The Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 (the Act) signals the start of a fairer, more balanced era of environmental regulation for all Victorians. 

Understanding the general environmental duty

The general environmental duty (GED) is at the centre of the new Act. It applies to all Victorians. You must reduce the risk of your activities potentially harming the environment or human health through pollution or waste. 

For most people, the GED will mean little to no change to normal activities. You may already be taking actions you need to take at home or at work.

If a spill occurs in your workplace, occupational health and safety laws require you act to prevent slips, trips and injuries. Similarly, the GED will help you apply that common-sense approach to the environment.

Examples

Charlotte is repainting her home. To comply with the GED, she makes sure to dispose of any left-over paint properly. She does this via her local council transfer station. She doesn’t pour it into her street’s stormwater drain.

Simon stores petrol for his lawnmower in a jerry can in his back shed. To comply with the GED, he makes sure it’s properly sealed so it can’t leak into the creek behind his house.

What to do about contaminated land

If your land had a different use in the past, such as an abattoir or factory, this could mean the land is contaminated.

If you believe your land could be contaminated, recently or in the past, the new Act requires you to:

  • inform EPA
  • take steps to prevent harm.

Actions required will be different based on your specific situation. For low-level contamination, raising your garden beds for growing food may be enough.

In more serious contamination cases, making sure people or livestock can't access the contaminated area is important. You may need to fence off or restrict access to your property’s contaminated section. In some cases, you may be expected to clean up the contamination.

Checking Victoria Unearthed is a good place to start. It’s an online tool that gives access to information about potential and existing contaminated land. Advice from EPA can help you manage contamination safely.

Disposing of waste correctly

Under the Act, everyone has a responsibility to make sure their waste is going to the correct place. Illegally dumped waste can end up in waterways, harming the environment, and posing a risk to human health.

If you have waste that can’t be collected through your routine kerbside collection:

Example

Leonard is renovating his home and wants to hire a skip bin. He must comply with the GED. This means he must take reasonable steps to make sure the bin operator is taking waste to a proper place. He asks his local council, which tells him how the waste should be disposed of. The council also tells Leonard that the skip bin operator and the recycler or landfill operator share this responsibility. They must make sure they can take the waste safely.

A stronger voice for the community

A person or company not complying with the law may have adversely affected you. If so, EPA may be able to take action for you.

To reflect community expectations, EPA will have greater powers to pursue and prosecute offenders. Fines have been greatly increased under the Act.

You have rights if a person or company not complying with the Act has adversely affected you. You can seek a civil remedy in court, or you can approach EPA. It’s EPA’s role to take action in line with its compliance and enforcement policy.

A new framework for consultation

Under the Act, EPA will be empowered to start a new type of consultation process when making decisions. This is called ‘conference of interested persons’. It will be a powerful way for the community to participate in an EPA decision that may impact them directly.

Third-party rights

Third-party rights, or civil remedies, are an important addition to the Act. They give broader access to justice to the community and bring Victoria into line with the rest of Australia.

You’ll have more rights to take action if a person or company hasn’t complied with the Act when:

  • you hold genuine concerns about harm to human health and the environment
  • you haven’t been adversely impacted yourself.

These are called third-party rights. 

To use your third-party rights, you need to first ask for EPA’s help in writing. The court may then allow you to make an application to the court if:

  • EPA has not acted in a reasonable time after being asked in writing
  • the court believes the matter is in the public interest.

This part of the Act starts on 1 July 2021.

Learn about your responsibilities

EPA will work to help everyone understand their new responsibilities before the Act commences on 1 July 2020. Find out when there will be an information session near you. You can also ask for a briefing for your local community group.

EPA is committed to sharing information with the public. We do this so Victorians can understand the environment’s current state. We also share information to make sure you know on what basis EPA makes its regulatory decisions.

Find new business practices that will help the environment and the community:

Read more about protecting the environment and human health

A better environment for all Victorians

What the new Act means for Victorian businesses

We all have a duty to prevent harm: general environmental duty

Reviewed 7 November 2019