Victoria's Environmental Protection Authority could soon have similar tools and powers to that of health and safety regulators after a new tough environmental protection bill was introduced to parliament this week.
The Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018 is modelled on occupational health and safety legislation and switches the focus from managing the consequences of pollution to prevention and reducing the risk of harm.
It would see the maximum fine for a general pollution offence quadruple to $1.6 million and could see polluters face jail time. It would also allow victorians to go to the courts to force companies to comply with state environment laws.
Currently, the EPA can only prosecute companies once pollution has occurred. The new laws would give the EPA the power to prosecute companies where pollution is likely to occur, or where pollution risks are not being adequately managed.
Key changes include:
- Maximum penalty for a general pollution offence to rise from $386,000 to $1.6 million.
- Maximum penalty for an intentional or reckless pollution offence rises to $3.2 million, and for individuals five years in jail. Courts will have the power to impose additional penalties on top of this.
- Maximum penalties for illegal dumping to double to $1.6 million. Repeat illegal dumpers face two years in prison.
- EPA inspectors will have the power to enter businesses and homes, obtain documents, question witnesses, obtain search warrants and use surveillance devices.
Spokesman for the Australian Industry Group Tim Piper, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the new laws would open up a "pandoras box" for overzealous individuals to take legal action against companies.
But Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the new laws better align with community expectations, and would allow the EPA to penalise companies who show little regard for the environment.
“Victorians expect an EPA that can stop polluters and properly enforce the law – that’s what this legislation will deliver.”