Australia has a number of instruments for biodiversity-impact compensation. A 2012 policy guiding the use of offsets under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) provides additional clarification on the role of offsets in environmental impact assessments and evaluating offset suitability. There is also a range of legal and policy provisions at the state level that may be used to set up market-based instruments for biodiversity conservation.
Offset programs include New South Wales’s BioBanking program, Victoria’s BushBroker, and Queensland’s numerous offset policies. Auction programs – in which the seller makes a bid (or tender) on the cost to manage their land for biodiversity conservation and the buyer selects the lowest-cost bid – include the BushTender and EcoTender developed by Victoria’s Department of Sustainability and Environment.
New South Wales‘ BioBanking Scheme is a state program driven by regulatory requirements to offset impacts from urban development. The framework for the program was established under Part 7A of the Threatened Species Conservation Act of 1995 and is supported by the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act of 1979, Threatened Species Conservation (Biodiversity Banking) Regulation 2008, and BioBanking Assessment Methodology.
The BushBroker Program is designed to facilitate native vegetation offsets in the State of Victoria. It works primarily on the supply-side, identifying landowners willing to preserve and manage native vegetation. A government representative of the BushBroker program then assesses the site and determines the number and type of credits available.
In South Australia, when a development impacts native vegetation or scattered trees, offsets can be provided either on-site by the developer or by a payment to a government fund (called the Native Vegetation Fund), which then creates the offset. The offset occurs either on the property or in the same Natural Resource Management Region (with eight regions in the state) and is created by managing, restoring, or re-vegetating areas of native vegetation. The greatest demand-driver for offsets in the region is mining, with landowners, state government, and extractive industries supplying the offsets.
In Queensland, there are currently three specific-issue offset programs: vegetation offsets, marine fish habitat offsets, and koala habitat offsets. One interesting aspect of Queensland is that approximately 70% of the land is leasehold – meaning it is owned by the government and leased out for periods of 10-30 years, making “in perpetuity” conservation associated with offsets virtually impossible in a lot of the state. Currently the driver for all the policies in Queensland is urban development (particularly in the southeast), followed by water infrastructure such as dams and supply pipelines as well as coal mining.
The State of Western Australia has a policy and guidance for environmental offsets: Guidance for the Assessment of Environmental Factor: Environmental Offsets – Biodiversity Guidance Statement No. 19 and Environmental Offsets Position Statement No. 9. A project proponent may propose a biodiversity offsets package during the Environmental Impact Assessment process when projects impact high or critical value biodiversity assets.
For Tasmania, development proposals in Tasmania require a natural values assessment as part of the planning approval process. Developers present biodiversity offset proposals for impacts to threatened species and native vegetation communities to the regulator,the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, for approval. Offsets are awarded on a case-by-case basis, since there is no standard method for calculating impact and determining the number of offsets.