The Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018 passed the Victorian Legislative Council last Thursday (9 August 2018). The Bill proposes fundamental reforms to Victoria’s environmental protection laws that amount to a complete re-write of the current Environment Protection Act 1970 (Vic). For an overview of the changes please see our previous client alert.
Progress of the Bill to date
The Bill was introduced into Parliament on 18 June 2018 and passed the Lower House, the Legislative Assembly, on 26 July 2018 after the Opposition expressed concerns about the Bill and sought to have the it referred to a Parliamentary Committee which would have essentially killed the Bill given the timing of the upcoming State election. This motion was defeated.
The Opposition’s concerns centred on two of the key reforms contained in the Bill: the introduction of a general environmental duty applicable to all activities and all Victorians; and the introduction of new third party rights to enforce the Act. There was also concern expressed that insufficient consultation about the new reforms had taken place. This was countered by the Government, noting that the reforms had been the result of a public inquiry, the Government’s response to that inquiry and the passage of the first tranche of changes to modernise the Environment Protection Authority, which passed earlier this year.
The Bill was then introduced to the Legislative Council, and debated on 9 August 2018. As it had done in the Lower House, the Opposition sought to have the Bill referred to a Parliamentary Committee. However, this was again defeated. Similar concerns to those expressed in the Lower House were again raised in debate.
The Andrews Government proposed one relatively minor amendment to the Bill, which was agreed to by the Council. The amendment adds a requirement to the proposed new duty on persons who have the management or control of priority waste to take all reasonable steps to identity and assess alternative waste disposal methods. The amendment added a requirement to consider both:
- the reuse and recycling of the priority waste; and
- if the person produced or generated the priority waste, how that person can avoid producing or generating that type of waste in the future,
when carrying out that duty.
The Bill, having now passed the Legislative Council with the Government amendments, has gone back to the Legislative Assembly (the Lower House) for consideration of the amendment. Parliament is next sitting on 21 August 2018.
Given that the amendments are minor, it is expected that the Bill will pass the Lower House.
Once the Bill passes, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) will begin the sizable task of developing the raft of regulations and supporting documentation that will be required to be in place for the commencement of the new laws on 1 July 2020. The Department and the EPA have indicated that there will be genuine opportunities for industry to shape the regulations through upcoming consultations. For example, because the regulations will cover which activities fall into which level of the new licensing regime and what controls will be placed on various waste streams, the regulators are keen to understand how the new laws will impact businesses on a day-to-day level.
As a result, businesses should begin reviewing their environmental compliance and waste management plans and practices in preparation for the new laws and consider how they can best engage with the Department and the EPA on how the new laws will impact their activities.
For a legal perspective on the potential impacts of the Bill on your organisation or any assistance with engaging with the Department or the EPA, please contact us.