1997 ACT State of the Environment Report - Summary

This page contains the summary of the 1997 ACT State of the Environment Report.

Click here to download a copy of the 1997 State of the Environment Report or use the contact details at the bottom of this page to request a CD Rom.

This website has the Recommendations out of the report available as well as the ACT Government progress on these in 1999 and 2000.

It also has the 1997 Annual Report from the ACT Office of the Commissioner for the Environment available

Since the early 1970's an increasing number of Australians have come to recognise that we cannot modify one component of the environment without having some impact on another component of the integrated whole - the ecosystem. We must assess the state of the environment by concentrating on this interactive interdependence.

State of the Environment reporting in the ACT

The 1997 State of Environment Report for the ACT concentrates on events for the period 1 April 1995 to 30 June 1997, and where possible, it comments on changes that have occurred since the first report, to 31 March 1994.

An Executive Summary is available in paper format.

The full report is available on interactive CD-ROM as part of the State of the Environment Report for the Australian Capital Region. It includes:

  • access to electronic map data from the regional to the local level
  • direct linking of text with pictures, maps, tables and graphs
  • detailed indicator information grouped by condition, pressure and response
  • cross-linked information between and within themes, issues and indicators
  • ability to search by map location and indicator
  • ability to pan and zoom and print maps

The Report format and content represents a first planned step to use a systems health approach to State of Environment reporting, selecting critical indicators which can be reliably measured and monitored over time, in a comparable way to that in which a medical practitioner assesses human health. An over-arching consideration has been to try to reduce the number of indicators to allow a reliable assessment of the health or well-being (condition) of the environmental system, and this systems health approach will be further developed for future State of Environment Reports.

Legislative Framework

The third ACT State of the Environment Report was prepared in accordance with the requirements of section 19 of the Commissioner for the Environment Act 1993 , of the ACT Government, as amended in June 1997. (The first such report was prepared in 1994, and the second in 1995.)

Our responsibility under the Commissioner for the Environment Act 1993 is to report on the area defined as the Australian Capital Territory, and under the legislative responsibility of the ACT Government. It is recognized that the ACT is a carefully planned and distinctive area, containing the seats of Federal and Territory Government. However the presence of the Federal Government, and of National Land within the outer boundaries of the ACT, does have an effect on both the State of the Environment of the ACT, and the expectations of the nature of a National Capital.

The 1997 ACT report was prepared independently of any direction or constraints from the Minister or from Government Agencies. In this reporting period the Minister did not "specify by notice in writing given to the Commissioner" any "other matters" for enclosure in this report. Such provision is available to the Minister in Section 19 2 (c)(i) of the Act, as amended.

We have not included any matters that are considered relevant, beyond those as designated in the amended section 19(2) of the Act. In the ACTSER 95 an additional part on "Thoughts on Human Population levels in the ACT" was included. This significant aspect has been given further consideration, and will be further debated in either a special report or in a future State of Environment Report. We have not in any way neglected on-going consideration of this topic.

The first State of the Environment Report for the Australia Capital Region

The ACT is also part of a wider region, and for the first time, in 1997, the ACT report on CD is part of a State of the Environment Report for the Australian Capital Region.

Executive Summaries for the Region, the ACT and each of the 17 NSW Local Government Authorities (LGAs) in the Australian Capital Region can also be printed from the CD.

As a first report for the LGAs and for the Region, it concentrates on data that already allow some assessment of trends because of long-term measurement and recording, but in many cases the report will be establishing benchmarks for future comparison.

Preparing the Report

We have worked from the usual basis of establishing expert Reference Groups for each of the major themes. However in this report we have changed the titles of two of the themes to be consistent with the National State of Environment reporting themes. The themes for 1997 are: Atmosphere, Water, Land, Biodiversity and Human Settlement. As in the past, we have analyzed the principal issues which were either identified by different groups or were considered as being of the greatest relevance to understanding trends in environmental condition, the pressures applying to that condition, and the human responses to minimize the adverse impacts of any such pressures.

With the assistance of a grant from Environment Australia, considerable progress was made during the reporting period on development of environmental indicators that would not be inconsistent with core indicators being developed by the Commonwealth, and would stand the test of time. This work was not completed in time for the 1997 report, but sufficient progress was made to allow Reference Groups to nominate indicators to be used. The final list was selected by Reference Groups on the basis of whether, on current knowledge, the indicators allowed the best opportunities to understand changes or trends in environmental condition, and on the basis of availability of data. A look at "Relevant Indicators" for each of the Issues highlights the fact that the indicators do not necessarily relate only to one theme or to one issue.

The issues were derived in consultation with the Reference Groups and in consideration of legislative requirements.

The electronic system facilitates an understanding of the interaction between the different components of the environment, and shows that the environment is also an interactive system, not a collection of separate resources or issues. Such interdependence and interaction immediately direct attention to a systems approach.

We hope that this electronic format of presentation and interaction highlights the interactive nature of the environment, and the way in which all sections of society must interact to effect change which will allow for adequate and proper consideration of the environment, as the country moves to actions to achieve ecologically sustainable development.

The attitude of some State and Commonwealth agencies to charge significant dollar amounts for data collected and evaluated using public funds, when those data are required for State of Environment Report preparation, has been a great disappointment, and is contrary to the objective of attaining ecologically sustainable development.

Guiding Principles

The six guiding issues we identified in the inaugural ACT State of Environment Report in 1994 remained appropriate for the 1995 Report and are still relevant for this 1997 Report. In fact, experience has shown that they remain the fundamental parameters, and there is need to adapt them only slightly to take into account the Regional considerations and to record our pleasure that there is now a clear definition of "the Environment".

These are:

  1. the requirements of the Commissioner for the Environment Act 1993 , as amended in June 1997, and as set out in section 19(2)
  2. the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE) signed by all Australian Governments in May 1992, which recognises "that the environmental concerns and impacts respect neither physical nor political boundaries and are increasingly taking on interjurisdictional, international and global significance in a way that was not contemplated by those who framed the Australian Constitution".We had previously noted as essential the need to consider the impacts of activities in the ACT on the "Sub region" of New South Wales, and vice versa. It was therefore particularly pleasing to have the Regional Leaders Forum agree to a Regional State of Environment Report for 1997.
  3. the National State of Environment reporting process and framework. The first such report was published in 1996 and this office has maintained a close association with that process, to ensure compatibility of development of indicators as far as is practicable, and on all other issues.We agree with the principles and objectives as defined on page 10 of the Background to the National State of Environment Report viz; to embrace rigour, objectivity, cooperation, openness, global vision and ecological sustainability in (guiding) State of Environment Reporting. Their key objectives are compatible with what we have done in all these State of Environment Reports:
    • to provide accurate, timely and accessible information about the condition and prospects of the Australian Environment
    • to increase public understanding of these issues
    • to facilitate the development of an agreed set of national environmental indicators, and to review and report on those indicators
    • to provide an early warning of potential problems
    • to report on the effectiveness of policies and programs designed to respond to environmental change, including progress towards achieving environmental standards and targets.
  4. at the international level, the model developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for State of the Environment reporting. The issues raised in the ACTSER, and in the individual LGA State of Environment Reports, as well as in the Regional report, should take into account those designated as important by the international community We have modified the "pressure - state - response" model of the OECD to a "condition (state) - pressure - response" model, because this more compatible with the analogy to the analysis of human health, where one first enquires to "how are you?" (i.e. your condition) and if that condition is not satisfactory, what pressures may be affecting your well-being or condition. The final question is, "if there are such pressures, what are you doing to reduce those pressures?"; i.e. what is your response? We have also stressed the interaction between condition, pressure and response. Whereas there is always criticism of, and concern for, the adequacy of the condition - pressure - response model, we see it is as a fundamental method of ensuring that analysis of the environment is conducted in a systematic way and that data are collected in such a fashion as to allow a reliable evaluation of the environment and of the way it may be changing as a result of human pressure. In general, the pressures with which we are concerned are those due to human action or activities, although they can never be completely independent of natural pressures e.g. floods, long periods without rain, earthquake (where they occur) etc. There is always a need for evaluation of the results that are obtained from the condition - pressure - response analyses, and the analyses we have conducted are leading to a systems health approach to state of environment reporting - again analogous to the way in which there are a limited number of measurements made by medical practitioners to assess whether the health of a patient is satisfactory. This report therefore marks a significant step towards that systems health approach, based on a number of key indicators associated with symptoms, or issues, that are considered to be of greatest concern with respect to the well-being of the environment. The human is clearly part of the environment, not something that stands apart from it. Therefore, although the analyses conducted are based on separate expert group consideration of the major themes of atmosphere; water; land; biodiversity; and human settlements, the Executive Summary brings the findings of all these analyses together, and moves towards the integrated systems health approach of evaluation of the state (condition) of the environment.
  5. the community of the ACT and of the 17 LGAs of New South Wales.
  6. the revised, and clarified, definition of the environment highlights the complexity of the environment and the essential interaction between social, cultural, economic and ecological factors. Whereas this definition holds only to the ACT at this stage, it has been applied in the development of the Regional State of Environment Report because its interpretation is judged to be consistent with the requirements / guidelines of topics that should be covered in NSW Local Government State of Environment Reports.

Using these guiding principals, and building on a system of electronic data storage, access and interrogation, the 1997 State of the Environment Reports are of a different presentation style from the first two reports.

Postal Address Office of the Commissioner for the Environment
PO Box 356
Dickson ACT 2602

Contact Numbers
Phone (BH) (02) 6207 2626
Fax (02) 62072630
Email EnvComm@act.gov.au

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