House of Assembly: Wednesday, May 03, 2023



Environment Protection (Objects of Act and Board Attributes) Amendment Bill

Introduction and First Reading

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Deputy Premier, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Minister for Defence and Space Industries, Minister for Climate, Environment and Water) (15:53): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Environment Protection Act 1993. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Deputy Premier, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Minister for Defence and Space Industries, Minister for Climate, Environment and Water) (15:53): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Across Australia, EPAs and governments generally are being challenged on the adequacy of their policies and actions regarding climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation. This government is committed to stronger action on both climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation. I have previously put on the record the state government's strong support for recognising that in this state and indeed in this country and the planet we are undeniably facing a climate emergency.

For decades we have known that climate change is real and has the potential to have catastrophic effects on our planet. As humans, it is our activities that are having this impact on the planet, meaning that we must act urgently to halt climate change and undo the damage already done. The Malinauskas government, of which I am proud to be a part, is committed to taking real action on climate change, and has made it a priority by putting climate change within the portfolio that I hold, that of Deputy Premier.

We are delivering a broad range of actions to address climate change, to protect the environment and to support jobs and growth at the same time. In the area of mitigation, this government is committed to the statewide goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50 per cent against 2005 emission levels by 2030, and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The government is also progressing a hydrogen jobs plan to attract new jobs and industries that will be created as we move towards net zero emissions.

In the area of adaptation, this government is progressing with an urban greening strategy and also looking into ways the planning system can better assist and ensure that we are building resilient communities across the state that continue to thrive and grow in a changing climate. We have also put a stop to the former government's electric vehicle tax because we want to ensure that we can help encourage more South Australians to buy an electric car, not to hinder them.

The Environment Protection Authority, as the state's principal environment regulator, is well positioned to play a key role in assisting the government to meet its objectives in this area. The Environment Protection Authority regulates industrial pollution, placing limits on industry that are protective of human health and the environment. It also has a role in ensuring that facilities that produce pollution are designed and operated in a way that the risk of environmental harm that might result from an increase in extreme weather events, and risk of flood and bushfire as a result of climate change, are minimised.

Currently, the Environment Protection Act does not specifically mention climate change. However, the objects of the act are sufficiently broad to permit consideration of adaptation to climate change and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the EPA when assessing development referrals and applications for environmental authorisations. The design, location and operational controls that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce exposure to climate-related changes and increase resilience to such changes will become increasingly important.

The Environment Protection Authority published a role statement in early 2022 outlining how the authority is contributing to South Australia's response to climate change, and the South Australian government climate change action plan. This bill seeks to clarify the objects of the act and add climate change knowledge to the attributes of the membership of the board of the EPA.

These amendments will provide certainty and transparency for industry, within the broader community and government itself, of the role of the Environment Protection Authority in this critical area of environmental protection. The objects of the act are very important as they underpin all the functions of the EPA. The EPA must have regard to, and seek to further them when considering applications for environmental authorisations under the act, and also when considering development applications that are referred to it under the Planning Development and Infrastructure Act 2016.

The objects of the act also inform the environment protection policymaking powers in part 5 of the act in that an environment protection policy may be made for any purpose directed towards securing the objects of this act. The proposed amendments will also support future development of an environment protection policy under the act that will provide more detailed climate change policy. An environment protection policy will be able to specifically set out matters that are to be taken into account by the EPA in relation to environmental authorisation applications or development application assessments.

The development of a climate change focused environment protection policy will provide clarity, transparency and consistency of regulatory approach for licensees and development proponents and will also provide a pathway to assist reaching the state's ambitious climate change targets. The addition of climate change knowledge and expertise to the membership of the board of the Environment Protection Authority will provide necessary expertise and guidance on the board as the authority's regulation of climate change related matters evolves over time.

The EPA has consulted thoroughly with key stakeholders on the elements of this bill and the future work that the agency intends to do with regard to strengthening its role in regulating climate change matters, and the vast majority of those who were consulted were supportive. The former state government dragged its heels on climate action and will have you try to believe that taking action on climate change is nothing more than a stunt. At the state and federal level, Liberal governments have refused to recognise that we are facing a climate emergency and remain steadfast in burying their heads in the sand while global temperatures rise and extreme weather events increase in severity.

We on this side of the house, of course, along with many others in this chamber and potentially some opposite, have been listening to the grave concerns raised by the long ignored community, scientists and experts. These amendments to one of our state's most important pieces of environmental legislation are just one step towards recognition of the situation we face to address climate change in South Australia. There will be many more required. I commend the bill to members and seek leave to have the explanation of clauses inserted in Hansard without my reading it.

Leave granted.

Explanation of Clauses

Part 1—Preliminary

1—Short title


These clauses are formal.

Part 2—Amendment of Environment Protection Act 1993

3—Amendment of section 3—Interpretation

This clause inserts definitions of climate change adaptation, climate change mitigation and greenhouse gas emissions into the interpretation provision of the Act and are consequential on the proposed changes to sections 10 and 14B.

4—Amendment of section 10—Objects of Act

This clause amends various object provisions in section 10 to include specific references to climate change adaptation, climate change mitigation and climate change. The amendments are to ensure that it is an object of the Act that in taking all reasonable and practicable measures to protect, restore and enhance the quality of the environment, regard is given to the need for climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation. The amendments also have the effect of including as an object, ensuring that as far as reasonably practicable, measures are taken to prevent, reduce, minimise and, where practicable, eliminate harm to the environment by including programs to encourage and assist action by industry, public authorities and the community aimed at climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation. It also includes ensuring that activities, policies and programs are co-ordinated to address climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation. The amendments also have the effect of ensuring that a precautionary approach is applied to the assessment of risk of climate change is included as an object of the Act, as well as requiring persons engaged in polluting activities to ensure their facilities and premises are designed or improved so as to limit the risk of environmental harm from those activities in relation to the impacts of a changing climate.

5—Amendment of section 14B—Board of Authority

This clause amends section 14B of the Act to add a requirement that the membership of the Board of the Environment Protection Authority includes a person or persons who have practical knowledge of, and experience in, climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. D.G. Pisoni.