MS PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:18:26) — I will make a brief contribution to the debate on the Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018. As others have mentioned, the bill reforms the legislative framework for the protection of the environment and human health from pollution and waste. What the bill fundamentally does is shift the focus of the Environment Protection Act 1970 to prevention. I would have thought that this was quite natural. I suppose that prior to coming to this place and learning so many things, I would have just assumed that environmental protection meant prevention, but this bill really does fundamentally look at prevention as part of our environmental protection. That means building that fence at the top of the cliff rather than ambulances arriving at the bottom of the cliff to clean up the mess; it means preventing the mess from making its way to us. At its heart, this scheme is about preventing harm. It is not dissimilar to Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. Certainly when I have been speaking to businesses in my electorate, that is the analogy that has been made with this bill.
I think this bill is abundantly sensible and I think it is modern, and I am pleased to see that there is some greater transparency within the bill in that we are going to see the monitoring that the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) does. It will all be on the public record, as will many other aspects of the work of the organisation, to provide more information to the public so we can get a better sense of what the organisation is doing, what needs to be fixed and the issues that are of concern.
I have heard from a number of organisations about this bill, but given the contribution from Mr Davis, I am surprised I have not heard from more. There have been many other pieces of legislation for which my inbox has been filled with concerns from many different organisations. With this bill, I have to say that I did not get a great deal of correspondence from organisations. I certainly heard from the Minerals Council of Australia, and I spoke to them. I understand their concern — and Ms Bath mentioned this in her contribution — around the possibility of vexatious litigation under the new third party civil scheme. I am pleased that after contacting the minister’s office about this concern and raising it with him, I received a very fulsome response, but I appreciate that the minister has undertaken to clarify these issues in his summing up this afternoon.
I am quite satisfied that the bar is set sufficiently high in this bill. As I say, I think this was made clear to me by the lack of correspondence that I received and the lack of opposition to the bill in that correspondence over the very long period that this bill has been on the notice paper. I think also that this bill is kind of in line with the way that we want to see our corporations operate. We want to see our corporations taking on the triple bottom line. We want to see our corporations, when considering the work that they are doing and when considering how they operate, show that it is not just about the commercial bottom line but that it is also about the social bottom line and the environmental bottom line. We are seeing more and more corporations and even the ASX noting that corporations need to be considering the environment as a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, and this bill provides some framework for organisations to do that.
I have to say I have appreciated the minister’s office and the government addressing a number of the issues that were raised with me. Certainly all issues that were raised with me I did put to the minister’s office. I would particularly like to thank Nigel Cummins, who I suspect did not write only to me. He is a former EPA officer. In his correspondence he was concerned about litter reporting, and that had been the focus of his work when he was with the organisation some years ago. In the very substantial correspondence I received from Nigel he was able to actually highlight a drafting error in the bill which I understand has now been remedied. I met with the minister on this.
One of the areas that has been raised with me in my constituency is the opportunities, particularly around recycling, in the change to prevention and protecting our environment. I have a number of recycling companies and businesses in my region. I probably do not have as many waste businesses as those in the west, but I have a fantastic battery and light bulb recycling company in my area. They are working very hard to work with corporations on that third bottom line — the environmental bottom line — to recycle light bulbs and batteries. They are really doing some great work in doing that and preventing very dangerous chemicals from entering our waterways or going into our landfill.
I was also speaking to another organisation in my region that recycles textiles. They do a phenomenal job. They are also at the moment — we hope such a business will be able to be established in Victoria in the not-too-distant future — sending textiles over to Malaysia where the textiles are shredded and chopped up and then compressed into pellets which replace coal in cement kilns. This provides a very high heat source of power. I think these are the sorts of things that we want to be seeing corporations in Victoria doing, with a focus on prevention and protection but also with a focus on being proactive rather than reactive. These businesses will employ a lot more people than landfill will employ. We can see that not only is this good for our economy but it is good for employment and for our environment.
I was pleased to see that this bill streamlines the permissions framework for businesses. Rather than having just one section where you could under the legislation only have a licence, we have now got licensing, registration and permits. This is making it actually easier for businesses. I am very pleased to see that this is actually bringing about less red tape and making it easier for small businesses to comply. The bill gives the EPA new teeth in terms of sanctions, provides that duty to manage contaminated land and also reforms the audit process, with which Victoria was ahead of its time in the 1970s. But certainly this needs to be modernised, and this bill does that. At Reason Victoria our party wants to be future focused, we want to be evidence based and we want to pursue principled and pragmatic policy on important issues like health, the environment and obviously a post-carbon economy. I think this reform in this bill sits comfortably within that policy set.
I note that the reforms and the amendments proposed by this bill were underpinned by a very substantial independent inquiry. That was conducted by a ministerial advisory committee, constituted by the chair, Penny Armytage, and Jane Brockington and Janice van Reyk. I think all of us in this house are very impressed with the diligent work that Ms Armytage has done not just in this inquiry but in many other inquiries that have helped form regulatory reform in this state. For these reasons I do not believe that we need to kill the bill, effectively, by sending it off to committee. I lend my support to this bill.