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Appendix B: Ecologically sustainable development

The Department of Agriculture has a statutory requirement under section 516A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) to report on:

  • our contribution to ecologically sustainable development (ESD) through our outcomes and activities
  • the environmental performance of our internal operations.

Ecologically sustainable development principles

The principles of ESD outlined in section 3A of the EPBC Act are that:

  • decision-making processes should effectively integrate both long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equity considerations
  • if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation
  • the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations
  • the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity should be a fundamental consideration in decision-making
  • improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms should be promoted.

Our contribution to ecologically sustainable development

Our outcomes embody the ESD principles:

Outcome 1: More sustainable, productive, internationally competitive and profitable Australian agricultural, food and fibre industries through policies and initiatives that promote better resource management practices, innovation, self-reliance and improved access to international markets.

Outcome 2: Safeguard Australia’s animal and plant health status to maintain overseas markets and protect the economy and environment from the impact of exotic pests and diseases, through risk assessment, inspection and certification, and the implementation of emergency response arrangements for Australian agricultural, food and fibre industries.

Outcome 3: Improve the health of rivers and freshwater ecosystems and water-use efficiency through implementing water reforms, and ensuring enhanced sustainability, efficiency and productivity in the management and use of water resources.

We play a leading role or contribute to national and international policies with significant ESD objectives. We deliver programs to fund research, training and projects aimed at mitigating climate change and improving sustainable resource management. Our role in biosecurity is critical to maintaining biodiversity in Australia and overseas. We also deliver funding to community organisations and to the portfolio research and development corporations whose work includes activities supporting ESD.

Our work supports the goal of development that meets Australia’s current needs while conserving our ecosystems for the benefit of future generations.

Our key activities in 2018–19 are outlined in Part 1: Annual performance statements.

Legislative responsibilities

The following legislation, administered by the department under the current Administrative Arrangements Order, contributes directly to ESD:

  • Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act 1994
  • Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Act 1992
  • Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994
  • Biosecurity Act 2015
  • Export Control Act 1982
  • Fisheries Administration Act 1991
  • Fisheries Management Act 1991
  • Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012
  • Natural Resources Management (Financial Assistance) Act 1992
  • Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989
  • Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002
  • Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984
  • Water Act 2007
  • Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005.

2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is a non-binding, universal roadmap for sustainable development, applying to developed and developing countries. The SDGs address a diverse range of social, economic and environmental subject matters, underpinned by a broad suite of targets and indicators.

We are engaged in the Australian Government’s response to the 2030 Agenda and SDGs, including contributing to Australia’s first Voluntary National Review. Our department is designated as the lead Commonwealth agency for 2 goals:

  • SDG2—zero hunger
  • SDG6—clean water and sanitation.

We also have an interest in other SDGs, including:

  • SDG12—responsible consumption and production
  • SDG13—climate action
  • SDG14—life below water
  • SDG15—life on land
  • SDG17—partnerships for the goals.

We are active participants in the 2030 Agenda Inter-Departmental Committee and the associated working group, led by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Many of our portfolio’s domestic and international activities already give effect to aspects of the SDGs. Australia reports relevant SDG data online through the Australian Government's Reporting Platform on the SDG Indicators.

SDG 2 is about ending hunger, food security, improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture. In Australia, enough food is produced to feed approximately 60 million people annually (2018). With our current population well below this figure, Australian agriculture contributes to both domestic and global food supply, with more than two-thirds of Australian agricultural produce exported.

To support sustainable agriculture, the government invests in a range of programs and research to build adaptive capacity, preparedness, sustainability and risk management capability. The National Landcare Program is a key part of the government’s commitment to natural resource management (NRM), with measures to support NRM and sustainable agriculture, and to protect Australia’s biodiversity. The government is investing more than $1 billion to June 2023 through our department and the Department of the Environment and Energy for phase two of the National Landcare Program.

Australia’s agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries are highly successful in producing a variety of food and fibre products for our nation and our trading partners. Innovation has always been a significant contributor to the success of Australian agriculture. Participants across the agriculture value chain are constantly improving practices to drive productivity and profitability, and are determined to make Australia a global leader in food and fibre products. Australia is also recognised for excellent agricultural research outcomes supported by multiple streams of industry and government-backed investments.

Australia’s current water policy and practices are well in line with the SDGs. Australia has made significant efforts, investments and progress on provision of safe drinking water and sanitation, wastewater treatment and reuse, efficiency use of water in both rural and urban sectors, groundwater management, improving water quality and sustainable environmental protection.

An SDG6 Working Group, with expert representation from the government and non-government sectors, has been established as the primary coordination mechanism to advise on the collection and collation of data and information on the SDG6 indicators. The SDG6 indicators on the Australian Government SDG data website were updated in 2019.

Australia is also well-positioned in its efforts to deliver on the forest-related aspects of SDG15. Sustainable forest management in Australia is achieved through our implementation of policy and legislation including the National Forest Policy Statement and the Regional Forest Agreements, which provide effective governance of Australia’s forests.

Australia also supports further expansion of the plantation estate with the National Forest Industry Plan Growing a better AustraliaA billion trees for jobs and growth, supporting the establishment of a billion new plantation trees over the next decade.

The Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012 supports sustainable forest management and legal timber trade by prohibiting both the importation of timber wood products and the processing of domestically grown raw logs that have come from illegally harvested sources.

Internationally, particularly within the Asia-Pacific region, we have focused on bilateral engagement with key trading partners, and worked within multilateral bodies to promote the trade in sustainable and legal timber products, supporting the objectives of SDG12 and SDG15. Australia continues to support the successful delivery of the United Nations Global Forest Goals. In May 2019 Australia announced its Voluntary National Contribution to the United Nations Forum on Forests.

We have historically used international aid programs for capacity-building in forest governance and managing timber supply chains; these relate to the objectives of SDG15 and SDG12.

Environmental impact of our operations

Energy efficiency

Our central office buildings in the Canberra central business district maintain a base building rating of 4.5 stars under the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS). Both buildings contain T5 energy-efficient lighting and movement sensors, which turn off lighting in office areas after hours. The buildings also contain energy efficient window blinds, which reduce the energy required to heat and cool the buildings during the day, and air conditioning energy is offset by onsite solar electricity.

The department participates in the APS Demand Reduction Initiative—an effort across government agencies to reduce energy consumption. The initiative calls for Australian Public Service agencies to lead by example and reduce their electricity demand when called upon across ACT and NSW during an energy emergency such as a supply shortfall during a heatwave. We have developed an action plan outlining actions we will take to reduce our energy consumption when needed. The demand response action plan complements efforts to reduce our day-to-day energy consumption.

In 2018–19 our energy consumption (excluding diesel and petroleum products) decreased by around 3% to 85,301 gigajoules (GJ) (Figure 18). This decrease is attributable to more efficient gas usage at our post-entry quarantine facility in Mickleham, Victoria. However, electricity consumption at the same site, and nationally, has increased. The total electricity consumption increase is approximately 2% or 876.24 GJ.

Figure 18 Energy consumption, 2014–15 to 2018–19

Our energy consumption fell in 2018-19 after increases in previous years, including a significant increase in 2016-17.


We monitor the fuel consumption and kilometres travelled for all fleet vehicles and encourage drivers to purchase ethanol blended fuel (E10). Although our overall fleet numbers have increased slightly we are continually replacing our vehicles with efficient hybrid or diesel vehicles where practical. In 2018–19 the proportion of hybrid vehicles increased to 49% and diesel vehicles increased to 22% of our total fleet. As at 30 June 2019 we had 378 fleet vehicles, which included 188 hybrid vehicles and 84 diesel vehicles.

In 2018–19 we consumed 15,033.62GJ in transport fuels for passenger vehicles. There was a fall in consumption due to an increase in hybrid vehicles and fewer kilometres travelled (Figure 19).

Figure 19 Transport energy consumption, 2014–15 to 2018–19

Our transport energy consumption shows a downward trend since 2014-15

Older vehicles in the department’s current fleet exceed the target set under the Commonwealth Green Vehicle Guide (GVG), largely obtaining 5-star ratings under that system. Newer vehicles in our fleet are now ranked based on CO2 tailpipe emissions and indicators are that fuel consumption has dropped. Our fleet now consists of more hybrids, which also contributes to lower emissions and more environmentally friendly vehicles.

Water conservation

Our central office buildings recycle and capture stormwater to flush all toilets. In bathrooms and change rooms, we have waterless urinals, water-saving shower heads, infrared motion-active hand basins and 4A-rated dual flush toilets. These initiatives contribute to reducing our reliance on the local water supply.

Waste management

We support and encourage good recycling practices, providing ready access to segregated waste streams in the office environment. Recycling bins are located throughout central office buildings in kitchens and common areas and include general waste, organic waste and co-mingled recycling. Elsewhere, combined paper and cardboard recyclables are aggregated for collection. The department also maintains a staff-led battery recycling initiative at our Canberra central office.

The organic waste stream is a unique feature of our central office buildings and can be used to dispose of compostable materials and foodstuffs. Through this process, all organic waste from all levels of the participating buildings is collected and relocated off-site and then processed into mulch for further use. This reclaims usable materials and reduces the quantity of general waste from these sites.

Based on available information, in 2018–19 our Canberra offices generated 119.38 tonnes of waste. Of this, around 53.5% was recycled, comprising 44.45 tonnes of co-mingled recyclables (Figure 20), 12.02 tonnes of paper and cardboard and 7.38 tonnes of organic waste (Figure 21).

Figure 20 Co-mingled recycling collected, 2014–15 to 2018–19

Our co-mingled recycling program continues to be a success, maintaining collections of more than 40 tonnes each year since 2015-16.

Figure 21 Organic waste collected, 2014–15 to 2018–19

Our collection of organic waste has decreased significantly since 2015-16 as we maintain programs to encourage recycling.

Because the battery recycling initiative is staff-led, information on the total weight of batteries recycled is not available.