Australia: Increase in water contamination fines in Queensland - a Christmas present you may not want to receive


The State has significantly increased the maximum penalty attached to various offences under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EPA) including s440ZG for water contamination.

Doubling the maximum penalty from 300 to 600 penalty units ($68, 310) for non-wilful contraventions as well as increasing the on-the-spot prescribed infringement notice (PIN) amount to $5692 for offending companies (from $2277) is a clear signal to local government, developers, land owners, consultants and contractors of the importance of environmental protection to the State.


Whilst the investigation and enforcement of any matter within its jurisdiction is, properly, at the discretion of local government, water contamination offences are potentially unique in nature when compared to the other matters regulated by local government such as development offences for an unlawful use: often the adverse effects of water contamination, particularly caused by sediment, can flow across local government boundaries.


Increasing the maximum penalty will not be a general or specific deterrent unless and until local government takes regular and consistent enforcement action (such action not necessarily being a prosecution). The EPA contains a broad suite of enforcement tools that investigators may use, such as direction notices and PINs which may effectively avoid the need for legal proceedings. That said, in some instances, laying a complaint is the appropriate action and seeing it through may result in a strong and widespread deterrent.

In this respect, it should be noted that depending upon the circumstances of the matter, including for example, how many "deposits" of earth there are, the relevant catchments and the associated ESC treatment train, how many proposed lots there are and the like, it may be appropriate to issue more than one PIN for any one "site".

Arguably, the most effective investigation tool is regular inspection which can lead to positive relationships between local government and the various development stakeholders. Inspections are, however, resource intensive.

If local government was to increase its enforcement measures in line with the State legislature's clear regulatory signals, then an opportunity exists to liaise with other local governments and coordinate investigation and enforcement protocols to ensure consistency and fairness throughout the region.


In recent years the number of direction notices issued, PINs issued and complaints laid for water contamination offences has decreased. This could be because of budgetary constraints for local governments or the development industry has widely been compliant with the EPA. However, given the doubling of the maximum penalty and the increase in the PIN amounts, it is more likely that the State Government is signalling that extra work needs to be done in the industry to minimise offences occurring.

If local government intends to give greater attention to this area after a time of enforcement malaise, it would be appropriate to consult with the various industry bodies across the full spectrum including land owners, developers, consultants and contractors and to highlight increased regulatory attention in this area. This may also present an opportunity to hear from the stakeholders about practical operational difficulties and possible solutions including new designs and techniques in erosion and sediment control and better conditions (for example, conditions may require photographic proof when certain stages are reached or limit the time in which a site may be disturbed) in development approvals so that variations to contracts and rescheduling of works are unnecessary.

These industry stakeholders may even have some insight as to when a complaint should be made about a consultant who has not complied with the requirements/expectations of him or her, as set by industry registration/accreditation schemes such as Registered Professional Engineer Queensland (RPEQ) and Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control (CPESC).

Irrespective of past enforcement, telephone calls, offers to present at seminars or workshops and correspondence drawing to the stakeholders' attention this interesting development in water contamination offences may go a long way in the fight against water contamination.

On a practical level it may well be appropriate for policies to be developed giving warnings before taking enforcement action; again, this should depend upon the circumstances. Also, local governments should not be obstinate in their enforcement approach. There may well be circumstances where, say, a contractor has an excellent or improving history of compliance with the EPA or even exceeding the expectations set by the EPA but for one reason or another has contravened the Act. In those circumstances, the local government may decide to take no further action. Local governments would be wise, however, to fully document the factors leading to any such decision as a record of when warnings were given, to whom, and for what may prove to be beneficial to the investigator if further offending occurs.

That said, the Environmental Protection and Other Amendment Bill 2014 was open for consultation before it became the amending Act. The increase in penalty should not come as a surprise to the various stakeholders.

The annual economic benefit that flows from South-East Queensland's waterways is $5.1 billion, including $2.9 billion from the Nature Based Tourism sector.1 If a site has none, or little ESC measures (and sediment that escapes from the site has a cumulative negative impact on the waterways and hence a negative monetary impact on Queensland's economy), then a PIN for $5692 may not amount to much of a deterrent where the recipient may have taken a chance by cutting costs for a long time over a number of projects. It should be noted that whether a site is being worked on over the Christmas break or not, does not alleviate the need to comply with the legislation.

The timing of these changes to the EPA and the potential for higher levels of regulation by local government serves as a particular reminder for industry participants such as land owners, developers, consultants and contractors that whether someone receives a "wanted" Christmas present from Santa is often the result of solid negotiation and a year long history of being good, or, at least being good as summer rolls in (and with it storms) and Christmas draws near.

1Analysis by Marsden Jacob Associates 2011.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Most awarded firm and Australian deal of the year
Australasian Legal Business Awards
Employer of Choice for Women
Equal Opportunity for Women
in the Workplace (EOWA)

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.