Legal Insights

Obligations for Victoria’s councils under the new environment protection laws: 1 year on…

By Maria Marshall, Thy Nguyen & Stefan Prelevic

• 21 July 2022 • 3 min read
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The new financial year marks the one year anniversary of the introduction of Victoria’s new environment protection laws.

In this update, we focus on how local government authorities, in their capacity as an owner, manager and occupier of Victorian land, can adopt a more preventative and proactive approach to protecting human health and the environment from the impact of pollution and waste.

Introduction

We last reported on the Environment Protection Act 2017 (Act) in Defining Matters 2022, where we outlined new contaminated land duties on those in ‘management and control’ of land (Duty Holders).

These included:

  • the general environmental duty (GED);
  • the duty to manage contaminated land; and,
  • the duty to notify the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) of the contaminated land.

EPA has released several publications to assist Duty Holders in fulfilling their obligations under these duties.

EPA Publications

Publications available on the EPA website cover areas such as the notification of contaminated land, the definition of what is reasonably practicable in relation to the GED, and guides for local government.

The publication Local government – guide to preventing harm to people and the environment (Guide) should be of particular interest to councils in their capacity as Duty Holders.

Local government guide

The Guide is intended for local governments as Duty Holders under the Act, where they are engaging in an activity that may give rise to risks of harm to people or the environment. It does not inform Duty Holders on what mandatory controls to put in place to manage risks; however, it provides guidance about the various controls, enabling Duty Holders to decide what best suits their circumstances.

A list of resources and where to go for more assistance is also provided.

Specifically, the Guide provides:

  • information on risk management, including realistic scenarios of how to apply a simple four step risk management process - Identify, Assess, Implement, and Check;
  • an overview of a Duty Holder’s legal obligations under the Act, including the GED; and,
  • guidance in determining which Duty Holder activities have the most potential to cause harm, including a list of common environmental hazards managed by local governments.

To better assist councils in their understanding of the EPA’s expectations, the Guide helpfully provides scenarios to help Duty Holders identify and manage environmental hazards, including identifying and assessing risks of chemical leaks and spills, as well as animal waste at a pound.

The Guide also outlines the EPA’s powers and how it seeks to ensure compliance and enforcement of the Act. This includes information on the different types of remedial notices, site management orders, directions, and compliance advice.

Finally, there is guidance for Duty Holders who operate a waste transfer station, landfill or material recovery facility.

What next?

In light of these EPA publications and specifically the Guide, we encourage councils in their capacity as Duty Holders, to review and maintain their policies and procedures to prevent and minimise risk of harm to human health and the environment.

For specific advice on any of these matters, please contact the Planning and Environment Team at Maddocks.

By Maria Marshall, Thy Nguyen & Stefan Prelevic

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