On Thursday last week, the Victorian Parliament passed the Covid-19 Omnibus (Emergency measures) Act 2020 (the Covid-19 Act).
The reforms to Victoria’s environmental laws follow a Ministerial Advisory Committee review of the EPA. One of the committee’s recommendations was a complete overhaul of the Environment Protection Act 1970.
Following the legislative overhaul, an initial tranche of governance-focused reforms is already in force. The second tranche comprising the bulk of the reforms and contained within the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 (the EP Amendment Act), was due to come into force on 1 July 2020.
The Covid-19 Act delays the start until as late as 31 December 2021, although the government has committed to proclaim a new start date for 1 July 2021, a twelve-month delay.
Another aspect of the reforms is the introduction of Civil Remedies for breaches of the Environment Protection Act 2017 (the Act). This reform includes a new statutory right for third parties – that is members of the public – to take action against polluters who breached the Act.
The Civil Remedies were due to commence 1 year after the commencement of the Act. The reason for the delay was cited as allowing industry to get their houses in order and bring themselves into compliance with the new requirements of the Act before the public could take any action.
With the delay of the commencement of the Act now pushed out, potentially until December 2021, we don’t think there is any justification for delaying the Civil Remedies out until 2022. Industry has been preparing for the introduction of the Act for months, now they have at least another year to get their houses in order.
The delay in the commencement of the new Act will also mean a delay in the introduction of the new regulations under the Act for a further twelve months. This should give the EPA and the government time to address some of the shortcomings in these important new regulations. We are urging the EPA to use the extra time they have given themselves to fill in some gaps in the regulations, including working to include the regulation of greenhouses gases and pollution from logging coupe burns under the Act.
You can read more about some of the improvements to the draft Environmental Reference Standards and other regulations in our October 2019 submission here.