3. Ecologically sustainable development and environmental performance
DAFF has a statutory requirement under section 516A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) to report on:
- our contribution to ecologically sustainable development (ESD) through our outcomes and activities
- the environmental performance of our internal operations.
Ecologically sustainable development principles
The principles of ESD outlined in section 3A of the EPBC Act are that:
- decision-making processes should effectively integrate both long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equity considerations
- if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation
- the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations
- the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity should be a fundamental consideration in decision-making
- improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms should be promoted.
Our outcomes and activities
DAFF’s outcomes embody the ESD principles:
Outcome 1: More sustainable, productive, internationally competitive and profitable Australian agricultural, food and fibre industries through policies and initiatives that promote better resource management practices, innovation, self-reliance and improved access to international markets.
Outcome 2: Safeguard Australia’s animal and plant health status to maintain overseas markets and protect the economy and environment from the impact of exotic pests and diseases, through risk assessment, inspection and certification, and the implementation of emergency response arrangements for Australian agricultural, food and fibre industries.
We play a leading role or contribute to national and international policies with significant ESD objectives. We deliver programs to fund research, training and projects aimed at mitigating climate change and improving sustainable resource management. Our role in biosecurity is critical to maintaining biodiversity in Australia and overseas. We also deliver funding to community organisations and to the portfolio research and development corporations whose work includes activities supporting ESD.
Our work supports the goal of development that meets Australia’s current needs while conserving our ecosystems for the benefit of future generations. We have regard to the ESD principles in pursuing the objectives of our 15 programs. For example:
- the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Act 2013 was designed to provide greater certainty to the community on the safety of agricultural and veterinary (agvet) chemicals
- our work on regional forest agreements aims to ensure the health, diversity and productivity of the environment are maintained or enhanced for future generations
- our biosecurity agenda demonstrates a fundamental consideration for the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity
- natural resource management programs build on incentives to farmers and land managers to maintain and build effective production practices that also protect and rehabilitate the environment.
Our key activities in 2012–13 are outlined below. Details of this work are provided in Part 3: Report on performance.
Work during the year saw nine methodologies approved for agriculture related activities under the CFI. Farm forestry and establishing long-rotation hardwood plantations were also approved as eligible activities. We funded research projects and a range of on-farm trials to validate approaches to greenhouse gas abatement (see Program 1.1).
In May 2013, the Intergovernmental Agreement on National Drought Program Reform was signed. The agreement confirms a new approach to drought programs to support farmers dealing with climate variability (see Program 1.11).
Sustainable resource management
We completed the first phase of Caring for our Country with more than $2.1 billion in funding for new and ongoing projects to assist natural resource management groups, industry, community groups, Indigenous communities and landholders to improve our natural resource management, and protect and conserve our natural resources (see Program 1.2).
We continued to work with other agencies to support a community-led process to respond to changes in the Tasmanian public native forest industry. Community organisations finalised the Tasmanian Forest Agreement in November 2012 and a new Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement was signed in May 2013.
New laws came into effect in November 2012 making it a criminal offence to import illegally logged timber and timber products into Australia or to process Australian raw logs that have been harvested illegally. We are now working with governments, industry and stakeholders to implement a new illegal logging regulation to take effect from 30 November 2014 (see Program 1.3).
An independent review of fisheries management was released in March 2013, recommending improvements in the areas of policy coverage, transparency and communication with stakeholders. We also completed reviews of the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and Guidelines and the Commonwealth Policy on Fisheries Bycatch. We also supported important work on seabirds and longline fisheries, the National Recreational Fishing Strategy and international engagement to promote sustainable fisheries management (see Program 1.4).
Agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines
The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Act 2013, passed in June 2013, makes it clear that the health and safety of human beings, animals and the environment is the first priority of the regulatory system. The reforms aim to encourage the development of newer and safer agvet chemicals and to increase the scrutiny of currently available agvet chemicals for their human and environmental health and safety impacts (see Program 1.10).
We continued to implement reforms to manage Australia’s biosecurity risks across the continuum—offshore, at the border and onshore. We met important milestones associated with planning to consolidate our existing post entry quarantine functions to a single site. Our risk management approach, in partnership with industry, allowed the department to reduce resources in some areas, while still managing the low level of risk posed, and to increase resources to areas of higher risk. We strengthened our engagement with stakeholders in government, the industry, rural groups and the community and worked with other countries to address biosecurity risks offshore and facilitate market access for a range of Australian export commodities (see Program 2.1).
We worked with the states and territories to implement the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity, and facilitated agreement from all jurisdictions on a national plant biosecurity surveillance strategy. We continued work to mitigate the impact of pest and disease incidents, including supporting the release of a Hendra virus vaccine for horses. Good progress was made in implementing the national action plan to improve management of the risk of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. We continued our range of activities with regional governments and international agencies to promote biosecurity (see Program 2.2).
Scientific and economic research
ABARES continues to contribute to ESD across our portfolio, providing integrated research, scientific assessments and review and economic analysis. Work was conducted during the year for a number of our programs, including technical assistance to the National Farmers’ Federation’s Blueprint for Australian Agriculture, a report on native vegetation management on farms, research into challenges in meeting the water dependent environmental objectives of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan and the release of the first Status of key Australian fish stocks report.
The following legislation, administered by DAFF under the current Administrative Arrangements Order, contributes directly to ESD:
- Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act 1994
- Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Act 1992
- Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994
- Fisheries Administration Act 1991
- Fisheries Management Act 1991
- Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012
- Quarantine Act 1908
- Natural Resources Management (Financial Assistance) Act 1992
- Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989
- Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002.
Environmental impact of our operations
Nationally, the department continues to look for opportunities to reduce energy, fuel and water consumption in our internal operations, while improving our existing waste and recycling programs.
Our central office buildings in the Canberra CBD have a base building rating of 4.5 stars under the National Australian Built Environment Rating System. Both buildings contain T5 energy efficient lighting and movement sensors, which turn off lighting in office areas after hours. The buildings also contain energy efficient window blinds, which reduce the energy required to heat and cool the buildings during the day. We acknowledge the importance of green energy in the electricity contracts for our Canberra buildings. These contracts include a 10 per cent allocation of green power through the whole-of-government electricity contract.
We continue to take part in the Earth Hour initiative of the World Wide Fund for Nature. Our central office buildings and many regional sites were included in Earth Hour 2013 and staff were encouraged to also take part, raising awareness of the opportunity to reduce energy consumption in the office and at home.
Over the four years to 30 June 2012, DAFF achieved a steady reduction in its electricity and gas consumption. In 2012–13, our energy consumption (excluding diesel and petroleum products) increased by 5.7 per cent to 53 241 gigajoules, because of changes in accommodation and the installation or upgrade of electrical devices to meet a changing operational environment.
Note: This chart reflects energy consumption associated with electricity and gas, but excludes transport fuels. Previous annual reports included transport energy consumption (reported below) in this total, so figures from previous years have changed.
We monitor the fuel consumption and kilometres travelled for all fleet vehicles and encourage drivers to purchase ethanol blended fuel (E10) where possible. As existing fleet vehicle leases reach expiry, staff are asked to consider replacing these with efficient hybrid or diesel vehicles where this is operationally practical. We currently lease 16 hybrid vehicles in our fleet nationally.
From July 2012 to April 2013, the department consumed 20 333 gigajoules on transport fuels for passenger vehicles. Figure 11 shows DAFF’s total transport energy consumption was trending toward a decrease in 2012–13. This reflects a changing operational environment, resulting in decreased usage of official vehicles.
Note: This chart reflects consumption of diesel and petroleum products. The 2012–13 figure shows available consumption data to April 2013.
The department consistently exceeds the target set under the Commonwealth Green Vehicle Guide (GVG) for half of all fleet vehicles to have a GVG rating of 10.5 or above by 2020. The department’s fleet of 464 vehicles averages a GVG rating of 13, with 395 vehicles, or 85 per cent of the fleet, exceeding the 10.5 GVG rating. We encourage staff to consider a variety of personal transport methods to reduce emissions, including cycling and public transport.
Our central office buildings recycle and capture stormwater to flush all toilets. In bathrooms and change rooms, we have waterless urinals, water saving shower heads, infrared motion-active hand basins and 4A-rated dual flush toilets. These initiatives contribute to reducing our reliance on the local water supply.
We encourage good recycling practices by providing ready access to segregated waste streams in the office environment. Recycling bins are located throughout central office buildings in kitchens and common areas and include general waste, organic recycling and co-mingled recycling.
The organic waste stream is a unique feature of our central office buildings and can be used to dispose of compostable materials and foodstuffs. Through this process, all organic waste from all levels of the participating buildings is collected and relocated off-site and then processed into mulch for further use. This reclaims usable materials and reduces the quantity of general waste from these sites. The organic waste stream captured 9.22 tonnes of organic waste in 2012–13. Figure 12 shows a monthly breakdown of the number of kilograms of organic waste stream captured in our central office buildings.
The co-mingled recycling program is also well supported in the Canberra offices. In 2012–13, we collected and processed 64.05 tonnes of co-mingled recycling.