National catchment management principles:

Extract from: House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage (2000) Coordinating Catchment Management: report of the inquiry into catchment management. AusInfo Bookshop; Canberra.  Pages 97-99.

At present there are no national standards for catchment management consistent across all jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction has developed legislation in an ad hoc manner seeking only to address immediate, not future concerns. Often the legislation is narrowly focused and intended to address the concerns of the particular jurisdiction. How land use in one jurisdiction may affect Australians in other jurisdictions has not figured in the development of land use legislation. The Committee believes that the management of catchments should be consistent between jurisdictions.

The best way to achieve this, in the Committee’s view, is through uniform national principles enacted by the Parliament of the Commonwealth.75 The Committee believes that while the management of catchments should be consistent between jurisdictions, it is also the case that in order to be appropriate for any location, management must take into account the local conditions. The best way to achieve this, in the Committee’s view, is through uniform national principles enacted by the Parliament of the Commonwealth, that are flexible enough to provide programs adapted to local conditions. Such an approach would minimise one of the major failings of the present arrangements: the lack of consistent coverage and co-ordinated responses to environmental problems owing the fact that:

  • most programs are state or territory based; and
  • within a jurisdiction, different authorities have the capacity to set their own agendas.

National principles would enable, for the first time, a comprehensive audit and evaluation of catchment management programs to occur, and modifications to be devised and implemented.

Moreover, the environmental problems facing the nation are so great and pressing that action should be taken sooner rather than later. It is important, therefore, to develop a timetable for the formulation of the principles and their implementation.

The Committee also concludes that the principles should be set and included in the national catchment legislation already envisaged.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that, in consultation with stakeholders, national catchment management principles be developed and enacted in comprehensive, national catchment management legislation. The Committee further recommends that:

  • these principles should be enacted no later than the end of 2002; and
  • all programs in Australia that have an effect upon the use of catchment systems should, no later than 2005, be assessed against these principles and by 2007, modified if necessary, to ensure that they comply with them.

The Committee does not wish to specify in detail what these principles should contain. However, the evidence gathered in the course of this inquiry indicate that the following types of principles should be considered:

  • Use of the natural environment should be ecologically sustainable in the longer term.
  • The likely anticipated effect on communities, immediately adjacent to the proposed activity and potentially affected by the proposed activity must be considered, when evaluating proposals for land use.
  • Use of the natural environment must recognise and attempt to discharge two duties:
  • .Duty of care: to ensure that the actions one takes or proposes to take do not diminish, without their consent, the rights of others to enjoy to an equal extent the environment and its potential; and,
  • Duty of stewardship: to use the environment so that future generations have the opportunity to use and enjoy the environment and its benefits to at least the same extent as the present.
  • Use of the natural environment should protect biodiversity.
  • Any use of the natural environment should involve the implementation of strategies that stabilise current problems and aim to repair degradation.
  • Any use of the natural environment should ensure that the expected economic and social benefit of using a natural resource clearly exceeds the grossed up cost of using that resource.
  • Any use of the natural environment should ensure that the proposed use does not utilise natural systems in ways that exceed the capacity of those systems to sustain that use without degradation occurring.

These are only draft principles. The aim of the Committee is to place them in the public area for discussion and to promote debate. (December 2000).