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Defence environmental management

Australian Army personnel from the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment take part in a training scenario during Chauvel Cup 2017.
Australian Army personnel from the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment take part in a training scenario during Chauvel Cup 2017.

Defence is one of the largest landholders in Australia and is responsible for vast tracts of diverse and geographically dispersed maritime, land and aerospace areas. Theseareas are essential to Defence capability and are significant national assets, comprising important environmental values and ecological systems.

As the custodian of the environment within which it operates, Defence is committed to responsibly managing its natural assets and meeting its environmental obligations.

Defence’s environmental vision, articulated in the Defence Environmental Policy and Defence Environmental Strategy 2016–2036, is to be a leader in sustainable environmental management to support the ADF capability to defend Australia and its national interests.

Defence is committed to implementing programs aimed at building energy resilience, improving energy efficiency, reducing energy costs, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Approximately 80 per cent of Defence’s total energy consumption consists of fuel used for aircraft, ships, tanks and other vehicles to support ADF activities, with the remaining consumption being electricity and gas consumed in offices and other estate facilities.

Defence is committed to reducing its energy consumption and carbon emissions, particularly in non-operational and support activities.

Defence has a number of programs in place to reduce its energy consumption, including a renewable energy program, an ecologically sustainable development program and the Smart Infrastructure Manual.

For example, Defence awarded a contract to Indigenous company Kenjarhy Solar, which completed the installation of 220 kilowatts of solar panels across three Defence sites in the Northern Territory and Queensland in 2016.

Defence is also working with Carnegie Clean Energy to install a microgrid consisting of 2 megawatts of solar, 0.5 megawatts of battery storage and up to 1.5 megawatts of wave energy at HMAS Stirling, Western Australia. Once completed, the project will be the largest embedded, grid-connected solar and battery microgrid in Australia.

Defence properties often contains significant native vegetation, threatened species and cultural heritage sites. This is a result of their size, restricted access, and the fact that, where possible, Defence properties are actively managed to protect environmental values. This feature of Defence properties is most apparent in urban fringes, where the pressures on natural systems from clearing and urban encroachment are often greatest.

Defence regularly undertakes environmental management activities with neighbouring land managers. In December 2016, Defence partnered with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Fitzroy Basin Association to reduce the number of feral pigs at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland.

As part of the Shoalwater Bay pest animal management program, Defence is also focused on the protection of vulnerable shorebird nests and the internationally significant Ramsar wetlands. Defence is committed to general pest management across the entire Defence estate to reduce environmental and economic harm stemming from pest species.

Defence’s commitment to responsibly managing its natural assets is further demonstrated through the recent partnership with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) to manage the Yampi Sound Training Area in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

Recognising Yampi’s environmental significance, Defence established a contract with AWC in 2016 to provide land management and conservation services specifically aimed at protecting the endangered species that live on the property through controlled fire regimes, and pest and weed control.

This partnership enables Defence to meet its environmental goals by integrating a contemporary business model with the land management and conservation practices of the traditional owners, the Dambimangari people.

Contamination from unexploded ordnance and other harmful substances such as asbestos and per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) remains a significant management issue and financial liability for Defence. Ongoing remediation works such as the Mulwala Explosives Facility groundwater remediation project continue to successfully clean up legacy contamination.

Defence has completed a range of activities to manage the impacts of PFAS on, and in the vicinity of, affected Defence bases around Australia. Fifteen sites have commenced detailed environmental investigations, with three further sites to commence shortly.

During 2016–17, Defence completed a review and draft update of its pollution prevention manual, including 10 specific pollution prevention guidelines. The Defence water quality monitoring manual was also updated and published.

Where legacy contamination issues are identified, Defence is proactive in investigating the nature, extent and consequences of contamination, and developing cost-effective, risk-based management responses.

Although Defence has already achieved considerable progress in achieving environmental outcomes in support of capability, compliance and sustainability, we still have more work to do to achieve the environmental vision. The Defence Environmental Strategy 2016–2036, along with Defence’s environmental policy and plan, lay out the foundations for achieving this aim.