The Morrison Government has reached a landmark agreement with Western Australia to expand one of the nation's key conservation programs to better protect the unique Pilbara environment.
The agreement means that the Pilbara Environmental Offset Fund will now be able to receive and deploy the environmental offset monies paid by industry under both State and Commonwealth environmental legislation.
The McGowan Government established the Fund in 2018, and an implementation plan for the Fund, developed with Commonwealth input, was released in November 2019.
The addition of Commonwealth offset funds will allow larger conservation programs across the Pilbara, including the 'nesting' of projects to improve habitat and reduce threats for nationally-protected species.
Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the alignment will also provide a more streamlined one-stop process for proponents in delivering offsets under both State and Commonwealth regulation. They will now be able to engage with a single agency, the Western Australian Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, who administer the Fund, for delivery of offsets.
"The fund operates as a partnership between the Western Australian Government and Traditional Owners, conservation agencies, industry and governments to improve and restore ecological habitats impacted by development in the Pilbara region," Minister Ley said.
"Environmental offset contributions from proponents will be paid into the Fund and the money will be invested in projects to restore vegetation and habitat across the Pilbara over the longer term.
"The Fund will overcome challenges faced by approval holders in accessing and securing land to deliver their own offset projects, but will not reduce their obligations to meet conditions of approval for minimising and rehabilitating environmental impacts."
Expansion of the program scope to include Commonwealth matters will also provide a larger and more certain pipeline of conservation funding to support regional employment outside the mining sector, including Aboriginal rangers and groups, bolstering Western Australia's Green Jobs Plan on the road to COVID-19 recovery.
Western Australian Minister for Environment, Disability Services and Electoral Affairs Stephen Dawson said that the Pilbara Environmental Offset Fund will deliver strategic and landscape scale programs in an area where deploying project-by-project offsets have becoming increasingly hard due to the complex and overlapping land tenure arrangements, and landscape scale threats.
"The transparency of the fund's operation, the strong governance, the link to the publicly available offset register and the collaborative leadership and oversight of all sectors including Traditional Owners makes this one of the most robust offset models in Australia," Minister Dawson said.
"With the same governance now applied to State and Commonwealth offsets we can have great confidence in delivering real benefits on the ground and know this will be demonstrated and reported.
"We had anticipated at least $90 million of conservation investments via this program over the next 30 years. Increasing this by including the EPBC Act offsets will allow both State and Commonwealth values that exist in the same area to be protected and improved together and to a greater landscape scale."
The Commonwealth and State Governments have been working on the approach for over twelve months together with progressing the renewal of the bilateral assessment agreement.
Further information available: https://www.wa.gov.au/service/environment/business-and-community-assistance/program-pilbara-environmental-offsets-fund
Minister's office - 6552 5800