Chapter 7 - Monitoring, evaluation and reporting
There is no effective framework to support a comprehensive, data-based evaluation of the EPBC Act, its effectiveness in achieving intended outcomes and the efficiency of implementation activities.
The EPBC Act includes some requirements for monitoring and reporting on activities and outcomes. However, these do not span the operation of the Act. Activities that are done lack a clear overall purpose, coordination and intent. There is a focus on ‘bare minimum’ administrative reporting, rather than genuine monitoring and evaluation of outcomes to learn lessons, adapt and improve.
The national State of the Environment (SoE) report is the established mechanism that seeks to ‘tell the national story’ on Australia’s system of environmental management. Although it provides an important point-in-time overview, it is an amalgam of insights and information, and does not generate a consistent data series across reports. It lacks a clear purpose and intent. There is no feedback loop, and as a nation no requirement to stop, review and where necessary change course.
Combined, these issues make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to assess the relative effectiveness of the levers governments individually and collectively pull to manage Australia’s environment.
The key reform directions proposed by the Review are:
- A coherent framework to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the EPBC Act in achieving its outcomes and the efficiency of its implementation should be developed. The framework must be backed by a commitment to its implementation.
- A revamp of national SoE reporting should incorporate trend analysis and address future outlooks to provide the foundation for national leadership on the environment.
- National environmental economic accounts will be a useful tool for tracking Australia’s progress to achieve ecologically sustainable development (ESD). Efforts to finalise the development of these accounts should be accelerated, so they can be a core input to SoE reporting.
Regular monitoring, evaluation and reporting are key features of modern public policy and regulation. They are essential for:
- understanding the success or failure of interventions, to enable improvements to be identified and settings to be adapted to enhance effectiveness or increase efficiency
- providing accountability to the public.
Effective monitoring, evaluation and reporting of the EPBC Act, and of the broader national environmental system is essential to achieve improved environmental outcomes. It is also central to improving and maintaining public trust in the regulatory system. If the community, and the regulated community don't have visibility of the outcomes arising from regulatory intervention, then they question whether it is worthwhile.
Monitoring and evaluation is fundamentally linked to information and data management—it should inform the design of monitoring activities that provide data into the ‘information supply chain’ (see Chapter 6). The quality of the insights that can be drawn from evaluations depends on how information is collected, collated, shared and analysed.
The Review acknowledges that evaluating the effectiveness of environmental policy is challenging and that attributing observed outcomes to individual interventions is extremely difficult. Many different organisations are involved at different levels, there are lengthy time lags between human actions and observed changes in the environment, and broader impacts (such as climate variability and change) that contribute to environmental outcomes can mask the impact of specific interventions.
But that does not mean we should put environmental monitoring and evaluation in the ‘too hard basket’. This chapter examines the effectiveness of monitoring and evaluation of the EPBC Act. As the Act includes settings for the national State of the Environment (SoE) report, it also explores the leadership role the Commonwealth plays in monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the effectiveness of the nation’s broader system of environmental management.