First meeting of National Sustainability Council

Thursday, 08 November, 2012

A commitment to provide the public with reliable and easily accessible information and give robust, independent advice to the government on sustainability was a key outcome from the first meeting of Australia’s National Sustainability Council, held on 5 November 2012.

The council and a set of sustainability indicators for Australia were announced by the Hon Tony Burke MP, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, on 23 October 2012.

The council will draw upon members’ combined wealth of expertise, experience and relationships across the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability, and will bring their own unique perspectives on issues impacting Australia’s long-term future.

The council noted that sustainability is a broad concept covering a range of issues and encompassing concepts of wellbeing, the balance between natural, social and economic resources, and intergenerational equity. Members agreed that it will be important to take into account views from other experts and stakeholders in fulfilling its role, and options for consulting with these groups were canvassed.

The council had a preliminary discussion about its approach to delivering the public report on the indicators and agreed that it would include discussion on trends relating to sustainability and potential trade-offs, synergies and tipping points.

Members were updated on the domestic and international context that informed the development of the sustainability indicators for Australia and were provided with an overview of the sustainability indicator set.

The council noted the opportunities for its work to assist in informing the Australian Government’s approach to international discussions around sustainable development goals and measures beyond GDP.

Members agreed it will be important to highlight the way sustainability issues play out differently in communities across Australia, noting that there are often limitations in data availability below national and state levels.

The council also noted its role to provide advice to the government on potential improvements to the sustainability indicators - including with regards to the resolution and frequency at which data is available - to optimise the report’s usefulness for decision-makers and planners in communities, business and governments across Australia.

It was agreed that the council will meet once more in 2012 and again in early 2013. The council also agreed that it will release a communiqué after each meeting, as part of its role in building public understanding of sustainability issues and supporting engagement with stakeholders.

The chair of the council, Professor John Thwaites, was joined at the meeting by members Rod Glover, Dr Tom Hatton PSM, Professor Graeme Hugo AO, Mark Joiner, Romilly Madew, Sam Mostyn and Professor Sue Richardson AM, together with ex-officio members Peter Harper (Australian Bureau of Statistics) and Malcolm Thompson (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities).

More information on council and the sustainability indicators is at www.environment.gov.au/sustainability/measuring.

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