Victoria to overhaul environmental regulation

25 September 2017

The Victorian Government will overhaul its approach to environmental regulation, taking a more preventative approach.

The Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) revealed the plans at a recent Australian Environment Business Network seminar hosted by HWL Ebsworth.

The new approach is expected to be included in a draft Bill, due next year, which will rewrite the current Environment Protection Act 1970 (Vic) (EP Act). This Bill will be the second of the two-part reform of the EPA and the EP Act currently underway by the Victorian Government.

Focus on prevention

The new approach will focus on prevention and outcomes-based regulation in contrast to the current reactive, offence-based EP Act. The new EP Act will “look and feel” more like work health and safety legislation.

The EPA indicated that the proposed Bill will introduce a duty to protect the environment and take a risk-based approach to environmental regulation. The Bill is likely to contain positive obligations, rather than the current offence-based provisions.

With its greater emphasis on prevention of pollution and protection of human health, the EPA also signalled a stronger role in land use planning decisions. The EPA representatives said that a “preventative” regulator would have an earlier, greater role in other statutory processes such as Environmental Effect Statement processes, Precinct Structure Plans and major projects.

Other changes

The new Bill is also likely to introduce a single, graduated licensing system which will give the EPA more flexibility to implement a risk-based approach to controlling licensed premises. This will mean that the scheduled premises list is likely to go.

SEPPs (State Environmental Protection Policies) will also get an overhaul, with quantitative standards likely to be separated out into new “environmental standards”.

Unsurprisingly, penalties will be strengthened and increased. The EPA indicated that the current absolute indictable offences will be abandoned.

Implications for business

We expect many businesses to welcome the new approach as it will provide more flexibility in how specific pollution reduction outcomes can be achieved, and allow for innovation.

It may also lead to less EPA prosecutions for technical non-compliances where there is minimal environmental harm. This will be welcomed by many, particularly in the waste industry.

However, the draft legislation is not due to be released until next year, and much may change before then. HWL Ebsworth will keep you up to date on the progress of the reforms, including any discussion papers and public consultations.

HWL Ebsworth has environmental law experts across Australia and would be happy to assist you to understand the implications of new changes. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

Written by Meredith Gibbs, Partner.

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