Environmental offsets compensate for residual significant impacts from actions, such as developments, that cause harm to protected matters (including nationally significant plants, animals, ecological communities and places). They make up for significant impacts that cannot be avoided or mitigated.
Most offsets delivered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) are to compensate for residual significant impacts to listed threatened species and ecological communities. However, offsets may be used for other protected matters in certain circumstances.
Types of offsets
If you need to provide an offset, it must relate directly to the impact of your action.
For example, if koalas are significantly affected by your project, then offsets must relate to koalas. Different types of offsets can include:
- Indirect (also known as other compensatory measures)
Offsets are most commonly delivered after an approval has been granted, however, in some cases they may be delivered way in advance of an action being referred under the EPBC Act. This situation is called an advanced offset.
Direct offsets provide quantifiable and tangible conservation benefits to the impacted protected matter. They do this by undertaking actions specifically designed to improve environmental outcomes in the immediate future.
Direct offsets can include:
Legal securing of land, restoration, and ongoing protection
These offsets, commonly referred to as offset sites, are secured for conservation purposes and registered on the land title. Restoration of an offset site involves bringing the land back to the same condition (or better) as the impact site and ensuring the offset site contains and supports the protected matter for at least a length of time equal to the impact. Once the offset site or sites is purchased and restored it is important that the condition of the offset site is maintained to the agreed standards.
Threat abatement programs
Programs such as stock exclusion or feral animal control can be undertaken to improve or maintain the viability of the protected matter. These activities must be in addition to what is required as part of a landholder’s duty of care.
There must not be an existing obligation under state or territory government legislation or local government rules or requirements.
For example, if you are already required to remove weeds along a river on your property under state law, you must continue meet this requirement and implement other additional activities to meet your offset requirements.
Captive breeding and release, or propagation and supplementary planting programs
Captive breeding programs, which also include releasing individuals back into the wild, help improve the population of the protected matter. It is important in captive breeding and release programs to ensure the site will be used by the species.
Propagation and planting programs may be required to offset the loss of individual plants of a protected matter at an impact site.
Note: State or territory legislation may also have specific requirements in relation to the taking of threatened species, captive breeding, and translocation programs, which will need to be considered. Additional permits under the EPBC Act may be required if the action is to be undertaken in or on a Commonwealth area.
Indirect offsets are also known as other compensatory measures. These measures are activities that do not directly offset the impacts on the protected matter like direct offsets but are designed to deliver benefits for the impacted protected matter through other means. This might include funding for research to support better decision making and management.
Other compensatory measures often include research and education programs identified as priority actions in recovery plans, threat abatement plans, conservation or listing advices, Commonwealth-approved management plans or other relevant documents.
For an indirect offset to be considered suitable, there must be a clear linkage to the benefit that the new research can provide for the protected matter.
Indirect offsets may be used as part of an offset proposal. However, these measures are generally limited to a maximum of 10% of the offset requirement. In most cases, an indirect offset of greater than 10% will only be accepted if it will clearly have a greater benefit to the species than a direct offset or if there is a high degree of uncertainty that benefits from direct offset can be delivered at all.
To be considered a suitable research or education program your proposal must:
- provide an overall benefit to the protected matter
- be targeted toward key research or education activities identified in relevant Commonwealth approved documents (see Species Profile and Threats Database (SPRAT) profiles)
- be undertaken in a scientific manner and within a reasonable time frame
- explain how the research can and will be used to benefit the protected matter
- be undertaken by a suitably qualified individual or organisation in a manner approved by the minister or delegate
- apply the best and most up-to-date research standards available for the protected matter.
For example, suitable research and education programs may include signage in key areas to educate the public regarding the risks to a threatened animal or research into effective revegetation techniques for a threatened ecological community and give confidence that research will be implemented.
The criteria for proposed research programs are:
- Must be suitable to a postgraduate education level. However, it can also be suitable for other educational levels depending on the circumstance.
- Must have any findings peer reviewed.
- Must have any findings published in an internationally recognised peer-reviewed scientific journal. Or they must at least meet that standard. Any findings should also be published in a free, open access journal.
- Findings should benefit future decisions on how to better protect or rehabilitate the protected matter. The findings must also be able and likely to be implemented.
Education programs should:
- be flexible in the way they are presented to the public and different educational levels. For example, a program that can be communicated through pamphlets, signage in areas where the protected matter may occur, and be presented to schools
- aim to deliver a positive outcome for the protected matter, for example by supporting the adoption of research findings
- target changing the public’s behaviour for the benefit of the protected matter.
We recommend that you discuss research or education proposals with the department prior to making any financial commitments to ensure they will be acceptable as an offset.
Percentage of direct and indirect offsets
In most cases, where the offset requirement cannot be satisfied through direct methods, offset proposals can be made up of a minimum of 90% through direct offsets, with the remaining 10% through other compensatory measures if there is a demonstrated benefit to the protected matter in doing so.
For any deviation from the 90% direct offset requirement to be considered, the offset strategy must generally demonstrate:
- there would be a greater benefit to the protected matter through research and education, to support decision making, than from direct offsets
- it is impossible to determine if a direct offset is going to be beneficial the protected matter.