Protecting the Environment: Pollution Incidents

The Auditor-General, Mr Peter Achterstraat, today released his report on Protecting the environment: Pollution incidents.

The Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water received 5,146 reports of pollution from its Environmental Hotline in 2009-10, an increase of six per cent from two years ago.

“The community are the ‘eyes and ears’ of the environment and alert the department to pollution incidents. In fact, 80 per cent of pollution reports come from members of the public,” Mr Achterstraat stated.

“As the department cannot be in all places at all times, this is a significant source of intelligence and contributes to the quality of information available to the department for decision making,” he added.

While the department uses a mix of tools to achieve environmental outcomes, it is not making the best use of the information from its Environmental Hotline.

The hotline records how many reports there are of pollution, not how many incidents these relate to. Often the one incident receives a number of reports. And importantly, the department does not know what the combined effect of these incidents has been on the environment. This is despite its officers investigating all these reports.

“To protect a statewide resource, you need a statewide view,” said Mr Achterstraat.

“I am calling on the department to find out how many pollution incidents occur and regularly analyse the risk to the environment,” he added. 

The department could not report on how many high risk pollution incidents resulted in regulatory actions being taken. This is essential to understanding whether the department’s actions are having a positive impact.

The department’s response to pollution incidents can and does ensure that harm is reduced and many wilful acts are punished by appropriate penalties. However, the lack of centralised monitoring and limited performance information means that the department cannot demonstrate that it is doing this well.

“The department needs better performance information so that it can understand whether its actions are having a positive impact on compliance and the environment,” Mr Achterstraat stated.

Further information

Barry Underwood, Executive Officer, on 9275 7220/0403 073 664 or email