Section 516A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 requires departmental annual reports to include details on the effect of a department's actions on the environment, measures to minimise that impact and mechanisms to ensure that those measures are effective; on how the actions and administration of legislation accorded with ecologically sustainable development; and on how the Government's desired outcomes for departments contributed to ecologically sustainable development.
Defence is entrusted with the stewardship of over 34 million hectares of land, much of it conserving the natural landscape of Australia's unique environment. Some areas are also recognised nationally and internationally for their environmental, cultural and heritage values. Defence is also responsible for managing over 16 million square kilometres of oceans in Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone. Defence observes its environmental obligations in military operations overseas, in places ranging from Afghanistan to Bougainville. In this context alone, Defence faces significant challenges in understanding the environmental issues so that it can effectively managing its everyday activities over such a large part of the earth.
Defence recognises that its activities can have significant impacts on both the environment and local communities. The challenge for Defence is to obtain the right balance between providing for both security and conservation to sustain its capability to operate while minimising its environmental footprint. To achieve this balance, Defence is committed to ensuring that ecologically sustainable development principles are incorporated into all activities.
Defence achieved considerable progress over the last year in striving to become a leader in sustainable environmental management. A range of initiatives are being undertaken throughout Defence to deliver the Government's economic and environmental agenda under the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development.
These include significant achievements in areas such as heritage management, environmental risk management, the protection of unique flora and fauna that inhabit Defence sites, land contamination management, natural resource consumption and the consideration of ecologically sustainable development in infrastructure planning. Defence has achieved its commitment to develop a corporate environmental management system and associated initiatives which build on the continual improvement element of the ISO 14001 standard for such systems.
Defence recognises that there is always a large amount of work to be done to demonstrate commitment to achieving sustainable environmental management.
Defence Environmental Strategic Plan
Released in December 2001, the Defence environmental policy outlined the approach for management of the environment and stewardship of assets on behalf of the Commonwealth. Defence has developed a strategic plan to guide implementation of this policy.
The Defence Environmental Strategic Plan 2002-2005 has recently been endorsed by the Parliamentary Secretary. This plan will guide Defence in achieving its environmental vision to be 'a leader in sustainable environmental management' and outlines the commitments made in the Defence environmental policy to be implemented throughout the organisation.
The plan highlights the range of environmental issues Defence faces, and prioritises these issues through a risk assessment process. The plan adopts a proactive approach to meeting Defence's environmental obligations and reducing environmental risks, by outlining objectives, targets and indicators that Defence has committed to over the next three years.
During the year, Defence commenced a number of initiatives aimed at achieving the strategic environmental objectives and targets. The initiatives are discussed in the remainder of this section of the report. Further information can be found at www.defence.gov.au/environment.