Management context


Legislative arrangements for the management of public lands continue to be relatively stable, despite flux in the names, structures and specific responsibilities of the government departments and agencies that oversee management. Similarly, although private and Indigenous landowners may be subject to varying levels of regulation and constraint, the institutional arrangements under which they manage land are relatively stable.

The previous Australian Government’s Caring for our Country program was implemented in 2008, partly as a response to criticisms from the Australian National Audit Office and others that it was difficult to assess the outcomes and impacts of natural resource management (NRM) investments. Caring for our Country recentralised decisions about NRM investment funding under 6 priority areas, and focused on measurable, short-term outputs. Caring for our Country, together with Landcare, were rebranded in 2013 as the National Landcare Programme.

The Australian Government is conducting a review of the National Landcare Programme to assess its effectiveness and achievements, and future options for NRM arrangements. This review will inform government decisions about the future of the program.

The 2015 Agricultural competitiveness white paper included a focus on ‘strengthening our approach to drought and risk management’, which made commitments to improving drought forecasting, and managing pest animals and weeds in drought-affected areas. It also supported ‘farming smarter’, including through funding of $50 million to boost Australia’s emergency pest and disease eradication capability. The National Landcare Programme’s Sustainable Agriculture Small Grants scheme, worth $2.2 million in 2015–16, complements the delivery of the Agricultural competitiveness white paper by facilitating the adoption of management practices that maintain or enhance the natural resource base.

Another area in which significant changes have taken place with overarching consequences for land management is biosecurity. The National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement (NEBRA) was signed by the Australian Government, and all state and territory governments in January 2012. NEBRA operates in tandem with the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement and the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed in providing national arrangements for eradication responses to pest or disease incursions (see Diseases, pests and weeds). In addition to these arrangements, private landholders are most likely (and, in some cases, required) to manage pests, diseases and feral animals that affect agricultural production.

In August 2014, the Australian Weeds Committee and the Vertebrate Pests Committee merged to form the Invasive Plants and Animals Committee (IPAC). IPAC provides an intergovernmental mechanism for identifying and resolving weed and vertebrate pest issues at a national level. It is a cross-jurisdictional committee with members from the Australian Government, and all state and territory governments. Priorities for IPAC have included reviewing and updating the Australian Pest Animal Strategy and the Australian Weeds Strategy.

The area with perhaps the greatest uncertainty is the ability of legislative and management arrangements to respond to future challenges posed by significant issues such as population growth and the impacts of climate change. A National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy (Australian Government 2015a) was released in 2015 to affirm a set of principles to guide effective adaptation practice, and identify areas for future review and action.

Institutional arrangements

In 2012, the Australian Government, in collaboration with state and territory governments, released Australia’s Native Vegetation Framework (COAG Standing Council on Environment and Water 2012), which aimed to maintain or build more connected native vegetation. This was produced partly as a response to SoE 2011. It sets targets to help ensure that the ecological, economic, social and cultural value of native vegetation is realised and its resilience is increased.

The management of Australia’s forests is guided by the National Forest Policy Statement (Australian Government 1995), which was signed by the Australian Government and all mainland state and territory governments in December 1992, and by the Tasmanian Government in April 1995. This statement laid the foundations for the regional forest agreements, which are 20-year bilateral agreements between the Australian and state and territory governments. The agreements identify areas required for establishing a comprehensive, adequate and representative forest reserve system. They aim to achieve a balance between conservation, ecologically sustainable management of Australia’s native forests, and the long-term stability of forest industries.

Under the requirements of the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth), a Basin Plan for the Murray–Darling Basin was developed to help achieve a balance between extracting water for human use and retaining water for the environment. The Basin Plan came into effect in November 2012 with a 7-year implementation phase. The Basin Plan is built on extensive social and economic data, in addition to data on environmental and industrial uses of water. It marks a significant step in cross-jurisdictional development of a framework for NRM in a highly complex and politicised context.

In January 2012, an Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity came into effect between the Australian Government and all state and territory governments, with the exception of Tasmania, and is now being independently reviewed. The stated aims of the agreement are to strengthen the working partnership between governments, and to improve the national biosecurity system to minimise the impact of pests and disease on Australia’s economy, environment and community. Progress has been made against several priority areas since the agreement came into effect, including a national framework to provide integrated and collaborative approaches to biosecurity surveillance; communication and engagement; research, development and extension for both plant and animal biosecurity; and management of established pests and diseases of national significance. A National Biosecurity Research and Development Capability Audit has also been completed (IGAB RDEWG 2012). Issues identified by the audit included maturation of the workforce and a lack of succession planning, and a reliance on short-term, unstable external funding that does not support capability development and clarity in career pathways.

The current environmental offsets policy under the EPBC Act aims to compensate for significant impacts on matters of national environmental significance relative to a ‘business-as-usual’ baseline (DSEWPaC 2012, Maron et al. 2013), which, as described by Maron et al. (2015), is one of ongoing biodiversity decline. Although not directly related to native vegetation policy and management by the states and territories, the declining baseline assumed by the national environmental offsets policy suggests that the national target of a net increase in native vegetation is not expected to be met (Evans 2016). Any future discussion about offsets under the EPBC Act should also consider whether an evaluation is needed of success in obtaining ‘permanently’ protected offsets, and assessing their ongoing health and management.


Fire-damaged pencil pine (Athrotaxis cupressoides) woodland, Lake Mackenzie, Tasmania

Fire-damaged pencil pine (Athrotaxis cupressoides) woodland, Lake Mackenzie, Tasmania

Photo by Chris Emms, Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service

Metcalfe D, Bui E (2016). Land: Management context. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b6585f94911