Law and policy developments
In the legislature
Bill to amend RET passes first hurdle
The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 was passed by the House of Representatives on 2 June 2015. The Bill proposes several significant changes to the current Act:
Reducing the Renewable Energy Target for 2030 to 33,000GWh of energy from renewable sources (down from 41,000GWh)
Introducing complete exemptions from the RET requirements for emissions intensive trade exposed activities (rather than 60-90% reductions under the current Act)
Removing the requirement for 2-yearly reviews of the RET by the Climate Change Authority
Allowing the inclusion of native-forest wood waste as a renewable energy source (provided the harvesting is "not primarily for electricity generation" and the wood waste is a "genuine by-product or waste product of a legal operation" that satisfies the RFA requirements). The eligibility of native forest wood waste was previously removed in 2011.
The ALP proposed amendments to exclude wood waste as renewable energy source, however the amendment was not agreed to. The Bill will now proceed to the Senate.
Regulations amended to ban dredge disposal in Great Barrier Reef
The Federal Environment Minister has gazetted an amendment to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations that bans the disposal of capital dredge material within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The ban applies to all past and present permits and future applications for capital dredge disposal, and is intended to help reduce the cumulative pressures on the 344,400km2 Marine Park.
The ban is designed to complement the Queensland Government’s commitment to ban the disposal of capital dredge spoil within areas of the Great Barrier Reef outside of the Marine Park to protect the World Heritage values of the area.
National Water Commission abolished
On 13 May 2015, the Senate passed the National Water Commission (Abolition) Bill.
The National Water Commission was established in 2004 under the National Water Commission Act 2004 to implement the ‘National Water Initiative’ and reform the broader national water agenda. The independent statutory authority provided advice to the Council of Australian Governments on national water issues.
The Coalition government considers that, given substantial progress made in relation to water reform, a stand-alone entity to push the reform agenda was no longer required. Key statutory functions of the Commission will be carried out by other agencies, including the Productivity Commission.
Development (Assessment) Amendment Bill 2015
This Bill, is one of a number of legislative reforms which have arisen to address the ERD Court’s judgment in Paior & Anor v City of Marion & Ors (No 3)  SAERDC 42.
The Bill purports to amend the Development Act 1993 to, amongst other things, allow changes to definitions applying in Development Plans to be made more quickly by the Minister. These proposed amendments are important as presently the definitions of detached dwelling, semi-detached dwelling and row dwelling each require exclusive title over a site.
A number of court authorities have interpreted this phrase to require formal tenure arrangements – i.e. title to land – to be in place before a dwelling can be determined to be either a detached, semi-detached or row dwelling. The Bill seeks to address difficulties this has caused for developers.
It is anticipated that the Bill will pass both houses of Parliament shortly.
Bill to require number of objectors to be considered in decision-making
The Planning and Environment Amendment (Recognising Objectors) Bill 2015 proposes to require decision-makers and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, when assessing whether a proposal is likely to have a significant social impact, to consider the number of objections received.
Under the Bill, the relevance of the number of objections would still be determined by the decision-makers and VCAT.
New Planning and Environment Regulations
The Planning and Environment Regulations 2015 commenced on 16 May 2015. The regulations prescribe a number of matters for the purposes of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Vic), including:
the manner and form of giving notice;
methods of service;
times for applications to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal;
information to be included in any applications, notices, permits and requests;
information that is to be made available by responsible authorities to the public and the relevant Minister; and
information which must be set out in a planning certificate.
In the Courts
On 29 May 2015, the Northern Territory Supreme Court ruled that the Minister for Land Resource Management did not properly review a complaint about the allocation of rights to take groundwater.
Environment Centre NT had sought Ministerial review on the basis that the NT Controller of Water had not followed water allocation planning processes in granting water extraction licences for the Oolloo and Tindall (Mataranka) aquifers. When the Minister upheld the Controller’s decision, ECNT applied to the Supreme Court for a ruling that the Minister had failed to properly carry out a merits review of the allocation decision under the Water Act 1992.
Justice Hiley held that the Minister was not confined to a consideration of whether the Controller had erred, and was instead required to consider all information relevant to the granting of the water licences. Justice Hiley set aside the Minister’s decision dismissing ECNT’s earlier complaint and directed the Minister to reconsider the application for review.
To read the full judgment in Environment Centre Northern Territory Incorporated v Minister for Land Resource Management  NTSC 3, click here.
Policy developments and other news
UNESCO releases draft decisions ahead of World Heritage Committee meetings in June
On 29 May 2015, UNESCO released two draft decisions regarding Australian World Heritage listed properties:
The Great Barrier Reef will not be placed on the World Heritage In-Danger list. However, UNESCO noted that the outlook for the Reef remains “poor” and recommends that the Australian Government be requested to provide a progress review on implementation of the Long Term Sustainability Plan (including adequate funding of management measures) by 2017.
The proposed Management Plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area should be reviewed to maintain wilderness values, outline the cultural heritage values to be protected in the area and ensure no mining or forestry activities occur within the site. The decision also recommends that a reactive mission visit the site to determine whether World Heritage values are being adequately managed.
The World Heritage Committee will consider whether to adopt the draft decisions at its meeting in Bonn, Germany in June 2015.
National Greenhouse Gas inventory Report released
The Commonwealth Government has submitted Australia's National Inventory Report 2013 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in advance of negotiations in Paris later in 2015. The Report contains national greenhouse gas emission estimates for 1990-2013, compiled under the rules for reporting applicable to the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. The Report comprises:
Volume 1: Australia's data for energy (stationary energy, transport and fugitive emissions), industrial processes and product use, and agriculture.
Volume 2: Australia's data for the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) and waste sectors.
Volume 3: Australia's data for Kyoto Protocol LULUCF.
For more information, click here.
2014 National Performance Report on Urban Water Utilities released
The Bureau of Meteorology has published a report which benchmarks the pricing and service quality of Australian water utilities. The report covers approximately 150 performance metrics and indicators from 78 water utilities and councils across Australia. The indicators include water resources, finance, pricing, assets, health, environment and customers.
Consistent with commitments made under the National Water Initiative, the report is jointly prepared by the Bureau of Meteorology, State and Territory governments, and the Water Services Association of Australia.
New planning reforms announced
The Palaszczuk government released the Better Planning for Queensland directions paper on 25 May 2015. The directions paper indicates Labor’s intention to repeal the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 and replace it with modernised legislation. The following principles will underpin the new regime:
Economic growth and innovation;
Public participation; and
Clear and concise legislation.
Other than several references to sustainability, the directions paper does not place particular emphasis on environmental protection.
The new regime will consist of three separate bills: a main planning bill, a bill establishing the jurisdiction of the Planning and Environment Court, and a general bill incorporating amendments to other Acts.
Legislation will be drafted and released for consultation in late 2015, with the new legislation expected to commence in late 2016.
Comments on the directions paper may be directed to email@example.com.
Water Science Taskforce established
On 7 May 2015, Queensland’s Minister for the Great Barrier Reef, Hon. Steven Miles, announced a new initiative to target water quality in the catchment. This initiative involves the establishment of a taskforce headed by Queensland’s Chief Scientist Dr Geoff Garrett, and involving experts from science, business, agriculture and the community sectors. The role of the Taskforce will be to advise government on how to achieve its water quality improvement targets under ReefPlan.
To read more, click here.
Koala listed as vulnerable across Queensland
The Queensland government has accepted the recommendation of the expert Species Technical Committee to extend the classification of the koala, currently listed as vulnerable across the South East Queensland Bioregion, across the entire State. Amendments will be made to the Nature Conservation Act 1992 to give effect to the decision.
Increasing the conservation status will mean that resource and development projects with the potential to impact on koala habitat will be subject to higher levels of scrutiny.
Tasmanian Energy Strategy released
Tasmanian Environment Minister, Matthew Groom MHA, released the ‘Tasmanian Energy Strategy - Restoring Tasmania's Energy Advantage in early May 2015. The Strategy recognises the benefits of solar PV and investment in renewable energy technologies but notes that, until the policy settings stabilise, the Tasmanian government will leave investment to the private sector. The Strategy also outlines over 40 short-medium term actions that the government will take to improve competition and lower power costs.
The Strategy notes that issues relating to Climate Change are not addressed in the Energy Strategy, but will be covered in the Climate Change Action Plan to be released in late 2015.
Scorecard for Tasmania’s environmental laws
EDO Tasmania has released a report examining the various assessment regimes under Tasmania’s environmental laws to determine whether they deliver equivalent protection to matters of national environmental significance as is provided for under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The report, Lifting the Standards, concludes that significant amendments would be necessary prior to any accreditation of Tasmanian approval processes under the EPBC Act.
For more information, click here.
Inquiry into Hazelwood fire to be re-opened and expanded
The Victorian Government has allocated $3.4M to reopen an inquiry into the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire, and to extend the inquiry to cover the operation of other Latrobe Valley brown coal mines (including Alcoa’s Anglesea mine) and issues relating to rehabilitation.
Terms of reference for the inquiry focus on whether the Hazelwood mine fire "contributed to an increase in deaths, having regard to any relevant evidence for the period 2009 to 2014", the adequacy of rehabilitation liabilities under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (Vic).
The Inquiry will make recommendations in respect of the Anglesea rehabilitation by 31 August 2015, and deliver other findings by March 2016. The Inquiry Panel includes Justice Bernard Teague, Emeritus Professor John Catford and Anita Roper.
Approach to coastal and marine management to be reviewed
The Victorian Government has established an expert panel, chaired by NELA member Professor Geoff Wescott, to identify issues relating to coastal and marine health and to advise the government on new laws to better integrate planning and management of coastal and marine areas.
NELA's Integrated Marine and Coastal Planning committee, which includes Prof Wescott, has advocated this approach for years. We commend the Victorian government for making progress in this area.
DMP launches liability calculator
The Department of Mines and Petroleum has released an online calculator to help tenement holders estimate their rehabilitation liability and the Mining Rehabilitation Fund levy payable on disturbed mining tenements.
The calculator is available here.
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