The NSW Department of Planning and Environment is set to issue the toughest on-the-spot fines in Australia for companies who breach their development consents.

In a recent announcement by the NSW Minister for Planning Rob Stokes, it was revealed that the NSW Government plans to increase penalty notices as a way of ensuring that ‘high impact developments’ including coal mines, factories and other hazardous industries, are operated responsibly and in accordance with their approval conditions. The maximum on-the-spot fines will increase from $3,000 to $15,000 if a company is found to have breached its development consent.

The Department believes that the increased fines will improve community confidence and strengthen the importance of approval conditions through strict enforcement.

To demonstrate its commitment, the Department has substantially increased its team of compliance officers to cover more of the State. Two additional teams have been established in the regionally significant areas of Wollongong and Quenbeyan, while the number of compliance officers covering the Greater Sydney region is expected to double. Further, the Hunter Valley team has already increased its numbers to allow greater surveillance and investigation of the region’s coal mining industry.

Penalty notices are only one of the enforcement mechanisms available to the Department’s compliance officers, and the choice of action will depend upon the particular circumstances of the offence. In deciding whether to issue a penalty notice, the Department will consider the following factors:

  • Does it appear that an offence has been committed?
  • Is a penalty notice the appropriate response for the offence?
  • Have multiple breaches occurred?
  • Has compliance action been taken by another authority with respect to the breach?

It is important to note that prior to any enforcement actions, compliance officers have very broad investigation powers including the authority to undertake spot checks, reviews, audits, site inspections and remote surveillance activities. Accordingly, it is expected that the number of investigations will significantly increase as a result of the Department’s decision to expand compliance teams across the State, with the number of penalty notices also likely to increase.