Lawyers and community groups are urging the Victorian Government to immediately revoke its delay of the state’s Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018, due to come into effect in July this year, but placed on hold until July 2021.
Commencement of the Victorian EPA’s new Environment Protection Act 2018 has been postponed until 1 July 2021, due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19.
The Act was originally scheduled to commence 1 July this year.
According to a Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning statement, the decision is part of the state government’s focus on delivering a suite of initiatives designed to ease the burden on business, industry and Victorians as they address the impacts of the pandemic.
“As a result of this decision, the EPA will continue to regulate under the Environment Protection Act 1970, including all subordinate legislation (regulations and statutory policies including state environment protection policies and waste management policies) until the new commencement date,” the statement reads.
“The Victorian Government is committed to the EPA’s reforms and the long-term benefits they will provide for all Victorians. This is not a cancellation of the environment protection reforms. As with many aspects of working life at the present time, it is a responsive adjustment to the current circumstances.”
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has welcomed the announcement, with CEO Gayle Sloan noting that WMRR has been engaging with the regulator.
“Originally slated to commence this July, the new Act represents a significant shift in approach towards prevention, as well as a more flexible, risk-based approach to compliance – both of which are welcome, but will take time for industry and government to work through together to get the balance right,” she said.
“Additionally, with the current challenges being faced by all of Australia, including our essential industry, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry is consumed with the job at hand of keeping our services operating and ensuring the safety of our staff and the community, and we need to remain focused on this task at this time and not further regulatory change.”
According to Ms Sloan, the deferral further illustrates that the Victorian Government listens to the needs of industry and considers its concerns and recommendations.
“WMRR appreciates the government’s decision to defer the commencement of the new EP Act by a year, which affords all of us – industry and governments alike – time to work through the sticking points and ensure that the Act meets all its objectives and the industry is given sufficient time to plan for the changes,” she said.
“Importantly, the EPA is keenly aware that now is not the time to be effecting significant regulatory changes, and as we continue to face mounting challenges related to the pandemic, business as usual is unrealistic.”
WMRR is encouraging other government to reconsider the need to progress additional regulations that will place undue financial and operational pressure on operators already facing difficult times.
“We would encourage other jurisdictions to urgently pivot towards a post-COVID-19 world for our essential industry, by actioning strategic policies and plans that will build a solid foundation for a strong and sustainable environment, as well as fast tracking the capital funding, planning, and approval of waste and resource recovery and remanufacturing infrastructure,” she said.
“Doing this now, we hope, will enable us to come out of this pandemic with a strong and viable sector, which will positively offer a much-needed boost to local economies, creating local jobs that will be welcomed now and into the future.”
According to an Engage Victoria statement, the EPA will continue to work with Victorian businesses, organisations and communities to prepare them for the act’s new date.
“This includes finalising and releasing the environment protection regulations and the Environment Reference Standard,” the statement reads.
Waste Management Review Editor Toli Papadopoulos sat down with EPA Victoria and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in late September to discuss what the new changes to the Environment Protection Act mean for waste industry regulation.
This year’s Victorian Waste Management Association State Conference addressed all the key issues impacting the state’s waste and resource recovery sector, including changes to the EP Act and the government’s stockpiling taskforce.