Public Housing Proposal for Downer 

Dr Kate Auty - Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment - 20 December 2016

Photo of public housing

Photo: Wikemedia Commons


Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the public housing proposal for 79-85 Antill Street, dated 5th December 2016.

This submission will:

  • Note that ACT Government has various commitments under Action Plan 2, particularly relating to priority households (i.e. low-income households) and comment on their importance for public housing
  • Advocate for best practice in sustainable building design, materials and construction, along with energy efficiency measures and education for the proposed public housing residents
  • Acknowledge the role of negative public perception of public housing in perpetuating social exclusion
  • Identify a window of opportunity provided by new public housing to challenge the stereotypes associated with public housing tenants

Action Plan 2 – relevant actions for public housing

The ACT Government’s climate change action plan, Action Plan 2 (AP2), details a number of actions aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of residential housing:

  • Action 1 – The ACT Government’s Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme will commence from 1 January 2013 requiring retailers to implement energy efficiency improvements to ACT homes with a focus on low-income households. The Scheme has been extended to 2020.
  • Action 3 - Subject to a regulatory impact assessment, the ACT Government will introduce legislation to require landlords to provide information to tenants on the energy efficiency of homes and fixed appliances and major energy uses. Regulatory impact assessment and stakeholder consultation will be completed in 2013.
  • Action 4 - The ACT Government will publish by 2015 a Pathway to Zero Emissions Buildings policy informed by a regulatory impact assessment and stakeholder consultation to be undertaken from 2013 covering residential and non-residential building types.
  • Action 5 - The ACT Government will continue to build on the experience of its successful ACTSmart programs to develop a comprehensive strategy to engage the community on climate change matters and to provide integrated information, advice and support to Canberra households on reducing energy bills and cutting emissions. This will be guided by a community engagement strategy to be published in early 2013.

The ACT Government should ensure that these actions, and the policy intent of these actions, are implemented within future developments including the Downer public housing proposal.

Best practice sustainable buildings

Climate change

Noting that while generally the contents of the draft Housing ACT Capital Program - Design Brief – Multi Unit Sites appears to provide a high standard of specification for design, it does not explicitly account for the expected impacts of climate change in the ACT region - the annual number of hot days over 35 degrees Celsius that Canberra experiences is expected to increase from 5 days to up to 10 days by 2030.[1] The expected rise in extreme heat days will cause an increase in the number of cases of heat stress in the ACT, and is likely to disproportionately impact low income households.

In keeping with the ACT Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, the ACT Government should actively consider how best to ensure its public housing stock is protected from such impacts through building design and material choices. Solar orientation should be optimised to access solar energy through photovoltaic whilst minimising summer heat into the living areas. Landscaping and use of appropriate shade trees should also be included as climate adaptation measures – in addition to providing visual amenity, trees can have a considerable impact on local ambient temperatures, with shade and evapotranspiration provided by trees on hot summer days helping to reduce localised temperatures by up to 5 degrees Celsius.’[2][3]

Education and user behaviour

In addition to design, user behaviour also plays a significant role in the overall energy consumption in buildings. As identified in Action 5 of AP2, the ACT Government should continue to develop its energy efficiency education programs (ie. ACTSmart) and ensure that they are promoted among public housing tenants.

Other opportunities for sustainable living

Noting that communal gardens may not be feasibly located within the proposed development, the ACT Government could provide an orientation package that includes information on local community gardens. Canberra Organic Growers Society (COGS) has a number of community gardens located throughout Canberra, with one being located nearby at Dickson College.

Public perceptions of public housing

Within Australia and elsewhere, public housing has progressively ‘moved from being a general needs tenure, in which a range of groups lived, to one containing a much larger proportion of high need and deprived tenants’.[4] Due to a number of factors, primarily a significant reduction in government funding over time, public housing is now perceived as a ‘last resort’ option amongst the general public. Widely held negative perceptions of public housing and its users, reinforced by sensationalist media and long-running political discourse on the issue, [5] has had the effect of perpetuating social exclusion. In addition to financial insecurity, social exclusion, the notion that ‘poverty is more than just material deprivation and includes social relationships, participation and access to services’, presents a considerable impediment to achieving self reliance for public housing users.[6] Continued negative perceptions clearly have profound implications for households living in public housing.

Opportunities to disrupt media stereotypes of public housing

With the establishment of a new public housing site the ACT Government will have an opportunity to disrupt local media discourse on the issue of public housing. The Downer development could be leveraged as a showcase for the community by demonstrating best practice policy, design and implementation for public housing.

The ACT Government should consider the development of a media strategy that;

  • has the aim of promoting a positive reception / perception of the Downer development by the local public
  • highlights the benefits of community engagement for both public housing users and the local community – noting specifically that engaged communities are happier, healthier and safer for all
  • showcases the buildings as examples of best practice sustainable design
  • encompasses regular print media, digital and social media channels
  • is timed to coincide with the opening of the site for habitation – early intervention is key to disrupting commonly held perceptions relating to public housing
  • seeks to establish lasting relationships with media personnel that enable public housing stakeholders (government, community groups, users) to convey positive news stories over time

Thank you once again for the opportunity to comment on the public housing proposal for 79-85 Antill Street.


[1] ACT Environmental and Planning Directorate, 'Draft ACT Climate Change Adaptation Strategy'.

[2] City of Melbourne, 'Urban Forest Strategy' (Victorian Government 2012).

[3] Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation, 'Responding To The Urban Heat Island: A Review Of The Potential Of Green Infrastructure' (Victorian Centre for Climate Adaptation 2012).

[4] Rowland Atkinson, Keith Jacobs, 2008, Public housing in Australia, stigma, home and opportunity, Housing and Community Research Unit, viewed 12 December 2016, <>.

[5] Jacobs, K. etc. (2011) The stigmatisation of social housing: findings from a panel investigation, AHURI Final Report No.166. Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.

[6] Rowland Atkinson, Keith Jacobs, 2008, Public housing in Australia, stigma, home and opportunity, Housing and Community Research Unit, viewed 12 December 2016, <>.

Active Living 

Dr Kate Auty - Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment - 10 February 2017

Girl standing next to her bicycle

Photo: Pixabay


Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in response to Incorporating Active Living Principles into the Territory Plan.

While the office welcomes the promotion of active living and active transport principles by the ACT Government, there is an opportunity to strengthen the rationale about why people should convert to these modes. It is also essential to outline the barriers that prevent people incorporating active living principles in their daily lives. The office is aware that this may not be within the scope of the current proposed Territory Plan Variation but our view is that it is essential for these principles to be embodied in the Territory Plan in order to reinforce their importance and assist ongoing uptake.

In the current document the reason for becoming more active is promoted primarily on a health basis – to reduce obesity and related diseases (refer to page 6 ‘The evidence for change’). Some economic benefits of active living are mentioned such as congestion reduction, health, vehicle operating costs and infrastructure savings. Other benefits such as increasing the surveillance of urban and suburban areas are also outlined.

However, active transport has other highly significant co-benefits like:

  • economic benefits such as reduced spending on car parking, increased retail space in terms of bicycle parking compared to car parking, reducing air and noise pollution,
  • reducing carbon emissions (in the ACT the transport sector contributes about 23% of total greenhouse emissions),[1]
  • fostering local businesses on the commute such as Sly Fox coffee on the Sullivans Creek cycleway, and
  • potentially enhancing relationships in the community, e.g. with the program CANwalk which assists people in Canberra find a walking activity to suit their needs.

These benefits are outlined in our Active Travel video that you can view here.

The 2015 State of the Environment Report, produced by our Office found that petrol consumption accounted for 5% of Canberra’s ecological footprint. Our overall footprint is 8.9 global hectares per person, three and a half times the global average.  More than 60% of our footprint is a product of our households.  The table below provides some insight into this environmental concern.

Table showing the top 10 commodities used in the ACT

Incorporating Active Living Principles into the Territory Plan makes only one mention of climate change on page 21. This requires elaboration. Hotter, drier summers as a result of climate change will have a significant impact on active living and active transport. Hot weather will be a significant barrier to people exercising and will also impact on people’s health. Climate change has the potential to increase expenditure on lighting for ovals as training sessions are pushed into the cooler evening hours. Climate change also has the potential to impact tourism – as we saw when heat prohibited play in the Australian Open.

The changes to the Territory Plan should address how climate change will be considered in urban planning. Some ways to help keep urban open space cooler include:

  • incorporation of shade trees – they can reduce the local micro-climate in summer by at least 2 degrees Celsius. Research undertaken by Melbourne City Council has found that the average temperature in Melbourne’s CBD is up to 4 degrees higher than the surrounding suburbs and during the evenings, this difference can be as high as 12 degrees.[2] Director of CSIRO Land and Water, Paul Hardisty, has said climate change is already affecting our daily lives and we need to increase green coverage such as tree canopies, gardens, parklands and green roofs to mitigate summer heat stress and mortality rate, [3] and
  • the use of water sensitive urban design measures – directing stormwater via permeable surfaces into the soil profile, rain gardens/reed beds, wetland and food gardens. This reduces the amount of concrete and hard surfaces we have in our cities, therefore reducing the urban heat island effect.

A great deal of work has now been done on the value of the urban forest and it could be usefully referenced in any response to this call for submissions. A link to a short video that our office produced about Canberra’s urban forest is here.

The active living principles outlined in the document are a useful goal to aim for but it is vital that barriers to active living are acknowledged in order to determine the areas to focus on to increase the number of people using active living in their daily lives. Barriers to active living include:

  1. Gender – while cycling in the ACT is higher than the national average,[4] men (65%) were nearly twice as likely to be bicycle riders as women (35%).[5] the requirement to wear helmets, safety concerns and riding confidence are associated with this.

    Percentages of males and females riding their bicycles

    Cycling rates for women are high in Germany (49%) and very high in Denmark and the Netherlands (55%) compared to the United Kingdom (27%). In the UK, this lower participation rate is due to the “hostile road environment for cycling” according to sustainable transport consultant Alix Stredwick.[6] This research demonstrates that improving cycling infrastructure should increase the number of women cycling.

    Woman riding on bicycle, Milan

    Woman cycling in Milan, Edwina Robinson

  2. Socioeconomic – Vampire Index (vulnerability assessment for mortgage, petrol and inflation risks and expenditure) assesses the risk to Australian households arising from the combined impact of rising mortgage costs, high fuel prices and the pressures from inflation. The pattern identified in this research is that people who live further from city centres have restricted access to public transport which means they are much more likely to use their personal cars to drive further distances. The recommendations are that public transport networks be improved.[7] This is relevant for promoting active living as people who use public transport have higher rates of incidental exercise than those driving their own cars.
  3. Age – older people may have limitations to their ability to participate in activity. Investment in targeted infrastructure to support the physical activity of ageing Canberrans is important to help address this issue. Also, the cycling participation rate among children aged under 10 is below the national average so this is an age group that can be targeted.
  4. Distance – this is a major barrier in Canberra for active travel. In answer to the question: “why have you not used a bicycle for travel to work in the past year?” 41% of participants responded that it was too far.[8] This is reflected by the fact that the greatest percentage of people in the ACT (35.5%) travel an average distance of 10-20km to work and full-time study, the highest proportion of all the States and Territories.[9] A great initiative in the ACT has been the construction of infrastructure to allow people to use mixed modes of transport. An example is the installation of bike rails, bike lockers and bike cages at bus stops to allow people to cycle to the bus stop and park their bicycle securely while they catch the bus.
  5. Appropriate infrastructure, e.g. separate cyclists from the rest of the traffic so that their safety is improved. An example of this is the Civic Cycle Loop.

Showing separated on-road cycle path

Separated cycleway, Wikimedia Commons, Paul Krueger

As to the benefits of cycling, Albert Einstein summed it up accurately when he said, in relation to the Theory of Relativity:

“I thought of that while riding my bicycle”.

Our office acknowledges the many other initiatives and endeavours that are currently being pursued by the ACT Government in relation to climate change adaptation and mitigation, and we look forward to commenting on these at an appropriate time in the future.


[1] ICRC, 2011, ACT Greenhouse Gas Inventory, ACT Government, Canberra.

[2] Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, 2015, Cooling Cities – Urban Heat Island Effect, Draft PS for member consultation, AILA Position Statement, Liveable Cities.

[3] Hardisty, Paul, 2016, A new climate adaptation landscape, CSIRO, Canberra.

[4] Munro, Cameron, 2015, National Cycling Participation Survey 2015: Australian Capital Territory, Austroads Ltd, Sydney, Australia.

[5] ACT Government 2011, Draft Report on Telephone Survey About Cycling in Canberra, by Winton Sustainable Consultants, dated 21 Nov 2011. Phone survey of 1000 adults, in ACT Government 2015, Building an Integrated Transport Network: Active Travel, Canberra.

[6] Stredwick, Alix, 2015 quoted in ‘If there aren’t as many women cycling as need better infrastructure’, The Guardian.

[7] Dodson, Jago and Sipe, Neil, 2006, Shocking the Suburbs: Urban Location, Housing Debt and Oil Vulnerability in the Australian City, Griffith University, Brisbane.

[8] Munro, Cameron, 2015, National Cycling Participation Survey 2015: Australian Capital Territory, Austroads Ltd, Sydney, Australia.

[9] ABS, 2012, Environmental Issues: Waste Management, Transport and Motor Vehicle Usage March 2012, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.

Horse Park Drive Duplication

Dr Kate Auty - Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment - 10 June 2016

View of Horse Park Drive proposed duplication


Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the planned duplication of Horse Park Drive as part of the community consultation process. I understand that the ACT Government has committed $57 million to upgrade Horse Park Drive in order to improve safety, traffic flow and to provide better access to nearby suburbs, including the new suburb of Throsby. This appears to be a prudent investment to alleviate current and future congestion in the area.

My comments at this stage of the project are mainly in relation to aspects of the project design. However, I take this opportunity to flag the need to consider effective management during the construction phase as well.  Consistent with my role as Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, my comments address the following aspects of the project:

  1. Background
    1. Congestion and the case for investment in active transport infrastructure
    2. Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD)
    3. The influence of a warming climate on commuter travel preferences
  2. Developing a sustainable transport system for the future
    1. climate mitigation meastures for active transport
    2. amenity measures for active transport
  1. Implementation of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD)
  2. Managing construction impacts
1. Background

a)      Congestion and the case for investment in active transport infrastructure

Infrastructure Australia commented in its Australian Infrastructure Audit Report that ‘congestion in our cities is perhaps the area with the greatest gap between what we expect from our infrastructure and what is delivered’.[1] The report calculates the cost of Canberra’s congestion to be $208 million in 2011, and estimates that figure to grow to $703 million by 2031 if further investments in transport infrastructure are not made.[2] Clearly these costs should be avoided, and so infrastructure investments must be made accordingly.

These investments should address the alleviation current and future congestion. It has become apparent in recent years that merely building more of the same - larger, better roads - is not a viable long term solution for developing effective commuter transport networks in our increasingly populous cities. Increasing the availability and quality of alternative transport is crucial to ensuring we minimise various costs to Canberrans.  Economic , social, health and environmental costs posed by congestion can all be minimised if investment in active and public transport networks is prioritised.

Active transport has many benefits, however commuters will only change their behaviour if the transport infrastructure supports them to do so. It has been observed that ‘higher levels of bicycle infrastructure are positively and significantly correlated with higher rates of bicycle commuting’.[3] Additionally, investment in active transport infrastructure that enhances amenity or overall quality is likely to ‘benefit users directly, and... society overall, including people who do not currently use walking and cycling facilities’.[4]

The case for investment in active travel infrastructure is further strengthened when considering the return on investment. It has been estimated that investment in cycling infrastructure can expect to return up to ‘$3.88 for every dollar spent - in net economic benefits over 30 years’, a significantly higher return than for typical road infrastructure projects ($2.70 per dollar spent).[5] [6] The costs for delivering cycling and shared paths is also substantially lower in absolute terms; the Queensland Government estimated that the ‘average cost of a typical off-road path is around $1.5 million per kilometre’, as compared to the $22.5 million currently invested in the ~2.5 kilometre duplication of Horse Park Drive.[7]

b)      Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD)

Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) is a planning and design approach aimed at integrating ‘water cycle management and ’green’ infrastructure (vegetation and water bodies) into urban planning to slow runoff, ameliorate flooding, and reduce pollutants and sediment entering waterways’. [8]

Banksia St Wetland

Stormwater runoff is treated in this small wetland at Banksia St, O'Connor.

The importance of ensuring Canberra’s urban landscape is water sensitive has been highlighted in recent years by drought, and will become increasingly important as the ACT is expected to experience more extreme rainfall events that have the potential to result in flooding, hazards for commuters, damage to infrastructure and adverse impacts on water quality in the city’s lakes and ponds.[9] The design of our urban infrastructure must keep pace with our changing environment to avoid the worst of these impacts.

c)      The influence of a warming climate on commuter travel preferences

Commuters are less likely to use active modes of transport in hot or very hot weather. One study found that, of all weather variables, ‘very hot’ temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius were the most influential in reducing pedestrian and cyclist numbers.[10] The negative impact of hot weather on active travel user numbers is likely to become more pronounced as the expected impacts of climate change come about - the number of hot days over 35 degrees Celsius that Canberra experiences annually is expected to increase from 5 days to up to 10 days by 2030.[11] Commuters switching from active transport to other modes during days of extreme heat may also lead to a spike in demand and strain on those services at times when they are already under stress.[12] Clearly the negative impacts of climate change on travel modes will need to be addressed if the ACT Government intends to achieve the targets stated in the Transport for Canberra strategy.

Cyclist rides next to Sullivans Creek

Cyclist rides under Canberra urban forest canopy near O'Connor.

2. Developing a sustainable transport system for the future

I note that while the current consultation details the layout of on-road cycle paths, bus stops and off-road shared paths, it does not specify what additional infrastructure will be developed to support active transport options.

A number of steps should be taken to ensure Canberra’s transport network remains functional in a future climate scenario of increasing extreme heat. These include actions to mitigate against expected climate change impacts, and actions to improve patronage of sustainable transport options. I discuss a number of these actions below.

a) Climate mitigation measures for active transport

Investment in Canberra’s urban forest to create shade along cycling and shared paths is an important step in mitigating the effects of climate change. The Horse Park Drive duplication should make use of urban forests as they provide a number of benefits to individual users and the broader community:

  • Shade is highly desirable for cyclists and pedestrians in order to use paths in comfort. Trees planted in close proximity to cycling paths and shared paths can have a considerable impact on local ambient temperatures, with shade and evapotranspiration provided by trees on hot summer days helping to reduce localised temperatures by up to 5 degrees Celsius.’[13][14]
  • Trees also provide shelter against wind. Exposure to wind has been correlated with reduced active transport user numbers.[15]
  • Planting of trees alongside shared paths can also reduce long term maintenance costs of infrastructure; ‘Urban forests that provide significant canopy coverage improve the lifespan of certain assets such as asphalt by shading them from harmful UV rays – potentially by 30%’.[16]
  • Trees also positively contribute to the landscape character, providing visual amenity for local residents and commuters.
  • A healthy urban forest contributes to biodiversity and habitat provision. Urban forests around the world have been shown to support a wide range of species, even endangered animals and other species of high conservation value.[17]

2. b) Amenity measures for active transport 

To further support active transport users, the ACT Government should consider extending its water fountain and water bottle refilling station program to the Horse Park Drive duplication. Placement of one or more stations along shared paths is likely to increase the attractiveness of these paths for commuters and leisure users.

Secure bike storage for commuters wishing to use public transport options should also be made available for those wishing to ‘Bike and Ride’. Co-location of bike storage facilities with bus stops and Park and Ride stations should be considered as this would be strongly aligned with the objectives of the ACT Government’s Active Travel Framework and Transport for Canberra Strategy that seek to increase use of sustainable transport options.

Bus travel park and ride in Gungahlin

Park and ride facility, Flemington Rd, Gungahlin. 

The ACT Government should consider widening of the shared paths, as path width has been identified as ‘a critical element to minimise conflict between cyclists and pedestrians’. [18] The ACT Government’s Municipal Infrastructure Standards (Part 5 Design Draft 4) states that ‘trunk path’ width should be 5m where there is ‘high levels of pedestrian and cyclist use in both directions, commuting, [at] speeds greater than 30km/h’.[19] The planned shared paths should be widened to adhere to this design standard.

Interpretive and navigational signage, including along shared paths, should be included in development as this will improve connectivity across the transport network. This signage could:

  • Promote local recreational sites (community facilities such as parks, wetlands, Centenary Trail etc.) by indicating their location and distance, and by providing a brief description of each location of interest.
  • Mark distances and estimated travel time to nearby group centres, transport nodes and facilities to assist active travel commuters (ie. X minutes by bike, Y minutes by foot). This signage could take the form of on-ground stencils or other creative means.

I note that the current Horse Park Drive design document provided on the TimeToTalk webpage shows only partial implementation of green paint ‘conflict markings’ for cycle lanes at the Katherine Avenue intersection – the slip-lane on to Katherine Avenue has not been marked in green. The green road markings should be extended to this slip-lane to ensure consistency and safety for on-road cyclists.

Water Refill Station

Water refill station at the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

3. Implementation of Water Sensitive Urban Design

The Horse Park Drive project will add several kilometres of impermeable surfaces which will, in the absence of adequate water management measures, contribute to stormwater ‘pulsing’ during rain events. Such surfaces can also act as a collecting point for various potential pollutants including litter, sediment and suspended solids, toxic organics, nutrients, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons’.[20] The ACT Government should detail how it plans to employ WSUD to minimise the impact of the Horse Park Drive project on established waterways such as Gungaderra Creek and Wells Station Creek.

A number of WSUD designs could be implemented along Horse Park Drive. These include;

  • Reed bed filtration and grass swales to manage water runoff, particularly into Gungaderra Creek and Wells Station Creek.
  • Rain gardens (also known as bio-retention basins) located at the two proposed Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve parking sites.
  • Gross pollutant traps such as drain baskets, trash racks and pipe nets.

However, before WSUD is implemented a thorough investigation should be made of aquatic plant and animal communities that may be impacted by the planned development and a plan developed detailing how these communities will be managed.

4. Managing construction impacts

Acknowledging that the scope of the consultation is limited to design features, I provide the following brief comments in relation to construction. In particular I note the potential for some of the structures created during construction to remain in-situ once works are completed, thus becoming part of the final design. Construction activity may also impact on existing design features – these should also be considered.

I note the presence of several existing WSUD landscape features, including swales and small wetland areas, directly adjacent to the north-running section of Horse Park Drive. Given the significant construction activity generated by the duplication works and the Throsby development, there is likely to be sediment run-off which may adversely impact on these features if controls are not adequate.

The ACT Government should take a proactive position in protecting these assets, as it has previously acknowledged that there is a ‘need for improved levels of compliance and more systematic monitoring of erosion and sediment controls during land development and construction’.[21] The ACT Government should ensure that construction sediment control practices such as sediment traps are 

in place to protect waterways during construction, and sites are quickly re-grassed to prevent erosion of newly formed batters.

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on the designs for the Horse Park Drive Stage 2 duplication.


[1] Infrastructure Australia, 'Australian Infrastructure Audit Report' (Infrastructure Australia 2015).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jennifer Dill and Theresa Carr, 'Bicycle Commuting And Facilities In Major U.S. Cities: If You Build Them, Commuters Will Use Them' (2003) 1828 Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board.

[4] Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 'Evaluating Active Transport Benefits And Costs: Guide To Valuing Walking And Cycling Improvements And Encouragement Programs' (Victoria Transport Policy Institute 2013).

[5] Australian Bicycle Council, 'National Cycling Strategy 2011-2016.' (Austroads 2011).

[6] Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 'Infrastructure, Transport and Productivity' (Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development 2014).

[7] Department of Infrastructure and Transport, 'Walking, Riding And Access To Public Transport: Supporting Active Travel In Australian Communities,' (Department of Infrastructure and Transport 2013).

[8] ACT Environment and Planning Directorate, 'ACT Water Strategy 2014-44: Striking The Balance' (ACT Government 2014).

[9] ACT Environment and Planning Directorate, 'Draft ACT Climate Change Adaptation Strategy - Living With A Warming Climate.' (ACT Government 2016).

[10] 'Impact Of Weather On Commuter Cyclist Behaviour And Implications For Climate Change Adaptation', , Australasian Transport Research Forum (Australasian Transport Research Forum 2010).

[11] ACT Environment and Planning Directorate, ‘Draft ACT Climate Change Adaptation Strategy’

[12] Ben Westcott, 'ACTION Bus Network Disrupted By Extreme Heat' (Canberra Times, 2014) <> accessed 10 June 2016.

[13] City of Melbourne, 'Urban Forest Strategy' (Victorian Government 2012).

[14] Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation, 'Responding To The Urban Heat Island: A Review Of The Potential Of Green Infrastructure' (Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation 2012).

[15] 'Impact Of Weather On Commuter Cyclist Behaviour And Implications For Climate Change Adaptation', Australasian Transport Research Forum (Australasian Transport Research Forum 2010).

[16] City of Melbourne, 'Urban Forest Strategy' (Victorian Government 2012).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Centre for Road Safety, 'Shared Paths' (NSW Government 2015).

[19] ACT Territory and Municipal Services Directorate, Municipal Infrastructure Standards Part 5 – Active Travel Facilities Design – Draft Revision 4' (ACT Government 2016).

[20] Austroads, 'Road Runoff & Drainage: Environmental Impacts And Management Options' (Australian Government 2001).

[21] ACT Environment and Planning Directorate, 'ACT Water Strategy 2014-44: Striking The Balance' (ACT Government 2014).

Scarlet Robin


Dr Kate Auty - Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment - 17 May 2016

Scarlet Robin

The Scarlet Robin has been declared a vulnerable species under the Nature Conservation Act 1980. It has been identified as vulnerable, meaning the species is at risk of premature extinction in the ACT region in the next 25–50 years. Photo: Patrick Kavanagh.


Click on the audio symbol to hear the Scarlet Robin's call

Thank you for providing the opportunity to comment on the Draft Action Plan for the Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang) as part of the community consultation process seeking feedback on the draft.

I note the distribution of P. boodang, depicted in Appendix 1, is based on volunteer observations and collated by Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG). The listing of the Scarlet Robin is a commendable example of the way government and citizen scientists can work together to achieve conservation outcomes for our valuable native species.

The success of the Plan will depend on a number of factors which I highlight as follows: 

  1. Inclusion of adaptive management in the Action Plan
  2. Support for Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG)
  3. Maintainence of cooperative arrangements with state and local governments and research institutions
  4. Integration of the Action Plan with other strategies and action plans
  5. Clarity of key objectives, actions and indicators.

1.1     Inclusion of adaptive management in the Action Plan

Adaptive management

I am pleased to observe the ACT Government’s increasing adoption of an adaptive management approach within natural resource management planning documents. The ACT Nature Conservation Strategy 2013–23 and the ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy (Action Plan No. 27) both seek to integrate adaptive management, while acknowledging that ‘learning how to improve the use of management tools’ still poses a challenge for conservation managers [1]. This challenge is particularly apparent for avian species like P. boodang that are not constrained to certain ecological communities, but rather occur over a wide area in the ACT [2].

Acknowledging the challenges posed by P. boodang for conservation managers, the Plan could be strengthened by indicating how it will integrate adaptive management practices. Noting the ACT Government’s stated aim of shift[ing] away from reliance upon static planning documents towards more flexible tools designed for adaptive management and feedback into implementation cycles’[3], the Plan should:

  1. Identify where learning opportunities exist (i.e. stating hypothesis, testing of conservation ‘treatments’), and how conservation managers will capitalise on these opportunities.
  2. Articulate how learning outputs of an adaptive management approach will be incorporated into future iterations of the Plan, noting the requirements of the Nature Conservation Act 2014 for monitoring and review, may leave too long between revisions. Some pressures on P. boodang such as urban development may pose threats on shorter timescales, requiring a more rapid response.

Adaptive management tools

ACTmapi has been identified as a tool for adaptive management in the Nature Conservation Strategy. The Plan should seek to leverage ACTmapi’s capacity to identify the following and make use of any available data to inform management actions for P. boodang:

  • Mapping of future climate impacts on habitat availability, specifically impacts on altitudinal migrants such as P. boodang.
  • Identification of:
    • Wildlife corridors
    • Gaps in wildlife corridors that are critical to landscape connectivity
    • Priority areas for restoration of habitat.

Distribution Map Scarlet Robin

Distribution map of the Scarlet Robin based on COG data. Taken from Draft Action Plan.

1.2      Support for Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG)

Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG) is a citizen science community organisation comprised of members committed to the promotion, study and conservation of the ACT's bird life. As a long established organisation, COG has many volunteer members with strong backgrounds in ornithology, ecology and other scientific disciplines. This collective experience translates through to robust studies and monitoring of bird life within the ACT. The group is currently substantially relied upon by the ACT Government to deliver monitoring data that informs the Government’s conservation policies. 

Mulligans Flat

Grassy woodland at Mulligans Flat.The Scarlet Robin lives in dry eucalypt forests and woodlands. The understorey is usually open and grassy with a few scattered shrubs.  Important parts of its habitat include abundant logs and fallen timber.  The birds forage from low perches, fence-posts or on the ground, from where they pounce on small insects and other invertebrates which are taken from the ground, or off tree trunks and logs. Photo: Mark Jekabsons

The current draft action plan states under Action 3a that the ACT Government will ‘continue monitoring P.Boodang occurance at permanent forest and woodland monitoring sites including measuring relevant habitat parameters (i.e. canopy cover, shrub cover, ground cover, logs, fallen branches and litter)’ with the associated indicator 3a implying that COG is relied on as the primary source of data on this subject.

COG has noted that consistent monitoring has proven ‘difficult to coordinate and sustain’ and that data collected is ‘not generally systematic (ie surveys repeated over time at the same site)’ [4].There is an opportunity for the ACT Government to collaborate with COG to develop a systematic approach to data collection. This approach could emphasise increasing observation sessions in historically under-reported areas across the ACT.

COG has also acknowledged its limited capacity to expand its monitoring programs under the current resource constraints, noting that ‘the Woodland Project is probably at its maximum in terms of the locations and sites which can be coordinated and monitored four times a year by volunteers with resources available, and, therefore, adding more sites to the Woodland Project would not appear to be feasible’.[5] The Plan should clearly articulate how the ACT Government intends to support COG, specifically where monitoring is relied upon to guide conservation efforts.

1.3      Maintenance of cooperative arrangements with state and local governments and research institutions

Cooperative arrangements with relevant government and non-government organisations have demonstrable value in regards to conservation activities and should be maintained. For instance, the ACT Government jointly funded a PhD scholarship with the Australian National University which led to a study of woodland birds in the ACT. This study was provided to the ACT Flora and Fauna Committee in 2013 as a key piece of supporting evidence in the nomination of Scarlet Robin as a vulnerable species.[6]

The positive role of citizen science in conservation efforts should also be acknowledged more thoroughly in the Plan. The community observations recorded by COG provided the evidentiary basis for the listing of P. boodang as a vulnerable species, and the ACT Governments consequent conservation management activities.[7]

As noted by the United Nations Environment Programme, in addition to valuable scientific data, citizen science also provides a number of co-benefits including raised awareness of environmental issues, enhanced environmental stewardship, increased engagement and participation within local communities and improved education outcomes.[8] The ACT Government should aim to realise these co-benefits where possible as part of its conservation planning and management for P. boodang and other listed species.

1.4.      Integration of the Action Plan with other strategies and action plans

The ACT 2015 State of the Environment report recommends (Recommendation 3) that ‘the ACT Government [should] consider integrated monitoring, reporting and evaluation of all the key strategies to guide achievement of improved sustainability outcomes for the ACT...’.[9] Consideration should be given to how the reporting and evaluation elements of this recommendation could be implemented for the Action Plan.

Our report also recommends ‘that the ACT Government ensures that the new Climate Change Adaptation Strategy is best practice, cross-sectoral and integrated into other key strategies, with effective monitoring, reporting and evaluation.’[10] Noting the inclusion of the Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Australian Birds, the Action Plan should outline how climate change impacts will be monitored and accounted for.

To further ensure the success of the Action Plan the ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy (Action Plan No. 27) should be updated to:

  • Reflect the vulnerable species status of the Scarlet Robin
  • Integrate conservation actions from the Action Plan into the Woodland Strategy, where they are not already included.

1.5      Clarity of key objectives, actions and indicators

The Nature Conservation Strategy Implementation Plan 2013-2018 indicates that ‘implementation of actions will be dependent upon the availability of funding’.[11] The Action Plan could be improved by identifying which actions will be prioritised where funding is constrained.

I note the current Actions and Indicators provided under Table 1: Key objectives, actions and indicators, and wish to provide the following comments:

  • Action 2b – Encourage landowners to fence areas of known forest or woodland habitat suitable for P. Boodang to facilitate shrub and tree regeneration.
  • I acknowledge that the ACT Government favors a supportive approach in preference to regulatory measures for ensuring suitable habitat is protected and maintained. This includes supporting rural leasees to achieve conservation outcomes through land management programs such as those aimed at erosion control, drought preparedness and biosecurity. This approach could be better articulated in the Action Plan.
  • Indicator 2d – Existing predator proof fencing and cat containment zones and monitoring continues for known or potential P. Boodang.
  • As noted in the 2015 ACT State of the Environment report, current pest monitoring ‘focuses on abundance and extent rather than the effects pests are having on biodiversity outcomes’ and ‘there are few reliable, quantitative measurements for the environmental damage inflicted by pests [with ]most information on damage [being either] qualitative or anecdotal.’ An examination of the threat posed to P. boodang by predators could inform conservation managers of where the best Value-For-Money could be achieved regarding predator controls.
  • I also note the work of the Threatened Species Commissioner, particularly the Threatened Species Strategy 2020 which identifies ‘tackling feral cats as [the] top priority for action’.[12]

Feral cat with parrot

Feral cat with parrot. Photo: Wikipedia. 

  • Indicator 3d – Findings are incorporated into management actions when new research becomes available.
  • The Plan should specify how new data will be evaluated and subsequently incorporated into management actions.
  • Indicator 4a - The number of research projects the ACT is involved in that take account of threatened species in open forest and woodland (e.g. P. boodang).
  • This indicator should be revised, as ‘number of research projects’ does not provide any indication of important factors such as the aim of the research, academic rigor, the geographical extent of research area, or study duration.

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on the draft Action Plan.


[1] ACT Government, Environment and Planning Directorate, ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy (Action Plan No. 27), 2004.

[2] Canberra Ornithologists Group, Canberra Bird Notes 2015, Volume 40, Number 2

[3] ACT Government, Environment and Planning Directorate, ACT Nature Conservation Strategy, 2013.

[4] Canberra Ornithologists Group, A Statistical Analysis of Trends in Occupancy Rates of Woodland Birds in the ACT 1998- 2008 The Ten-Year Data Analysis April 2010,  2010

[5] Ibid.

[6] Canberra Ornithologists Group, Canberra Bird Notes 2015, Volume 40, Number 2

[7] Ibid.

[8] United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP Year Book 2014: Emerging Issues in our Global Environment, 2014.

[9] ACT Government, Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, ACT 2015 State of the Environment Report, 2016.

[10] Ibid.

[11] ACT Government, Environment and Planning Directorate, Nature Conservation Strategy Implementation Plan 2013-2018, 2013.

[12] Australian Government, Department of the Environment, Threatened Species Strategy, 2015.

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