Landmark environmental reforms pass NSW Parliament

The biggest changes to environment protection regulation in more than 3 decades have passed the NSW Parliament today. This paves the way for higher penalties and stronger regulatory action for those that do the wrong thing.

Illegally dumped asbestos wrapped in heavy black plastic and surrounded by yellow hazard tape

The Bill contains the most significant amendments to environment protection rules since the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) was established in 1991.

With the passing of this Bill, New South Wales now has the strongest environmental regulations of any state or territory in Australia.

The reforms address critical loopholes, introduce recall powers and ensure the EPA has stronger powers to deter environmental crimes and respond faster to pollution incidents.

The Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (Stronger Regulation and Penalties) Bill 2024 includes:

  • Doubling maximum penalties – The most serious offences will carry penalties of $10 million for companies and $2 million for individuals. Fines for certain asbestos-related offences will increase to $4 million for companies and $1 million for individuals.
  • Raising on-the-spot fines – Common environmental offences will more than double to $30,000 for companies and $15,000 for individuals for a first offence, and $45,000 and $22,500 respectively for a second. Fines for littering small items in public places will double to $160. Public land managers such as councils will have authority to issue illegal dumping fines of $5,000 to companies and $1,000 to individuals, increasing to $10,000 for corporations and $2,500 for individuals if the dumping occurs in sensitive places like a school, hospital or national park.
  • Environmental recall powers – New controls will be established to recall contaminated substances that could harm the community or the environment.
  • Public transparency – A public ‘name and shame’ process will issue warnings about poor environmental performers and sub-standard practices.
  • Strengthened investigations – Introducing preliminary investigation notices to allow early testing and sampling.
  • Licence bans – The Land and Environment Court will be able issue orders to prevent serious and repeat offenders from applying for an environmental protection licence.

The urgent overhaul is occurring at the same time as the criminal investigation into asbestos-contaminated mulch, which is the largest probe in the EPA’s history and has emphasised the need to strengthen environmental legislation.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Climate Change and the Environment Penny Sharpe:

'This is the largest environmental regulation bill since the creation of the EPA in 1991.

'Today, the NSW 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 Labor was last in government.

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

The new penalties and regulatory tools will come into effect in the coming days.