Managing Environmental Sustainability

Kate AutyKate Auty
Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability


You can also listen to the interview (MP3 8.7MB).

Miyuki Jokiranta:

Welcome to the La Trobe University Podcast. My name is Miyuki Jokiranta and I'll be your host today. I'm sitting here with Kate Auty, the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability. Welcome, Kate.

Kate Auty:

Thanks very much for having me.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

Not a problem. Could you tell me Kate a little bit about your position and your background on how you came to be there.

Kate Auty:

OK. The Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability is set up through a piece of legislation for your law students. It's called the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Act 2003. The positions been running now since 2003 and the previous incumbent was Dr. Ian McPhail, who's some of your student body will know as a person who was involved with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in a previous act and retired in May and I commenced in July.

My background is that of a lawyer and I was not a lawyer and had different skills and a different skills set. So, it's a bit of a change for the organization, it's a bit of a change for me.

I've been in the job now for three months and over that time, we've been engaged in a lot of community consultation, responding to people's requests for information, drafting our business plan, working on our strategic plan, getting our annual report together and having a little good how we might do the state of the environment report differently in the next little while.

My organization does two significant things byway functions under the act. The first is that we produce a state of the environment report and there's a massive document out that was produced by the previous and incumbent and his team at the end of last year, which I'd urge anyone that wants to have a look at and if they don't want to look at the big document, 'The Digest', they can look at the fact sheets there on the website.

The other thing we do is we ordered, strategically ordered government departments and agencies compliance with internal environmental management systems and we've been doing that since we started. That's an annual review and it's a review that's informed by the material they've provided to us. So, they collect the data provided to us. We then analyze it and make recommendations.

The other things that we can do in the act include enhancing and engaging with the community about ecologically sustainable development generally, and also involving local government.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

Fantastic. That's a lot of content there.

Kate Auty:

Yes. Well, my background is in law, and in law I've worked extensively in aboriginal affairs. I've been very involved in community consultation in the aboriginal community leading into things like the Koori Court Establishment in Victoria and aboriginal sentencing courts in Western Australia.

I've got up masses of environmental science and I've thought graduate certificate of Environment Heritage Interpretation to aboriginal, non-aboriginal students as a function of that.

Most recently, I've been a Charles La Trobe Fellow with the La Trobe University where I was writing up aboriginal sentence in courts but I was invited to take on this job of the commissioner and to that extent I resigned the - or relinquish the fellowship where I was taking on - taking on board in relation to fellowship.

I was also the chairperson for the Ministerial of Reference Council on Climate Change Adaptation and a member of the Premier's Climate Change Group.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

And do you see a strong connection with your background in these affairs and your current job as in environmental sustainability?

Kate Auty:

Absolutely. In fact, a lot of what happens in aboriginal affairs is replicated in the environment movement and in environment issues generally, and we have similar issues about Federal State concerns. We have the conflicts associated with that. There are administrations that deal with environment across spectrums.

We've got a situation where there are lots of non-governmental organizations that are always struggling for resources and for traction and the same applies in the aboriginal issues industry, if you could call it that, and also environmental affairs. So, the reality is that they're very similar and if you learned some skills in one generally portable I would have thought.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

So, obviously thus the awareness rather environmental sustainability is increased exponentially over the past decade, let's say, are there any issues specifically that you find more pressing than others and therefore concentrated and focused in your work?

Kate Auty:

I think that we need to be making sure we do something about climate change quite obviously and that's just a no-brainer. I've been really impressed in the time I've spent around the country to find that there are, in fact, very few climate change deniers left.

I've been into couple of forums where we've been discussing the government's green paper on climate change and climate change adaptation. And I've been impressed with the fact that whoever does in fact deny climate change hasn't been attending those meetings if they still exist. I'm sure they still do, that they haven't been attending the meetings.

And I've been really impressed with the range of people who are really engaged with those questions. One of the things we're doing in my office this year is having a look at education and in fact, environmental education. And I've been really impressed with how that's also gained traction in particular and interestingly in primary schools, we need to do some work from what sustainability Victoria are telling us on, you'll be surprised it is a group, which is the 15 to 24-year-old young males. They don't appear to be taking much interest.

Miyuki Jokiranta:


Kate Auty:

In questions about the environment from what Sustainability Victoria tells us. But I've been really impressed with the engagement and I think it's change over the last five years, I think that there's been a real speed up in respect of community desired to know and community informing itself.

What's been impressive to me is just how much the community business and government all coming on board in relation to the whole question that we need to get something done about climate change. There's a lot of talk at the moment about a climate change bill leading to a climate change act for Victoria and I think would think that would be a significant achievement.

It would show leadership, it would deal with questions of equity, which need to be addressed and it would give us something to be working on in terms of regulating and managing conduct associated with the issues.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

I noticed it's Enviroweek this week.

Kate Auty:

It is.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

And I've noticed a lot of big businesses have come on board to, you know, either promote products that they've already generated, they've already created or then sort of established products and moving forward.

Do you see this as a lasting engagement with Enviroweek, or the kind of ideas around Enviroweek, or is it more of, I mean, without being too much of a climate change skeptic sort of a more promotional tool?

Kate Auty:

Look. I think it's both and I think that if people are using it as a promotional tool, that's not something we need to dissuade them from doing which is needed to persuade them to do it next week, as well. And the other thing about the question of business engaging with these issues is that they don't really want to be left in the cold.

This is some very interesting stuff happening at the moment with ECO-Buy, which is a Victorian company, which should be aware of, which originally been funded by the government that which is going to have to seek its own funding.

That particular group is making sure that green products or green procurement is getting out there and being picked up by people and I’d urge everybody who's got an interest in green procurement to have a look at what's happening there.

I've been impressed in relation to companies and businesses that I've been talking to about how they're doing stuff in office and then picking up on the need to have environmental management systems in house. And amongst those things, quite interestingly, I was just up at the EPA, which of course is a government instrumentality in Wangaratta.

And the EPA has implemented through staff, it's a voluntary thing. Their own cap and trade within the office, which means that of course, you get whatever you're going to trade and you don't want to be driving the Ford Falcon if it's going to be on your cap and trade statistics.

People have been very conscious about regulating their own conduct. And I'd urge anybody who wants to have a look at that to give that some thought, might be something that if La Trobe hasn't already got it under way, they might like think about it.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

That's quite good, I think, example of filtering down through the organization and individual carbon footprint that then sort of can get, you know, that sets of the examples that's precedent for a larger infrastructure that's quite interesting.

I just wanted to sort of expand a little on the programs that you and your team are implementing and to wrap up a little around, sort of what you see the next few steps in terms of your program and your team.

Kate Auty:

OK. Legislation requires us to put together a framework to which we work in relation to our state of the environment report and that's the next thing we'll be doing. We need to be really proactive about our state of the environment reports so it's not a document that we produce at the end of five years that we try and be engaged a little in real time producing material that's useful, accessible and meaningful to people.

So, the framework is going to be re-assessed. We'll finish our ordered off-government departments and agencies in January this year tabling that through the ministerial table at the first of our proceedings after the 31st of January.

And that will be examining what in fact is happening in government departments about their environmental compliance. And as we're doing all of that, we're also really committed to engaging with Regional Victoria and talking to people about the issues that they see on the ground.

I think we need to make sure we encourage that dialogue and we need to be really forthright about its importance to all of us. And I think we may have not necessarily realized how important regions are to us in the past.

The other thing is that we'll be engaging with Rural Women's Networks and I've got some meetings coming up in the next little while about that. And we're also engaging with aboriginal people about their concerns and in particular, arising out of the Ministerial Reference Council that I was on.

We've got a year-to-year climate change group meeting that we run regularly, which is involving Monash Academics who were involved in the Monash Sustainability Institute. So, there's a lot of things happening about community engagement dialogue conversations and getting people to talk to us about their concerns. We're listening and making sure it's reflected in the work we do.