Environmental Offsets in WA – are we getting value for money and can we do it better?

Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo

The basic premise behind all environmental offsets is that they should be – efficient, effective, timely, transparent, proportionate, value for money, scientifically robust and the agency responsible should be accountable.

In 2011, the WA Auditor General released a report which was critical of aspects of the state government policy on environmental offsets and the implementation of this policy. Some of the key findings and concerns were:

  • monitoring and reporting of compliance for environmental offsets was inadequate;
  • only some agencies monitored their offsets and there was no overall across government record;
  • the lack of an approved government environmental offsets policy, and effective monitoring and reporting had caused poor transparency and accountability;
  • annual reporting was not effectively managed; and
  • there were inadequate inspections and information management.

Two of the major responses of government (Public Accounts Committee 2012) to this report were the:

  • preparation and release of the WA Environmental Offsets Policy (2011) and WA Environmental Offsets Guidelines (2014); and
  • development and hosting of the WA Government Environmental Offsets Register website.

WA Environmental Offset Policy

The WA Environmental Offset Policy states the following six principles. Environmental offsets:

  • will only be considered after avoidance and mitigation options have been pursued;
  • are not appropriate for all projects;
  • will be cost-effective, as well as relevant and proportionate to the significance of the environmental value being impacted;
  • will be based on sound environmental information and knowledge;
  • will be applied within a framework of adaptive management; and
  • will be focussed on longer term strategic outcomes.

however, the policy does not require environmental offsets to:

  • have clear and specific objectives;
  • have measurable outcomes;
  • be monitored to determine their effectiveness;
  • be transparent in their implementation and reporting;
  • be publicly accountable; and
  • cover the duration of the impact.

WA Environmental Offsets Register

WA Government’s Environmental Offsets Register aims to:

  • facilitate transparency and accountability regarding offset agreements;
  • provide a single cross-government record for environmental offsets;
  • monitors offset implementation and outcomes;
  • improve auditing and quality control of offsets; and
  • to provide for efficient retrieval of offsets information in flexible ways to meet government, industry and community needs.

If the Offsets Register worked well, then the public should be able to go to the Register and find all the relevant information about each offset. If you have never looked at the register we would encourage you to click here, but I doubt you will find the details you are looking for. In an ecological context, the Environmental Offsets Register fails to provide:

  • a statement of the fauna, fauna habitat or ecosystems being impacted;
  • a clear statement of the significant residual impacts being addressed by the offset;
  • a clear statement of the objectives for each offset;
  • measurable outcomes for each offset or clear criteria for measuring the success of the offset; and
  • an indication of the monitoring that will be undertaken of offset outcomes.

As an example, we looked at project number 4433/2 – Busselton Health Campus (clearing of 238 trees). The three condition milestones are:

Condition Milestone 1 – “Once the Permit Holder has developed a Western Ringtail Possum Management Plan, the Permit Holder must provide the Western Ringtail Possum Management Plan to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the CEO’s approval.”

Condition Milestone 2 – “If it is necessary to modify the Western Ringtail Possum Management Plan, the Permit Holder must submit the modified plan to the CEO.”

Condition Milestone 3 – “The Permit Holder must implement and adhere to the Western Ringtail Possum Management Plan.”

A second example is project number OEPA:27 – Wheatstone Development – Gas Processing, Export Facilities and Infrastructure. The first three offset conditions are:

22-02 1st – Contribution of $1.6m to WAMSI

22-02 2nd – Contribution of $1.6m to WAMSI

22-07 3rd – Contribution of $220,000 (indexed to CPI)

In both of these examples the offset register fails to contain:

  • A statement on the species impacted;
  • A clear statement of the offset objectives;
  • Provide data on measurable outcomes; or
  • Provide data on effectiveness of the offset.

Overall, we would argue that the offset register fails to provide an appropriate level of information to enable the public to know whether offsets are likely to be effective.

Are offsets really working?

what others think 1

what others think 2

Although the WA Environmental Offsets Guidelines indicates that the Environmental Offsets Register will ensure transparency in the determination and application of offsets, while also providing a basis for auditing, compliance and enforcement, this lack of transparency in implementation, poor reporting and lack of public accountability does not instill confidence in the community that we are getting the necessary ‘value’ from the offsets and it fails to meet the stated objectives of the website.

We believe there is a strong case for revising the WA Environmental Offset Policy and including requirements that all offsets shall:

  • have clear and specific objectives;
  • have measurable outcomes;
  • monitor their effectiveness and publicly report the results;
  • be transparent in their implementation and reporting; and
  • cover the duration of the impact and this information is provided on the Environmental Offsets Register website for each offset.

We would also go on to suggest that research based offsets should be:

  • put out to tender (via a website);
  • are based on a clear statement of measurable objectives;
  • successful applicants are required to produce publicly available annual reports;
  • ongoing funding is determined based on history of satisfactory progress; and
  • an independent triennial review of progress of the direct benefits to conservation significant species/ecosystems is undertaken.

DCF 1.0

References

Auditor General. 2011. Ensuring Compliance with Conditions on Mining. Perth.

Public Accounts Committee, L. A., Parliament of Western Australia. 2012. Review of the Reports of the Auditor General 2011-2012. Perth.

Photo credit: Top – Carnaby’s Cockatoo and bottom – Western Ringtail Possum

Print Friendly

Comments

2 Responses to “Environmental Offsets in WA – are we getting value for money and can we do it better?”

  1. Ian Le Provost on July 8th, 2016 1:06 pm

    I commend Terrestrial Ecosystems on your recent series of newsletters which I enjoy reading and find most informative.I am also interested in the value of offsets and determining what benefits have been gained since they were introduced.I have some knowledge on the benefits that have arisen from the Wheatstone project ( and other major marine projects) offset contributions to WAMSI via my membership of the EPA’s Dredging Science Advisory Commitee on behalf of the ECA of WA. WAMSI will soon be releasing a set of research reports on their web site that will substantially improve the reliability of dredging impact assessments and management programs in WA. I agree with you that the offsets register could be improved as you suggest because there is some good work being undertaken but it is not being reported and as a result the “benefit” or efficiency of the offsets are not publicly available. This might be a good issue for the ECA-as well as industry – to take up with the Minister. Ian LeProvost (Past President ECA)

  2. Scott Thompson on July 8th, 2016 1:18 pm

    Thanks for the comments Ian. The issue of offsets and effective use of these funds is important to WA and it is great to hear that WAMSI is doing some research with these funds. I look forward to reading them when they are available and hope that he recently launched WABSI can undertake similar high quality investigations.

Got something to say?