WA Introduces Bill Following Major Review of Environment Protection Laws

Thursday 23 April 2020 @ 10.44 a.m. | Legal Research

The Environmental Protection Amendment Bill 2020 (the Bill) was introduced into the WA Parliament on 16 April 2020 by Mr R.R. Whitby (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Environment) on behalf of the Minister. The Bill along with the Environmental Protection Amendment Bill 2020 (No. 2) (the Levy Bill) amends the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (the EP Act) with the aim of improving and updating the legislation by streamlining and improving regulatory processes for the protection of the environment in WA. The Bill also makes minor, consequential amendments to other WA legislation.

The Bill is to be supported by amendments to the Environmental Protection Regulations 1987, the Environmental Protection (Clearing of Native Vegetation) Regulations 2004 and the making of new regulations necessary to implement the reforms proposed by the Bill.

Objectives of the Proposed Amendments

In the second reading speech to the Bill, Mr Whitby stated the objectives of the Bill:

"The amendments in the Environmental Protection Amendment Bill deliver a modern Environmental Protection Act. They will create the ability for more efficient, risk-based and flexible assessment and approval processes, expand enforcement powers, support a focus on cumulative impacts and strategic assessment, and increase penalties for environmental offences."

According to the second reading speech, the amendments are drawn from reviews and recommendations by expert advisory groups undertaken since the last major amendments by the Gallop Government (2001 to 2006). Consultation on the reforms proposed by the Bill was followed in 2019 by the release of an exposure draft Bill, a discussion paper and various meetings with stakeholder groups which according the second reading speech generated 101 submissions which are said to have "found broad support for the amendments".

The second reading speech points out that the amendments are driven by the need to "simplify and reduce unnecessary regulatory obligations on industry while maintaining strong environmental protection and standards". The WA government's view is that the amendments will result in "the reduction of costs to both industry and government and benefit business development and job creation".

The second reading speech indicates that the Bill is seen by the WA Government as representing "the most significant reform of Western Australia’s environmental legislation since the EP Act came into effect." According to the Government:

 ". . . [the Bill] will help ensure community expectations for a healthy environment are promoted and achieved. By improving regulatory processes, the amendments will support investment, employment and business creation in the state while supporting the best environmental outcomes."

Main Areas of Reform

The main areas of reform in the Bill are:

  • the improvement of the regulatory processes under Part IV environmental impact assessments to streamline the administrative efficiency of the assessment process, and reduce duplication of assessments and approvals;
  • the introduction of cost recovery provisions relating to Part IV environmental impact assessments environmental impact assessments;
  • the clarification of provisions that deal with strategic assessments using terminology consistent with that used in other jurisdictions;

Note: These amendments will provide clarity and align the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) ability to conduct strategic assessments with similar processes in other jurisdictions.

  • the amendment of Part V Division 2 which deals with the clearing of native vegetation, so as to ensure the clearing provisions are "efficient, targeted, flexible and transparent while ensuring the protection of native vegetation with important environmental values";
  • the amendment of Part V Division 3 which deals with prescribed premises, works approvals and licences, so as to improve the "efficiency of regulation of emissions and discharges" from such premises;
  • the modernisation and improvement of defences, investigation and enforcement powers, and the provision of enhanced modified penalties;
  • the introduction of a new Part VB relating to environmental protection covenants, to provide for environmental protection covenants into which the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) may enter under conditions made for Part IV proposals and Part V Division 2 clearing permits;
  • the introduction of a new Part VIIB deal with environmental monitoring programmes, to enable regulations to be made for the development of environmental monitoring programs to address cumulative environmental impacts in particular areas or from certain industries and to recover the costs of monitoring;
  • the introduction of a new Part VIIIA which makes provision for bilateral agreements with the Commonwealth, and which is intended to facilitate and streamline the implementation of bilateral assessment and approval agreements under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, including fees for cost recovery;
  • the amendment of the appeal provisions to improve consistency; and
  • the establishment of consistent transparency and publication requirements throughout the EP Act, providing a head of power for a system for the accreditation of environmental practitioners, and increasing penalties for certain environmental offences.

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Environmental Protection Amendment Bill 2020 (181 of 2020) [WA], second reading speech, and explanatory memorandum, available from TimeBase's LawOne Service.

Ministerial Statement: Feedback sought on improving environmental legislation (Hon. Stephen Dawson MLC, Minister for Environment)

Discussion Paper: Modernising the Environmental Protection Act  (October 2019)

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