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7.3 - Key reform directions

​​​​​​7.3.1 - A specific monitoring and evaluation framework for the EPBC Act

A comprehensive and coherent framework to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the EPBC Act in achieving its outcomes and the efficiency of its implementation is required.

The fundamental purpose of this framework is to enable two key questions to be answered:

  • Is the EPBC Act achieving its intended outcomes?
  • Is the EPBC Act operating efficiently?

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. The framework should specify:

  • the key outcomes to be measured, noting that the outcomes and objectives of the National Environmental Standards provide a key basis for this
  • the spatial and temporal scale at which outcomes should be measured
  • the monitoring and data required, including how requirements for specific areas of the EPBC Act (for example, Standards and regional plans) come together.

The reforms proposed by this Review, particularly the establishment of National Environmental Standards and regional plans provide a solid foundation for the development of a monitoring and evaluation framework for the EPBC Act as a whole. The implementation of the framework should be underpinned by the data and information supply chain (Chapter 6).

The National Environmental Standard for monitoring and evaluation is envisaged to ensure that those that interact with the EPBC Act (such as proponents or accredited regulators) are required to contribute their information as appropriate to populate the framework.

In line with this framework, the annual reporting on the operation of the EPBC Act should be enhanced. It should report against the achievement of the National Environmental Standards, where these Standards have not been achieved, and the core activities undertaken to support the operation of the Act.

7.3.2 - Revamp national State of the Environment reporting

A revamp of national SoE reporting is required to provide the foundation for Commonwealth leadership on the environment. It should be the vehicle through which Australia, as a nation, tells its story on the environment, both to itself and to the world.

The national SoE report should continue to be independently prepared, so that judgements are made at arm’s length and without fear or favour. But the report should be rooted in a nationally agreed evaluation framework, to which the data and information collected by many can support. This framework will provide focus and consistency to the reports, while being sufficiently flexible so as not to limit the ability of the report to consider information in new ways or talk to emerging issues.

The national SoE report should examine the state and trends of Australia’s environment and the underlying drivers of these trends, including interventions that have been made, and current and emerging pressures. It should provide an outlook for Australia’s environment, based on future scenarios.

Government should be required to formally respond to the national SoE report. For example, it could respond in the form of a national plan for the environment, that identifies priority areas for action and the levers that will be used to act.

This revamp of the national SoE report requires an ongoing commitment to resourcing and maintaining capacity for national scale monitoring. Ideally, national SoE reports should be published on a cycle that enables comprehensive input into strategic planning and the statutory reviews of the operation of the EPBC Act.

The EPBC Act should be amended to set the formal objectives for the national SoE report, require the Commonwealth to respond and to better align the timing of the report with the statutory review.

7.3.3 - Accelerate efforts on national environmental economic accounts

Environmental economic accounting provides a mechanism to underpin consistent ESD reporting across governments (see Box 20). The collaborative development of a nationally consistent system will support greater coordination and the capacity to better tell a national-level story.

While a National Strategy and Action Plan for a common national approach to environmental economic accounting was agreed in 2018, progress has been slow. A series of pilot and experimental accounts have been developed, but it has yet to be incorporated into State of the Environment reporting at the state and territory or Commonwealth level.

Efforts to finalise the development of these accounts should be accelerated, so that they can be a core input to SoE reporting, and are used to promote explicit consideration of environmental, heritage and cultural assets as part of Australia’s broader national accounts.