Chapter 10 - Data, information and systems
The information systems supporting the EPBC Act are inefficient, disorganised and incomplete. Decision-makers, proponents and the community do not have access to the best available data, information and science. This results in suboptimal decision-making, inefficiency, additional cost for business and poor transparency to the community.
The key reasons the EPBC Act is not using the best available information are:
- The collection of data and information is fragmented, disparate, and there are fundamental information gaps. For example, at least one quarter of all threatened vertebrate fauna species and almost three-quarters of threatened ecological communities are currently not monitored at all.
- There is no clear, authoritative source of environmental information that people can rely on. The many disparate sources of information are hard to navigate and not always reliable. Reducing the time and effort involved in sourcing data could save proponents $1 million per year.
- There is no requirement for environmental data collected as part of assessment, research, monitoring or restoration programs to be in an electronic, standardised format that can be nationally integrated with similar data submitted to State and Territory authorities.
- The right information is not available to inform decisions. Available information is skewed towards western environmental science and does not adequately consider Indigenous knowledge of the environment or social, economic and cultural information. Cumulative impacts and future challenges like climate change are not effectively considered. Advances in modelling capability are not being used.
- The Department’s systems for information analysis and sharing are antiquated. The user experience is clunky and cumbersome for both proponents and members of the community.
A quantum shift will ensure the reforms recommended by this Review can be implemented efficiently. Improved data and information will improve the efficiency of:
- setting clear outcomes, effectively planning to deliver them, and regulating to achieve them
- the mechanisms for public and private sector investment in restoration, ensuring they are well targeted and deliver the best returns
- understanding the baseline starting point to monitor and report on the impact of activities, and to adjust them where needed.
The key reforms recommended by the Review are:
- A national supply chain of information to deliver the right information at the right time to those who need it. This supply chain should be an easily accessible, authoritative source on which the public, proponents and governments can rely.
- A clear strategy to deliver an efficient supply chain so that each investment made contributes to building and improving the system over time. Immediate investment in the information supply chain is needed to support reform. Waiting until perfect data are available is not possible.
- A Custodian for the national environmental information supply chain assigned by the Commonwealth with responsibility for national level leadership and coordination. Adequate resources should be provided to deliver the evidence base for Australia’s national system of environmental management, including a complete overhaul of departmental and public-facing systems.
- To identify and designate a set of National Environmental Information Assets (NEIAs) to ensure the essential information streams for the National Environmental Standards for matters of national environmental significance are delivered. The requirement to deliver and improve these NEIAs should be enshrined in the EPBC Act.
- A National Environmental Standard for data and information to improve accountability and provide clarity on expectations for the use and provision of information and data. A recommended Standard is at Appendix B.
- Further investment in modelling capability and other key gaps in the supply chain will improve the precision of Standards, and the efficiency of their application to decision-making. Existing initiatives across the Department will only deliver part of the improvements that are needed.
While the short-term costs of the necessary change will be high, improvements to data and information will deliver cost-savings to decision-makers and proponents. It will enable decision-makers to make faster decisions, and enable the National Environmental Standards to be more precise.