The Commissioner provides independent and objective scientific reporting to inform policy-makers, scientists and the wider Victorian public on the state’s natural environment.
In 2003, the first Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability was appointed after the Victorian Parliament passed the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Act.
Dr Gillian Sparkes is Victoria’s third Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability.
The Commissioner’s role according to the Act, is to:
- review and report on the condition of Victoria’s environment
- encourage decision-making that facilitates ecologically sustainable development
- enhance knowledge and understanding of issues relating to ecologically sustainable development and the environment, and
- encourage Victorian and local governments to adopt sound environmental practices and procedures.
The Commissioner does this by:
- preparing the five-yearly State of the Environment Report
- preparing the five-yearly State of the Marine and Coasts – per Marine and Coastal Act 2018 and replaces 2016 State of the Bays report
- preparing the five-yearly State of the Yarra and its Parklands – per the Yarra Protection Act (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) 2017
- preparing the five-yearly State of the Forests – per the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004
- providing comprehensive Annual Reports
- undertaking annual Strategic Audit Reports of the implementation of environmental management systems by mandated Victorian Government agencies, and
- working and consulting with all sectors of the Victorian community.
Since 2015, the Commissioner has been referenced for seven new reporting functions for the first time since the role was established.
Approach to reporting
Dr Sparkes has developed two frameworks for environmental reporting reform in Victoria. 'Framework' in this context refers to the approach to science reporting for 'state of' reports to be prepared by the Commissioner.
In 2015, the State and Benefit framework was tabled in Parliament for the 2018 State of the Environment reporting cycle. In 2020, the Commissioner built on this work with a new guiding framework titled Science for Sustainable Development as part of the 2023 State of the Environment reporting cycle.
Science for Sustainable Development aligns Victoria’s approach to environmental reporting with international frameworks including the United Nation’s System of Environmental Economic Accounts (SEEA) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Functions of the Commissioner
Functions include to —
(a) prepare the Report on the State of the Environment of Victoria;
(b) prepare a report on—
(i) the environmental condition of Yarra River land; and
(ii) how the environmental condition of Yarra River land has changed since the last report on Yarra River land;
(c) conduct annual strategic audits of, and prepare reports on, the implementation of environmental management systems by Agencies and public authorities;
(d) advise the Minister in relation to any matter relating to ecologically sustainable development referred to the Commissioner by the Minister under section 10(2); (e) administer this Act.
Since 2015, the reporting functions of the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability extend past ‘state of’ to performance reporting functions including:
- Biodiversity targets - Protecting Victoria’s Environment: Biodiversity 2037
- Environmental water outcomes - Water for Victoria
Specific environmental incidents or situations are managed and reviewed by either the Environment Protection Authority, Victoria or the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning or other appropriate government agency. The Commissioner can be directed by the Minister according to section 10 of the Act.
Commissioner's work with the Minister
The Commissioner provides advice to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Hon Lily D’Ambrosio MP and prepares reports according to the Act.
By approval of the Minister, the Commissioner will:
- create a framework for the five-yearly State of the Environment Report
- must prepare and submit to the Minister a periodical Report on the State of the Environment of Victoria
- prepare and submit to the Minister a periodical report on the environmental condition of Yarra River land.
- appoint committees for the purpose of providing advice to the Commissioner, and
- establish a Reference Group for the purpose of providing advice to the Commissioner in respect of the performance of the functions of the Commissioner.
The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, the Hon Lily D'Ambrosio MP, provides the Commissioner with a Ministerial Statement of Expectations which sets out and prioritises Victoria's environmental reporting practices to ensure transparency and independence of the Commissioner's scientific reporting. View Ministerial Statement of Expectations.
Commissioner's Reference Group
The Commissioner's Reference Group provides advice and support to the Commissioner. The Reference Group is comprised of non-government members, identified and invited by the Commissioner, with a range of interests and expertise that support the work of the Office. The members represent a broad range of interests including environmental and industry associations and/or representatives, traditional owner and community, local government, energy and primary industries.