Australia: WA
Last Updated: 6 January 2003

Mallesons Stephen Jaques' Environment Partner Chris Stevenson said today, "The Contaminated Sites Bill 2002 is the most important piece of environmental legislation introduced in WA in a decade. It will affect land owners, occupiers, lenders, local and state government and of course polluters."

The Bill was introduced for second reading in the Western Australian Parliament in November 2002 by the Minister for Environment and Heritage, Dr Judy Edwards. This followed several years of anticipation based on community consultation with government.

According to Chris Stevenson, the purpose of the Bill, once enacted, is to facilitate the identification of contaminated sites so they can be monitored and, if necessary, cleaned up if there is a threat to human health or the environment.

He said, "The consequences will be far reaching for those who own or occupy contaminated land. The reporting obligations are mandatory, even if it is only suspected that the land might be contaminated. The penalties for not reporting are substantial."

The Contaminated Sites Bill 2002:

  • defines contamination
  • requires the reporting of contaminated sites and creates a public database
  • provides a hierarchy of responsibility for remediation of contaminated sites
  • provides powers to the CEO of the Dept. of Environmental Protection (CEO) to order investigations and remediation
  • establishes a contaminated sites committee
  • provides for memorials to be placed on land titles and
  • provides for exemption and contamination certificates

The Bill defines a contaminated site as land or water containing a substance above background concentrations that presents, or has the potential to present, a risk of harm to human health or the environment.

Beginning 6 months after the enactment of the Bill, owners, occupiers, polluters and auditors must begin reporting known or suspected contaminated sites.

Known sites are to be reported within 21 days of becoming aware of the contamination.

Suspected sites are to be reported "as soon as reasonably practicable" after becoming aware of the possibility of contamination.

Failure by a company to report may result in a fine of up to $1.25 million with a daily penalty of up to $250,000.

The Bill provides the CEO power to issue a clean up notice where the CEO believes, on reasonable grounds, that appropriate action to remediate the site is not being taken.

If an investigation notice or clean up notice is issued by the CEO, failure by a company to comply may lead to a penalty of up to $2.5 million with a daily penalty of up to $500,000.

Once investigated, a site is entered onto a public database if remediation is required or if the site is subject to a restricted use.

The Contaminated Sites Bill 2002 is intended to provide for the identification, recording, management and remediation of contaminated sites. It is the most far-reaching of such legislation in Australia and as such, will have a dramatic impact on all aspects of land use.

Mallesons’ Chris Stevenson said, "Not only is the issue of responsibility for clean up likely to be contentious, but the mere identification of land as contaminated will have real impacts on land values, financial securities and actual usage. The commencement of the legislation will bring some far reaching change to those affected, but at what price ? "

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