On 16 May 2016, the Victorian Government released the long-awaited report of the Independent Inquiry into the EPA (Report), the first comprehensive review of the State’s environmental regulator since its establishment in 1971.

The Report makes 48 wide-ranging recommendations relating to the EPA’s role, powers, governance and funding.  The recommendations have broad implications for local government and industry.

The Report’s underpinning themes include increasing the EPA’s role in protecting human health, bolstering the EPA’s scientific capability, and shifting the EPA’s regulatory focus towards prevention, with a ‘general preventative duty’ at the cornerstone of future reform.

Key recommendations include to:

          Legislation and governance

  • replace the Environment Protection Act 1970 with:
  1. an EPA (Establishment) Act to define the EPA’s objective, decision-making principles, functions and governance;
  2. a modernised Environment Protection Act, including a general duty to minimise risks of harm to human health and the environment; and
  3. an Environment Protection (Integration and Coordination) Act to improve coordination across government on environment protection and public health;
  • replace state environment protection policies and waste management policies with overarching policies set by DELWP and technical standards set by the EPA;
  • create a legislated Chief Environmental Scientist position to advise the EPA’s CEO and Victoria’s Chief Health Officer;

Third party rights

  • clarify that the test for third party standing for review of EPA decisions reflects section 5 of Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998, a broad test including a person whose interests of any kind are affected;
  • allow any person whose interests are affected (or who is otherwise permitted by the court) to seek a court order to restrain or remedy breaches of environment protection laws;

Land use planning

  • create a statutory trigger for planning authorities to seek advice from the EPA in relation to strategic planning matters involving significant environmental or human health risks;
  • strengthen planning mechanisms to establish and maintain buffers between conflicting land uses;
  • simplify and better integrate EPA obligations to be applied through the planning system;

Contaminated land

  • develop a state-wide database of sites that pose a high risk to the community;

Mining

  • strengthen the EPA’s role in mining regulation under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990;

Compliance and enforcement

  • increase the range and severity of sanctions available to the EPA and court; and
  • establish a state-wide network of local government environment protection officers authorised under the Environment Protection Act to support compliance and enforcement locally.

Upon release of the Report, the Government committed to establishing an interim board to guide the EPA through reform, creating the new Chief Environmental Scientist position and moving the Government’s environmental health functions to the EPA from the Department of Health and Human Services.  The Government will respond to the balance of the Report’s recommendations later this year.

For more information or advice please contact: 

Tessa D'Abbs
Associate
M  0488 014 414
T   03 9611 0117
E   tdabbs@harwoodandrews.com.au