Improving our efficiency and effectiveness as an environmental regulator
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (the department) carries out environmental impact assessments under Parts 7 – 9 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
On 25 June 2020, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) tabled in Parliament a performance audit report of administration of referrals, assessments and approvals of controlled actions under the EPBC Act.
The department agreed to implement all 8 audit recommendations.
We are committed to:
- continuous improvement of our regulatory efficiency and effectiveness
- striving towards better practice regulation
- providing regular updates on our progress.
Progress update – August 2021
We have made substantial progress in meeting the recommendations outlined in the ANAO audit report. The implementation of two recommendations (Recommendations 3 and 5) is completed, and we have made significant progress on all others.
Use of compliance and regulatory information
Recommendation 1: The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment develop and implement a plan to collect and use regulatory information, and address gaps and limitations in information management, to better enable information to be used to inform regulatory strategy and decision-making.
We are preparing a strategy for how we collect and use regulatory information. This will become our Compliance and Regulatory Information Strategy.
We are also:
- working with external partners to improve our IT systems
- streamlining processes for our compliance and investigation activities.
Recommendation 2: The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment conduct an up-to-date risk assessment of non-compliance across its environmental regulatory regimes and develop and implement arrangements to prioritise its strategic compliance assessments.
We are preparing a Categorisation and Prioritisation Framework to reform how we assess and prioritise our compliance activities.
Oversight of EPBC Act referrals, assessments and approvals
Recommendation 3: The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment ensure that its oversight of referrals, assessments and approvals is conducted in accordance with procedures, and conflict-of-interest risks are identified and treated.
All measures to implement this recommendation are now in place.
Since the audit, we have put in place new governance arrangements. These have improved our oversight of referrals, assessments and approvals under the EPBC Act. A new executive board has been set up, which also oversees our strategic reforms.
We moved quickly. Within 1 month of the release of the audit report, we set up new internal processes. This included a Conflict-of-Interest Register, a mandatory annual conflict-of-interest declaration process for all assessment staff and delegates and conflict-of-interest training for staff. We are actively managing our conflict-of-interest risks.
We are managing our fraud risks through the department’s Fraud and Corruption Control Plan 2020-21.
Measuring and monitoring performance
Recommendation 4: The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment establish internal and external performance measures on the effectiveness and efficiency of its regulation of referrals, assessments and approvals.
Recommendation 6: The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment establish efficiency indicators to assist in meeting legislative timeframes for referrals, assessments and approvals.
We have engaged an external expert to help us develop a new performance framework for our regulation under the EPBC Act.
This framework will:
- include new performance measures
- improve how we measure, monitor and report on our regulatory efficiency and effectiveness. This will include environmental outcomes.
Quality and consistency of decisions
Recommendation 5: The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment establish and implement a quality assurance framework to assure itself that its procedural guidance is implemented consistently, and that the quality of decision-making is appropriate.
A new Quality Assurance Framework, prepared by quality assurance experts, is now in place. The framework will provide ongoing confidence in the quality and integrity of decisions made under the EPBC Act.
We are also working on a range of other measures that will improve the quality and consistency of decisions.
- mandatory training requirements are now in place
- implemented a Regulatory Capability Framework for the Environment Approvals Division which articulates a high-level set of staff capabilities at all levels. This enables us to identify the capabilities required for assessment officers, supervisors and delegates under the EPBC Act to be able to regulate effectively.
- prepared a Regulatory Capability Framework for compliance officers.
- developed and implemented the ‘Have Your Say’ platform to ensure public comments are accurately recorded and stored.
- trialled a new triage process to tailor how assessments are resourced.
- improved the timeliness, quality and consistency of decisions through development of a new end-to-end Portal and Assessment System. Planned for release this financial year, the system will provide a streamlined portal for proponents to submit information and improve the efficiency and consistency of the assessment workflow processes.
Improvements to approval conditions
Recommendation 7: The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment improve its quality controls to ensure conditions of approval are enforceable, appropriate for monitoring, compliant with internal procedures and aligned with risk to the environment.
We have engaged external experts to advise us on best practice regulatory condition setting and monitoring processes so we can improve the quality of approval conditions made under the
We are also currently updating our:
- internal quality control checklists
- training for staff
- guidance material for writing EPBC Act approval conditions
- templates for decision making to document how conditions are aligned with risk to the environment.
Recommendation 8: The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment develop guidance and quality controls to assure itself that pre-commencement conditions of approval are implemented and assessed consistently to protect matters of national environmental significance.
We are working with an external partner to develop an IT solution for monitoring pre-commencement conditions.
We are also improving our procedural guidance for assessing actions in the post-approval phase. This includes review and approval of proponents’ environmental management and offset plans.
Further information is available on: Department response to ANAO Performance Audit: Referrals, Assessments and Approvals of Controlled Actions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999