Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) welcomes the passage of the Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018 by the Victorian Parliament.
EPA CEO Nial Finegan said the Bill completed the legislative overhaul of EPA Victoria and once it received Royal Assent from Victoria’s Governor would give Victorians a stronger, more modern Environment Protection Act.
“The new Act will give EPA stronger powers and the ability to issue tougher penalties for environmental offences from 1 July 2020,” Mr Finegan said.
“It will also give us a range of new measures to actively prevent pollution to improve Victoria’s environment, health and wellbeing. Preventing environmental harm is at the core of this Act.”
Mr Finegan said that in an Australian first, the Act would introduce a general preventative environmental duty that is criminally enforceable.
“The general duty will require people conducting activities that pose risks to human health and the environment from pollution and waste to understand those risks and take reasonable steps to eliminate or minimise them,” Mr Finegan said.
Mr Finegan said EPA is committed to the successful implementation of the new Act and would:
- Help community and business understand the general environmental duty (to prevent risk or harm) and other changes in the legislation;
- Provide tailored advice to stakeholders about ways to meet their obligations and manage risks to the environment and human health; and
- Provide timely and accessible information about EPA's regulatory approach under the new legislation.
“While we transition to the new legislation, we will continue to respond to harm from pollution and waste offences and progressively strengthen our focus on prevention.”
Mr Finegan said both the older version of the Act and EPA itself had been enormously successful, but with so much change in the intervening years, a reformed approach was needed to tackle contemporary environmental challenges.
“This is a major change in the way we protect the environment – it requires businesses to be proactive in identifying and implementing practicable risk management measures to reduce the impacts of pollution and waste. It also empowers EPA to support businesses to prevent harm, rather than being solely reliant upon remedial measures after environmental damage has occurred.
To better reflect the seriousness of environmental offences, the Act will also substantially increase maximum penalties.
For corporations that breach the law, the most serious offence would attract maximum penalties of 20,000 penalty units ($3.2 million), doubling from 10,000 penalty units ($1.6 million) in the current Act.
For individuals breaching the law, there will be a substantial increase in the maximum penalty from 2,500 penalty units ($0.4 million) to 4,000 penalty units ($0.6 million).
For corporations that conduct illegal dumping, penalties will double to 10,000 penalty units ($1.6 million), up from 5,000 penalty units ($0.8 million) in the current Act.
The new Act follows a Victorian Government-commissioned public inquiry into EPA, which was completed over 10 months by an independent Ministerial Advisory Committee.
The Government response to the Independent Inquiry into EPA recommended strongly that environment protection regulation in Victoria needs to shift focus towards prevention of harm, rather than responding to pollution after it has occurred.
The Government has allocated $182.4 million to ensuring its response to the Independent Inquiry can be effectively implemented.
The reform program is being delivered over five years to provide Victorians with more effective environment protection laws and a stronger, better equipped EPA.
The Environment Protection Act 1970 and the current version of the Environment Protection Act 2017 will apply until 1 July 2020.