Companies, and their directors and officers, can face
significant financial penalties in relation to environmental
A Brisbane company recently pleaded guilty to breaching a
condition of an environmental authority. For a period of four hours
in May 2014, approximately 80 to 90 tonnes of catalytic dust was
released from the defendant's petroleum refinery and settled on
25,000 vehicles that were stored nearby.
The Wynnum Magistrates Court imposed a penalty of $20,000 (which
was minor, since the maximum penalties that could have been imposed
are $530,100 for an individual and $2,650,500 for a corporation).
However the penalty pales in comparison to the $756,888 the company
was required to spend cleaning up the resultant environmental harm.
The company was also ordered to pay investigation and legal costs
Even in this case, where there was no long term environmental
damage, the company cooperated with the regulator, had no previous
convictions, and pleaded guilty, it is clear that the accumulated
costs following environmental harm can be substantial.
The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
(DEHP) has access to a wide range of enforcement
warning notices and letters;
infringement notices imposing a penalty;
administrative notices and orders regarding actions that must
be taken to remedy the effects of an offence;
court orders to compel a party cease actions and remedy the
effect of an offence;
enforceable undertakings as an alternative to prosecution;
suspension or cancellation of permits, licences or
The DEHP will consider the level of culpability and whether the
offence is repeated or ongoing in deciding which enforcement option
to pursue. If an accident occurs that causes or is likely to cause
environmental harm, it is important to get legal advice as soon as
possible because what you say and do can be used as part of any
Typically, enforcement action will be taken against a company
for the actions of its employees and agents, however, where the
environmental harm is caused by an act demonstrably outside the
scope of employment then DEHP may pursue an individual instead.
Where it can be established that a director or officer had
knowledge of an event and showed an intention to engage in the act
or omission, it is likely the DEHP will take enforcement action
against that director or officer. Similarly, if an individual was
negligent or reckless in respect of an act or omission, or failed
to monitor and assess risks associated with the company's
activities then enforcement action may be taken.
You should also be aware that, following the recent commencement
of the Environmental Protection (Chain of Responsibility)
Amendment Act 2016, environmental protection orders can be
issued to not only directors and officers but also to related
bodies corporate, executive officers, secured parties, mortgagees,
financiers, shareholders, and 'related persons', such as
holding companies and landowners.
Winner – EOWA Employer of Choice for Women Citation 2009,
2010, 2011 and 2012
Winner – ALB Gold Employer of Choice 2011 and 2012
Finalist – ALB Australasian Law Awards 2008, 2010, 2011 and
2012 (Best Brisbane Firm)
Winner – BRW Client Choice Awards 2009 and 2010 - Best
Australian Law Firm (revenue less than $50m)
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.
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The article is a review of recent developments in compliance, enforcement and prosecutions relating to environmental law.
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