A common method for the assessment and listing of nationally threatened species in Australia
The Australian Government and all states and territories in Australia have agreed to establish a common assessment method for the assessment and listing of threatened species.
The common assessment method will maintain the current high level of scientific rigour in the assessment and listing of threatened species across Australia, while promoting a more consistent, efficient and harmonised process.
It will have benefits for multiple sectors and will lead to better outcomes for Australia’s unique biodiversity.
- Threatened species assessments undertaken by another jurisdiction using the common assessment method will be able to be adopted under the Australian Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This means that the EPBC Act list of threatened species will be reviewed more frequently and will be more comprehensive< and current.
- The common assessment method uses consistent categories and criteria, and is applied at the ‘national scale’, meaning that all occurrences of the species within Australia are considered in the assessment.
- The EPBC Act list of threatened species will contain all species assessed as eligible using the common assessment method. State and territory lists will only include those that occur in their jurisdiction. Species will be listed in the same category in each participating jurisdiction, which will reduce confusion around the conservation status of nationally threatened species.
- Using the common assessment method, currently listed species, or ‘legacy species’, will be progressively transitioned to an appropriate and agreed national threat category. In addition, all new assessments in participating jurisdictions will be undertaken using the common assessment method. This will lead to the alignment of threatened species listings across the nation.
- Species that have been determined to be not likely to be nationally threatened may continue to be listed by the relevant jurisdictions as a state or territory threatened species. These species are not nationally threatened and will not be included on the EPBC Act list of threatened species.
The common assessment method is a consistent approach to the assessment and listing of nationally threatened species across the Australian jurisdictions.
It is based on the best practice standard developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as used to create the Red List of Threatened Species, with some amendments to suit the Australian context.
The common assessment method will be applied by Australian jurisdictions that choose to sign onto the intergovernmental memorandum of understanding.
Using the common assessment method, species are assessed using the IUCN criteria, categories and thresholds (see Categories and criteria below). They can be listed, if eligible, as Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild, or Extinct. Species of fish may also be assessed and listed as Conservation Dependent, according to the use and definition of this category under the EPBC Act. Together these are the six ‘nationally threatened’ categories for species.
When an Australian jurisdiction undertakes an assessment using the common assessment method, the outcome of that assessment may be adopted by other states and territories where the species occurs, as well as the Australian Government (under the EPBC Act). This means that a species is only assessed once and is listed in the same ‘nationally threatened’ category across all relevant jurisdictions.
The 2013 Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications report Effectiveness of threatened species and ecological communities’ protection in Australia recommended that the Australian, state and territory governments prioritise work to reduce duplication and inconsistency between their lists of threatened species. It also recommended that the governments work to establish uniform and integrated processes for the future listing of threatened species. The 2009 Report of the Independent Review of the EPBC Act included similar recommendations.
In 2015, the National Review of Environmental Regulation interim report further identified threatened species assessment and listing processes as an area for potential reform. It highlighted that there was a need to develop a nationally consistent approach to the listing of threatened species, which would facilitate the alignment of threatened species lists across Australia. The common assessment method was also a specific target in the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy.
The Australian, state and territory governments currently have different legislative frameworks for the assessment and listing of threatened species, which has resulted in nine separate jurisdictional lists across Australia. The species on these lists often overlap, however many have been assessed and listed using different criteria, threat categories and scales of assessment. These inconsistencies and the resulting misalignment of lists has led to confusion about the status of listed species.
The primary aim of the common assessment method is to reduce this confusion and duplication of effort by establishing a consistent method for the assessment and listing of nationally threatened species across Australia.
Using the common assessment method, participating jurisdictions will work together to ensure that species are assessed and, where warranted, listed in only one ‘nationally threatened’ category, which is reflected on each of the relevant jurisdictional lists. The outcome is a ‘Single Operational List’ of nationally threatened species.
The assessment and listing process
Under the common assessment method, a species will be assessed by only one jurisdiction – either the Australian Government or a state or territory where the species occurs. The outcome of that assessment can then be adopted by other relevant jurisdictions to update their Single Operational List. This reduces duplication of effort because each jurisdiction does not have to undertake a separate assessment for the same species.
The common assessment method will form part of the existing EPBC Act nomination and listing process, which will continue to operate as before. In summary, species must be included on the Finalised Priority Assessment List before they can be considered for listing, de-listing or category transfer. The Threatened Species Scientific Committee reviews the available information, including that which is received through public consultation, and makes a recommendation to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Energy regarding the proposed threat category. Further information is available on the threatened species and ecological communities webpage.
Under the common assessment method, the Australian Government will discuss the species that are prioritised for assessment with other relevant jurisdictions. State or territory governments may agree to undertake some of these assessments. Participating states and territories will follow the same process with nominations they receive. Regardless of which jurisdiction undertakes an assessment, it will use the same method, and all existing EPBC Act requirements will continue to be met.
Progressive alignment of lists
It is important to understand that many currently listed nationally threatened species will continue to be misaligned across the EPBC Act list and state and territory lists while the common assessment method is being implemented. This is due to the large number of legacy species that require consideration, and the capacity of government agencies and scientific committees to undertake these assessments. The number of misalignments will be progressively reduced over time.
In the longer term, misalignments may persist for other reasons:
- Jurisdictions might occasionally disagree on an assessment outcome, even though it is undertaken using the common assessment method. The memorandum sets out a process to be followed to resolve such disputes, during which time the relevant entities will continue to be misaligned.
- Sometimes an assessment outcome cannot be adopted by a particular jurisdiction, either because it has not signed the memorandum, or because the required administrative arrangements or legislative amendments have not yet come into effect.
Under the common assessment method, species are assessed at the national scale, using consistent threat criteria, categories, thresholds and definitions, and can only be listed in one nationally threatened category. This is the basis of the 'Single Operational List' concept.
For some Australian jurisdictions, the common assessment method is a substantial change from current practice. For example, in states and territories, species are often listed at the regional scale (only taking into account the occurrences within that jurisdiction) and may be listed using threat criteria and categories that differ from the IUCN categories.
Each participating jurisdiction is responsible for establishing the required administrative arrangements and legislative amendments necessary to fully support the implementation of the common assessment method.
Under the Australian Government’s EPBC Act, threatened species are already assessed at the national scale using the IUCN categories and criteria (see further below). The only exception is Criterion D2, which relates to a species’ restricted Area of Occupancy or number of locations, and applies only to the Vulnerable category. In due course the EPBC Act may be amended to enable listing under this criterion.
The main change to the current EPBC Act process is that some species assessments will be undertaken by a relevant state or territory government – using the common assessment method – and provided to the Australian Government for adoption. Similarly, assessments that are undertaken by the Australian Government under the EPBC Act will be provided to relevant state and territory governments for adoption under their equivalent legislation. This process of 'mutual recognition’ is a key element of the reform.
As the common assessment method is implemented, there will be an increase in the number of threatened species assessments. This is because the assessments are undertaken by all participating jurisdictions using the same approach, enabling mutual recognition of assessment outcomes, and a higher number of assessments processed.
The assessments can lead to listing, de-listing or transfer between categories in the list (up- or down-listing). For example, if an assessment concludes that a species is not eligible for listing as nationally threatened, it is removed from the nationally threatened section of the Single Operational List in each relevant jurisdiction. If a species is assessed as eligible for listing as Endangered, relevant jurisdictions may need to list, up-list or down-list that species, in order to bring its current listing status into alignment with the assessment outcome.
While there may be some additional species added to the EPBC Act list as a result of the common assessment method, this is unlikely to add significantly to the regulatory considerations for development assessments, as most of these species and communities are already listed as threatened at the state and territory level.
Participating jurisdictions have committed to public consultation as part of the assessment process, and to ensuring that information relevant to assessments is made publicly available. This ensures a transparent, consultative and collaborative process.
Under the EPBC Act, public consultation on species assessments is required for a minimum of 30 business days. Regardless of which jurisdiction undertakes an assessment, this requirement for public consultation will continue to be met by the Australian Government, prior to any amendments being made to the list of threatened species. Species that are open for public comment are included on the Comment on listing assessments webpage.
The Australian Government also undertakes targeted consultation with relevant experts and other stakeholders, as appropriate to the species under assessment.
States and territories will have different legislative requirements regarding public consultation on assessments. Under the common assessment method, consultation on species will be coordinated where possible.
As at January 2019, the common assessment method memorandum of understanding for threatened species had been signed by Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the Australian Government. The Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales had also signed the memorandum for ecological communities.
An inter-governmental Working Group has been established to guide the implementation of the common assessment method. It includes representatives from all jurisdictions, including those which have not yet signed the memorandum. The Working Group meets regularly by teleconference and periodically in-person, to discuss implementation issues, develop policy positions and agree on priorities and ways forward.
The Working Group reports to the Senior Officials Group, which is comprised of the heads of relevant agencies or their delegated representatives in each jurisdiction.
Through the Working Group, the jurisdictions are actively cooperating and supporting each other to implement the common assessment method. Members share information openly, and collaborate on priorities, processes and timeframes. The common assessment method is strengthening and building upon the existing communication channels between the states, territories and the Australian Government in relation to the assessment and listing of threatened species.
Since August 2016, a number of Western Australian, New South Wales, Northern Territory and Queensland ‘legacy species’ have been submitted to the Australian Government for consideration under the EPBC Act. These assessments are made available for public consultation, reviewed by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and provided to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment for decision on their status under the EPBC Act.
The IUCN Red List threat categories, criteria, thresholds and definitions will be used in common assessment method assessments.
The national threat categories for species are:
- Critically Endangered
- Extinct in the Wild
- Conservation Dependent.
To be eligible for listing in any of these categories, except for Conservation Dependent, a species must meet at least one of the IUCN Red List criteria. Species are listed in the highest category for which they are eligible. For example, if a species meets Criterion A and C for Vulnerable and Criterion B for Endangered, then it is eligible for listing in the Endangered category.
A native species is eligible for listing in the Conservation Dependent category if it meets the requirements of section 179(6)(b) of the EPBC Act. That is, it must be a species of fish that is the focus of a plan of management in force under law, which provides for management actions necessary to stop the decline of, and support the recovery of, the species so that its chances of long term survival in nature are maximised, and the cessation of which would adversely affect the conservation status of the species.
Further information is available in the following IUCN documentation:
- IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria (Version 3.1 second edition (2012))
- Guidelines for Using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria (2016)
- Guidelines for application of IUCN Red List Criteria at Regional and National Levels (Version 4.0) (2010)
Note that the additional categories used by the IUCN, such as Near Threatened and Least Concern, are not part of the common assessment method. Species that only meet these criteria are not eligible for listing as nationally threatened under the common assessment method, and will not be included on the EPBC Act list. However, these categories may be used by jurisdictions in listing state or territory threatened species.
Under the common assessment method, an assessment for an eligible species or population (see below) must include its:
- current conservation status (threat category under relevant legislation);
- relevant biology/ecology;
- threats and level of risk;
- assessment of available information against the criteria, including a statement on the standard of scientific evidence and adequacy of survey;
- recommendation of conservation status (threat category) resulting from this assessment;
- references cited; and
- any information known at the time of the assessment about what could possibly be done to stop the decline of, or support the recovery of, the species, or a statement to the effect that there is nothing that could reasonably be done.
The appearance and format of assessments may vary, depending on the legislative requirements and/or preferences of the jurisdiction undertaking the assessment. Under the EPBC Act, assessments are in the form of a Conservation Advice.
All native organisms are eligible for assessment under the common assessment method, including the taxonomic units of species, subspecies, and varieties (of plants only).
Populations of species are also eligible for assessment, provided both of the following apply:
- the population is geographically isolated and is distinct and able to be defined in a way that differentiates it from all other populations; and
- the taxon (parent species) of which the population is a part is not listed as nationally threatened.
Legacy species are all species currently listed as threatened in one or more jurisdiction, including the Australian Government, that have not yet been assessed using the common assessment method.
As the common assessment method is progressively applied to legacy species in each participating jurisdiction, the Single Operational Lists in those jurisdictions will be updated in line with the assessment outcomes, leading to consistent national species listings.
Not all legacy species will be eligible for listing in their current threat category once assessed under the common assessment method. Some will be transferred from one threat category to another, some will be de-listed, and others will remain in their existing category.
Some species are already listed in the same threat category across all relevant jurisdictions. These species will not be a priority for consideration under the common assessment method, as they are already aligned, but may need to be reassessed under the common assessment method in the future.
Jurisdictions will continue to discuss priorities, timing and arrangements for transitioning legacy species under the common assessment method. This work will need to be balanced with assessments for new species nominated for listing as threatened.
The common assessment method is based around the concept of mutual recognition. Once an assessment has been undertaken by a jurisdiction, and that assessment complies with the common assessment method, other relevant participating jurisdictions can adopt the assessment outcome (national threat category) in order to update their own Single Operational List.
Each jurisdiction will have different administrative and legislative requirements for assessing species. However, provided that the common assessment method requirements are met (i.e. the assessment is undertaken at the national scale using the agreed categories and criteria), then the outcomes can be adopted by other participating jurisdictions. In practice, this means listing, de-listing or changing the threat category of a species in line with the assessment.
This streamlined process is more efficient and will progressively lead to consistent threatened species listings across participating jurisdictions.
Under the common assessment method, assessments must be undertaken at the ‘national scale’, meaning that all occurrences of the species in Australia are taken into account in the assessment against the criteria.
Species are currently assessed and listed at the national scale under the EPBC Act. As such, there will be no change in the scale of assessments undertaken by the Australian Government.
Species that are endemic to a particular state or territory (that is, that only occur in that jurisdiction and nowhere else in Australia) are also already assessed at the ‘national scale’. This is because all Australian occurrences of the species are taken into account by default.
However, species that occur across a state or territory border have tended to be assessed separately by each states and territory, with each only taking into account the species’ occurrence within their jurisdiction. Such assessments are ‘regional scale’ and are not compliant with the common assessment method.
Under the common assessment method, species that are endemic to a state or territory will generally be assessed by that jurisdiction, and the Australian Government may adopt this assessment under the EPBC Act. Species that occur across two or more states and territories will generally be assessed by the Australian Government and that assessment may be adopted by each of the relevant participating states and territories. All assessments will be undertaken at a consistent scale, leading to consistent outcomes.
The ‘Single Operational List’ describes the list of threatened species established in each participating jurisdiction under the common assessment method.
Each jurisdiction’s Single Operational List will contain the names of all nationally threatened species relevant to their jurisdiction, as determined by the application of the agreed categories and criteria at the national scale.
These lists of threatened species are established under the relevant environmental legislation in each participating jurisdiction. For the Australian Government, this legislation is the EPBC Act. The EPBC Act lists of threatened flora and fauna are available through the online Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database. Under the common assessment method, SPRAT will continue to operate as it does now.
Each state and territory will have its own equivalent list. These lists may be different in appearance, depending on the preferences and legislative requirements of the jurisdiction. However, under the common assessment method, the content of these lists will become progressively more consistent, with nationally threatened species included in the same category across all relevant lists.
States and territories will only include a nationally threatened species on their list if it occurs (or previously occurred) within their jurisdiction. Conversely, the Australian Government’s Single Operational List on SPRAT will include all species that are assessed as eligible using the common assessment method, once the assessment outcome is formally adopted through the relevant EPBC Act assessment and listing process.
State and territory lists may include not just nationally threatened species, as determined by the application of the common assessment method, but also any state and territory threatened species or other species of significance. Such listings are at the discretion of the states and territories and are not coordinated across the jurisdictional lists, nor are they included on the EPBC Act list. Such species will be clearly differentiated from those that are listed as nationally threatened.
Detailed information on the common assessment method is available in the intergovernmental memorandum of understanding.
Information on the implementation of the common assessment method relevant to particular jurisdictions is available on state/territory government websites:
- Australian Capital Territory – Nature Conservation Amendment Act 2016
- New South Wales – How species, populations and ecological communities are listed as threatened
- Queensland – Common Assessment Method for listing threatened species and Changes and new additions to species conservation classes in Queensland
- Victoria – Review of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (see section 4.3.2 of the Consultation paper and p.8 of the Response summary)
- Western Australia – Call for public nominations for listing (and delisting) of threatened plants, animals and ecological communities
Media releases on the common assessment method:
- Australian Capital Territory – New laws simplifying listing of threatened species nationally and regionally (Simon Corbell MLA, 7 June 2016)
- Western Australia – Single threatened species list to cut red tape (Hon Albert Jacob MLA and Hon Bill Marmion MLA, 17 November 2015)
Agreed statements are also available from Meetings of Environment Ministers – see the statements for meetings 2, 3 and 4.
For further information on the common assessment method, please contact the Department.