The Victorian Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018 is now almost certain to become law, after it passed the Legislative Council this week. The Bill now returns to the Lower House for consideration of a minor amendment to the duty to investigate alternatives to waste disposal.
The controversial Bill represents a complete re-write of the current Environmental Protection Act 1970 (Vic). It 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.
Opposition MLC David Davis lead concerns that there was insufficient consultation about the new reforms, and that they would lead to a significant increase in investigations and litigation cases.
Under the new laws, the maximum fine for a general pollution offence will 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.
The EPA have assured stakeholders that they will have an opportunity to shape the regulations through upcoming consultations. Until then, Victorian business are being encouraged to review their environmental compliance and waste management plans.
The new laws are expected to commence on 1 July 2020.