Amendments commence for Queenslands Environmental Protection Act

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    What you need to know

    • On 5 April 2023, a broad range of amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) came into effect.
    • The amendments include expansion of investigators' powers, extension of executive officer liability, significant changes to transitional environmental programs and changes to the contaminated land and environmental impact statement frameworks.
    • Meanwhile, the Government has set out its intention to reform the Planning Act 2016 (Qld) in three consultation papers.  The proposed amendments focus on improving operational efficiency, streamlining urban encroachment applications, and clarifying the Development Control Plan application process. 

    What you need to do

    • It is expected that the Planning and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 (Qld) will be prepared and released following consideration of consultation feedback. The amendments proposed in the Bill should be carefully considered.

    Amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1994

    A suite of amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld), contained in the Environmental Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2023 (Qld), commenced on 5 April 2023.  

    The amendments include:

    • Extending executive officer liability: executive officers are now liable for the acts or omissions of a corporation that occur while they are in office, even if the associated offence is committed after they have left office. 
    • Expanding investigator powers: importantly, authorised persons have new powers to require corporations to nominate a person to attend interviews and answer questions on its behalf. 
    • Increased environmental harm thresholds: the threshold amounts for material environmental harm and serious environmental harm have been increased to $10,000 and $100,000 respectively, and will be subject to annual CPI increases.  
    • Significant changes to transitional environmental programs: it will now be the Department, rather than the applicant, that drafts the transitional environmental program. 
    • Changes to the EIS process: the amendments introduce an "early no" step, which requires that an EIS be refused where it is unlikely the project could proceed.  The amendments also include lapsing periods for EIS reports and modernising public notification requirements. 
    • Changes to the contaminated land framework: the changes include clarification of the notification requirements for contaminated land, and the introduction of a process for voluntary inclusion of land on the environmental management register or contaminated land register.

    We summarised the effect of these amendments in our 19 October 2022 alert Changes on the horizon for Queensland's Environmental Protection Act

    Amendments relating to the use of body worn cameras, and use or disclosure of confidential information, have not yet commenced.  These amendments will commence on 6 April 2024.

    Proposed Planning Act amendments

    The Queensland Government is also proposing a number of amendments to the Planning Act 2016 (Qld).  It has released three consultation papers that set out its policy intentions to reform the planning framework in the following areas: 

    (a)  operational efficiency;

    (b)  urban encroachment applications; and

    (c)  Development Control Plans.

    Of most interest, the first consultation paper proposes a total of 18 changes to increase clarity and operational efficiency of the planning framework.  They include:

    • modernising the public notification requirements, including potential removal of the requirement to publish notices in a newspaper;
    • allowing for electronic access to planning and development assessment documents in place of hard copy;
    • improving the functionality of the Minister's powers during an "applicable event"; 
    • specifying a timeframe for assessment of change representations if the applicant does not suspend the appeal period, or provides change representations at the end of the suspension period; and
    • clarifying that the applicant bears the onus of proof in a submitter appeal for a change application in the Planning and Environment Court. 

    Next steps

    It is expected that the Planning and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 (Qld) will be prepared and released following consideration of consultation feedback.  The amendments proposed in the Bill should be carefully considered.

    Authors: Leanne Mahly, Lawyer; Sophie Pruim, Graduate.