Project 4.9.6

Development and refinement of indicators for effective water quality governance: Applications in the Wet Tropics

Project Leader: Dr Cathy Robinson, CSIRO

The achievement of water quality targets to halt the decline of water quality entering the Reef from diffuse sources relies on an effective system of governance capable of facilitating the necessary co-operation and coordination between multiple environmental decision-makers and their activities. This MTSRF-funded research project aimed to improve the management of natural resources and supply of ecosystem services on private land in the region, specifically, the governance arrangements needed to support natural resource management programs for water quality improvement in Great Barrier Reef catchments. Researchers identified the critical attributes that determine the success or otherwise of cooperative planning and implementation of environmental policy in this specific context, and developed a framework that uses knowledge indicators to evaluate collaborative governance performance. The validity and usefulness of this framework was then tested, with researchers using it to assess the implementation of the Wet Tropics Reef Rescue (Transition Year) Implementation Package, a component of the Australian Government’s Caring for Our Country program. After the assessment was completed, information was promptly incorporated (within 4-8 weeks) back into the Wet Tropics Reef Rescue Grants Program. The assessment enabled modifications to processes and approaches to improve delivery for the remainder of Year 1, and further refinements for Year 2. These improvements involved more regular communications with partners, enhancing partner engagement in planning and priority setting, and further development of tools, processes, and procedures to support efficient and effective program delivery. Within the 2009/2010 financial year alone this project has delivered a framework to assess water governance arrangements that has been used by Wet Tropic regional NRM and industry group stakeholders, and overall has provided consistent and strong solution based outcomes to improve Reef Rescue grant allocations and decisions.


Practical policy advice for environmental offset program implementation and refinement

Dr Cathy Robinson, CSIRO

With considerable public and private effort focused on managing the impact of development on the Southern Cassowary in the Mission Beach region, this MTSRF-funded project looked at ways to plan and assess development offsets, with the aim of contributing to offset policy refinement under the EPBC Act 1999. Researchers also used this case study to analyse who bears the costs of this policy approach, and why. Some of their major conclusions were:

  • Uncertainty surrounding what has to be done, who can do it, who can be included in negotiations, etc, increases the transaction costs to all parties but particularly the developers who must conduct offsets.

Offset requirements must be aligned with what is institutionally practical and possible to enable good outcomes at least possible costs to all parties.

  • It is important to have a good understanding of the service of the impacted asset and what level of equivalence is required to truly offset this.
  • There is more than one type of offset design. Different designs generate different extent and distributions of costs and benefits across participants. The design of the offset needs to be carefully matched with the participants and the overall offset objective.
  • Transfer of responsibility can occur through a variety of mediums - it is important to consider these and choose the one most suitable for the offset and the desired outcome.
  • Offsets that require highly specific configurations of inputs to be of value (for example, specific vegetation in specific arrangements across the landscape to be effective as habitat for cassowaries) have a significant impact on the transaction costs of the policy administrator, developers and offset suppliers. This spatial specificity means that transactors have to invest in information collection activities to determine the configuration of the required offset. Frequent transactions and learning could reduce information transaction costs (through formalisation of this learning into processes, systems, metrics etc).


Improving the effectiveness of community-based natural resource management

Dr Ro Hill, CSIRO

The generally poor performance of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) approaches mandated by national policy highlights the need to search for better models. MTSRF-funded researchers took a co-researching approach to develop, apply and test the transferability and effectiveness of a new model and tools for CBNRM in biodiversity conservation. Adaptive co-management, designed with specific communities and natural resources, recognized as linked to multi-scalar phenomena, is the new face of CBNRM. New tools used to achieve adaptive co-management include a collaborative focal species approach focused on the iconic southern cassowary, scenario analysis, science brokering partnerships, a collaborative habitat investment atlas and institutional brokering. An intermediate-complexity analytical framework was used to test the robustness of these tools and therefore likely transferability. The tools meet multiple relevant standards across three dimensions, namely empowering institutions and individuals, ongoing systematic scientific assessment and securing effective on-ground action. Evaluation of effectiveness using a performance criteria framework identified achievement of many social and environmental outcomes. Effective CBNRM requires multi-scale multi-actor collaborative design, not simply devolution to local-scale governance. Bridging/boundary individuals and organisations are important to facilitate the process.





Report Series No. 29 - Coggan, A. and Whitten, S. (2009) Market Based Instruments, Ecosystem Services and Development in Mission Beach, Far North Queensland. Background Report 2: Urbanisation and the Cassowary: Impacts and Economics


Report Series No. 27 - Coggan, A. and Whitten, S. (2009) Market Based Instruments, Ecosystem Services and Development in Mission Beach, Far North Queensland. Background Report 1: Impacts of Development on Ecosystem Services