Compliance and enforcement

The department administers over 25 legislative Acts to manage the health of the environment, to protect Queensland’s unique ecosystems and to identify and conserve the state's built heritage. The legislation includes the following Acts:

  • Coastal Protection and Management Act 1995
  • Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011
  • Environmental Protection Act 1994
  • Nature Conservation Act 1992
  • Queensland Heritage Act 1992
  • Sustainable Planning Act 2009
  • Water Act 2000 (Chapter 3)
  • Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993.

    What we do as Queensland’s environmental regulator

    Our team is dedicated to safeguarding the state’s environmental values, and reducing any impacts from environmental harm.

    Video transcript

    Clean air, running waterways, magnificent wildlife, and healthy lands—are all worth looking after.

    As Queensland’s environmental protection agency—this is where we come in. Across Queensland’s vast land, our team is dedicated to safeguarding its environmental values, and reducing any impacts from environmental harm.

    We are Queensland’s environmental regulator.

    Imagine that our team is like the root of the tree, and each of our business groups is an anchor of that root. Our job is to support industry growth and ensure the prosperity of Queensland’s environment. We are always there, working 24/7 to ensure industry does the right thing, and our air and water is kept clean for future generations.

    As a frontline service working from the inner cities, across expansive kilometres of coastline, to the dry and dusty outback—there is never a dull day in the life of an environmental regulator.

    And if there are chances of rain, our job doesn’t stop there.

    We could be on site with a mining company to make sure they have measures in place to handle the predicted weather to avoid environmental wrongdoing. We could be out meeting with any industry or community group, to listen to their concerns or address their expectations on environmental impacts that are important to them. As well as receiving vital information from the community about what is happening in their part of the state—they are our eyes and ears, and a fundamental branch to our team. We could be at the courts anywhere from Dalby to Cairns, taking up the fight and prosecuting companies and individuals to make sure polluters of the environment pay.

    And that’s just Monday…

    Tuesday’s forecast is sunshine…an entirely different ball game.

    We could be monitoring sites using drones, gathering spatial information for onsite inspections, or taking action by issuing fines or clean up orders to polluters. Our team in the office is assessing environmental impacts, fielding calls from people about everything from how to apply for a licence, to receiving information on a pollution event. Our highly skilled group of environmental officers are checking compliance, and could be out responding to pollution events, measuring levels and taking samples.

    A truck has rolled over and spilled its load. We are responding with emergency services to take fast action and mitigate impacts to the surrounding environment. Who knows what the rest of the week will demand from our dedicated team to keep Queensland’s environment safe from harm.

    The environment is unpredictable sometimes, and as Queensland’s environmental protection agency, we are here 24/7 to ensure our environment can be enjoyed by future generations.

    As the Queensland Government’s environmental regulator, the department’s approach to ensuring compliance with its legislation is to:

    • educate individuals, industry and governments about the laws and how to comply with them
    • encourage voluntary compliance with obligations
    • monitor compliance
    • reward good performers
    • respond to breaches of the legislation with consistent and proportionate enforcement action.

    These activities can happen in 2 ways—they can be reactive in response to a complaint or incident, or they can be proactive.

    To help industry improve its compliance practices the department will set clear expectations about acceptable standards of environmental performance, as well as publishing easy to understand guidance material and information about how to meet those expectations.

    This information will assist industry to better understand its responsibilities in achieving good environmental practices, and give operators every opportunity to know what they need to do to meet their obligations. The department acknowledges the growing importance of building an improved voluntary compliance culture within industry.

    For those industry members who choose not to comply with their obligations, the department will be consistent in taking prompt, strong enforcement action. This action will demonstrate to industry members that act responsibly, and the broader community, that there are consequences for poor performance.

    In addition, the department will consider the performance of operators when developing its compliance activities each year. This information is combined with a range of other available information about the risks of particular activities to ensure that the department’s proactive activities are targeted.

    The department has undertaken significant work to revitalise and reshape its proactive compliance methodology and framework to provide improved utilisation of compliance resources to target the highest risks to the environment and monitor performance of clients. To support this new compliance approach, the department is upgrading its systems to collect and analyse more detailed information to improve compliance planning. This will enable the department to determine which industries and customers are not meeting their expected environmental outcomes and to focus efforts on working with these customers to achieve compliance.

    A strong governance approach has been put in place for the new framework to oversee compliance actions, ensuring a consistent, appropriate and strategic approach to compliance and enforcement activities across the state.

    Previous annual compliance plan reports

    Enforcement guidelines

    Decisions about appropriate enforcement action are informed by a set of guidelines (PDF, 347.4KB) .

    The guidelines—updated in February 2016—explain how the department determines the enforcement action it may take on the basis of the seriousness of the breach of legislation. The department publishes the guidelines to ensure its enforcement responses:

    • are proportionate to the conduct
    • are consistent with past responses for similar conduct
    • occur in a timely fashion.

    Chain of Responsibility Environmental Protection Order Guideline

    The Environmental Protection (Chain of Responsibility) Amendment Act 2016 (CoRA) came into effect on 27 April 2016. The CoRA amends the environmental protection order (EPO) provisions in the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act) by inserting new heads of power, allowing an EPO to be issued to a related person of a company.

    The Issuing chain of responsibility environmental protection orders under Chapter 7, Part 5, Division 2 of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 Guideline (PDF, 963.9KB) has been developed under section 548A of the EP Act. The current version of the guideline took effect on 9 September 2019, and is referenced under section 187 Environmental Protection Regulation 2019.

    The guideline provides information about how the department decides:

    • whether a person has a relevant connection with a company;
    • whether to issue an EPO to related persons of a company; and
    • which of the related persons of a company to issue an EPO to.

    The department must have regard to the guideline when deciding to issue an EPO to a related person. A consultation report (PDF, 475.6KB) has been developed to summarise the submissions received during public consultation undertaken in November 2016 and how they were considered when developing the final guideline.

    Changes to penalty infringement notices

    Penalty Infringement Notices (PINs) can be issued for a wide range of offences relating to environmental and heritage matters—which are prescribed in the State Penalties Enforcement Regulation 2014 (SPER).

    Changes to the SPER have resulted in an increased number of infringement notice offences as well as increases to existing PIN amounts. All PINs issued under the legislation the department administers, now reflect these changes to the SPER.

    These changes align with the implementation of the department’s updated Regulatory Strategy.

    Changes to penalty unit values

    Prior to 1 July 2014, the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 prescribed the value of a penalty unit. The Penalties and Sentences Regulation 2005 now prescribes that the value of a penalty unit will increase through indexation each year on 1 July.

    Visit the Queensland Government’s Penalty infringement notices (environment and heritage matters) webpage for further details on: paying the fine, voluntary instalment plans, unpaid PINs, disputing the offence, making a statutory declaration, and electing to have the matter heard in court.

    Powers of authorised officers

    One way the department achieves compliance with the Acts it administers is through targeted, risk-based inspections conducted by authorised persons of sites impacting on or posing a risk to the environment.

    The Powers of authorised persons guideline—ESR/2016/2276 (PDF, 255.5KB) provides an overview of the roles, powers and activities of the department’s authorised officers under the Environmental Protection Act 1994.

    Environmental Regulatory Update e-newsletter

    As part of its commitment to being transparent, the department publishes compliance and enforcement-related information online. The Environmental Regulatory Update e-newsletter is a regular e-mail bulletin sent to subscribers to increase their awareness of important compliance and enforcement information, including prosecution bulletins.

    Previous Environmental Regulatory Update e-newsletters are available and you can subscribe to receive future e-newsletters.

    Compliance alerts

    The department is committed to providing guidance material that tells clients how they can comply with their environmental obligations. The department publishes compliance alerts that discuss common compliance issues relevant to a particular sector.

    The compliance alerts will include a description of problems encountered, the strategies that clients can implement to address those problems, and case studies that provide practical examples of the consequences of those problems.

    Prosecution bulletins

    To educate clients and the community about the department’s enforcement actions, the department will publish prosecution bulletins to a new page that summarises the facts and outcomes of prosecutions finalised by the department.