The Victorian Auditor-General’s Improving Victoria’s Air Quality audit report included a recommendation that the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) clarify the roles and responsibilities of relevant Victorian Government agencies with respect to air quality and develop protocols to ensure accountabilities are understood and coordination achieved.
Air quality monitoring and management responsibilities are spread across a range of statutory frameworks and agencies. Key frameworks, roles and responsibilities are summarised below, followed by a list of which agencies should be contacted for particular types of air pollution issues.
This information will be regularly updated to ensure it remains current. Statutory and policy frameworks are reformed on a regular basis to help ensure the community and environment continue to be effectively protected from air pollution. For example, in July 2021 reformed and modernised environment protection legislation commenced, focusing on preventing pollution from occurring.
Key Victorian statutory frameworks underpinning air quality management - summary
Victoria’s environment protection framework aims to protect human health and the environment from the effects of air pollution. This is underpinned by a “general environmental duty”, requiring all Victorians conducting activities that risk such harm to understand risks and take reasonably practical steps to minimise them.
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is primarily responsible for ensuring compliance with its statutory provisions. Key actions EPA takes to monitor and manage air pollution include:
- Ensuring compliance with statutory obligations
- Monitoring of and publicly reporting on air emissions, including from pollution incidents such as industrial fires
- Issuing of licences and works approvals to control emissions from major emitters
- Investigating pollution reports and issuing notices to address pollution incidents
- Contributing to the development of air quality standards
- Undertaking research to understand air pollution impacts and future challenges
- Regulating emission limits for wood heaters at point of sale
- Providing education and information to Victorians on reducing emissions
- Providing advice on the impacts of air quality on public health
Recent reforms to the framework, in particular through the Environment Protection Act 2017, will strengthen EPA’s powers and abilities to prevent air pollution incidents.
Victoria’s land use and development planning framework provides the basis for what uses and activities land can be used for, and contains various provisions covering how air quality issues must be considered when making planning decisions.
The Planning and Environment Act 1987 sets broad objectives for planning in Victoria, and the rules and principles underpinning the Victorian planning system. Achieving its objectives requires integration of government environmental policies with land use and development planning.
Planning schemes provide for controls on land use and development in each municipality. Victoria Planning Provisions (VPPs) provide the template from which local planning schemes must be sourced or constructed. Regulations and Ministerial Directions provide further statutory guidance.
VPPs contain various requirements that air quality issues must be considered in planning decisions. These include specifications for minimum threshold distances for industries from a nearby residential zone (Clause 53.10). The Planning Policy Framework also refers to EPA’s Recommended Buffer Distances for Industrial Residual Air Emissions in relation to industrial development land supply and siting (Clause 17.03) and for air quality management (Clause 13.06-1) – which relate to residual odour and dust emissions.
Planning permit conditions can also have air quality management requirements, including a design response to demonstrated risks (eg. building air intakes facing away from a busy road or emission stacks not being placed under windows of an adjoining building) or provision of an approved response plan (eg. an environment management plan consistent with a relevant EPA information bulletin or guideline).
Permit conditions are enforceable by local councils. Reponses to environmental pollution incidents may be undertaken in conjunction with the EPA.
1 Clause 53.10 relates to any emissions with adverse amenity impacts - including air pollutants, noise and vibration.
Victoria’s emergency management framework guides how fires and industrial accidents which can create air emissions are managed.
Agency roles and responsibilities are articulated in the Emergency Management Manual Victoria. This contains policy and planning documents for emergency management in Victoria, and provides details about the roles that different agencies provide in emergency management arrangements.
During a significant event which can cause smoke or other emissions causing health concerns (including bushfires, planned burns and industrial fires) a multi-agency approach is initiated to minimise risks to human life and health. This process is informed by the State Smoke Framework and associated standards and guidance, which identify the tools and processes required to facilitate coordinated planning, decision-making and management of significant or prolonged events that generate smoke or other emissions.
Public health and wellbeing
The Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 enables action by local councils to remedy nuisances which are or are liable to be dangerous to health or offensive. Nuisances include those arising from or constituted by air emissions. These can include local air pollution such as smoke from household chimneys or dust from home renovations. Councils have a duty to remedy, as far as reasonably possible, all nuisances, including requiring the responsible party to take action to address them.
The Victorian Government sets on-road (“in service”) vehicle emission standards for light vehicles (under 4.5 tonne) and petrol vapour limits. It operates a reporting service, through the EPA, for smoky light vehicles. It has powers to reduce transport sector emissions through public transport provision, infrastructure development, industry regulation, ports management, and initiatives such as environmental freight zones.
The Transport Integration Act 2010 clarifies that the transport system must be sustainable in environmental terms, and that social and environmental considerations must be given equal prominence with economic considerations in decision-making. Environmental sustainability includes avoiding, minimising and offsetting harm to the environment through transport-related emissions and pollutants, and energy consumption.
The Planning Policy Framework establishes overarching strategies to support air quality management through ‘integrating transport and land use planning to improve transport accessibility and connections’. Referral arrangements to the Head of Transport Victoria are also in place for subdivision and substantial building or works for a range of residential, office, retail, recreational and education uses (VPP Clause 66.02-11). This enables transport authorities to provide relevant advice on transport and air quality management issues.
Councils can enforce Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 provisions if any nuisance arises from transport or shipping activities.
Reporting an air pollution event
|Source of pollution||Agency to contact||Phone||Website|
|Business or industry||EPA||1300 372 firstname.lastname@example.org||www.epa.vic.gov.au/about-epa/contact-us|
|Residential premises or similar small-scale source||Local council||knowyourcouncil.vic.gov.au/councils|
|Smoky vehicle||EPA||1300 372 email@example.com||www.epa.vic.gov.au/about-epa/contact-us|
|Industrial fire||Emergency services||000|
|Planned burn or similar||DELWP||136 186||www2.delwp.vic.gov.au/our-department/contact-us|
|Odour||EPA||1300 372 firstname.lastname@example.org||www.epa.vic.gov.au/about-epa/contact-us|
Page last updated: 06/09/21