Introduction: Environmental law

Environmental laws aim to protect human health and the natural environment in the context of land use planning and resource management. Environmental laws include legislation dealing with land use planning, pollution control, protection of nature, the reservation and protection of public land, the management of natural resources, climate change, and environmental impact assessment.

State governments are responsible for most of this legislation. However, there is also important Commonwealth Government legislation that is relevant in some circumstances. Local government decision-makers play an important part in administering some environmental laws.

This chapter covers the laws that provide for public involvement in decision-making and the enforcement of land use planning laws, environmental impact assessment, and pollution control laws. There are many other environmental laws about mining, forestry, heritage, coastal protection, water and waterways.

At the time of writing (30 September 2019), reform of certain Victorian environmental statutes has passed the Victorian Parliament. These include significant reforms to the Environment Protection Act 1970 (Vic) (which is Victoria’s principal pollution-control law) through the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 (Vic) and to reform the nature protection provisions in the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic) via the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Amendment Act 2019 (Vic). Reforms have also been made to the management of marine and coastal areas under the Marine and Coastal Act 2018 (Vic). Also, under the Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (Vic), greater consideration must now be given to Aboriginal uses and values in water.

Protecting the environment often requires people to use other areas of the law, such as freedom of information, administrative law, corporations law, or consumer laws. For more information about these, see Neighbour disputes, Appealing government and administrative decisions, and Freedom of information law.