7.1 - Monitoring, evaluation and reporting of the EPBC Act is inadequate
7.1.1 - The EPBC Act lacks a cohesive monitoring and evaluation framework
There is no comprehensive framework that supports effective, data-based evaluation across all the operations of the EPBC Act. The absence of a strategic monitoring and evaluation framework means that there are information gaps that hinder effective evaluation, the resources that are dedicated to monitoring are likely to be inefficient, and there is no clear pathway to learn lessons, adapt and improve.
The activities to monitor and report on the EPBC Act are patchy and inconsistent. They lack a clear overall purpose and intent, including how the operation of the Act contributes to the overall performance of the nation’s environmental management system.
The broad policy areas of the EPBC Act (Chapter 3), combined with the lack of clearly defined outcomes that the Act seeks to achieve (Chapter 1) provide a challenging foundation for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the Act. Furthermore, the Department lacks the systems (see Chapter 6) to collect data on its regulatory activities. This makes analysis of where resources are directed, and the efficiency of activities, difficult to assess.
To answer the fundamental question of whether the EPBC Act is operating effectively and efficiently, this Review has relied on diverse, disparate and, at times, patchy sources of information and the deep knowledge of contributors. In modern public policy, this is unacceptable.
7.1.2 - There are some requirements for monitoring and reporting
The EPBC Act includes some requirements for monitoring and reporting on activities and outcomes. However, these do not span the operation of the Act and follow-through is poor. Resourcing constraints mean that the focus is on reporting to meet the bare minimum requirements, rather than monitoring and evaluation driving adaptive improvements over time.
For listed threatened species and ecological communities, requirements for monitoring are limited in scope. Recovery plans for threatened species are required to include details on how progress will be monitored, but there is no requirement to implement monitoring activities and report on whether outcomes are being achieved. This means that efforts to monitor and report are a rare exception, rather than common practice.
Conservation advices for listed threatened species and ecological communities have no detail on monitoring requirements. Most mandated 5-yearly reviews of threat abatement plans are either well behind schedule or haven’t occurred117.
For developments approved under Part 9 of the EPBC Act, the Environment Minister may attach conditions that require specified environmental monitoring or testing to be carried out and reports to be prepared. This is an administrative decision, rather than a statutory requirement. As highlighted in Chapter 8 and Chapter 9, where offsets form a condition of approval, there is no comprehensive tracking of offsets, or assessment to determine if they are achieving the intended outcomes.
While not a requirement, strategic assessments made under Part 10 of the EPBC Act often include provisions as to how monitoring and evaluation will be achieved. Although approval holders are required to provide reports, the Department lacks the capacity to follow-up if activities are not conducted. Similarly, bilateral agreements 'may include' provisions for auditing, monitoring and reporting on the operation and effectiveness of all or part of the agreement, but these are not a requirement.
Other parts of the EPBC Act require management plans to be developed, and in some cases, reports against these plans to be prepared. While many requirements and approaches fall short of best practice, there is ongoing effort to improve the quality and consistency of planning and reporting.
For World Heritage properties and National Heritage places entirely on Commonwealth land, a management plan is required to be prepared and reviewed every 5 years, while for those not entirely on Commonwealth land 'best endeavours’ must be made to ensure a plan is in place. Similar requirements are in place for Ramsar wetlands.
Solid processes are in place for the monitoring and reporting of World Heritage properties, which is guided by the international World Heritage Committee and highly scrutinised. Planning and review of National Heritage places is patchier. While some form of plan is in place or in preparation for most areas, a recent 5-yearly review by the Environment Minister did not assess their effectiveness118. Work is currently underway to develop a standardised monitoring methodology for heritage places, consistent with the existing requirements for World Heritage properties.
The Director of National Parks (DNP) and the joint national park Boards of Management are required to prepare management plans for jointly managed Commonwealth reserves, which must be updated every 10 years. While all reserves have plans in place, a recent Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report identified shortcomings in their effectiveness and implementatio119, which the DNP is working to address.
All Commonwealth entities are required to report on ecologically sustainable development (ESD) activities and outcomes in their annual reports (s516A). While the intent is to provide a mechanism to ensure the Commonwealth Government is considering ESD in its operations, this has been lost over time. The reality is that most Commonwealth entities report on their use of recycled paper or the energy efficiency of buildings. It is an administrative burden with no real benefit.
The Department is required to report annually on the operation of the EPBC Act. This is currently delivered as part of the Department’s annual report. Despite some recent improvements, in practice, this reporting is output and activity-focused, rather than focused on the outcomes arising from the operation of the Act. The measures used to report publicly on the operation of the Act consolidate performance information across several programs and they change from year to year. This greatly reduces the usefulness of the reporting effort.
 Threatened Species Scientific Committee, ANON-K57V-XF2U-J. Submission in response to the EPBC Act Review Discussion Paper.
 Department of the Environment and Energy 2019, The National Heritage List and the Commonwealth Heritage List: 1 July 2013 – 30 June 2018.