Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) evaluates the environmental impact of policies, plans and programs (or strategic proposals/decisions). The objective of SEA is to mainstream the environmental consideration at the earlier phase of decision making and improved governance through reducing administrative burden via avoiding project level EIA and duplication along the ministries (Fischer 2007; Therivel 2010; Fundingsland Tetlow and Hanusch 2012).
Australia has more than 30 years of expeirnce of evaluating PPPs (policies, plans and programs) under different legislative mechanisms. In May 1992 the Australian Commonwealth, all States (6) and Territories (2) and Australian Local Government Association, signed the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE). The signatories agreed that ‘environmental issues associated with a proposed project, program or policy will be taken into consideration in the decision making process’. Clearly, the IGAE enveloped the principle of SEA (Kelly et al. 2012). Following this after an extensive review of Environment Protection (Impact of Proposal) Act 1974, in 1999 Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act came into force. This Act formally introduced SEA in Australian legislative context. Before this SEA was informally applied to propsals nationally and regionally but no mandatory or formal bindings (Marsden 2013b). Section 146 of EPBC Act introduced the discretionary provison of SEA in all sectors excepts for fishery which has been made mandatory by Section 147 (Ashe and Marsden 2011).
Extent to which SEA became a Central Component of Decision Making
The voluntary nature of Section 146 resulted poor take-up of SEA by the proponents through producing only two cases of discretionary SEA untill 2006. Government amended the EPBC Act at 2006 to provided incentive to the proponents of SEA through keeping the provision that those PPPs which is already endorsed under Section 146 can be approved by the minister without making further assessmement such as EIA (Ashe and Marsden 2011). That amendment triggered 4 completed SEA and 12 on-going SEA till date among which majority is for spatial developemnt planning (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities 2013b; Stoeglehner et al. 2010). In contrast 120 SEAs in fisheries sector has been performed due to its legal bindings and provision of incentives in return in the form of export license (Marsden 2013a). In addition to that SEA is also performing well in other niche areas such as National Environmen Prtoection Measures and Australia’s foreign aid program (Ashe and Marsden 2011).
Four of Australia's states now have legislative requirements for SEA that relate to environmental planning and protection (New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania), and the two self governing territories also have some SEA provision (Marsden and Ashe 2006). The objectives of...