Monitoring Victoria’s environment laws

For my very first post I think its fitting to be writing about a project we have been working on for nearly two years – our report series Monitoring Victoria’s Environmental Laws

Over the years the we have witnessed so many environmental laws that are in force, but languish on the shelf, almost ignored by government. So many provisions that are already on the statute books could be used to protect the environment but are never even considered, or were considered 20 years ago and put in the too hard basket.

In fact it’s so common and so widely accepted that environmental laws will not be properly used that many of us – most of all government – don’t question it at all. The most obvious of these in Victoria must be the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act which amazingly for its time ‘guarantees that all Victoria’s flora and fauna can survive and flourish in the wild’. Sadly its implementation by DSE does no such thing. DSE’s official abandonment of the Act goes so far that when we asked one DSE officer why they never used the provisions of the FFG Act that apply to private land he replied, rather surprised the FFG Act only applies to public land. In fact its provisions to protect biodiversity on private land are very strong, but have never been properly used by DSE.

Knowing that Acts are not properly implemented and enforced is one thing, but having hard data to prove the point is another. That’s why we decided to chose 5 key Victorian environmental laws and find every bit of data we could to show whether the various agencies who administer them really were using them or not. This initially seemed like a task we could do within a few months, but in fact it has taken two years. We weren’t looking for anything overly complicated – how many times have you prosecuted for pollution offences? how many licences to kill native fauna do you issue a year? how many times has the Minister refused to approve a project? how many times have your decisions been appealed to VCAT this year? – but the data has been almost impossible to get. So many times we were told the data either didn’t exist or that we would have to do an FOI request to get it – something which on principle we refused to do. (I should mention that we have also during our investigations stumbled onto some incredibly helpful government souls as well).

So ultimately these reports have developed into having three key aims – 1) providing a reliable and consolidated source of information and data on whether the government is implementing and enforcing its laws that the community can use in its submissions and discussions with government; 2) promoting better government transparency by pointing out where data that should be publicly available is lacking and encourage government to provide that information annually; and 3) to encourage government to implement and enforce its laws better.

The first in the series is a review of how well the EPA is going with our key pollution law – the Environment Protection Act. It provides lots of interesting insights into how well the EPA is transitioning into its goal of being a best practice environmental regulator. Shortly to come are reviews of Victoria’s environmental impact assessment laws under the Environment Effects Act, our biodiversity laws under the FFG Act and the Wildlife Act and the native vegetation clearing laws under the Planning and Environment Act. Sadly the final proposed report on the Water Act has done us in for now – collecting the data from the multitude of agencies that are involved with that Act was such a nightmare that we are going to reflect on it over Christmas and re-assess whether it is an achievable task.

We intend to update these reports every two years so that the community has an ongoing resource and report card of how the government is doing. We hope you find them valuable – please let us know if you do. 

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