Independent review of powers and penalties under the EP Act
An independent review into the adequacy of powers and penalties available under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (the Act) has been completed and the final report provided to the former Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef and Minister for Science and Youth Affairs.
The review was initiated in part due to the significant odour nuisance issues in the Swanbank industrial area and surrounds but has relevance to all of Queensland. It was conducted by retired Judge Richard Jones and Barrister Susan Hedge.
The review aimed to identify whether the tools available to the regulator, particularly in relation to nuisance, are suitable to deal with the challenges of the future and make recommendations for improving the regulation of Queensland’s environment.
The review found that the Environmental Protection Act 1994 generally has an adequate range of powers and penalties to enforce environmental obligations and reduce the risk of environmental harm. However, circumstances were identified (e.g. for nuisance matters), where the powers could be improved.
These recommendations aim to prevent pollution, and provide appropriate tools for nuisance matters to take stronger action against polluters and better protect community health and wellbeing.
Key recommendations included:
- greater emphasis be placed on the concepts of human health, wellbeing and safety.
- amendments to the definitions of environmental nuisance, and material and serious environmental harm to clarify that certain emissions, including odour, may also constitute material or serious environmental harm. This would allow other tools such as emergency directions, environmental protection orders, clean-up notices and cost recovery notices to be used for some matters which would have been classified as nuisance despite their seriousness, along with higher penalties.
- elevating the precautionary principle and introducing other principles in relation to polluter pays, proportionality and the primacy of prevention.
- creating a new offence for contravening the general environmental duty to help focus on the conduct of operators, as opposed to consequential harm, by ensuring appropriate measures are employed to address risks.
- broader powers to amend Environmental Authority (EA) conditions to ensure they remain contemporary and effective.
- clarifying that certain obligations contained in EA conditions, such as site management and rehabilitation, continue under suspended or cancelled EAs.
- specific recommendations in relation to the use of Transitional Environmental Programs and Environmental Protection Orders to improve their effectiveness.
The full list of 18 recommendations is available in the final review report.
Queensland Government response
The recommended changes are designed to ensure that the environmental regulator has the appropriate tools in place to manage environmental impacts, including ongoing nuisance, and deter environmental offending. Read the detailed Queensland Government response.
Several of the recommendations have already been delivered through the Environmental Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2023 which was passed by the Queensland Parliament in March 2023. The remainder of the recommendations will be subject to the development of detailed proposals, further stakeholder consultation and consideration of regulatory impact assessment.
A detailed public consultation paper and/or Regulatory Impact Statement will be released in the second half of 2023, followed by the development of the necessary amendments to legislation.