The Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018 proposes a new approach to environmental issues, focusing on preventing waste and pollution impacts rather than managing those impacts after they have occurred.

Read more about the preventative focus below.

The cornerstone of the Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018 is the general environmental duty (GED). The proposed GED is intended to focus Victorian business, industry and the community on preventing harm. This would require people to undertake reasonably practicable steps to eliminate, or if elimination is not reasonably practicable, reasonable practicable steps to minimise risks of human harm to human health or the environment from pollution or waste.

Reasonably practicable includes having regard to the likelihood of the risk of harm eventuating, degree of harm that would  result if the risk eventuated, actual and reasonable knowledge on that risk of harm and availability, suitability and cost of ways to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm.

Unlike similar laws in other states and territories, a breach of the GED could lead to criminal or civil penalties.

The GED aligns with the way many businesses and industries already manage risk—that is, by taking steps to identify and manage risks to the environment and human health in proportion to their likelihood and consequence before they cause harm. This concept is familiar to businesses through the well-established model provided by Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety laws, which are also centred around a general duty to take reasonably practicable measures to reduce the risk of harm.

EPA would provide education, support and guidance to organisations and individuals to help in their compliance with the GED. Compliance Codes, if followed, provide guidance on how to comply with the GED. Compliance Codes would be developed by EPA in partnership with industry, technical experts and community representatives.

With this change in environment protection laws, Victorians would be less likely to be impacted by environmental disasters, pollution and waste.

Under the current Environment Protection Act 1970 (the current EP Act), the only ongoing control EPA can impose on a high-risk activity is an EPA licence. In some circumstances an EPA licence is a costly control, disproportionate to the risk being managed.

This legislation proposes a new three-tiered permissions framework allowing proportionate controls to be applied based on the nature of the risks. The tiers consist of:

  • Registrations, which would be automatically granted and are suited to organisations posing significant risks but where simpler controls exist which can be standardised across a sector.
  • Permits, which would have largely standardised assessment processes and are suited to medium-high risk activities with low complexity;
  • Licences, to apply customised conditions to manage those complex activities that need the highest level of regulatory control to manage their significant risks to human health and the environment.

Licences would continue to be required to construct certain plant or equipment, or in the development and modification of specified high-risk processes or systems (development licences). They would also continue to be required for research, development and demonstration activities (pilot project licence).

Licences would be subject to regular reviews (at least every five years) and would no longer be granted indefinitely.

The Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018 proposes modernising the current waste management framework.

The proposed legislation would introduce a new framework to reduce hazards from waste, while supporting waste material reuse, recovery and resource efficiency. The Bill establishes strong penalties for waste dumping and littering.

The new general environmental duty would require waste producers to identify and implement reasonably practicable means to avoid waste generation or reduce the risks associated with the management of wastes.

The Bill continues the application of landfill levies (renamed waste levies). All waste levies are proposed to be subject to annual indexation.

The one-size-fits-all prescribed industrial waste system under the current Environment Protection Act 1970 would be abolished under the proposed legislation.

The proposed legislation would introduce tailored controls for specific hazardous industrial wastes, and specified municipal and industrial wastes that have resource recovery, recycling and reuse potential. These would become priority wastes. These controls include:

  • Classification of the priority waste;
  • Containing the priority waste to prevent its escape and isolating it to ensure resource recovery remains practicable;
  • Providing information about the composition and hazards of the priority waste during its collection, consignment, transfer or transportation; and
  • Recording and providing transaction details to allow tracking of that waste.

To better manage risks from wastes, persons managing priority waste would also be required to take all reasonable steps to identify and consider alternatives to waste disposal, including resource reuse, recycling and resource efficiency.

The proposed legislation requires persons involved in the management of industrial waste to ensure the waste is not illegally dumped. This means that:

  • those who deposit industrial waste must only do so at a lawful place;
  • receivers of industrial waste must be authorised to do so; and
  • generators of industrial waste must take reasonable steps to ensure the waste will be transported to a lawful place.

The proposed legislation modernises the current laws. It introduces increased penalties, and provisions and offences that are easier to administer and enforce. Volume-based litter offences, available to local government and Litter Enforcement Officers, would provide offences and penalties that are commensurate to the impact. Additionally, a new dangerous littering offence would apply to persons who deposit litter which causes a risk of harm to human health and the environment (e.g. glass and syringes).

A new tool, Site Management Orders, would allow the establishment of long-term controls to ensure the safe ongoing management of sites that would otherwise pose ongoing risks to the community and environment.

This new regulatory control allows more effective ongoing regulation of the risks associated with sites such as closed landfills and contaminated environments by attaching relevant information to the title of the land.