The EPA – from then to now Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority began operating in 1971. It was the first EPA in Australia and the second in the world.
Creating this new organisation was a bold step, taken to tackle the growing environmental consequences of Victoria’s industrialisation. Pollution and waste impacts that were once considered inconsequential or inconvenient were now seen as unacceptable. The Victorian community began to understand the dangerous, and often long lasting, negative impacts of pollution and waste on health and the environment.
Another reason for this legislation is the rapidly increasing volume of waste entering the environment from our growing society and the highly complex problems resulting from it. It is abundantly clear that we place State government in a better organisational position if we are to cope with the problems which are certainly developing. (Second reading speech for the Environment Protection Bill 1970)
From its inception, the EPA has played an important role in mitigating the effects of the worst forms of air, water and land pollution. Today Victorians experience many of the benefits from these efforts – with cleaner air to breathe, and environments in which to live and work, providing a much-envied liveability. The EPA’s work – to control pollution, increase awareness and support better practices – reduces impacts today and also means that a better legacy is passed on to future generations.
The world has changed significantly over the past 45 years. So too, has the EPA, and its governing legislation, the Environment Protection Act 1970 (EP Act), has been extended and adapted over time. The focus remains on managing pollution and waste but the problems and the demands on the EPA continue to change. But, what about tomorrow? What environmental challenges will arise? What does the environment protection regulator need to be and do? What will the community expect? What powers, tools and resources will the regulator need to best serve and protect the next generation of Victorians and beyond?
These are the core questions we explored during the 10 months of our inquiry. The Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water asked us to examine and advise on the future of the EPA – what it will need to address both present and future environmental risks. We were asked to consider: the EPA’s roles relating to public health, environment protection and the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions; the appropriateness of its governance structures and resourcing; the scope and adequacy of its powers; and its role in environmental justice.
Our terms of reference also asked us to investigate Victorians’ expectations of the EPA. The findings draw on the insights of the Victorian public, interest groups, industry, scientists, local government, other government partners and regulators, and a range of expert analysts and academics. We collected their views through an extensive program of consultation, including via stakeholder roundtables, community forums in 10 regional and 7 metropolitan locations, site visits around the state, direct meetings with state and local government officeholders, community representatives and industry leaders, and more than 200 written submissions. We also commissioned expert advice including independent social research to gauge community attitudes.
Our findings and recommendations are presented in this report in four parts:
• Part A details the changing context of environmental challenges and of community expectations.
• Part B focuses on the purpose of the EPA, and what it should be doing.
• Part C examines how the EPA performs its functions, and the powers and tools it needs.
• Part D identifies the governance and institutional arrangements and the expertise and other capabilities that the EPA will need to fulfil its mandate