Dr Kate Auty - Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment - 24 June 2016

Justice Robert Hope Park

ADDITIONS TO CANBERRA’S NATURE RESERVES

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Draft Variation 349 to the Territory Plan as part of the community consultation process.  I note that the variation will create two new nature reserve areas – one at Justice Robert Hope Park in Watson and the other extending the Pinnacle Nature Reserve in Belconnen (see Appendix 1 and 2).

This submission will;

  1. Examine the Commonwealth and ACT consultation processes in relation to environmental offsets, and identify opportunities to enhance public participation in those processes.
  2. Note the contributions of community science, Landcare and Parkcare groups in caring for the ACTs environment, and highlight the importance of clear communication with these stakeholder groups.

This submission will not cover;

  • The use of environmental offsets by the Commonwealth as a policy instrument for conservation.
  • The efficacy of offsets as a conservation policy instrument. For discussion of direct and indirect biodiversity offset use in the ACT, see the ACT State of the Environment Report 2015, Section 7.3.2. Available at http://www.envcomm.act.gov.au/.
  1. Commonwealth and ACT consultation processes for biodiversity offsets

    In reference to the proposed offsets, the ACT Government has adhered to the requirements for consultation prescribed by its own legislation and policies. There has been a series of consultations that have provided the public with the opportunity to comment on the proposed offsets, which have been detailed in Table 1 below. This series of consultations for both the University of Canberra Public Hospital offset site and the Block 9 Section 64 Watson development offset site have culminated in the current consultation for the Draft Variation 349 to the Territory Plan.

    I note there is a narrow window of opportunity for the public to provide comments on EPBC Act referral consultations. The Commonwealth provides 10 working days for public consultation under the EPBC Act s74(3)), which poses a significant challenge for members of the public wishing to provide a substantial submission.

    Separate to the Commonwealth process, under the Planning and Development Act 2007 changes to the Territory Plan also require that there be a period of public consultation, where the public are able to provide input on proposed changes to the Territory Plan (draft plan variation). The public consultation for variations to the Territory Plan must be open for at least 30 working days, which will be achieved for the current consultation.

    Table 1: Opportunities to comment on the proposed offsets

    No.

    Consultation

    Channel

    Consultation dates

    Applies to offset area

    1

    New North Canberra Hospital moves a step closer

    ACT Government website – Time To Talk

    20 January 2012 -  2 March 2012

    Information not available (based on desktop review)

    2

    Invitation for Public Comment on Referral  

    Land Development Agency/Residential development/Watson/ACT/Residential Development, Block 9 Section 64, Watson, and extension of Negus Crescent, ACT

    EPBC website – public notices - referrals

    6 June 2012 – 20 June 2012*

    *Calculated based on requirement for consultation to be open for minimum of 10 working days.

    JRHP

    3a

    Notification of Publication of Preliminary Documentation: Invitation to comment

    Land Development Agency/Residential development/Watson/ACT/Residential Development, Block 9 Section 64, Watson, and extension of Negus Crescent, ACT

    EPBC website – public notices - referrals

    24 June 2013 - 19 July 2013

    JHRP

    3b

    EPBC Ref 2012/6418 Block 9 Section 64 Watson Preliminary Documentation – Response to Public Comments – Prepared on behalf of the Land Development Agency, 12 August 2013

    ACT Government website – Economic Development – Have Your Say

    12 August 2013

    JHRP

    4a

    Environmental assessment of site for the University of Canberra Public Hospital

    ACT Government website – Time To Talk

    6 June 2014 - 7 July 2014

    PNR

    4b

    Results of consultation on the environmental assessment of the site for the University of Canberra Public Hospital

    NB: This Time to Talk page was for information only and was not a consultation.

    ACT Government website – Time To Talk

    11 August2014 -  5 September 2014

    PNR

    5a

    Additions to Canberra’s Nature Reserves

    ACT Government website – Time To Talk

    13 May 2016 - 24 June 2016

    JRHP / PNR

    5b

    Planning and Development (Draft Variation No 349) Consultation Notice 2016

    ACT Government website - Draft variations to the Territory Plan (www.act.gov.au/draftvariations)

    13 May 2016 -  24 June 2016

    JRHP / PNR

    Acronyms: Justice Robert Hope Park (JHRP), Pinnacle Nature Reserve (PNR)

    I commend the ACT Government for its past efforts to publicise EPBC Act referral consultations through Time To Talk and Have Your Say. I encourage the ACT Government to explore new ways to ensure that the Canberra community has the best possible opportunity to provide input on the management of their local environment. This may be achieved by:

    • Ensuring that the public is aware of EPBC Act consultation processes by continuing to link through to relevant consultations via Time To Talk, Have Your Say, and other channels typically used for notifying the public of ACT consultations.
    • Supporting the public to effectively engage with Commonwealth processes by providing links to resources on how to write public submissions. 
    • Where possible the ACT Government should pre-notify the public of impending EPBC referral consultations. This would enable the public to conduct preliminary research or other activities that would contribute to more rigorous public submissions. I note that in some circumstances commercial-in-confidence issues may preclude this action.
  2. Community involvement - Citizen science, Landcare and Parkcare groups

There are a number of well-established citizen science groups operating in the ACT region, providing high quality input into the ACT Governments environmental management policies and implementation programs. One such group, Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG), was instrumental in the recent listing of a vulnerable species Scarlet Robin (P. boodang). 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.[1] This is a significant achievement for the group and a telling example of the ways citizen science can contribute to the management of our local environment.

Similarly, local Landcare and Parkcare groups provide many opportunities for the community and for government to benefit from a collaborative government-public relationship. For the community, volunteer programs can provide the community with ‘experience and skills in working with governments, non government organisations and businesses, in grant management, project management, financial, communication and governance systems – all transferrable experience, skills and systems which are utilised in a broad range of other social, economic and community activities’.[2] For government, volunteer groups can deliver benefits such as improved water quality and biodiversity outcomes, enhanced community-state partnerships, economic contributions (volunteer hours), and improved public physical and mental health.[3]

Corowa district Landcare group

The potential benefits of citizen science, Landcare and Parkcare groups are numerous, however if governments fail to adequately value the contributions of such groups, or if they act in a way that is perceived by community groups to be disingenuous to the government-public relationship, these benefits are quickly lost.

Clear communication is crucial where the government intends to change current land use zoning, or plans to use sites in future as environmental offsets. Where community groups have longstanding involvement in volunteer activities for a particular area, changes to zoning for development or other purposes are likely to be negatively received by those groups. This may result in a reduction of community ‘buy-in’ with government, meaning that these groups may not longer participate in conservation activities leading to reduced conservation outcomes, or may actively oppose government actions leading to delays to those actions.

Best practice in biodiversity offset consultations

The Resource Paper on Biodiversity Offsets and Stakeholder Participation has been prepared by the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) to help developers, conservation groups, communities, governments and financial institutions that wish to consider and develop best practice related to biodiversity offsets. The paper was developed by members of the BBOP Secretariat and Advisory Committee, and provides a robust framework for meaningfully engaging with the public through consultative processes.

I commend these guidance documents to the ACT Government for future consideration when conducting public consultations, noting the high quality and broad reach achieved by the BBOP in their development.

The BBOP principles, guidance and resource documents can be found at www.forest-trends.org/biodiversityoffsetprogram/guidelines/ .  

Clear communication of government intentions in regards to land use is particularly important in the context of the ACTs limited supply of future offset sites. The ACT Government itself has acknowledged that ‘there are likely to be significant challenges for the ACT Government in meeting future offset requirements’.[4] Due to the large proportion of land in the ACT already committed to biodiversity conservation via nature reserve or national park designations, this increasingly limited supply means that there will be potential for contention over land use decisions made by the ACT Government.

To address this issue, I refer to Recommendation 6 of the ACT State of the Environment Report 2015 and the Government Response to the State of the Environment Report 2015, noting the ACT Government’s in-principle support for use of strategic environmental assessments to reduce and manage cumulative and cross-sectoral impacts on the environment.

I reiterate that use of a strategic approach to environmental offsets would negate some of the present public perception issues faced by the ACT Government – namely that environmental offset sites associated with development applications are perceived to be selected on an individual project by project basis.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to comment on the Draft Variation 349 to the Territory Plan.

Appendix 1: Territory Plan - Pinnacle Nature Reserve

Pinnacle Nature Reserve offset

Appendix 2: Territory Plan - Justice Robert Hope Park

Justice Robert Hope Park offset

living sustainably

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