A Ministerial Advisory Committee was appointed in May 2015 to undertake an independent inquiry into the Environment Protection Authority (EPA). The Committee, chaired by Penny Armytage, provided its report to the Minister in March 2016. The Committee made 48 recommendations to Government about how the EPA could be better equipped to meet the environmental and human health challenges facing Victoria, including a significant legislative reform agenda.
The Andrews Government released its response to the Independent Inquiry into the Environment Protection Authority on 17 January 2017.
Click here to read the full report and Government’s response.
Recommendations affecting local government
One of the key recommendations affecting local government relates to the establishment of a new state-wide network of local government environment protection officers to address localised pollution and waste complaints. The Committee considered that a new localised layer of environment protection could provide a timely and more effective response to small-scale local pollution and waste issues that otherwise go unattended (see p. 306). According to the Committee, the proposal represents a significant new function and enhancement to service delivery for the Victorian community, which is not currently performed by either local government or the EPA (see p. 314). The Committee recommended that local government environment protection officers be employed by councils but appropriately authorised under the Environment Protection Act 1970 (EP Act), with clearly defined statutory roles and governance arrangements, including the following elements:
- authorisation under the EP Act to address localised, low-level pollution and waste complaints (i.e. noise, odour, septic tanks and litter). They will not be expected to deal with facilities that are licensed by the EPA
- have defined powers to issue infringements and notices
- be expected to support compliance by providing information to local businesses and the broader community.
The Committee recognised that funding for the proposal will be a ‘critical issue’, specifically, local government authorities will require additional funding to appoint the new local government environment protection officers (see p. 314). The Committee recommended that the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) bring a proposal to government to identify additional resources for local government to fund these new functions (eg. one option could be developing a landfill levy revenue sharing arrangement with local councils).
In its response, commencing in 2017, the Government has committed to work with the local government sector to design and implement a pilot program of local government environment protection officers, working alongside the EPA, with authority under the EP Act. The Government has committed $4.8 million to deliver the pilot program in 2017–18. Informed by the pilot, the Government will consider further investment to expand the program (see the Government’s response to recommendations 18.1 and 18.2).
All the Committee’s recommendations were either supported by the Government, supported in principle or supported in part. Specifically, the Government has committed to the following key reforms:
- the introduction of two bills before Parliament – one as soon as practicable in 2017 to legislate establishment and governance provisions; and one in 2018 to give effect to the ‘overhaul’ of the EP Act (see Government response to recommendation 5.1)
- a legislated Chief Environmental Scientist position within the EPA’s senior executive structure, with the process to recruit an interim Chief Environmental Scientist to begin in early 2017 (see Government response to recommendation 6.1)
- creation of a statutory trigger to require responsible authorities to seek early advice from the EPA on strategic planning processes that involve development in close proximity to a licensed facility, with work to identify and implement the appropriate statutory mechanism to commence in 2017 (see Government response to recommendation 10.1)
- amendment of the planning provisions for ‘Wind Development and associated Guidelines’ to require an assessment of noise to be undertaken by the proponent at the time of application and after facility commissioning (see Government response to recommendation 10.5)
- development of an overarching prosecution strategy. The Government has committed $6.5 million for the EPA to begin developing a prosecution strategy in 2017 (see Government response to recommendation 13.1)
- a review of the use of enforceable undertakings and how they can be applied in different circumstances, with a view to expanding their use (see Government response to recommendation 13.2)
- an appropriate and proportionate mix of offences, range of sanctions, and severity of penalties will be determined as part of the overhaul of the EP Act (see Government response to recommendation 13.3)
- the inspection and enquiry powers of EPA authorised officers (including local government environment protection officers) will be modernised as part of the overhaul of the EP Act, and local government environment protection officers will be supported to deliver on the modernised powers (see Government response to recommendation 13.4)
- development of a comprehensive state-wide database to assist with the identification of potentially contaminated sites. The database will include details of where a statutory environmental audit has occurred and where any actions taken following that audit. As a first step, this information will be accessible in a searchable format through the State Library Victoria’s website from late 2017 (see Government response to recommendation 14.1)
- a comprehensive process will be led by DELWP to reform and better integrate planning and environmental regulation, policy and management of legacy contamination risks (see Government response to recommendation 14.2)
- models to set outcomes-based standards will be considered through reforms to the EP Act (see Government response to recommendation 15.1)
- reform of governance arrangements, including establishing the EPA as an independent statutory authority with a Board of 7 members as the governing body, establishing the CEO of the EPA as a legislated position, and establishing a science, engineering and health advisory panel to provide strategic advice to the Board (see Government response to recommendation 19.1 and 19.2). The EPA interim advisory Board will commence operation in early 2017.