Australia: Environment protection policies in Victoria under review

Last Updated: 25 July 2011
Article by Mark Beaufoy and Leilani R. Kuhn

The EPA and DSE released a discussion paper in June 2011 in relation to the statutory policy review currently being undertaken by the two departments. Written comments on the statutory policy review discussion paper close on 19 August 2011.

The statutory policy review is a result of a number of factors, namely the potential impacts of climate change, an emphasis on a holistic approach to management of environmental issues, increased emphasis on regulatory efficiency and ongoing reform of the EPA.  It aims to unlock the potential to deliver continually improving outcomes for the Victorian environment that can be monitored, evaluated and verified.

The review will examine the function, structure, content, management and effectiveness of statutory policies, particularly State Environment Protection Policies (SEPP) and Waste Management Policies (WMP).  It is not a review of individual policies, nor is it a review of the Environment Protection Act (EP Act) or Victoria's broader environment protection framework. 

The discussion papers sets out, amongst other things, the need for a statutory policy review, the content for the review of statutory policy, the critical challenges for statutory policy, approaches to standard setting in Victoria and other jurisdictions, and potential models and specific suggestions for reform.

The discussion paper outlines some of the key features considered to form part of an effective statutory policy framework, which includes:

  • responding to current and emerging environmental challenges
  • responsive, clear and more accessible standard setting
  • establishing a clear hierarchy of instruments
  • improved implementation of achieve objectives
  • improved coordination and management of policies within and across agencies
  • clearer accountability for environmental performance.

The discussion paper also indentifies four potential models for change to statutory policy:

  • Model 1 – make minor changes to streamline statutory policy.
  • Model 2 – make significant changes to the scope and structure of statutory policy.
  • Model 3 – implement innovative reform of statutory policy to drive regional or local approaches.
  • Model 4 – abolish statutory policy and rely on the EP Act, Regulations and guidance.

There are also some further specific suggestions to improve and reform statutory policy in Victoria.  These include:

  • improving accessibility by making the policies easier to navigate, use more consistent language and are shorter documents that avoid repetition  
  • improving flexibility whilst retaining scrutiny
  • improving accountability, management and coordination.

These suggestions for reform echo comments of VCAT on EPA's waste management policies in SITA Australia Pty Ltd and PWM (Lyndhurst) Pty Ltd v Greater Dandenong CC [2007] VCAT 156 and more recent comments in the EPA Compliance and Enforcement Review (February 2011). For example, the Review commented that the style of drafting in EPA policies varies significantly and is often inconsistent. The Review reported that business and the community found that SEPPs are complex, difficulty to navigate and in some cases inconsistent and ambiguous. The Review made a number of recommendations for improvement that, in short, required a clear framework for statutory and non-statutory guidance to be produced by the EPA.

The EPA and DSE are currently running stakeholder meetings to discuss the review and receive feedback.

DLA Piper can assist you with environmental compliance advice and responding to EPA investigations or enforcement action. In relation to this discussion paper, we can assist with:

  • advising on or preparation of a submission to the EPA and DSE on the discussion paper
  • advising on the implications of any changes to the statutory policy framework that may arise from the review.

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This publication is intended as a general overview and discussion of the subjects dealt with. It is not intended to be, and should not used as, a substitute for taking legal advice in any specific situation. DLA Piper Australia will accept no responsibility for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this publication.

DLA Piper Australia is part of DLA Piper, a global law firm, operating through various separate and distinct legal entities. For further information, please refer to

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