11.2 - Recommended reforms for monitoring and evaluation of the EPBC Act
11.2.1 - A specific monitoring and evaluation framework for the EPBC Act
Effective monitoring and reporting on environmental outcomes is fundamental to the effective implementation of the reforms recommended by the Review.
A comprehensive and coherent monitoring and evaluation framework is needed to track whether the environmental outcomes articulated in the National Environmental Standards are being achieved. This is distinct from the role of the Environment Assurance Commissioner (EAC), who is responsible for auditing whether the Standards are being adhered to by governments.
This framework will enable several key questions to be answered:
- Is the EPBC Act achieving its intended outcomes?
- Is the EPBC Act operating efficiently?
- Is there a need to adjust the National Environmental Standards and other settings across the EPBC Act to deliver the intended outcomes?
To ensure commitment, accountability and longevity, the requirement for the framework should be established in legislation. To support the implementation of the framework, Standards will need to set clear expectations for monitoring, evaluation and reporting across the EPBC Act.
The framework should specify:
- the key outcomes to be measured, noting that the outcomes and objectives of the National Environmental Standards for MNES provide a key basis for this
- the spatial and temporal scale at which outcomes should be measured and the timing and processes for reporting and identifying management responses at the different levels of operation (regulator, MNES and project level)
- the logic to link the monitoring and evaluation of the various parts of the EPBC Act to agreed, high-level outcomes
- a set of key indicators to be used across the Act’s operations to support tracking of performance against outcomes (including proxies and surrogates as needed) to be aligned with the system of environmental-economic accounts and linked to the designated National Environmental Information Assets (Chapter 10)
- the scope and expectations for data collection and monitoring, evaluation and reporting required at the different levels and for different activities and plans, considering the potential impact and risk of the relevant activities
- the long-term monitoring required to ensure the baseline and trend information is available to consider progress against the indicators and support predictive ecosystem modelling (Chapter 10).
The reforms recommended by this Review, particularly the establishment of National Environmental Standards for MNES and data and information reform, provide a solid foundation for the development of a monitoring and evaluation framework for the EPBC Act as a whole. The monitoring and evaluation framework will influence how the delivery of the national environmental data and information supply chain is prioritised (Chapter 10).
Reflecting the core Commonwealth environmental responsibilities, the framework should be organised around the MNES. A fundamental part of the framework will be a monitoring and evaluation plan for each National Environmental Standard for MNES. This plan will set triggers and thresholds for proactive interventions to prevent environmental harm and identify adjustments to the management settings if these thresholds are breached (Appendix B).
An overarching framework will enable the Commonwealth to draw upon existing monitoring and reporting efforts, including those done by others for their own accountabilities. Where possible, the framework should be developed collaboratively and draw on existing monitoring and reporting systems and standards. Examples include the long-term monitoring framework for the Regional Land Partnerships Program (Capon et al. 2020), the indicators identified in the national State of the Environment report, the national environmental-economic accounts and established monitoring approaches such as the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan (Commonwealth of Australia 2018).
A clear framework enables the Commonwealth to set clear expectations for the monitoring and reporting activities that it requires of others, so that this can be coherently aggregated and synthesised. It will also ensure that duplication is minimised, and that new monitoring activities fill genuine gaps.
The Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) Committee (Chapter 4) should be responsible for developing the monitoring and evaluation framework and establishing the baseline from which future performance against the National Environmental Standards for MNES can be properly measured. The ESD Committee will be responsible for:
- preparing and maintaining the monitoring and evaluation framework for the EPBC Act, to be approved by the Environment Minister
- delivering a strategy to identify and deliver the long-term, systematic monitoring required to understand trend and condition of MNES and the attribution of changes to relevant causes
- preparing, or delegating responsibility for preparing, monitoring and evaluation plans to align with each of the National Environmental Standards for MNES, to be approved by the Environment Minister (Appendix B)
- reviewing and providing advice to the Environment Minister on the National Environmental Standard for environmental monitoring and evaluation of outcomes (section 11.2.2)
- delivering an annual statement to the Environment Minister on environmental performance under the EPBC Act (section 11.2.3)
- working with the national environmental information supply chain custodian to ensure monitoring and evaluation data needs are part of the information supply chain (Chapter 10)
- publishing performance statements and ensuring the data that underpin them are available and accessible, consistent with the National Environmental Standard for data and information (Appendix B)
- delivering guidance and associated technical standards across the breadth of the EPBC Act monitoring and evaluation framework.
Alongside the review of environmental outcomes, the recommended Environment Assurance Commissioner (EAC) will provide confidence that decision-makers, including the Environment Minister and accredited parties, are properly implementing their arrangements, commitments and making correct decisions.
A comprehensive framework backed by the systems needed to support its implementation will mean the next review of the EPBC Act will start with a comprehensive evidence base on which judgements can be made.
11.2.2 - A National Environmental Standard for environmental monitoring and evaluation of outcomes
Early work to develop a monitoring and evaluation framework for the EPBC Act should explore to what extent requirements for monitoring and evaluation at the different levels of operation should be embedded in the legislation. This process should identify opportunities to streamline and simplify how monitoring and reporting requirements are captured in the EPBC Act and across the recommended suite of National Environmental Standards (Appendix B).
A National Environmental Standard for environmental monitoring and evaluation of outcomes will ensure that all parties understand their obligations to monitor, evaluate, report on and review their activities in a way that is consistent with, and contributes to, the overarching framework. It will simplify communication of requirements and support the implementation of the monitoring and evaluation framework by enabling timely and consistent updates. The National Environmental Standard for environmental monitoring and evaluation of outcomes should align with aspects of other National Environmental Standards, such as the monitoring and reporting section of the recommended overarching National Environmental Standards for MNES (Appendix B), so that the full set of Standards complement each other.
A National Environmental Standard for environmental monitoring and evaluation of outcomes would:
- ensure timely information and response to state and trends, pressures and threats to matters protected by the EPBC Act, and support evaluation of whether the activities under the Act are achieving its outcomes
- apply to all parties responsible for activities relevant to the EPBC Act’s outcomes at a range of scales, including individual projects and regional plans, and State, Territory and Commonwealth legislation and policies implemented or accredited under the EPBC Act
- require each party to prepare, maintain and implement a monitoring and evaluation plan consistent with the monitoring and evaluation framework for the EPBC Act, adequately resource this plan and publish it online.
Consistency with the National Environmental Standard for environmental monitoring and evaluation of outcomes should be a requirement for accreditation, where this is relevant. This requirement should include preparing clear, accessible guidance material on how the Standards apply to regulated parties.
Each monitoring and evaluation plan should:
- be appropriately tailored to the potential risk and impact of the activity
- be consistent with the plans prepared for each MNES, as they are relevant to the responsibility and activities of that party, including outlining the data to be collected
- establish a process that provides confidence in the timely detection of ‘early warning signs’ and approaching of thresholds that may compromise environmental outcomes and identify the potential management responses if thresholds are approached
- be consistent with the National Environmental Standard for Indigenous engagement and participation in decision-making and reflect a collaborative development process with relevant stakeholders, including experts on MNES, the regulated community, community to be impacted, and Indigenous Australians.
All parties with a monitoring and evaluation plan should publish monitoring results, analyses, evaluation against indicators and thresholds online annually in a consistent and easily accessible way. Data, information and analyses on which the plan is based should be provided and made public, consistent with the National Environmental Standard for data and information, in a time frame sufficient to support aggregated reporting on MNES and EPBC Act outcomes.
11.2.3 - Transparent and independent reporting on EPBC Act environmental outcomes
In line with the monitoring and evaluation framework for the EPBC Act, annual reporting on the environmental outcomes achieved through operation of the Act, and the efficiency of achieving those outcomes, should be enhanced. The ESD Committee should be assigned this responsibility, in line with their role in preparing and advising on the EPBC Act monitoring and evaluation framework.
The ESD Committee should consolidate reporting inputs from across the EPBC Act’s operations to prepare an annual statement for the Environment Minister on environmental performance under the Act.
The statement should consider the achievement of the outcomes as set out in the National Environmental Standards for MNES. When the outcomes have not been achieved, the statement should include whether any thresholds are being approached, significant changes from the previous year, and identify necessary adjustments to the Standards or proactive management actions as required. The annual statement should be publicly available, with information provided in a transparent, searchable and easy-to-understand way.
These statements will support a regular check of whether particular activities, management activities and different policy levers are leading to certain outcomes, and will allow adjustments to be made if things are going off track. Regular reporting provides the opportunity for the Commonwealth to adjust the settings – for example, by revising the National Environmental Standards.
To monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the EPBC Act the Commonwealth should immediately:
- establish a National Environmental Standard for environmental monitoring and evaluation of outcomes to ensure that all parties understand their obligations to monitor, evaluate, report on and review their activities.
- assign the Ecologically Sustainable Development Committee responsibility for the oversight and management of monitoring, evaluating and reporting on the outcomes of the Act. Immediate priorities of the Ecologically Sustainable Development Committee should be developing a monitoring and evaluation framework and preparing monitoring and evaluation plans for the National Environmental Standards for MNES.
In the second tranche of reforms, the EPBC Act should be amended to require formal monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the effectiveness of the Act in achieving its outcomes. Specifically, amendments should include requirements to:
- deliver a comprehensive and coherent monitoring and evaluation framework that includes appropriate mechanisms for embedding the framework including governance
- require a long-term strategy to identify and achieve systematic monitoring required to understand the trend and condition of MNES
- deliver an annual statement by the Ecologically Sustainable Development Committee to the Environment Minister and the Environment Assurance Commissioner. The statement should evaluate environmental performance under the Act, how the outcomes for MNES are tracking, and make recommendations for adjustments as required