The Department of Environment's administration of Australia's environment protection laws has been found to have failed to track activities at areas of greatest risk and has not maintained effective capabilities for ensuring compliance with the laws.
In his report, Managing Compliance with Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 Conditions of Approval, Auditor-General, Ian McPhee says the Department "is not well placed to demonstrate that it is effectively targeting its compliance monitoring activities to the areas of greatest risk".
The extent of the shortcomings and challenges "does not instil confidence" that necessary environmental protection measures have received sufficient oversight "over an extended period of time", Mr McPhee said.
"Environment is working to improve its internal performance reporting arrangements to provide greater visibility of the compliance monitoring function to senior departmental managers," he said.
The Auditor-General said while the Department had dedicated additional resources in 2007 to monitor and enforce compliance, effective arrangements to administer its regulatory responsibilities were yet to be established.
"The absence of a sound risk-based approach has meant that compliance monitoring undertaken by the Department has, generally, been insufficient to provide an appropriate level of assurance of proponents' ongoing compliance with their conditions of approval."
There were "numerous plans and compliance returns found to be overdue" and "generally poor evidence retained demonstrating the Department's appropriate assessment of submitted plans and returns", particularly for assessments before 2013, according to the audit.
Since the enactment of the Act in 2000, the Australian Government has approved more than 600 controlled actions, many with conditions attached.
"The increasing workload on compliance monitoring staff over time has resulted in Environment adopting a generally passive approach to monitoring proponents' compliance with most approval conditions," Mr McPhee said.
"As a consequence, the Department has limited awareness of the progress of many approved controlled actions."
The audit team was Grant Caine, Anna Peterson, Joan Kieboom and Mark Simpson.
The full report can be viewed at this PS News link.
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