5. Legislative reporting Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999


Operation of the Register of Environmental Organisations



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Operation of the Register of Environmental Organisations

Purpose


The Register of Environmental Organisations is a Commonwealth tax deductibility scheme for environmental organisations under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997. It allows eligible organisations to be endorsed as deductible gift recipients by the Australian Taxation Office. Donations made to organisations that are deductible gift recipients will be tax deductible for the donor.

The Act requires the Department to maintain the register and to add or remove environmental organisations and their public funds by joint direction of the Minister for the Environment and Energy and the Assistant Treasurer. Further information is on our website.

www.environment.gov.au/about-us/business/tax/register-environmental-organisations

Operation


To be entered on the register, organisations must have a principal purpose of either:

  • the protection and enhancement of the natural environment or of a significant aspect of the natural environment

  • the provision of information or education, or the carrying on of research, about the natural environment or a significant aspect of the natural environment.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment tabled the report of its inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations on 4 May 2016 (see ‘External scrutiny’ in Part 3, ‘Management and accountability’, page 120).

During 2015–16, the former Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt MP and the former Assistant Treasurer, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, approved the entry of 36 organisations and their public funds on the register and removed 16 organisations and their public funds from the register. As at 30 June 2016, the register contained 615 environmental organisations.

Registered environmental organisations reported receiving about $147 million in donations in 2014–15. Information for 2015–16 is currently being provided to the Department by organisations.

Operation of the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978


Section 36 of the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978 requires the Supervising Scientist to provide to the Minister an annual report on the operation of the Act. This section meets the reporting requirements for 2015–16.

Purpose


The position of the Supervising Scientist was established by the Act in response to a recommendation of the second and final Fox Commission report in May 1977. The position was established for the protection of the environment of the Alligator Rivers Region from the potential environmental effects of uranium mining activities. Under section 5 of the Act, the Supervising Scientist has six main functions:

  • develop and manage programs to research the effects of uranium mining operations within the Alligator Rivers Region and for the collection and assessment of related information

  • develop standards, practices and procedures that will protect the environment and people from the effects of uranium mining within the Alligator Rivers Region

  • develop measures for the protection and restoration of the environment

  • coordinate and supervise the implementation of requirements made under laws applicable to environmental aspects of uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region

  • provide the Minister with scientific and technical advice on mining in the Alligator Rivers Region

  • on request, provide the Minister with scientific and technical advice on environmental matters elsewhere in Australia.

Operation


The role of the Supervising Scientist is held by the First Assistant Secretary of the Science Division within the Department of the Environment and Energy.

The Supervising Scientist Branch in the Science Division is funded under the portfolio’s departmental output and appropriation and contributes to the delivery of Outcome 1:



Conserve, protect and sustainably manage Australia’s biodiversity, ecosystems, environment and heritage through research, information management, supporting natural resource management, establishing and managing Commonwealth protected areas, and reducing and regulating the use of pollutants and hazardous substances.

The obligations of the Supervising Scientist under the Act help to achieve this objective by ensuring that:



  • the concentration of uranium in surface waters downstream of the Ranger Mine remains less than 2.8 micrograms per litre

  • annual research and monitoring programs are scientifically rigorous, appropriately focused on the most important knowledge needs and independently endorsed by the Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee.


Ministerial directions


Under section 7 of the Act the Supervising Scientist is required to comply with any directions given to them by the Minister relating to the performance of their functions or the exercise of their powers.

In 2015–16 the Minister did not issue the Supervising Scientist any directions under section 7 of the Act.


Collection and assessment of information


In accordance with section 36(2)(b)(i) of the Act, the collection and assessment of information relating to the effects on the environment in the Alligator Rivers Region of mining operations in the region for the 2015–16 financial year are set out below.

The Supervising Scientist Branch uses a structured program of audits and inspections, in conjunction with the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy, the Northern Land Council and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, to supervise uranium mining operations in the Alligator Rivers Region. The outcomes of these supervisory activities are considered by the Supervising Scientist Branch, together with environmental monitoring data and other information, to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of environmental management at uranium mining and exploration sites.

The outcomes of the Supervising Scientist’s monitoring, supervision and research programs demonstrate that the environment of the Alligator Rivers Region, including the World Heritage values of Kakadu National Park, remained protected from the effects of uranium mining during 2015–16.

Concentrations of uranium in surface waters downstream of the Ranger Mine remained well below the limit of 2.8 micrograms per litre during 2015–16 and the Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee endorsed the research program as both rigorous and appropriately targeted.


Supervision


The Supervising Scientist Branch uses a structured program of audits and inspections, in conjunction with the regulatory authority and other important stakeholders, to oversee uranium mining operations in the Alligator Rivers Region. Activities by the Supervising Scientist Branch during the 2015–16 reporting period are summarised in Table 5.32.

Table 5.32: Summary of supervision activities of the Supervising Scientist Branch at five sites in the Alligator Rivers Region, 2015–16



Activity

Ranger

Jabiluka

Nabarlek

South Alligator Valley

West Arnhem exploration

Meetings of the Mine Technical Committee

7

7

1

N/A

N/A

Applications assessed

11













Routine reports/plans assessed

20

4

2

1




Authorisation amendments assessed

0a













Environmental audits

1

1

1

1

4

Routine inspections

11

2




2




Incidents reported

15

1










Incidents investigated

2













a Revised Ranger Mine Water Quality Objectives issued in accordance with section 7.1.1 of the Ranger Authorisation.

The information in Table 5.32 represents the program of supervision, audit and assessment activities by the Supervising Scientist Branch in five main areas of the Alligator Rivers Region. Ranger is currently the only operational uranium mine in the region. Mining at Ranger ended in 2012 but processing of stockpiled ore continues. Mining ended at Jabiluka in 1999 and the site is in long-term care and maintenance. Operations at Nabarlek ended in 1988. The site has been substantially decommissioned and rehabilitation is in progress. Rehabilitation of a number of former uranium mines in the South Alligator Valley that operated during the 1950s and 1960s was funded by the Australian Government and completed in 2009. The Supervising Scientist Branch performs yearly audits of the exploration mining companies operating in the West Arnhem area of the Alligator Rivers Region.


Monitoring


The Supervising Scientist Branch conducts independent monitoring programs, including monitoring chemical and biological indicators to assess environmental impacts of mining at Ranger uranium mine. The Supervising Scientist takes a risk and evidence-based approach to prioritise its monitoring activities.

A total of 10 monitoring programs were undertaken in 2015–16, with the following changes from previous years:



  • Atmospheric radiological monitoring stopped, as evidence from 16 years of monitoring data showed that the airborne pathway does not pose a risk to public health or the environment

  • Surface water quality monitoring at Jabiluka stopped, as Jabiluka is now substantially remediated and poses a low risk to the surrounding environment.

The combined monitoring program demonstrated that the environment remained protected from the effects of uranium mining throughout the 2015–16 wet season.

More detail on the activities of Supervising Scientist Branch during 2015–16, including supervision and monitoring outcomes, will be in the Supervising Scientist Annual Technical Report which will be available at the end of 2016.

www.environment.gov.au/science/supervising-scientist/publications

Environmental research


The Supervising Scientist Branch’s annual research program for 2015–16 comprised 34 research projects. Most of these addressed issues associated with the operational phase and/or the proposed rehabilitation and post-rehabilitation phases of Ranger uranium mine. Research was aggregated in five programs: hydrologic, geomorphic and chemical processes; aquatic ecosystems protection; revegetation and landscape ecology; ecotoxicology; and environmental radioactivity (see Figure 5.1).

The proposed research program for 2015–16 had a full relevance and priority assessment to ensure it was appropriately aligned with the Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee’s most important knowledge needs. The committee endorsed the program in May 2015. Eight research projects were completed during the year, with the remainder continuing into 2016–17. Approximately 25 peer-reviewed publications, three Supervising Scientist reports and five internal reports were produced from the research program.

Figure 5.1: Research projects of the Supervising Scientist Branch, 2015–16

in the 2015–16 financial year, a range of different projects were undertaken by the supervising scientist branch. eight projects on aquatic ecosystem protection were undertaken, one of which was new. two of these projects were completed in 2015–16 and six are continuing into 2016–17. six projects on ecotoxicology were undertaken, three of which were new. two projects were completed in 2015–16, and four are continuing into 2016–17. six projects were undertaken on environmental radioactivity, two of which were new. one project was completed in 2015–16, and five are continuing into 2016–17. eight projects on hydrologic, geomorphic and chemical processes were undertaken, three of which were new. one project was completed in 2015–16 and seven are continuing into 2016–17. five projects were undertaken on revegetation and landscape ecology, one of which was new. two were completed in 2015–16, and three are continuing into 2016–17. one cross institutional project was commenced in 2015–16 which will continue in 2016–17.

Note: AEP = aquatic ecosystems protection; Ecotox = ecotoxicology; EnRad = environmental radioactivity; HGCP = hydrologic, geomorphic and chemical processes; RLE = revegetation and landscape ecology.

Further detail about the research program and outcomes in 2015–16 will be published in the Supervising Scientist Annual Technical Report at the end of 2016.



www.environment.gov.au/science/supervising-scientist/publications

Standards, practices and procedures


In accordance with section 36(2)(b)(ii) of the Act, standards, practices, and procedures implemented in 2015–16 include:

  • significant progress on the development of Ranger closure criteria, with eight meetings of the Technical Working Groups and four meetings of the Closure Criteria Working Group. In accordance with regulatory requirements, the development of closure criteria for mine sites is the responsibility of the mine operator, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. Final approval of closure criteria for Ranger uranium mine rests with the Commonwealth Minister for Resources. Under existing approvals, operations at Ranger must end by January 2021 and rehabilitation works must be complete by January 2026

  • implementation of revised water quality objectives for Magela and Gulungul creeks, including uranium, magnesium, manganese, ammonia, radium and turbidity

  • improved biological toxicity testing methods for green algae, Chlorella sp.; duckweed, Lemna aequinoctialis; and northern trout gudgeon, Mogurnda mogurnda

  • implementation of a developmental stage remote videography method for monitoring fish communities in channel billabongs as a replacement technique for visual counts, which significantly reduces work health and safety risks associated with working in crocodile inhabited waters

  • improved radioanalytical methods for measuring lead-210 in environmental samples using liquid scintillation counting, resulting in quicker turnaround times and alleviating the need for complex separation chemistry

  • implementation of new data analysis tools for calculating radionuclide uptake factors in bush foods and estimating ingestion doses to traditional owners post rehabilitation of Ranger uranium mine.

Protection and restoration measures


In accordance with section 36(2)(b)(iii) of the Act, the protection and restoration measures implemented in 2015–16 include:

  • successful completion of the annual routine water quality and biological monitoring programs

  • additional intensive water quality sampling in the Gulungul Creek catchment to monitor and understand mine site inputs of contaminants.

Activities at Ranger mine as a result of major environmental investigations by the Supervising Scientist Branch include:

  • a clay lined cut-off trench and seven groundwater extraction bores installed to capture and divert contaminated surface water and groundwater emanating from the western side of the tailings storage facility

  • significant improvements to the fire management system of the mine company, Energy Resources of Australia, after deficiencies were identified in relation to a significant uncontrolled fire that affected Kakadu National Park. The new measures will ensure better protection of the environment surrounding Ranger mine.

Requirements of prescribed instruments enacted, made, adopted or issued


In accordance with section 36(2)(b)(iv) of the Act, prescribed instruments enacted, made, adopted or issued during the 2015–16 financial year were as follows:

  • The Supervising Scientist Branch issued revised water quality standards for the Ranger uranium mine.

  • In accordance with those revised standards, the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy revised the water quality objectives for Ranger uranium mine.

Implementation of requirements


In accordance with section 36(2)(b)(v) of the Act, the requirements issued during 2015–16 were implemented as follows.

Based on the advice of the Supervising Scientist, the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy issued revised Ranger Mine Water Quality Objectives on 7 March 2016 in accordance with Schedule 7.1.1 of Ranger Authorisation 108-17, which states:



The operator of the mine shall comply with the requirements of the Ranger Mine Water Quality Objectives as approved by the Director in accordance with the advice of the Supervising Scientist.

Statement of costs for the Supervising Scientist Branch


The Supervising Scientist Branch budgets for 2014–15 and 2015–16 are shown in Table 5.33.

Table 5.33: Supervising Scientist Branch budget for 2014–15 and 2015–16



2014–15

2015–16

$9,284,358

$8,501,854

The budget comprises operating costs for the Supervising Scientist Branch, including property and operations at the Darwin office and Jabiru field station.

During 2015–16, total staffing numbers for the Supervising Scientist Branch reduced by 13 per cent from the previous year, from 46.3 to 40 (see Table 5.34).



Table 5.34: Supervising Scientist Branch staffing numbers for 2014–15 and 2015–16

Actual full-time equivalent at June 2015 and June 2016

Location

2014–15

2015–16

Darwin

38.3

32.0

Jabiru

7.0

5.0

Canberra

1.0

3.0

Total

46.3

40.0





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