Report: Environment Dep't's 'passive approach' to compliance

A SERIES of long-term failures in the Federal Government's management of projects like mines and port developments and a "passive approach" to compliance in the Environment Department has been revealed.

The latest Australian National Audit Office audit of the Environment Department's management of compliance with approval conditions was released on Thursday.

It painted a stark image of the compliance and enforcement division that is meant to ensure miners and developers do not breach Commonwealth environmental conditions designed to protect threatened species and valuable areas.

Some of the failures highlighted, such as information management, compliance assessments and checks and balances, also reflect the findings of one recent Queensland study - the Gladstone Bund Wall Review report.

"The extent of the shortcomings in, and challenges facing, Environment's regulation of approved controlled actions-particularly in relation to compliance monitoring-does not instil confidence that the environmental protection measures considered necessary as part of the approval of controlled actions have received sufficient oversight over an extended period of time," the audit reads.

"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."

The audit also found the department either failed to identify "proponent non-compliance", such as missed deadlines on management plans, or, when it did, failed to refer such situations for compliance action.

It further found that 14 years after the Environment Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act came into being, the department was "yet to establish an effective compliance intelligence and risk assessment capability".

The audit analysed 64 approved "controlled actions" or major projects, and found more than 29% management plans and compliance returns were overdue.

Most of those were overdue more than 18 months and eight which the department was "unaware" were overdue, while the department kept only "partial or limited evidence" of its assessments of only 61% of all plans analysed.

The department, in its official response, told the audit office it had "significantly increased its proactive management of regulation over the past two years".

However, the audit office, commenting on the evidence analysed as part of its audit, wrote that the claims of improvement "was not evident".

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