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NSW government passes largest environmental regulation bill in over 30 years

NSW now has the “strongest environmental regulations” in the country following the passing of landmark environmental reform. Following this, lawyers in this space have been advised to stay informed, with further changes said to be on the horizon.

user iconGrace Robbie 03 April 2024 Big Law
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Last month, the NSW Parliament passed the Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (Stronger Regulation and Penalties) Bill 2024. This landmark legislation establishes NSW as having the “strongest environmental regulations” across Australia.

The NSW government has described this reform as “the biggest change to environment protection regulation in more than three decades”, and it enables NSW to impose high penalties and stronger regulatory action.

Penny Sharpe, the NSW minister for climate change and the environment, emphasised that the passing of this bill marks “the largest regulation bill since the creation of the Environmental Protection Authority in 1991”.


This reform introduces changes to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and other environmental laws. These changes aim to enhance penalties and bolster the powers of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to deter repeat offenders and ensure that offenders face appropriate consequences for their actions.

Tom White, partner at Lander & Rogers, told Lawyers Weekly that through this reform, the EPA will have “a new power to issue public warning statements about activities or operators of concern”, and it will enable the Land and Environment Court “to issue orders to prevent serious and repeat offenders from applying for environmental protection licences”.

“The EPA will also have new powers to recall contaminated substances and issue preliminary investigation notices to enable early testing and sampling and kickstart investigations,” he said.

The Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (Stronger Regulation and Penalties) Bill 2024 will introduce significant changes, including penalties of up to $10 million for serious offences, on-the-spot fines for companies will increase to $30,000 and $15,000 for individuals for a first offence, and fines for littering in public will double to $160.

Additionally, the bill will also implement a public “name and shame” process to issue warnings and introduce preliminary investigation notices. The Land and Environment Court will also now be able to issue orders to prevent serious and repeat offenders from applying for an environmental protection licence.

“Today, the NSW Labor government fulfils its election commitment to deliver an EPA with teeth and strengthen environmental protections. Penalties for serious offences have not been raised since 2005 when Labour was last in government,” Sharpe added.

“This is a pivotal moment in our fight against crimes that harm the environment.”

White also underscored the importance of environmental lawyers becoming aware of the changes this new reform imposes to ensure they provide efficient and accurate advice for their clients.

“While penalties resulting from prosecutions ultimately remain at the discretion of the court, the reforms send a strong message that illegal dumping, pollution incidents and other actions that result in environmental harm will not be tolerated,” he said.

“Environmental lawyers will need to quickly get across the changes to ensure they are well placed to advise their clients if they find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to respond to an environmental incident.”

Claire Smith, Clayton Utz environment and sustainable development partner, emphasised that this could be the start of the government implementing more reforms and said it was important for environmental lawyers to stay alert.

“The act’s heightened focus on investigation and recall powers highlights the importance of ensuring your clients have fit-for-purpose environmental governance and risk management frameworks, as well as appropriately resourced environmental staff and contractors,” she said.

“The NSW government has indicated that further reform may be on the way. Environmental lawyers should continue to monitor these developments.”

Finally, the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) stated that this landmark reform is a “step in the right direction” when it comes to NSW Parliament “taking environmental crime seriously”.

“We know from our work with communities that people are very concerned about the impacts of pollution on human health and the environment,” the EDO said.

“We are pleased the government is taking steps to address these concerns and that it has flagged further reform in this area.”

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