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Victoria’s new environmental laws

On July 1, amendments to the Environment Protection Act 2017 (Vic) came into effect that impact most businesses operating in Victoria.

Victoria’s new environmental laws

On July 1, amendments to the Environment Protection Act 2017 (Vic) came into effect that impact most businesses operating in Victoria. The laws consider how environmental risks will be dealt with and introduce a General Environmental Duty (GED). This makes it clear that both businesses and individuals are responsible for protecting our environment and human health. 

The GED has some similarities to the occupational health and safety framework. It requires organisations to implement “reasonably practicable measures” to reduce environmental hazards and risks.  This means you must put in place controls that are proportionate to mitigate or minimise the risk of harm. 

Under the GED, Victorians must reduce the risk of harm from their activities:

  • to human health and the environment; and
  • from pollution or waste.

This places a positive expectation on organisations and individuals to avoid the risk of environmental damage and to respond if pollution or waste occurs. This means you can fall foul of the law even if you don’t cause any pollution or waste - the contravention is failing to put in place proper management systems or plan. This includes but is not limited to managing risks associated with:

  • Business activities that produce dust, noise, odour or runoff to stormwater or into waterways;
  • The storage, use and disposal of liquids and chemicals; and 
  • Management of wastes including the choice of transporter or receiver of wastes

For many organisations, this will require a risk management and monitoring plan to be put in place and actions documented so that you can demonstrate due diligence. 

The Act also introduced a new permissions regime with licences, permits and registrations, depending on the level of risk in the activity. 

Two types of licences will replace existing works approvals and licences - development and operating licences. A development licence is required when designing, constructing or modifying a building project, while an operating licence effectively replaces the previous EPA licence.  

A permit is required if you’re undertaking a prescribed permit activity, which includes the supply or use of wastewater, biosolids or reportable priority waste. While a registration is required to undertake prescribed registration activities that include low volume e-waste reprocessing, and transporting low-hazard reportable priority waste. 

There are also a wide range of activities that were not regulated previously that now require either a licence, permit or registration. These include waste and resource recovery, containment of category D waste soil, low-volume on-site wastewater management systems and temporary on-site industrial waste treatment. 

If you require a licence, permit or registration you will need to apply for them through the EPA who will consider the new Environment Reference Standard (ERS). The ERS is a tool that identifies environmental values that the community wants to achieve and maintain and whether these are met or threatened by the activity. 

The Act is governed by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) who has broad powers to conduct inspections and take action even if no harm has occurred. Anyone who breaches the GED could face civil or criminal penalties, regardless of whether any harm has actually been caused. The EPA can act against anyone who has a responsibility under the Act, which includes people in management or who are in control of an activity that may give rise to the risk of harm. 

Corporate penalties range from $1.6 million to $3.3 million for aggravated offences, while individual penalties also apply. When considering enforcement, the EPA will look at a range of factors including the attitude and behaviour of the duty holder.  

If you haven’t yet considered the implications of this legislation, there is no time to waste.

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