Assessing the evolution of Victoria’s environment portfolio

A new report by Dr Brian Coffey contributes to a better understanding of Victoria’s environment portfolio, how it has evolved, and how it might be improved.

The report, Towards good environmental governance? Assessing the evolution of Victoria’s environment portfolio provides foundational insights into an increasingly important, but relatively overlooked, the area of government and public administration—the environment portfolio.

It was launched in the Victorian Parliamentary Library on Thursday 7 March 2019, by Professor John Thwaites, who was Victoria’s Minister for Environment from 2002 to 2007.

The research, undertaken as part of a Victorian Parliamentary Library Fellowship awarded to Brian, focuses on how successive state governments in Victoria have contributed to building institutional structures for environmental governance (and their overall trajectory of reform), rather than focussing on electoral fortunes, internal party machinations, individual environmental issues, or the details of specific legislation or policies.

The aim of this exploratory research project, therefore, was to provide an account of the establishment of Victoria’s environment portfolio, how it has evolved to meet changing priorities, and what might be done into the future. Specific areas of inquiry include:

  • Establishment of the portfolio
  • Legislation allocated to the portfolio
  • Chronology of Victoria’s Ministers for the Environment
  • Government departmental machinery arrangements.

The approach to research was informed by policy analysis, portfolio studies, and contemporary history.

Relatively little is known about the environment portfolio despite the considerable attention that issues such as climate change, and biodiversity degradation demand. In effect, ministers responsible for environment portfolios are at the centre of environmental debate and are responsible for treading a delicate path through difficult political and administrative terrain.

The report finds that considerable institution-building has occurred since the establishment of the environment portfolio in Victoria, in 1972. This means Victoria can be considered as having a relatively mature system of environmental governance: it has arrangements in place that can provide a basis for managing many issues.

However, the effectiveness of these arrangements can be questioned given the environmental challenges facing Victoria now and into the future. Part of the problem is that the frequent restructuring of the portfolio and machinery of government, and lack of coherent overall strategy (or the means for implementing such a strategy) limits the possibilities for achieving more integrated environmental governance.

Brian argued that “this assessment is not intended to disparage what has been achieved: it is simply to emphasize that a more coherent and systematic approach is needed if Victoria is to effectively manage the environmental challenges that it faces”.

Two major elements are identified which could underpin such an approach are:

(1) embracing sustainable development as the conceptual and practical heart of government and

(2) embracing integration so that environmental objectives are fully considered in all aspects of decision making.

Such an approach could be based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and informed by OECD guidelines, Sweden’s system of environmental objectives, and Victoria’s previous sustainability initiatives.

Embracing sustainable development and integration would provide the Government and people of Victoria with a more robust approach to pursuing long-term environmental and sustainable development objectives.

This is a critical challenge facing all governments around the world as they grapple with the ecological, social and economic consequences of human activities.

Copies of the report are available via the Parliament of Victoria website:

Towards good environmental governance? Assessing the evolution of Victoria’s environment portfolio

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