996-97 we had appointed additional temporary personnel to meet the increased demands of SoE reporting and these appointments continued into 1997-98. Other contractors were appointed as needed, and as resources permitted. Details appear in the section on Resources.

Our organisation has been supported since 1993-94 by the voluntary services of reference groups who provide expert comment on each of the five environmental themes in our state of the environment reports. This was again the case during the reporting period in the preparation for the 1997 State of the Environment Report. Also, for the first time for a special report prepared in response to a direction by the Minister, our organisation was supported during 1997-98 by a steering committee who provided expert comment on the terms of reference for my Investigation into the ACT Government's Use of Chemicals for Pest Control.

Legislative Framework

We have three functions under the Commissioner for the Environment Act 1993 - the first as an environmental ombudsman; the second to conduct investigations that are directed by the Minister or initiated by me, as Commissioner for the Environment; and the third, to produce triennial state of the environment reports for the ACT by 31 March in each pre-election year. These functions are spelt out in detail in sections 12 and 19 of the Commissioner for the Environment Act.

Under subsection 19 (2), a State of the Environment Report shall include:

  1. an assessment of the condition of the environment, including an assessment of such of the following matters as the Commissioner considers necessary:
    1. the components of the earth, including soil, the atmosphere and water;
    2. any organic or inorganic matter and any living organism;
    3. human made or modified structures and areas;
    4. ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities;
    5. the qualities and characteristics of places and areas that contribute to their biological diversity and ecological integrity, scientific value and amenity;
    6. the interactions and interdependencies within and between the things mentioned in subparagraphs (i) to (v) (inclusive);
    7. the social, aesthetic, cultural and economic conditions that affect, or are affected by, the things mentioned in subparagraphs (i) to (v) (inclusive);
    an evaluation of the adequacy and effectiveness of environmental management, including an assessment about the degree of compliance with national environment protection measures made by the National Environment Protection Council; and
  2. such other matters, whether or not occurring within the triennium to which the report relates, as -
    1. the Minister specifies by notice in writing given to the Commissioner; or
    2. the Commissioner considers relevant.

Details in 19(2)(a) are the same as for the definition of the environment in the Environment Protection Act 1997. It is a broader definition of the environment than that which many other jurisdictions have adopted. It clearly includes humans as part of the environment, together with our social, aesthetic, cultural and economic structures. This definition settles any possible argument about whether human settlements should be included in our state of the environment reports.

A further requirement under the Commissioner for the Environment Act is that by 30 September in each pre-election year, the Minister shall present to the Legislative Assembly -

  1. a statement setting out the Government's response to the State of the Environment Report presented to the Legislative Assembly in that year; or
  2. a statement setting out the reasons why the Government's response has not been made available in accordance with paragraph (a).

To date the Government has responded to recommendations made in each state of the environment report. With the 1997 amendment to the Commissioner for the Environment Act, we are now required, in this and every annual report, to report on Government implementation of such recommendations, and to note any recommendations not yet implemented. These comments appear under the heading Progress On Implementation of State of the Environment Report Recommendations.

Achievements

1

The 1997 State of the Environment Report was a dramatic departure from the previous two reports for the ACT which were produced in 1994 and 1995.

This new format is on interactive CD-ROM. It combines text, maps and other images in new ways for state of environment reporting. Its interactive capabilities and combination of text, tables and maps move state of the environment reporting closer towards being an important planning and management tool. Readers can interrogate the data to help them determine the condition of their environment, and start to understand potential effects that human actions may have on the environment.

The 1997 report includes a comprehensive state of the environment report for the ACT and for each of the 17 NSW local governments in the region, plus a summary report on the region as a whole. A map shows the extent of the Australian Capital Region (see page 9).

The project was funded from within the office budget, and through payments made by the Local Government Authorities in the region, based on population size. The project was supplemented by a grant from Environment Australia for state of the environment reporting, specifically relating to development of indicators. That supplementation allowed us to implement the indicators which had been developed in the previous year, and to support those indicators with results sheets where data were available.

This report is an example of regional co-operation initiated and developed through the Regional Leaders' Forum. It is a first in many ways: It is the first major project completed by the Forum. It is the first cross-border state of environment report, at least in Australia. And as far as we know, it is the first state of environment report that has been produced on interactive CD-ROM.

Through a system of hyperlinks, the new format also facilitates interaction within and between numerous aspects of the text and the maps in ways that our previous reporting format could never achieve. In that way, it also provides better opportunities for understanding how the environment functions as a system.

The maps allow readers to view the region at various scales - as a whole, as a government area, or to zoom in to localised areas. Sensitive areas that need to be managed carefully can be detected at a local scale, as can the more robust areas.

With this format, we have established a framework for reporting that we hope to develop in future reports, so that state of environment reports can, more and more, be linked to planning and management, as well as to progress towards ecologically sustainable development.

In 1995-96 we had recognised that spatial data would provide the best opportunities for reporting on the state of the environment, and on changes in the environment. We realised that changes had to be made to the format we had used for the two previous state of the environment reports. Spatial representation of data on maps is a powerful descriptor. To be able to view maps of different datasets, such as water quality and streambank erosion, or vegetation cover and sheet erosion, was foreseen to be even more powerful.

In response to a recommendation in the 1995 ACT State of the Environment Report, the Government had undertaken to source a geographic information system (GIS) for our office. Starting in late 1996-97 and continuing into 1997-98, we took that opportunity to move state of the environment reporting for the ACT and the region into a different era. With the assistance of funding from the shire councils, we appointed a GIS officer for a limited term, to develop the mapping component of the proposed report.

In our earlier reports we had sought to provide as much baseline data and information about the state of the environment as practicable, and they have proved to be good source documents. But Government and members of the public were starting to ask for better identification and analysis of trends in data. The ACT Government is relatively rich in environmental data, particularly in relation to water quality and air quality monitoring. Yet for state of the environment reporting purposes, there remain some substantial gaps. The original format had actually disguised where data were not adequate to be able to detect trends.

With the format developed for the 1997 report, each environmental issue is assessed in terms of the relevant indicators. Where data are not available, there can be no assessment of that issue. The implications for identification of trends are clear.

The format also allows us to re-use the indicator pages which were developed for the CD-ROM product, and simply to update the information in each successive report.

On receiving advice that a comprehensive state of the environment report in 1998 was required under amendments to the NSW Local Government Act, we commissioned a procedures manual "State of the Environment Report Australian Capital Region: How to prepare your 1998 Report" which was completed early in 1998-99.

Unless background information on the major environmental themes changes, we will be able to re-use, or slightly modify that information, at relatively little expense. We believe that with the CD-ROM, we have achieved a more cost-effective, environmentally responsible and simplified method of producing state of the environment reports.

In breaking new ground in state of environment reporting, we are conscious that the CD-ROM format is not accessible for all members of the community.

Although any screen (page) can be printed from the CD-ROM, and summary reports for each of the government areas can also be printed, there is no comprehensive paper document for either the ACT or the region. The format, with its interactive mapping and hyperlinked text, simply does not lend itself to publication of a comprehensive printed document. It would be too voluminous.

A document, ACT State of the Environment Report 1997 - Executive Summary and Recommendations, was produced for tabling in September 1997. That document has been photocopied for a number of enquirers, but it has been seen as inadequate by some. To maintain the flexibility that has been created with the new format, and also to meet the needs of those people who require a more detailed document than the executive summary, is an issue that we will be addressing before the next report is due in 2000.

Publicity for the 1997 Australian Capital Region State of the Environment Report has been low-key to date, mainly through word-of-mouth. To 30 June 1998, we passed out 160 complimentary copies and sold a further 126. Sales for 1998-99 will be reported in our next annual report.

2

The completion of our Investigation into the ACT Government's Use of Chemicals for Pest Control was another achievement for 1997-98. The investigation was at the direction of the then Minister for the Environment, Land and Planning, Gary Humphries, and commenced in September 1996. It arose at the instigation of the Conservation Council of Canberra and the South-East Region. It was monitored by a Steering Committee selected by the Minister.

A draft document was circulated in September-October 1997 for comments. Some substantive comments about the recommendations were received, requiring further consultation. The final document was submitted to the Minister for Urban Services, Brendan Smyth, in May 1998.

The report was tabled in the Assembly by the Minister in June 1998.

The Commissioner has undertaken to conduct some further investigations following on from this report during 1998-99.

The terms of reference addressed by the report are as follows:

  1. Assessment of the types and quantities of chemicals used for the control of pests
  2. The effectiveness of existing chemical programs for the control of pests, including opportunities for reduction in the use of chemicals
  3. The health and safety aspects of chemical use on the general community and workers applying chemicals
  4. Public notification of chemical control programs
  5. The need for transparent processes to ensure community input on ACT chemical control programs
  6. The need to integrate ESD Precautionary Principles in policy decisions regarding chemicals use
  7. The potential impact of chemicals on non-target fauna and flora
  8. Non-toxic alternatives for control of pests
  9. Other relevant issues.

The Commissioner recommended the following in his report:

Recommendation 1

that the ACT Government act immediately to establish a co-ordinated approach, across the whole of the ACT Government, to best-practice management of pests, ("any vermin or other troublesome or destructive form of biological entity"), so as to ensure there is a mechanism (or mechanisms) in place to -

  1. provide a central point of liaison between the ACT Government Agencies and the National Registration Authority (NRA.), the Environmental Protection Group (EPG) and Worksafe Australia, on all pest-control issues;
  2. implement the requirements of all relevant legislation;
  3. provide for the direct point of contact for all asset managers within the ACT Government, its agencies and the ACT Landcare Sub-Committee in authorising the use of specific chemicals for specific pest-control uses under controlled conditions;
  4. derive from the ACT Weeds Strategy 1996, in collaboration with the parties identified therein, a draft 10 year Weed Management Plan for ACT Government land and other property under the management of the ACT Government and its agencies, for consideration by the ACT Government; such 10 year plan to be reviewed at 3, 6 and 9 years from 1998, and supplemented with annual action plans/programs;
  5. determine the qualifications and other criteria, including training requirements, that will apply to pest-control operators seeking a licence to operate pest-control activities in the ACT and to maintain a list of all such licensed operators;
  6. establish and maintain a reference list and a set of comprehensive data sheets of all approved chemicals for pest-control in the ACT, and of the storage locations and conditions of storage for such chemicals, for immediate access for both emergency and routine enquiries;
  7. establish, maintain and circulate (to all relevant asset managers) a comprehensive pest-control manual, modelled on the January 1996 ACT City Operations (Canberra Urban Parks) Pest Management Manual, (and containing all the chapter headings and sections of that document); and on the draft document 'Use and Handling of Herbicides for Rural Lessees and Landcare Groups'6; (It is recognised that different functional areas may require specialist portions of such a manual, to meet specific needs).
  8. facilitate liaison with all relevant asset managers and the ACT Landcare Sub-Committee to:
    1. conduct an inventory of all chemicals for pest-control in ACT Government Stores, with the objective of: - removing and destroying (by approved methods) all pest-control chemicals no longer approved for use in the ACT, and the containers holding those chemicals; and - investigating if the approved list and range of pest-control chemicals used in the ACT, by the ACT Government, can be reduced;
    2. coordinate advice and instruction on Integrated Pest Mangement (IPM), including mechanical, biological, chemical and any other approved control methods, with the objective of progressively minimising the use of pest-control chemicals, and emphasising the role of cultural control methods;
    3. develop an agreed format and set of criteria for: - recording the use of different pest-control methods by ACT Government employees and by contractors undertaking pest-control activities for the ACT Government and its agencies; and - determining the sustainable efficiency and any effectiveness of the different pest-control management strategies and practices, in their impacts on target and non-target species;
    4. develop an agreed format, signage and protocols for advertising pest-control methods prior to, during and after each event;
    5. develop (in association with the NRA) a system - including a free call 24 hour a day telephone number - to record and investigate all complaints of chemical sensitivity by the public; (This system should also involve the commissioning of a consultancy to a medical practitioner to record and maintain a list of symptoms recorded in such reports of chemical sensitivity.) The same free call telephone number should also be advertised as the number for the public to contact with any general comments on the ACT pest-control program.
  9. establish formal and regular interaction with Worksafe Australia and with the Committee(s) responsible for OH&S, relevant to the obligations of the ACT Government;
  10. minimise possible hazards to the public, arising from ACT Government pest-control activities;
  11. represent the interests of ACT Government agencies at national forums and meetings on pest-control management and strategies; and
  12. prepare an annual report to the Minister responsible for the environment on the effectiveness and efficiency of pest-control management within the outer boundaries of the ACT, by the ACT Government and its agencies;

Recommendation 2

that with the passage of the Environment Protection Act 1997, the ACT Government move immediately to consider a range of regulatory and non-regulatory options with a view to implementing the most effective and efficient measures to ensure that pest-control companies and operators seeking to operate in the ACT, and their staff or contractors, conduct their operations safely and with minimum adverse impact on the environment (as defined in the Act);

Recommendation 3

that the ACT Government and its agencies no longer use the term 'pesticide' and replace it with the term 'pest-control substance' or 'pest-control chemical'; (The 'cidal' effect is obviously limited for any species classification, whereas it may, under ideal circumstances, be appropriate for an individual of that species.)

Recommendation 4

that a copy of the revised pest-control management manual be available for public access in the office of each asset manager responsible for any pest-control operations; and

Recommendation 5

that an entry 'Pest-control Program', and a contact telephone number be inserted in the white pages, '24 Hour Emergency Numbers' to allow the community ready access with relevance to Terms of Reference d) - Public notification of chemical control programs - and e) - The need for transparent processes to ensure community input on ACT chemical control programs - of the investigation. (The same information should be considered for inclusion in the Environment ACT World-Wide Web page.)

Special Annual Reporting Requirements

Section 20 of the Commissioner for the Environment Act reads: A report presented, or information provided, by the Commissioner under section 8 of the Annual Reports (Government Agencies) Act 1995 in respect of a period shall include particulars of

  1. any special factor which the Commissioner believes had a significant impact on the environment during the period
  2. measures taken during the period by or on behalf of the Territory in relation to the implementation of any recommendation in a State of the Environment Report under section 19 or a special Report under section 21
  3. any recommendation in such a report which the Commissioner believes is still to be implemented or fully implemented.

Special factors affecting the environment

International special factors

  • Kyoto Conference and Greenhouse Gas targets
  • Increasing global concern for global warming impacts, and for claims of greater severity of extreme events (floods, droughts)
  • ISO 14000 series as a basis for Environment Management Plans
National special factors
  • First National Environment Protection Measures made
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Bill 1998
  • Release of Draft National Strategy for Cleaner Production (from ANZECC)
  • Beginning of Land and Water Audit
  • Continuation of grants under National Heritage Trust
Special factors in the ACT
  • ACT becomes full member of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission
  • Passage of Environment Protection Act 1997
  • Restructuring of Department of Urban Services and creation of Environment ACT
  • Creation of Chief Minister's ACT Science and Technology Council
  • Relocation of EMIAA Head Office to Canberra

State of the Environment Report - Government response to recommendations

The State of the Environment Report was tabled in the Assembly in September 1997, and Government's response was tabled in December 1997.

Ten of the 19 recommendations were agreed to, and nine were agreed to "in principle". Some action has occurred since December against most recommendations to which the Government agreed.

A list of the recommendations and the Government responses from the State of the Environment Report 1997, and the Commmissioner's comments to these responses.

In general, recommendations require first a commitment, and then a long-term process for full implementation. Therefore, at this stage, none has been fully-implemented, although during the year there has been considerable progress on:

  • Action Plans for threatened species and communities and completion of Draft Management Plans for conservation areas
  • the Integrated Landuse and Transport Study and the Greenhouse Strategy
  • ETDZ (The Environment Technology Development Zone) and ACTBIS (ACT Business Incentive Scheme) Quality of Life value factors
  • commencement of a system for greater coordination and support for community monitoring and data collection and analysis.

The Office of the Commissioner for the Environment believes that it is not unreasonable to ask for a firm indication of target dates or milestones for those recommendations for which the Government response was "agreed to", and we will carefully monitor the outcomes of "in principle" agreements, to see if there is any progressive influence on Government policies and practice.

State of the environment reporting is a relatively new discipline, and the ACT is the only State/Territory in Australia to have produced three such reports. Necessarily, the process is developing with each report, as both this office and the Government agencies develop better systems for handling their respective functions.

As a general comment, we firmly believe that state of environment reporting must be useful as a management and/or planning tool. On the appointment of the first and current Commissioner for the Environment in 1993, the agreement of the then Minister for the Environment, Land and Planning, Bill Wood, was negotiated to include recommendations in the ACT State of the Environment Reports. It was believed that this would forge that link between state of the environment reporting and planning/management. However, although the system of recommendations and a Government response within a specific timeframe have been formalised through legislation, we believe that we have not yet achieved our aim of producing a state of the environment report that is being used as a management tool. We make this assessment on the basis of Government action in response to recommendations made in the reports to date.

Some of the responsibility for that inadequacy must lie within this office. We will be approaching relevant Government agencies before the next State of the Environment Report is due in 2000, to create a better system for reporting how the recommendations in the reports have been prioritised, and whether they have or have not been incorporated in the budget and output reporting processes.

Further, recommendations 94.1 and 95.1 were not agreed by the Government and have not been implemented. These are related to the same point, i.e. that the environment is a whole-of-Government issue, requiring a co-ordinated, whole-of-Government approach.

In its definition of the environment in 1997, the ACT Government recognised the social, cultural and economic, as well as the ecological, components of the environment, and the interactions between them.

With this definition, as we see it, "the environment" encompasses all aspects of decision-making by government. It is not just ecological considerations. It is ecological, social, cultural and economic considerations, and the interactions and interdependencies between them. This definition must have implications for firmly establishing the environment and ecologically sustainable development as relevant bases for decision-making. Ecology and ecological assets can no longer be seen as "constraints" for development, but as relevant considerations in the decision-making process. A precedent has been established with the previous Government's decision to protect more of the grasslands habitat of the threatened Striped Legless Lizard, Delma impar, and thereby to forego economic development income. The Government is to be commended for this action, not because the Legless Lizards won the day, but because the Government was able to obtain adequate data to enable it to comprehensively assess ecological, social and economic considerations in its decision-making. It is also to be commended for commencing to investigate environmental accounting in the Territory. These are significant steps towards full adoption, in planning and development, of the Government's definition of the environment.

Investigation into the ACT Government's Use of Chemicals for Pest Control - Government response to recommendations

The Investigation into the ACT Government's Use of Chemicals for Pest Control was a special report under section 21 of the Commissioner for the Environment Act. It was tabled only at the end of the financial year, and the Government has not yet had the opportunity to respond to the recommendations. The Government's response to the recommendations will be a subject of comment in the 1998-99 annual report.

Financial Reporting

Financial reporting for the Office of the Commissioner for the Environment continues to be covered under the Annual Report for the Department of Urban Services (DUS).

Budget details for the Office of the Commissioner for the Environment are included, but not separately identified, under Environment ACT "Expenses on Behalf of the Territory" in budget papers.

The ACT-funded budget for the office for 1997-98 was $240,400. Commencing in 1997-98, our budget was increased by $52,000 to cover office accommodation rental and related expenses - electricity, cleaning, etc.

We started the year with $61,000 in credit. This was made up of money retained from the Environment Australia grant for State of the Environment reporting plus unspent 1996-97 contributions from the NSW shire councils for preparation of the regional state of the environment report. A further $49,618 was collected from shire councils during 1997-98 for that same purpose. $2,435 was recovered from sale of State of the Environment Reports during the year.

Several significant and unforeseen administrative expenses occurred during the year, the most significant being the resignation of the ASO3 from the ACT Public Service. The separation payment cost this office in excess of $11,000.

Corporate Overview Whole of Government Issues

Customer Focussed Public Service

A Commitment to Service Statement is available from the Commissioner's office.

The following service standards outlined in the Statement under the heading " What you can expect from us " included:

  • to maintain independence in objective reporting on the state of the environment of the ACT
  • to meet the statutory timeframe for state of the environment reporting
  • to undertake comprehensive, objective and impartial investigations of complaints within minimum timeframes
  • to keep people appraised of progress on their complaint.

Fraud Prevention

The office is covered under the DUS Annual Report.

Equal Employment Opportunity

The office is covered under the DUS EEO Plan.

Staffing Overview and Statistics

The following positions were occupied as at 30 June 1998:


Class Full-time/ Part-time Gender Category of Employment
SOGB 1 - full time F Permanent
ASO3 1 - full time F Permanent

Consultancy Services

Six consultants were appointed during the year to complete the State of the Environment Report 1997 Australian Capital Region. They were paid with external resources to a total cost of $104,500.

Voluntary resources

Voluntary resources included:

  • Reference Groups - 1997 State of the Environment Report Australian Capital Region
  • Steering Committee - Investigation into the ACT's Use of Chemicals for Pest Control.

Training and Staff Development

All training during the year was in-house at the cost of salaried time only. Training is listed below.


Training Course Training Dates
Assembly training course September
FMIS Oracle training 29.09.98
FMIS Oracle training December
FMIS Oracle training December
Biodiversity surrogate indicators- CSIRO 05.03.98-06.03.98
Greenhouse strategy 07.05.98
Greenhouse strategy 07.05.98
FMIS Oracle training 14.05.98
ACT Government Purchasing Policy Awareness Program 21.05.98
Ecosystem Health Indicators workshop 03.05.98-04.05.98
ACT Government Purchasing Policy Awareness Program 16.06.98
Writing Effective Media Releases 18.06.98
Asset Management Seminar 23.06.98
Induction day with Environment ACT 24.06.98

ACT Government Passenger Vehicles

The office has 1 passenger vehicle (4 cylinder) - no variation from the previous year.

STATUTORY REQUIREMENTS

Occupational Health & Safety

This office is covered by DUS agreements and policies as outlined in the DUS Annual Report.

Workers' Compensation

This office is covered under the DUS policy and details incorporated in the DUS Annual Report.

Public Interest Disclosure

This office is covered by DUS Public Interest Disclosure Statement and Procedures.

Freedom of Information

There were no requests received under section 18 for access to documents.

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