Sustainability and environment commissioner calls on ACT and NSW to work together on environmental policy

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday February 17, 2020

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Climate change, the ecological footprint, population growth and development pressures are the major drivers of environmental challenges for the ACT, according to the territory’s commissioner for sustainability and the environment.

Commissioner Professor Kate Auty’s latest state of the environment report looked at government policy responses to the environmental challenges associated with such drivers, and argued that the ACT must work with NSW on environmental matters.

Kate Auty

“Cross-jurisdictional operations such as the Container Deposit Scheme illustrate the potential, but illegal waste transfers and biodiversity risk factors, such as feral horses in national parks, continue to test resolve and the capacity to respond. Innovation and leadership are critical in times of change,” the report noted.

But even within the ACT, the integration of environmental policy across portfolios is complex.

“For instance, action on waste and plastic pollution involves a number of ministers and their directorates. Climate and energy policy offers insights into how policy and operations, community and business matters are intrinsically linked; how cross-portfolio responsibilities such as transport and building regulations both underpin and impact outcomes,” the report said.

“The tension between the need for clear and stable climate and energy policy, and support for environmental adaptive management in relation to sustainability and biodiversity, reflects the differentiated nature of policy across the environment portfolio. On the one hand, policy needs to be highly structured and stable but, on the other, it must be flexible and responsive. ‘One size’ does not fit all.”

It cited the Actsmart program — which encourages households, schools, businesses and communities to be more environmentally sustainable — as a good example of integration, cross-portfolio collaboration and alignment, while displaying the benefits of routine and targeted policy evaluation.

READ MORE: ‘I put myself in their shoes’: how working closely with diverse stakeholders helps Sustainability Commissioner Gillian Sparkes achieve impact

The report made 35 recommendations to the ACT government, including a call for the establishment of:

  • a sustainable funding model for the conservation of biodiversity, environmental protection, water management, the reduction of fire risks, and citizen science initiatives to assist in the planning, prioritisation and acquittal of programs and works,
  • data management architecture, especially for environmental issues, to address cross-portfolio communication needs, and,
  • a mechanism to ensure the alignment of ACT ministerial arrangements and the promotion of information sharing on the basis that environmental issues are the concern of “one government” and across portfolios.

The commissioner’s report also suggested identifying opportunities to improve collaboration with NSW on cross-jurisdictional natural resource management, and leading collaborative networks where regional policy and operational matters need cross-jurisdictional cooperation.

Finally, it recommended the ACT ensure the community participates in the design of all new Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act strategic assessments, with publicly accessible information on offsets, implementation plans, and programs.

The remaining recommendations addressed various categories including Indigenous matters in consultation with Ngunnawal people, sustainability leadership and citizen science, urban trees, climate change, waste, transport, air, land, biodiversity, water, and fire.

Auty called on the community to commit to change.

“It is important to recognise that it is the responsibility of each and every one of us – in government and the community – to make changes to our lifestyles to ensure that we leave our environment in no worse state than we found it, and that we do this wherever we have agency,” she said.

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