Final Report on Progress with Implementation of NSW Regional Forest Agreements: Report of Independent Assessor
The Commonwealth of Australia and the State of New South Wales (the Parties) entered into three Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) by signing the RFAs, as follows:
NSW RFAs by signing date
Date of agreement
26 August 1999
31 March 2000
27 April 2001
The RFAs are twenty-year agreements that aim to balance the social, environmental and economic values of key forested regions in the State. They establish a bilateral framework for the sustainable management of the public multiple use and conservation forests within the three New South Wales RFA regions and provide the framework to allow industry to develop a long term sustainable native forest based timber industry. The Parties remain committed to ensuring that the RFAs are durable and that the milestones, obligations and commitments that they contain are delivered to ensure effective conservation, forest management and forest industry outcomes.
The three New South Wales RFAs were developed as part of a series of RFAs between the Commonwealth Government and the Governments of New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. Whilst all the RFAs have their own unique elements, they have all been drawn up under the aegis of the National Forest Policy Statement.
An important element of each of the New South Wales RFAs is the requirement for a five yearly review of the performance of the RFAs.
The purpose of the first five yearly review is to assess and report on progress made against the established milestones specified in the RFAs, and will include:
the extent to which milestones and obligations have been met, including the management of the National Estate;
the results of monitoring of sustainability indicators; and
invited public comment on the performance of the RFAs.
A DraftReport on Progress with Implementation of the New South WalesRegional Forest Agreements (RFAs)North East RFA, Eden RFA, Southern RFA (Report on Progress) was published by the Parties in May 2009. This report covered the first five year reporting period from the date each RFA was signed to June 2004, June 2005 and June 2006 respectively for each region as outlined in the table.
The Report on Progress was released for public consultation with a joint public/media statement by the responsible Commonwealth and State Ministers on 23 June 2009 with public submissions due by 7 September 2009. This media statement was followed up with formal notices sponsored by the Parties in both New South Wales-wide (The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph) and relevant regional media (for example The Northern Star; Port Macquarie News and Tumut & Adelong Times) from the period 2 July - 7 July 2009. A copy of the public notice/newspaper advertisement is provided at Annex A.
This extended 11 week period of public comment ensued during which 32 submissions1 were received by the New South Wales then Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) for consideration by the Parties.
Subsequently, the Parties utilised the services of an Independent Assessor with experience in RFA implementation to undertake an analysis of the Report on Progress and all public submissions that were received during the public consultation period and provide a report to the Parties.
Following the consideration of the public submissions, the NSW Government provided the Independent Assessor with additional information on NSW Government processes dealing with broader environmental issues which link to the three RFA regions as well as responses to the public submissions to assist the Independent Assessor undertake the review (Annex B). The Australian Government also provided the Independent Assessor with additional information on Australian Government processes dealing with broader issues (Annex C).
The Independent Assessor provided the following comments on the public consultation process:
“The public consultation process relied heavily on the internet for public access to documentation. A “cold” test of the search capacity of the Departments’ websites indicated that the relevant publications, including frequently asked questions, were easily located and readily accessible”; and
“The RFA review process ran the risk of being confused with the separate but related NSW Review. However the documentation available made substantial efforts to distinguish between the two processes to ensure any confusion was minimised. Nevertheless, it appears from the nature of many of the submissions that the processes were somewhat confused and/or submitters chose to prepare a single submission to address both reviews”.
The Independent Assessor was also required to present a statement verifying that the first five yearly review had been undertaken against both the NSW RFA’s specific milestones and the Terms of Reference for Independent Assessor established by the Australian and NSW Governments for the first five yearly review. The Independent Assessor provided the following statement in his report:
“Examination of the Draft Report on Progress with Implementation of the New South Wales Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) —North East RFA, Eden RFA, Southern RFA published in May 2009 and the subsequent public submissions, confirms that the process undertaken is in compliance with these requirements”.
The report, prepared by the Independent Assessor, was provided to the State of New South Wales and Commonwealth of Australia. The Final Report on Progress with Implementation of the NSW Regional Forest Agreements: Report of Independent Assessor (Final Report) was released on 15 March 2010 by the Hon. Tony Burke MP, the then Australian Government Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the then Hon. John Robertson MLC, New South Wales Government Acting Minister for Climate Change and Environment. The comprehensive report identified 18 specific recommendations and this report is publicly available on the Department of Agriculture’s five-yearly review of NSW RFAs page or the NSW Environment Protection Authority review of regional forest agreements page.
The Ministers jointly announced that the Parties would consider the recommendations made by the Independent Assessor in his report.
Having carefully considered the Independent Assessor’s report, this document is the formal Joint Response by the Parties to the 18 recommendations made in the Final Report by the Independent Assessor.
This Joint Australian and New South Wales Government Response to the Final Report provide the agreed detailed response to each of the Independent Assessor’s 18 recommendations.
The Parties will continue to collaborate on implementation of the recommendations during the five year period leading up to the second five yearly review and will provide a detailed report on progress with implementation of the 18 recommendations for the next review commencing in 2014.
The Parties reconfirm their commitment to continuous improvement in ecologically sustainable forest management as envisaged by the National Forest Policy Statement and the RFAs. The commitments in this Joint Response aim to ensure that New South Wales’s forest management systems for public forests is responsive to new information, priorities and community expectations.
On 31 October 2008, the then Australian Government Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts commissioned an independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) by Dr Allan Hawke (the Hawke Review).
Dr Hawke’s final report, The Australian Environment Act: Report of the Independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Hawke Report) (Hawke, 2009), was released on 21 December 2009.
On 24 August 2011, the then Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities released the Australian Government response to the Hawke Report.
The Parties remain committed to RFAs as an appropriate mechanism for effective environmental protection, forest management and forest industry practices in regions covered by RFAs.
The Australian Government supports long-term Regional Forest Agreements and a 20-year rolling life for each RFA and will work cooperatively with the New South Wales Government to develop a process to extend the New South Wales RFAs. This will be the subject of future reviews.
Reviewers Recommendation 1
That for future reviews the Parties consider supplementing the notification process by directly advising key community, conservation and industry groups of the review and the various processes involved.