Meeting Obligations to Protect Ramsar Wetlands

Tabled: 14 September 2016

Auditor-General's comments

Dr Peter Frost

Acting Auditor-General

Audit team

Andrew Evans—Engagement Leader

Rosy Andaloro—Team Leader

Samantha Carbone—Analyst

Engagement Quality Control Reviewer

Maree Bethel

Auditor-General's comments

Wetlands are a vital part of the natural environment. They provide refuge, breeding sites and food to animals and plants and are an important part of the landscape. Ramsar wetlands are recognised as having international importance under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, known as the Ramsar Convention. It is one of the first intergovernmental treaties for the conservation of natural resources. Victoria currently has 11 Ramsar listed sites.

Globally, there has been a loss of wetlands since European settlement, and Victoria is no exception. As well as threats relating to hydrology, invasive plants or animals, activities and recreational use, the impact of climate change is also an emerging threat to wetlands' ecological character. Effectively managing these threats is critical to maintaining the character of Victoria's Ramsar wetlands.

This audit assessed how effectively Victoria's Ramsar wetlands are being managed. In doing so, it looked at the role of the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP) and the primary site managers—Parks Victoria and Melbourne Water—as well as the catchment management authorities (CMA) which also have a key management role.

I found that, while there are a number of effective on-ground management outcomes, these are not clearly linked to management plan actions or risks. Overall, the governance, coordination and oversight of the management of Ramsar sites must improve for Victoria to effectively meet its obligations under the Ramsar Convention.

Monitoring of Ramsar sites also requires improvement. Some short-term output‑focused monitoring takes place, but there is limited ongoing monitoring with a focus on outcomes. As a result, management effectiveness is not systematically monitored, reviewed or evaluated. Failing to maintain the ecological character of these sites risks breaching Australia's international obligations under the Ramsar Convention.

Some of the issues in this audit have been highlighted in previous performance audits in the environment and natural resource management area. These audits have also found complicated and poorly coordinated governance arrangements, a lack of oversight and accountability and poor evaluation, compromised by limitations in data. These systemic issues still need addressing, and all environmental or natural resource management agencies should have close regard to these recurring issues.

Nevertheless, it is encouraging that, as a result of the emerging findings from this audit, DELWP is considering establishing a Victorian Ramsar forum that would bring together staff from DELWP, CMAs, Parks Victoria and Melbourne Water to share information, communicate issues and national updates, and to progress issues at a site and statewide level. This should also allow better understanding of roles and responsibilities, and the development of a shared understanding of priority values and threats at each site, as well as helping to track progress in implementing site management plans.

I would like to thank the staff from DELWP, Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water and CMAs who engaged with my office constructively and positively during this audit.


Signature of Dr Peter Frost (Acting Auditor-General)

Dr Peter Frost

Acting Auditor-General

September 2016

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