The purpose of environment reference standards (ERS) is to set environmental values for the community, in a clear and accessible way, to help us achieve and protect the environmental outcomes sought by all Victorians.

They’ll describe the environment in terms of the features that we value to allow a range of important uses. For example, a standard may describe the quality of water for its use as a drinking source, or as a place to swim in, as being environmental values.

ERS are made up of objectives for supporting different uses, and indicators that tell us whether those objectives are being met.

Each standard specifies which part of the environment it applies to as a location in Victoria. This means that a standard may apply only to a specific location, like Port Phillip Bay, or to the whole of Victoria.

ERS will help assess and report current environmental conditions, and changes in those conditions over time, creating a set of benchmark values.

Although ERS are not ‘compliance standards’ for businesses, EPA must consider them when assessing development, operating licences and pilot licences under the new Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 (the Act).

We may also use the standards to:

  • make other decisions under the Act that may have an impact on the environmental values of a location
  • set benchmarks and goals for maintaining environment values in the long term
  • monitor changes in the environment over time.

When relevant, ERS will be considered by:

  • the Minister when making Regulations, developing compliance codes or declaring issues of environmental concern
  • environmental auditors when conducting audits
  • the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) when relevant to reviewing EPA decisions
  • responsible authorities, when making planning decisions.

We’re currently developing the first set of ERS, that will take effect with the new Act. To support a smooth transition, we’ll look at the beneficial uses set out in our existing state environment protection policies, as a starting point.

ERS must be reviewed every 10 years, but can also be updated more often as new knowledge becomes available. For example, when our understanding of risks of harm change.

Read more about reducing harm from pollution and waste

Your duty to reasonably prevent harm: what is reasonably practicable

Dealing with pollution incidents

Managing contaminated environments

Managing waste


Reviewed 28 October 2019