National governance structures and progress reporting
This chapter summarises suggestions from the evidence on improving the national
governance of the SDGs, and tracking Australia's performance against the goals.
Proposals included 'localising' the SDGs for the Australian context through the
development of an implementation plan with national targets and a regular
reporting mechanism. Other suggestions included establishing a new coordination
team, and increasing the integration of the SDGs within Australian Government agencies.
Current approach to national coordination
Submissions generally agreed that the Australian Government should coordinate
the national implementation of the SDGs and adopt a whole of government
approach involving cooperation between relevant agencies and sectors.
This was largely preferred because it would address the 'very significant and
important interdependencies, inter-relations and connections between the 17
The Australian Academy of Science and Future Earth Australia (FEA) cautioned:
...a siloed approach to the goals can easily result in
responses and strategies to advance a particular goal resulting in deleterious
effects on others. Conversely a holistic view of the SDGs has the potential to
enable synergies and trade-offs across both the goals themselves and the
various sectors and stakeholders involved.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) asserted that
Australia is adopting a whole of government approach to the SDGs consistent
with 'many countries, including China, Japan, Mexico, Finland, Norway, Timor
Leste, Fiji and Tuvalu'.
Mr Chris Tinning, First Assistant Secretary, DFAT explained the Australian
Government's decision to 'mainstream' the SDGs:
...across government and to keep with the longstanding
budgetary and policy process that we have, and to build on those when it came
to collaboration with stakeholders and making decisions about priorities across
government. We've obviously got the cabinet as the peak body for doing that,
and relevant ministers. The decision was...to mainstream the SDG agenda into what
we already have rather than create something new.
The following sections describe the details of the current approach.
DFAT and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) co-chair
a Deputy Secretary-level interdepartmental committee (IDC) on the SDGs,
established prior to the release of Australia's first Voluntary National Review
(VNR). Mr Jason McDonald, then Acting Chief Adviser of the Domestic Policy
Group, PM&C, emphasised that 'an IDC process would not have that level of
representation unless it was a very serious issue that the government was
interested in making sure was well coordinated'. He contended
that the 'IDC process itself is a very powerful tool and will continue the
seeding of the SDGs throughout government'.
Other groups that supported the development of the VNR included a First
Assistant Secretary (FAS) working group chaired by DFAT; a VNR Task Team of
executive level staff across government; an internal DFAT reference group; and
working groups on communications and data.
While it appears that some of these groups were disbanded following the
presentation of the VNR in July 2018, the committee was assured that the IDC
would operate indefinitely, and would meet at least twice in the 12 months
following the hearing on 24 August 2018.
Mr McDonald indicated that the IDC can happen on an as-needed basis like the
In 2017 it was indicated that there were no plans to formally release minutes
from the IDC or other working groups.
The IDC allows agencies to share best practice:
...which started to happen at the last meeting as well,
particularly with Defence and some of their ideas...That's the kind of model that we
have going forward. It will be sharing information, updating information and
having best practice in terms of accountability.
The IDC has also had discussions with representatives from business and
non-profit stakeholders, and this practice is expected to continue.
An international analogue to the IDC may be the central coordinating
body for the German Sustainable Development Strategy, the State Secretaries'
Committee, chaired by the Head of the Federal Chancellery and supported by a
This body is the contact point for government stakeholders and updates the
German National Sustainable Development Strategy.
Unlike Germany, Australia does not have a national strategy or plan for
Some submissions called for clearer communication regarding the IDC. The
University of Sydney questioned its effectiveness, noting it 'has had very
Mr Lachlan Hunter, National Executive Director of the United Nations Association
of Australia (UNAA) identified the absence of an 'obvious reporting mechanism
or known contact list for the SDGs across government agencies'.
Responsibility for specific goals
Responsibility for each goal was allocated to an Australian Government
agency, as shown in the table from DFAT's submission below.
Table 1—Government agencies for domestic reporting on the
Sustainable Development Goals for the Voluntary National Review
|These reporting responsibilities
reflect domestic reporting. As identified in this submission, DFAT's overseas
activities contribute to all SDGs.
||End poverty in all its
||Social Services; PM&C; ABS; Home Affairs (EMA)
||End hunger, achieve food
security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
||Agriculture and Water
||Ensure healthy lives and
promote well-being for all at all ages
||Ensure inclusive and
equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for
||Education and Training
||Achieve gender equality and
empower all women and girls
||Ensure availability and
sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
||Agriculture and Water
Resources; Environment and
||Ensure access to
affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
||Environment and Energy; Industry, Innovation and Science
inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and
decent work for all
||Treasury; Jobs and Small Business; ABS
infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and
Development and Cities; Industry,
Innovation and Science; Communications and the Arts
||Reduce inequality within
and among countries
||Treasury; Social Services; Home Affairs
||Make cities and human
settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Development and Cities;
Communications and the Arts; Home Affairs (EMA)
consumption and production patterns
||Environment and Energy; Agriculture and Water Resources; Finance
||Take urgent action to
combat climate change and its impacts
||Environment and Energy; Home Affairs (EMA)
||Conserve and sustainably
use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
||Environment and Energy; Agriculture and Water Resources; Home Affairs
(Maritime Border Command); Infrastructure Regional Development and
Cities (Australian Maritime Safety Authority)
||Protect, restore and
promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage
forests, combat desertification, and half and reverse land degradation and
halt biodiversity loss
||Environment and Energy; Agriculture and Water Resources
||Promote peaceful and
inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice
for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all
||Strengthen the means of
implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable
||DFAT; Treasury; ABS
Source: DFAT, Submission
60, pp. 17–18.
Some agencies have mapped their responsibilities in more detail, such as
the Attorney-General's Department, which provided a table showing which agencies
shared responsibilities for the targets supporting Goal 16.
Agencies are also responsible for contributing data to the Australian
Government's online reporting platform on the SDG indicators, launched in July
2018. Mr Tinning, DFAT, explained:
Each department is responsible for making sure that the
latest available data is on the SDG website, and we're going to have that as a
standing agenda item on the IDC agenda to remind people that that's their
More detail is provided on the reporting platform later in the chapter.
Very few submitters opposed the approach illustrated above, but those who did
raised concerns that it risks replicating existing silos between agencies and
failing to identify and address potential synergies and trade-offs between the
Leadership of the 2030 Agenda
DFAT submitted that it and PM&C have been 'leading a process to
ensure whole-of-government coordination on how to best give effect to the 2030
Agenda, domestically and internationally' including the drafting of the first
PM&C stated elsewhere that it 'is not leading on domestic implementation,
rather, responsibility for the SDGs has been decentralised to promote agency
In December 2018, Mr McDonald, PM&C explained that no one Australian
Government agency holds authority over SDGs implementation by other agencies.
When asked if anyone has reviewed the inclusion of the SDGs in agency annual
reports, he reiterated that it 'would be up to each individual agency'.
Annual reports are the key reporting tool of all government agencies,
and in recent years, a number have referred to the SDGs. Some variety has been
evident in the approach and extent of the information provided. For example,
the recent PM&C annual report included an appendix on the SDGs.
In contrast, the SDGs were mentioned in different sections of the 2017–18 annual
reports of the Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE) and DFAT. Many
agencies that referred to the SDGs in their annual reports noted their
contributions to the VNR process and other events or stakeholder consultation
processes. Agencies tended not to include data on how they were making positive
or negative contributions to the SDGs. At least one 'lead' agency did not refer
to the SDGs in its most recent annual report at all.
Mr McDonald described the approach at interdepartmental meetings:
We go around the table, and everyone provides an update on
where they're up to. Because the government's point of view is that the SDGs
are consistent with current government policy, to the extent that they have to
deliver government policy they're also delivering the SDGs. So there's that
kind of accountability, which is the primary accountability.
He added that discussion at the executive level 2 group was a bit more
intensive around setting consistent standards for data, but noted that 'beyond
that different agencies will have different levels and standards that they are
keen to meet'.
Evidence indicated that the Australian Government's approach to the SDGs
is not well understood and that this, in part, may be because the overarching
leadership responsibilities are unclear. When responding to a question from the
committee about PM&C's domestic coordination through the agencies, Mr Hunter,
UNAA asserted that 'there is a big gap in what is on paper and what is actually
He argued that the activities of the IDC are unclear to some agencies.
Ms Lavanya Kala, Policy Manager, Volunteering Australia reflected: 'I haven't
really seen PM&C to have been the lead on this'.
A teacher at Forrest Primary School explained that it had been harder to find
information on what is happening in Australia than internationally.
The perceived lack of clarity may reinforce the misconception that the
SDGs relate exclusively to developing countries; thereby limiting opportunities
for domestic action.
Professor John Thwaites, Chair of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute
(MSDI), said that while 'DFAT have played a really good leadership role' and
there is 'a lot of commitment from within DFAT to see the goals implemented in
Australia...they have limited ability to achieve that'.
The Centre for Policy Development (CPD) argued that 'the most powerful
contribution Australia can make to advancing the goals is genuinely rising to
the challenge of sustainable development at home'. Dr Cassandra
Goldie, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council of Social Service
One of the strengths of the SDGs is a strong focus on both
the international and domestic arenas, and we would like to see the Australian
government equally pay attention to its obligations and frameworks for action
at the domestic level.
Many submissions contended that PM&C should have a clearer
leadership and coordination role to promote the domestic implementation of the
DFAT led the preparation of Australia's first VNR. The VNR was released in June 2018, and presented the following month to
the UN High Level Political Forum on sustainable development, the central
platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda.
DFAT's expenses relating to the VNR totalled $402,746.35.
DFAT and PM&C wrote to state and territory governments to provide information
on the VNR process and seek input.
Agencies also undertook stakeholder outreach, calling for case
studies, chiefly through websites, and more than 300 case studies were
received, reflecting genuine interest in the national review.
There was evidence to the committee about limited time for public consultation,
as well as the need for particular strategies to work with disability sectors
and First Nations.
Again, the awareness of the process, and resulting engagement, was varied,
although the pre-VNR roundtable discussions were welcomed as 'very, very
useful, highly engaged and extremely positive'.
The 'formal civil society response at the high-level forum acknowledged
that Australia's report was prepared in an inclusive manner and noted our
commitment to data and transparency as a central theme of reporting against the
Australia also 'received very positive feedback' relating to Wiradjuri artist Jordana
Angus's artwork, and because Mr Duane Fraser, an Indigenous youth leader and
Wulgurukaba and Bidjara man, spoke very well as part of the Australian
The VNR 'takes a narrative approach, addressing each of the SDGs'.
It describes Australian initiatives at the domestic, regional and global
levels. The VNR primarily includes examples from the national level, as well as
some from state, territory and local levels of government. It also includes
contributions from civil society, the private sector, academia, communities and
individuals. The VNR was accompanied
by a data chapter that 'covers Australia's approach to data and how we will
report against the SDG Indicators', and lists 'existing national policy
frameworks that are relevant to the achievement of the SDGs'.
A media article noted that:
Most of the national policies outlined in the report were
developed for other reasons, and some have been around for years or decades.
Examples are the National Disability Strategy, which dates back to pre-2010, or
the National Drought Policy, which began in 1992. In other words, at the
national level, the report emphasises what we have already been doing—not new
initiatives explicitly related to the goals.
A witness from ACOSS argued that the narrative approach highlights:
...specific program initiatives that might go some way to
ameliorating disadvantage for a very specific subgroup but not pointing to any
kinds of structural reforms that might deal with, certainly, the poverty and
inequality issues which are at the heart of the headline goals.
Ms Andrea Spencer-Cooke, Partner at One Stone Advisors, said that the
VNR 'missed an opportunity to set out national priorities and bold targets for
Professor Graciela Metternicht, UNSW Faculty of Science, noted that the VNR 'lacks
detail on what the next steps are for the government' and contains 'little or
no assessment of indicators of baseline data and there is no reference to
A baseline 'is the initial measurement of information collected prior to the
start of a programme' that 'serves as a point of reference to evaluate
She concluded that as Australia 'didn't have an assessment of the country's
baseline at 2015...it will be a bit difficult to show how we trend and how we
progress from now up to 2030'.
Despite these concerns, a witness commented that the VNR process 'has
done a huge amount to raise awareness more generally and engagement, and the
real challenge now is to harness that enthusiasm'.
Australia has committed to present at least two VNRs prior to 2030.
As noted earlier, Australia's first VNR was presented in June 2018. Ten
countries are expected to present their second VNRs in 2019.
The committee did not receive information on when Australia will present its
next VNR, and whether it will present more than two. Ms Spencer-Cooke suggested
the government consider presenting an interim VNR in five years.
Submitters and participants in the 2018 Australian SDGs Summit expressed
varying views on the mechanisms needed to implement the SDGs in Australia, 'ranging
from the need only for integration of the agenda into existing frameworks and
policies, and not creating new entities or structures, and the need for new and
dedicated central coordination structures'.
So far, this chapter has outlined the Australian Government's current approach
to implementation. The following sections summarise additional suggestions from
submissions, including the creation of a national implementation plan, national
coordination body and greater integration of the SDGs within Australian
Government departments and agencies.
National implementation plan
Mr Tinning, DFAT, responded to calls for a national implementation plan:
There is no national plan on the SDGs across government, and
I think that is where the difference of view is. The SDGs are a very broad
agenda. They cover health, education, agriculture et cetera. The government's
approach is for the relevant department to take forward that agenda within
their space. So there is no single plan...
Many submissions raised concerns that Australia's progress against the
SDGs is constrained by the lack of a plan. Dr Goldie described it as a 'major
gap', and GNCA cautioned that without a national plan 'this
delegated/decentralised model of accountability may result in missed
opportunities of scale and partnership and may make addressing the interrelated
nature of the SDGs more challenging'.
The International Women's Development Agency (IWDA) stressed that '[c]oncrete
plans for implementation are key to translating policy commitments into action
and ensuring the Government will have progress to report'.
The committee heard strong, consistent calls from the majority of non-government
submitters for the development of a national implementation plan, including
national priorities and targets, specific financial commitments, regular
progress reviews and public reporting. Other submissions
advocated similar ideas using different terminology. Submissions
supporting some form of national plan came from international development,
civil society, academic and business sectors.
Many agreed that a plan should set out which government agencies are
responsible for progress on each goal, to 'enable consistency and coherence
between Departments and policy priorities, as well as accountability for action'.
CSIRO contended that it 'would be a major step forward for Australia to clearly
identify roles and actions within a cohesive framework that guides investment,
monitors progress and provides the necessary information for reporting'.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) suggested that a national
framework should detail government mechanisms to coordinate action and identify
commitments and timelines.
One Stone Advisors suggested a plan should be able to be 'localised and
adapted by state governments and local authorities'.
Others proposed a plan could raise awareness of the SDGs across business, civil
society and academia and guide their implementation efforts.
For example, the investment community lacks an:
...overarching framework that says: this is where we need to
get to, these are some of the gaps in some of the SDG, and, as a nation, how do
we work collaboratively to ensure capital is aligned with business and
government to hit the targets we're aiming for? Without that overarching
blueprint and plan, we're all shooting a little bit blind here.
While almost all non-government submitters concurred on the need for a
plan, there were some points of difference between proposals. For instance,
some suggested that a plan should cover implementation in both Australia and
overseas through the aid program. A few
suggested that a plan should include a strategy for communicating about the
AHRC proposed that a national framework should be supported by a series of
'rolling four-year action plans for engagement
and implementation', similar to those on ending family violence against women
and children, and closing the gap.
While countries vary in their approach to the SDGs, a range of countries
have already aligned their national strategies with the SDGs.
The 2030 Agenda encouraged member states to develop 'ambitious national
responses to the overall implementation of this Agenda' that 'build on existing
A review of the VNRs presented in 2017 directed countries to:
Fully integrate the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs into national
plans and strategies based on an evaluation of existing policies, approaches
and progress to identify gaps, adapt policies and target areas where further
progress is needed. The fact that existing policies already align to the SDGs
is not sufficient.
A different review of the literature and VNRs presented in 2017 found
approximately one third of countries had developed an SDGs road map or plan,
including Belgium, Japan and Malaysia.
Nations that have been performing well against the SDGs such as Sweden,
Denmark, Finland, Germany, France and Norway 'typically have a national plan
for the SDGs, clear reporting mechanisms and the work is led by government from
within the office of the head of government or state'. Germany has aligned
its existing national development strategy with the SDGs, which includes both domestic and international measures.
It also includes 'goals with time frames for their attainment, indicators for
continuous monitoring, rules for management and definitions for institutional
Germany identified national indicators to monitor progress against SGDs, and an
indicator report will be published every two years.
Less frequent progress reports 'are prepared with public dialogue conferences,
comprising representatives of all sectors in society'. The strategy
is to be updated every four years.
Several submissions suggested that Australia should learn from Germany's
Other countries have developed action plans dedicated partly or wholly
to the SDGs.
Denmark, for instance, developed an action plan centred on the 5 Ps:
prosperity, people, planet, peace and partnerships.
These are supported by 37 national targets, and parliament will receive an
annual progress report.
The Danish Ministry of Finance has been made responsible for coordinating the
implementation of the SDGs to ensure they are integrated into domestic policy.
In Bangladesh, SDG targets have been assimilated into an Annual Performance
Agreement, a 'results-based performance management system, across the whole
spectrum of the public sector, assessing individual and ministries/agencies
Chapter 6 includes information on some of Australia's developing country
partners that have incorporated the SDGs into their national planning,
including Papua New Guinea.
DFAT has reached out to countries that have developed new national plans
or are integrating the 2030 Agenda into pre-existing plans, including Bangladesh,
Cambodia, China, Denmark, Fiji, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Samoa, Switzerland
When asked if it had considered the formulation of a strategy for sustainable
development as part of Australia's SDGs work, DFAT responded: 'No. The Government's
approach is to integrate the 2030 Agenda across all relevant policies,
strategies and programs'.
National priorities and targets
In addition to the global SDG targets, countries can identify national
...guided by the global level of ambition but taking into
account national circumstances. Each Government will also decide how these
aspirational and global targets should be incorporated into national planning
processes, policies and strategies.
The process of national target and indicator setting has been described
as 'localising' the SDGs, and it is useful because some global indicators are 'unsuitable
for Australia, as they are concerned with issues the Australian populace
currently do not face'.
It is also important because, as Mr Cameron Allen, UNSW Faculty of Science emphasised:
...unless countries effectively adopt measurable, clear,
realistic, time-bound targets the agenda is not really going to be implemented...I
think this is a real gap—we've done various things on the SDGs to date, but we
haven't really even looked at targets.
Many submissions that supported a national plan agreed that it should
clearly identify priorities and targets for Australia.
The expert literature also supports the development of 'a long-term national
vision with an agreed set of priority 2030 targets and indicators of particular
relevance for Australia'.
Mr Allen explained:
In my work with the UN, when we talk to countries about the
SDGs, we're not telling them to adopt 169 targets and 232 indicators. That's
just an impossible task for any country. We're telling them to prioritise, to
try to pick a selection of targets across all 17 goals, but the targets that
are of highest priority for your country, or most relevant for your country.
Submissions emphasised that the target-setting process should not equate
to 'cherry picking' particular goals, as this could 'risk weakening the
integrated framework of the Goals'. Instead, CSIRO argued a
plan should address the SDGs 'collectively rather than individually, including
the consideration of interactions between SDGs and the need for integrated
UNAA also promoted 'government approaching the goals as integrated, interlinked
The localisation process must also ensure 'that the capacity to make global
comparisons is not lost'.
As noted above, the Australian Government has launched an online reporting
platform on the SDGs. This includes data that addresses some of the global indicators
(or an approximation of them). However:
While every effort is being made to include datasets where
possible and appropriate, the Platform will not report against all 232 SDG
Indicators. Not all SDG Indicators are relevant or applicable for the Australian
context and in these cases it would not be a proper or efficient use of
resources to establish datasets that track them.
The reporting platform 'will be updated as more datasets are confirmed
and/or as the work program on the SDG Indicators progresses'.
Yet it appears that government has not undertaken the kind of consultative
target setting advocated in submissions. More detail is provided on the
reporting platform later in the chapter.
There are a variety of approaches to developing national targets, such
as identifying the areas where Australia performs worst in; addressing the SDGs
that have high social and economic return on investment; or investing in areas
where funding is falling short.
Some other approaches are outlined below.
Submissions generally agreed that government should consult broadly to
develop the national implementation plan, priorities and targets.
MSDI stated that the greatest 'benefit will come if there is a degree of common
ownership in these targets across levels of government and from different
IWDA further suggested that the plan should include 'concrete strategies to
support the inclusion of disadvantaged groups in design, delivery and reporting
on services and programs'.
A review of the literature and VNRs presented in 2017 found less than
half of the countries had undertaken a process to prioritise and adapt SDG
targets and indicators to national circumstances.
Some countries 'made their selections based on a mapping of existing available
data and priorities through a government-led process', however another review
stated that best practice entailed selecting national targets and indicators
through inclusive consultation.
The German Government held five public conferences, published a discussion
draft, and consulted with more than 40 associations to incorporate the SDGs
into its national strategy.
Alignment with existing priorities
Submissions also identified the opportunity to align national SDG
targets with existing Australian priorities.
The 2030 Agenda appears to encourage harmonisation, and notes that follow-up
and review processes will:
...build on existing platforms and processes, where these
exist, avoid duplication and respond to national circumstances, capacities,
needs and priorities. They will evolve over time, taking into account emerging
issues and the development of new methodologies, and will minimize the
reporting burden on national administrations.
For example, CSIRO called for the development of local indicators to be
aligned with existing reporting requirements, such as the State of the
The Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN) agreed indicators
should be aligned with existing schemes and 'reporting mechanisms harmonised
for consistent delivery'.
Another approach to setting priorities involves mapping the
interactions between SDGs. There may be 'trade-offs within the SDGs, for
example between food security and environmental sustainability'.
CSIRO commented that national indicators 'should allow for assessment of the
main synergies and trade-offs among the SDG's to identify actions that leverage
those assessments and maximise outcomes'.
It highlighted the benefits of this approach, showing that:
... identifying both positive and negative interactions, could
help us achieve global outcomes at a significantly lower cost through
thoughtful coordination of otherwise fragmented action. Likewise, identifying
trade-offs ahead of time could enable conflicts among objectives to be managed
before they become institutionalised.
ACOSS reasoned that funding is required to support any SDGs 'governance
and monitoring mechanisms, including resources for research and data collection
where there are data gaps, and for participation of key stakeholders'.
However, the Business Council for Sustainable Development Australia (BCSDA)
noted that it was not 'aware of any additional resources that have been
allocated for investigation or follow up'.
Poverty experts asserted that, as the Australian Government has not made any
funding available specifically for the SDGs, 'the transformative approach that
many argue is necessary to achieve the SDGs is entirely absent'.
Therefore, many submissions calling for a national implementation plan argued
that it should include funding commitments. For example, the Australian Council
for International Development (ACFID) stated:
A national plan should give a mandate to political and
bureaucratic mechanisms to coordinate and drive SDG action, and include
shorter-term targets as stepping stones to enable consistent progress towards
the 2030 deadline, supported by specific financial commitments.
A UN compendium on institutional arrangements noted that '[e]ven if the
SDGs are effectively transformed into strategies and plans, these plans are
unlikely to be successfully implemented if budgets are not aligned'.
A UN report observed that:
Budgets can be used to track support to specific targets,
identify opportunities for adjustment and constitute an incentive for alignment
and integration of programs with the SDGs. The cases of Mexico and Norway show
how the budgetary process can be utilized to advance cross-sectoral integration
and the 2030 Agenda.
Norway 'has developed a plan for national follow-up to the SDGs which is
linked to their budget process'.
Coordinating ministries report against the goals for which they are responsible
in budget proposals, which are then incorporated into the national budget white
When asked about plans for communicating Australia's performance against
the SDGs in addition to the reporting platform, Mr Tinning, DFAT, stated 'I
don't think there's any expectation of, for instance, annual reporting against
the SDGs beyond the voluntary national reviews, which will really bring it all
However, the committee heard a range of proposals for additional reporting
UN member states committed to 'regular and inclusive reviews of progress
at the subnational, national, regional and global levels'.
Reporting frameworks are essential for implementation as they 'provide an
impetus for action ('what gets reported gets done'), ensure accountability,
provide feedback on implementation success, create a coherent story on
wide-ranging actions, and provide an opportunity for ongoing public engagement'.
Some submissions explicitly suggested that targets and measurements be included
in a national implementation plan to 'pave the way to meeting the 2030
deadline', while others proposed reporting in addition to a plan.
Frequency and alignment with
existing reporting processes
Submitters were generally supportive of the Australian Government's existing
reporting initiatives, but indicated these did not sufficiently address the
need for regular analysis and reporting of Australia's progress.
As noted above, Australia has only committed to delivering one more VNR, though
the committee received evidence supporting 'regular monitoring and reporting
(e.g. every 3 years)'.
The 2030 Agenda does not define 'regular', but UN guidelines state that the
experience with the Millennium Development Goals 'underscores that more
frequent reviews supported the concerted national engagement needed to achieve
goals and targets'.
Submitters generally proposed annual or biennial reports,
such as SDSN Youth Australia/Pacific, which supported annual reviews 'to
identify previously-unseen issues' and 'implement corrective measures to drive
Professor Thwaites called for parliament to play 'a key role in oversighting
the regular performance of the goals' and advocated an annual progress report
The UN compendium noted that engaging parliaments can 'ensure that
accountability to people is enshrined in the implementation of the SDGs'.
Parliaments can use their legislative, budgetary, and oversight and monitoring
functions to help ensure that policies are integrated and supportive of the
SDGs, and several have instituted SDGs review processes.
As noted above, the Danish Parliament expects to receive annual progress reports,
and 'established a cross-party network bringing together members from standing
committees relevant to the 2030 Agenda'.
However, international evidence indicated that '[g]aps remain in engaging
parliaments, and in ensuring that the SDGs are not seen as the exclusive domain
of the executive branch'.
Several submissions suggested reporting against the SDGs should be
aligned with the five-yearly Intergenerational Reporting
process, because of the shared focus on intergenerational equity.
BCSDA proposed government and non-government expert stakeholders undertake an audit
as part of the Intergenerational Report process.
To avoid the over-reporting burden, others supported streamlining SDGs and
five-yearly State of the Environment reporting.
Indicator-based assessments and
As noted above, Australia's VNR is a collation of case studies, rather
than an assessment of performance against the indicators. The reporting
platform provides national data against SDG indicators, but does not interpret
what this represents about Australia's progress, as detailed
later in this chapter.
Professor Metternicht said:
The data portal is also a great initiative and provides a
useful centralised database where one can access official data on the SDGs.
However, there is no assessment of Australia's progress of performance on
indicators. Providing access to that is, of course, useful in itself, but
providing an assessment of Australia's progress integrating the meaning of
values reported for indicators would be a great, real value-add.
Several submissions suggested that data on Australia's performance
against SDG indicators should be collected and analysed regularly to enable
progress to be tracked over time.
Macquarie Sustainability argued that if Australia:
...is not performing well against one of the Goals, this must
be stated clearly, with the possible reasons why, and what is being done to
address the shortfall. The more honest, transparent and available the
information, the more civil society will embrace it and work to rectify gaps.
Professor Rod Glover, Deputy Director, MSDI, pointed to the Productivity
Commissions' five-yearly productivity reviews, noting that you can achieve 'more
when you start to think in terms of not only data but what the interpretation
of that data is for some sort of strategic insight about where we're going
well, where we're not going well and what the forces that are shaping them are'.
A few submissions suggested that reports could also detail initiatives and
plans supporting the SDGs.
Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, President of AHRC, recommended that the
VNR 'take a more analytical approach, linking policies and programs to
indicators, and identifying implementation gaps and what actions the government
will prioritise in the future'.
UN guidelines suggested that '[r]eports should not just describe trends in
indicators; they should analyse underlying causes behind the trends, and offer
policy suggestions to overcome obstacles and deal with emerging challenges'.
Subsequent VNRs could include:
...analysis of initiatives rolled out since the last VNR; how
challenges in implementation, including persistent challenges, were overcome; a
more in-depth coverage of good practices adopted or followed by the country and
lessons learned; and an analysis of new or emerging issues.
Data collection and disaggregation
Submissions agreed that the 'importance of data collection, reporting
and monitoring in a transparent manner cannot be overstated'.
The following sections summarise suggestions regarding disaggregating data and
the reporting platform.
A key principle underpinning the SDGs is the commitment to 'leave no one
behind'. To support this commitment, follow-up and review processes should be:
...based on evidence, informed by country-led evaluations and
data which is high-quality, accessible, timely, reliable and disaggregated by
income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic
location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.
They should also be 'people-centred, gender-sensitive, respect human
rights and have a particular focus on the poorest, most vulnerable and those
The collection of Australian data needs to be improved, as 'disaggregated data
needed to address all vulnerable groups...are sparse'.
Submissions identified some specific gaps, such as the need for time-use data and an agreed national definition of poverty.
Australia's first VNR noted that the disaggregation of data sets is an
'ongoing challenge', and DFAT stated that 'Australia is working to continuously improve data collection'.
IWDA acknowledged the government's efforts to address global gender data gaps,
and advocated additional support for the UN Women's Making Every Woman and Girl
Some submissions also commended the government's 'leadership and investment' in
the development of the Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM), and called for
support to 'ensure it is widely used'.
The IDM is a new, gender-sensitive and multidimensional measure of poverty. The
current IDM Program is a partnership between the Australian National
University, IWDA and the Australian Government through DFAT.
The VNR described Australia's support for the multi-stakeholder
Washington Group on Disability Statistics, which has developed tools to assist
data disaggregation by disability status.
Increasing the data sets disaggregated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
status will also be a focus for the Australian Government.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is supporting agencies 'in
finding data sources and understanding where they can be used according to the
It also works with the lead agencies when the UN agencies ask for reports relating
to various indicators.
The Australian Government is also working with a range of partners to gather
additional data on the SDGs, including the Australian National Development
Index (ANDI) and AURIN.
The Australian Government's online
reporting platform on the SDG indicators
A number of submissions called for the establishment of an SDGs data
sharing platform to encourage accountability and accelerate implementation and
A reporting platform was launched in July 2018.
Funded by DFAT, it was developed by DoEE and ABS to house Australian Government
DoEE engaged with United Kingdom and United States governments to learn from
their experiences developing platforms.
The Australian platform uses similar open source technology and runs on a
The approach was recommended by a taskforce on national reporting platforms, and allowed agencies to invest 'effort not in
a technology but, rather, in coordinating information that goes behind all of
The platform is expected to reduce the potential reporting burden and streamline
reporting for other purposes, such as the Sendai Framework and State of the
Some departmental officials indicated that the requirements for providing data
via the platform were manageable and did not represent too great a burden.
For example, the committee heard that the Department of Education and Training
is drawing on information that it 'would be reporting anyway or that would be
reported in international fora', and suggested it is more an issue of 'working
through the alignment with the SDG methodology'.
The platform indicates the status of Australian data collection against
all 232 global SDG indicators.
Each indicator is colour-coded based on whether data is reported or not (rather
than according to Australia's progress against the indicator). As of 30 January
118 indicators had Australian Government datasets included on the
work was underway to explore and identify data sources for 57
12 indicators were not reported because the indicators were
judged as irrelevant to Australia and the development of data sets was not seen
as an efficient or effective use of resources; and
57 indicators were not reported as the global methodology had not
Chapters 4 and 5 outline suggestions that the platform be expanded to
include data from state, territory and local governments and non-government
National coordination body
Many submissions proposed the establishment of new government bodies to
complement the IDC, particularly a national coordination secretariat and a representative
multi-sectoral reference group. Other countries have adopted a variety of SDGs
governance and coordination bodies, suggesting 'no single institutional model
is intrinsically more appropriate than the others'.
A recent UN report found:
In a sample of 60 countries, 27 had created a new structure
for SDG implementation (including 17 new cross-sectoral entities). SDG
implementation is chaired, coordinated or led by Heads of State and Government
in 27 countries [including Australia].
It would appear important that 'the institution leading SDG
implementation has sufficient clout, the ability to mobilise resources and the
vision and capacities necessary to plan SDG implementation in a comprehensive,
coherent and integrated way and in the whole country'.
The next sections summarise suggestions for the establishment of government coordination
bodies. Proposals for consultative mechanisms are outlined in chapter 5, which
covers partnerships beyond government.
National coordination secretariat
Many submissions called for the creation of a national government
secretariat to coordinate SDGs implementation across all levels of government,
academia, civil society and the private sector.
SDSN Australia/Pacific summarised this proposal:
Coordination on aspects of SDG implementation, such as
priorities, communication approach, information sharing, and measurement and
reporting, will help enhance uptake, improve efficiency, reduce transaction
costs and maximise collaboration. While different sectors and actors, including
SDSN Australia/Pacific, have been strongly active in helping to build
partnerships and coordinating efforts among sectors, our reach and resources
are limited. We strongly believe a national coordination hub or secretariat, funded
by the Government and [run] in collaboration with a cross-sector advisory
group, will significantly enhance national SDG action.
A coordination secretariat could develop a national implementation plan, including managing the consultation process.
Submissions generally viewed PM&C as the appropriate place for a national
implementation plan to be developed.
IWDA emphasised that it 'is important that cross-government coordination is
resourced, both in terms of human and financial resources', and supported the
proposal for a government-funded secretariat to coordinate action on the SDGs.
Other submissions called for government to take a greater leadership and
coordination role without specifically proposing the creation of a
'secretariat'. For example, CPD and BCSDA suggested some form of coordinating
entity based in a central agency such as PM&C.
Strategic Sustainability Consultants suggested states and territories could
have associated sub-committees.
Mr Marc Purcell, Chief Executive Officer, ACFID, indicated that
proposals for a new coordinating body have faced resistance from the Australian
At the summit we made our calls for a national plan and a
government coordinating point that organisations like Australia Post, ourselves
and others could liaise with. Unfortunately, the PM&C representative said that
wasn't needed and that wasn't their intent. We don't think that's good enough.
We think that the government should have a central contact point and there
should be a more formal mechanism for engaging regularly rather than on an ad
Some other countries have SDGs coordination mechanisms within
government. For example, Finland and Germany 'established coordination
secretariats at the level of Prime Minister or President's office to guide SDGs
work within their respective governments'. The German Federal Chancellery
is responsible for the National Sustainable Development Strategy, supported by
coordinators for sustainable development in each ministry.
Some developing nations have created dedicated ministries, or secretariats
within ministries, that are tasked with SDGs delivery, such as Colombia,
Indonesia, Seychelles and Mauritius.
The government-based national coordination secretariat received
widespread support in submissions. The following proposals were raised by fewer
Independent policy assessment body
ACFID recommended the creation of a new, independent body 'to assess
policies and provide advice on policy coherence against the SDGs'.
...support the delivery of a national implementation plan by
considering policies from different areas of government against the SDGs to
ensure a coherent approach. By virtue of its independence, this body would be
in a position to provide advice on the degree to which longer-term threats to
national and regional achievement of the SDGs and associated agendas are being [adequately]
addressed—an aspect of the agenda which poses a challenge to typical,
electorally-based policy cycles. It would also be well placed to consider
cross-cutting issues including gender equality, inclusion and partnership. This
body could report to the existing interdepartmental committee and its reports
should be made public.
The suggestion of an independent policy assessment body was supported by
several other submissions, including the South East Queensland special network
joint submission, which proposed that independent commissioners could consider
both regional and national issues.
SDSN Youth Australia/Pacific and Oaktree supported the establishment of a
Future Generations Commission to 'work independently to develop key areas for
youth action' and 'help identify gaps in SDG implementation especially
pertaining to youth policies'.
Oaktree reasoned that the 'short term nature of electoral cycles impedes the
ability to design and deliver long term policy priorities necessary to sustain
the implementation of the SDGs to 2030'.
Wales has established a Future Generations Commission that builds sustainable
development principles, goals and progress measures into the long term
development of Wales.
Independent monitoring and
A number of submissions broadly supported the creation of an independent
body to monitor and report on progress against the SDGs, though the specifics
of these proposals varied. For example, UNAA and SDSN Youth Australia/Pacific
called for an SDG Commission to monitor and report on the SDGs, comprising distinguished
members from civil society, business and academia.
One Stone Advisors noted Brazil has established a National SDGs Commission.
Other submissions suggested the creation of a central overseeing body to
report to the federal government and UN, or the establishment of a National
Sustainability Commission coupled with a National Environmental Protection
Another submission proposed the establishment of an independent monitor similar
to the Independent Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor established in
Victoria following the Royal Commission.
Instead of establishing a new organisation, CARE Australia suggested government
task and fund a body, such as the AHRC, to report annually on progress by all
While statistical offices are responsible for monitoring SDGs
implementation, most countries also have other monitoring mechanisms.
For example, Bangladesh has an Inter-Ministerial SDG Monitoring and
Implementation Committee, while the independent Ombudsman in the Argentinian
National Congress established a Monitoring and Evaluation Program.
In other nations, the bodies leading the implementation of the SDGs also hold
reviewing responsibility, such as the Nepalese National Planning Commission and
Maldives Ministry of Environment and Energy.
Submissions did not focus on the potential role of the Australian
National Audit Office, however a recent UN report noted that Supreme Audit
Institutions 'can play a key role in examining the overall, cross-sectoral
effects of policies and [provide] oversight on governments' efforts to deliver
on the SDGs'.
The Brazilian audit institution contributed to its VNR and was part of the
delegation to the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.
Ministerial and parliamentary mechanisms
A few submissions called for new SDGs parliamentary processes and positions.
For instance, World Vision Australia agreed that the SDGs 'require dedicated
leadership at the political level given their significance and broad reach'.
It suggested the SDGs could be 'included as a key responsibility in the charter
letters for all ministers' and proposed government appoint an Assistant Minister
for Sustainable Development.
This Assistant Minister would be supported by a secretariat, develop a national
plan and work with PM&C and DFAT to coordinate implementation.
Examples of countries that have appointed ministers to lead on sustainable development
include Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
PwC supported the creation of 'a governance committee with high level standing
(eg: chaired by a Member of Parliament)' to increase accountability.
A 'substantial number of countries have created new inter-ministerial
committees to spur and coordinate the implementation of the SDGs' such as Bangladesh,
Denmark, Germany and Japan.
Some of these are chaired by the head of state or government, such as Finland,
Germany and Mexico.
Nigeria, Thailand and Zimbabwe have all established parliamentary committees or
sub-committees on the SDGs.
While the committee heard a range of suggestions for new SDG-related bodies,
the national coordination secretariat and multi-sectoral reference group (covered
in chapter 5) received the most consistent support in submissions.
Integration of the SDGs by Australian Government agencies
The SDGs 'touch on all facets of the Australian Government's work'.
A recent UN report noted:
It is the public service that implements the national
strategies and plans and plays an important role in the practical, day-to-day
implementation. Hence, public servants need to have the understanding,
incentives and mandates to work towards the realization of the SDGs.
However, the committee heard that while a few government agencies are integrating
the SDGs into their planning, reporting and communications, submitters
perceived it to be insufficient overall. Dr Caroline Lambert, IWDA, said:
I think there's a real challenge within the Australian implementation
of the SDG agenda to see it as a living document that will help guide policy
decisions, budget allocations and legal changes...we're still waiting to see how
domestic agencies, domestic departments, at the federal, state and local
government levels, can take the SDG and use them as a mechanism to support
their strategic planning, to support their ambitions for what they want to do
and how they're going to measure success.
Mr Purcell, ACFID, observed that some government departments, 'like Environment
and Training, get it and are enthusiastic' while others are 'probably
Attendees at the 2018 Summit expressed the broad view that 'alignment to the
SDGs for Government remains largely a retrofitting exercise, undertaken by
individual departments within various government agencies, or is otherwise
focused on activities in developing countries'. A
witness from ACOSS said that 'at most, the government views its domestic
obligations around the SDGs as being to do with monitoring rather than as being
a framework for action'.
She related Professor Peter Saunders' analysis:
...of what was required to reach the SDG targets on the poverty
front. We are currently at 11.3 percent poverty rate for men, 12.2 percent for
women and 17.2 percent for children. If we're going to halve that by 2030 we're
talking about getting down to a rate of 5.7 percent for men, 6.1 percent for
women and 8.6 percent for children. As he pointed out, it would require a
radical change—a pretty drastic change—to current policy settings to get there.
We certainly won't get there on the current policy settings.
Therefore, organisations such as the CPD called for the SDGs to be more
systematically incorporated into the 'roles and mission of other government
Volunteering Australia emphasised:
...that accountability measures at all levels of Government and
within funding structures [are] largely absent, with no reporting obligations
on the goals to primary funders, mandatory reporting and linkages with existing
workplans, activities or programs. It is vital that local, State/Territory and
Federal Governments work together to update reporting processes across
jurisdictions and align existing processes to include the 2030 Agenda.
Mr McDonald, PM&C, acknowledged: 'There are grey areas here about
how enthusiastic different agencies should be, but certainly it's government
policy to adopt and implement the SDGs'.
He accepted that there will be:
...different levels of commitment across the government, so some
agencies like the Department of Environment have been very strongly pro SDGs,
using them and applying them in delivering government policy, and others
haven't seen them as useful in achieving the government's agenda.
DFAT explained that 'Australian Government agencies are identifying the
best ways to integrate the SDGs into their existing systems and strategies'.
Generally agencies have been taking a minimal approach:
The strong view was that, because basically...our core business
is aligned to the SDGs, a minimalist approach made sense. Obviously there is a
balance in that, because you don't want people to forget about the SDG agenda
when they're talking about something that's obviously related to it. Getting
that balance is still a work in progress. We've very much taken this
mainstreaming approach of saying that the SDGs are everyone's business. It's
very easy in all of our business to see the alignment, but not everyone talks
the language yet. It's still a work in progress to make sure everyone is talking
about it when they should be talking about it...
An official from the Attorney-General's Department elaborated:
...our core business and the day-to-day work is already very
well aligned with goal 16, in particular. We can very clearly have a line of
sight to how our existing work and priorities help to achieve particular
targets under the Sustainable Development Goals. From that perspective we don't
think that there's any need to realign our business planning, reporting
processes et cetera around the SDGs, but we can certainly draw a clear line of
sight to how we're working towards achieving particular targets under SDGs.
The Department of the Treasury stated that though it is the lead agency
for goals 8 and 10, the 'majority of policies and programs underpinning
progress towards the goals are administered by other portfolios', and it 'has
no plans to formally incorporate the SDG agenda into the annual report or work
Alignment with existing policy and
The 2030 Agenda encourages parties to support the implementation of
existing strategies in alignment with the SDGs, and the UN has signalled 'that
existing international reporting mechanisms should be 'double purposed' to
lighten the real or perceived reporting obligations'.
The VNR detailed examples of alignment between the work of government agencies
and the SDGs, and stated that the SDGs 'are consistent with Australian
Government priorities and long-standing efforts across a range of sectors such
as health, education, agriculture, water, the environment, the economy, and
As an example, the Department of Health stated:
The design of Australia's health system is based around the
principle of universal health coverage, a focal point of all health-related
SDGs, and this provides a strong foundation to deliver this vision...The 2030
Agenda also aligns with Australia's focus on integrated and multi-sectoral
approaches to health, health promotion and wellbeing.
Mr Andrew Petersen, Chief Executive Officer of BCSDA also noted that the
Australian Government is undertaking some actions addressing the SDGs, such as
...national waste audited accounts...That goes to SDG
12—responsible consumption and production. But it also goes to SDG 3. It also
goes to SDG 8 and SDG 9...What's heartening to see is that, whilst a lot of
people may claim the government is not doing anything on the SDGs, it actually
is. It just perhaps has not identified it in such a way and highlighted to its
key constituency that it is in fact doing some great work in that area.
Some submissions agreed that governments should further integrate the
SDGs with existing departmental and cross-government plans, coordination
mechanisms and commitments.
Agencies also could be tasked with reviewing how domestic policies within their
portfolios align with the SDGs.
Professor Carol Adams proposed that departments should report on their
contributions to the relevant SDG targets and ensure they are incorporated into
strategy, planning and resource allocation.
Some submissions also referred to specific policy frameworks that should
be aligned with the SDGs, such as the Bureau of Meteorology National Water Performance Report;
second Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; and Australia's
3rd Universal Periodic Review of human rights in 2020.
UNAA noted recent examples that did not refer to the SDGs, including the 2017
Review of Climate Change Policies, Independent Review into the Future Security
of the National Energy Market, and National Innovation and Science Agenda.
The Closing the Gap framework could also be aligned with the SDGs, and
the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples Co-Chair, Mr Rodney
Little, emphasised that:
Australia has always maintained that there's a clear line of
sight between the focus of the Human Rights Council on Indigenous rights, the
Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples...All of those other things that we talk about in the Redfern
Statement Alliance, the Closing the Gap Refresh and the Close the Gap Campaign,
if they are all related to each other, then that keeps the line of sight with
all and enables the focus to not drift off to the sides and drift off to
particular projects or activities and investment.
The National Congress cautioned that:
The SDGs should not form the sole goals for Closing the Gap
between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians.
Concerted efforts should also be addressed to improve incarceration rates,
child removals, family and community safety, housing and homelessness among
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which should also be priorities
for Government policies and programs.
Mr McDonald, PM&C, noted that senior officials from the Indigenous
Affairs Group within PM&C have participated in the IDC and attended an
international meeting. He told the committee: 'I expect to see more, going
forward, on how the SDGs can actually influence policy' but noted 'we are at
the early stages'.
Approaches to communication
Officials expressed varying views about the extent to which agencies
need to explicitly embed the SDGs into their internal and external
communications and strategies. DoEE is 'actively integrating' the SDGs into its
policies, strategies, programs and corporate documents. It is
also integrating the environment and energy goals into Australia's next State
of the Environment digital platform and report in 2021. An
official agreed when asked whether 'the workload involved is not so much a new
workload as a restructuring and a relanguaging'.
She described that DoEE's general approach to delivering and implementing the
SDGs is 'to integrate that into our day-to-day business so it's not something
that's on the side and difficult to get attention on; it's integrated into the
day-to-day business across all of our different functions'.
Several other agencies expressed enthusiasm for the SDGs and were in the
process of incorporating the SDGs into their communications and strategies to
varying degrees. For example, while the 'vast majority' of work done by the
Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) was described as
consistent and compatible with SDG 6, it was not typically labelled or
'co-tagged' as such domestically.
However, DAWR had developed an internal communications strategy, so is 'looking
to increase references to the SDGs'.
In relation to the Department of Jobs and Small Business, the committee heard:
We are developing communication products, in the first
instance with a focus on internal communication with other areas within the
department, but that will very soon spread to our external face also.
Some agencies described information sessions and seminars intended to inform
staff about the SDGs, including the Department of Jobs and Small Business and
the Attorney-General's Department.
The former included staff based in state offices via skype.
The Attorney-General's Department has encouraged staff members to refer to the
SDGs in speeches and media releases where appropriate, and mapped the work of
each branch against Goal 16.
DFAT has formed a 'reference group that gathers people from the across the
department to talk about how the SDGs affect their work or are implicated in
Chapter 5 covers the IDC's development of external communication products that
are expected to be available through DFAT's website in 2019.
The committee heard that further government leadership and coordination
on the SDGs should not be delayed.
GCNA, for example, stated that 'urgent action is required to meet the goals and
to seize the opportunities'. CPD agreed:
Given long lead times on investment and policy development,
and the scale of the efforts needed on both fronts to achieve the 2030 goals,
this potential can only be realised if we integrate the SDGs into governance,
regulatory guidance and policy formulation now.
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