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15: Environmental issues

 The Australian Government is committed to an integrated approach to the protection and conservation of Australia’s environment. Australian Government agencies are required to lead by example and agency heads are responsible for ensuring that their operations are consistent with the Government’s environment legislation and policies.

For more information:

15.1 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

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Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Australian Government agencies are required to obtain approval or advice from the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts before undertaking an action that will have, or is likely to have, a significant impact on the environment anywhere in the world and/or on a matter of national environmental significance anywhere in Australia. The definition of ‘the environment’, for the purposes of the Act, includes heritage values.

Matters of national environmental significance include:

  • World Heritage properties
  • National Heritage places
  • Wetlands of international importance (listed under the Ramsar Convention)
  • listed threatened species and ecological communities
  • migratory species protected under international agreements
  • Commonwealth marine areas
  • the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
  • nuclear actions (including uranium mines).

In addition, a permit is required from the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts for any actions that may interfere with listed threatened, migratory, or marine species in an Australian Government area (land or water), or a cetacean in the Australian Whale Sanctuary.

Australian Government agencies also have obligations in relation to the disposal of Australian Government land and the protection of critical habitats. Their actions must not contravene or be inconsistent with management plans for: World Heritage properties; National Heritage places; Ramsar wetlands; Commonwealth reserves, and Commonwealth Heritage places. In addition Australian Government agencies have a range of responsibilities in relation to the management of Commonwealth Heritage places which they own or control.

Under Section 516A of the Act, heads of Australian Government agencies must ensure that their annual reports include information on:

  • how the activities of their agency accord with the principles of ecologically sustainable development
  • how the activities of their agency affect the environment
  • measures undertaken to minimise the impact of their activities on the environment.

15.2 Other environmental protection and reporting requirements

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The Government expects that good environmental practice will generate cost savings and therefore decided on 8 May 2001 that chief executives of all Australian Government agencies should be encouraged to:

  • join the Greenhouse Challenge Plus Program
  • develop an Environment Management System (EMS) by December 2002 and accredit at least one major site by December 2003.
  • In 2006 the Government released Energy Efficiency in Government Operations. This policy updates and replaces the 1997 policy Measures for Improving Energy Efficiency in Government Operations.
  • The aims of the new policy are to improve energy efficiency, and consequently reduce the whole of life cost and environmental impact of Government operations, and to lead the community by example.

The policy has four goals:

  • Reduce the energy intensity of the Australian Government’s operations by 2011, with the following targets:
    • 25 per cent reduction in energy intensity for office buildings – tenant light and power
    • 20 per cent reduction in energy intensity for office buildings – central services.
  • Implement a consistent and transparent approach to the procurement and ongoing management of energy efficient buildings through the use of Green Lease Schedules.
  • Develop realistic energy intensity targets for non-office building categories (laboratories, public buildings and computer centres) and Department of Defence bases.
  • Establish a model framework for achieving other sustainability outcomes through efficiencies in government operations.

Agencies are required to report annually on their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency for inclusion in the annual report Energy Use in the Australian Government's Operations.

Recommendations for revised vehicle efficiency targets and appliance procurement procedures will be developed by June 2008.

Agency heads are required to report, and be accountable to, their Ministers for progress against all energy efficiency measures.

For more information:

  • Energy Efficiency and Environment Reporting
  • Performance Audit No. 24, 2002-2003 Energy Efficiency in Commonwealth Operations-Follow up Audit
  • ANAO Cross Portfolio Audit of Green Office Procurement Audit Report 22 (2005-06)
  • Government energy management
  • Energy Efficiency in Government Operations
  • Energy Use in the Australian Government's Operations (annual reports)
Last reviewed: 
8 June 2018