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When does a project need to be referred to the Minister?

A proponent or decision maker should ask the Minister administering the Environment Effects Act about whether an EES is required for projects or amended projects that could have a significant effect on the environment.

A project with potential adverse environmental effects that, individually or in combination, could be significant in a regional or State context should be referred. Find out more about the criteria for referral.

A project should be referred in its entirety wherever possible, including any ancillary works or later project stages essential to the project’s operation.

Ancillary works can include works essential to the operation of a project that would be located off the main site.

Specific details of works related to a project would not need to be included in a referral if:

  • only broad project options have been identified, and future investigations will assess these to establish a preferred project proposal, or
  • ancillary works have yet to be planned in any detail but are unlikely to have significant adverse effects, or are not primarily for the purpose of the project, or
  • later project stages have yet to be planned in any detail but are not essential for the operation and viability of earlier project stages and are unlikely to have significant cumulative effects.

A project proposal that has been modified and has the potential for a significant effect on the environment should be referred, whether or not the original project proposal was previously referred or assessed under the Act.

Referring a project to the Minister

Formal referral of a project to the Minister can be made by:

  • a project proponent
  • any Minister or statutory body responsible for public works
  • any person required by any Act to make a decision about a project (a decision maker) such as another Minister, a Government agency, statutory authority or local government.

The Minister administering the Environment Effects Act, or a Minister administering relevant approvals legislation, can also direct a decision maker to refer a project.

A proponent or decision maker can seek advice from the Secretary assisting the Minister if they are in doubt whether a project should be referred.

Referral of a project is not necessary if another party has already referred the project or the decision maker decides that the project should be refused. An exception to the latter situation may arise where a proponent appeals the refusal and the appeal is upheld following review.

What might a ‘significant effect on the environment’ be?

The criteria for referral are focused on the potential for a significant effect on the environment: environmental effects of regional or State significance.

The potential for a significant effect on the environment will reflect the following factors:

  • significance of the environmental assets affected, in relation to:
    • character of the potentially affected environmental assets
    • geographic occurrence of the environmental assets
    • values or importance of the environmental assets, based on expert knowledge, relevant policy and evidence of social values
  • potential magnitude, extent and duration of adverse effects on environmental assets in the short, medium and longer term, as a result of the development, operation and where relevant, decommissioning of a project
  • potential for more extended adverse effects in space and time, as a result of interactions of different effects and environmental processes affecting environmental assets.

The identification of potential significant effects does not indicate that an EES will necessarily be required. Other factors, including the likelihood of such effects, will be taken into account in the Minister’s decision in response to a referral.

Timing a referral

A decision maker or proponent can refer a project as soon as sufficient information is available to identify the potential for regionally or State significant environmental effects. For a decision maker, this may not be possible until a proponent submits an application.

Ministerial direction to refer a project

If a Minister directs that a project be referred to the Minister administering the Environment Effects Act, the decision-maker is to provide the latter Minister with the relevant information it has available about the proposal. The proposal’s proponent will be notified that a Minister has directed a decision maker to refer the project. Further information about the proposal may also be sought from the proponent or decision maker.

When a Minister directs a decision maker to refer a project, the decision maker cannot make the decision about the project until the Minister administering the Environment Effects Act decides whether an EES is required. Other relevant decision makers will be notified when the project is referred and when the Minister’s decision about the need for an EES is made.

Public notification of referred projects

All projects referred to the Minister for a decision about the need for an EES are available for view on this website.

Referral criteria: individual potential environmental effects

Individual types of potential effects on the environment that might be of regional or State significance, and therefore warrant referral of a project, are:

  • potential clearing of 10 ha or more of native vegetation from an area that:
    • is of an Ecological Vegetation Class identified as endangered by the Department of Sustainability and Environment (in accordance with Appendix 2 of Victoria’s Native Vegetation Management Framework); or
    • is, or is likely to be, of very high conservation significance (as defined in accordance with Appendix 3 of Victoria’s Native Vegetation Management Framework); and
    • is not authorised under an approved Forest Management Plan or Fire Protection Plan
  • potential long-term loss of a significant proportion (for example 1 to 5 percent depending on the conservation status of the species) of known remaining habitat or population of a threatened species within Victoria
  • potential long-term change to the ecological character of a wetland listed under the Ramsar Convention or in ‘A Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia’
  • potential extensive or major effects on the health or biodiversity of aquatic, estuarine or marine ecosystems, over the long term
  • potential extensive or major effects on the health, safety or well-being of a human community, due to emissions to air or water or chemical hazards or displacement of residences
  • potential greenhouse gas emissions exceeding 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per annum, directly attributable to the operation of the facility

Referral criteria: a combination of potential environmental effects

A combination of two or more of the following types of potential effects on the environment that might be of regional or State significance, and therefore warrant referral of a project, are:

  • potential clearing of 10 ha or more of native vegetation, unless authorised under an approved Forest Management Plan or Fire Protection Plan
  • matters listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988
    • potential loss of a significant area of a listed ecological community
    • potential loss of a genetically important population of an endangered or threatened species (listed or nominated for listing), including as a result of loss or fragmentation of habitats
    • potential loss of critical habitat
    • potential significant effects on habitat values of a wetland supporting migratory bird species
  • potential extensive or major effects on landscape values of regional importance, especially where recognised by a planning scheme overlay or within or adjoining land reserved under the National Parks Act 1975
  • potential extensive or major effects on land stability, acid sulphate soils or highly erodible soils over the short or long term
  • potential extensive or major effects on beneficial uses of waterbodies over the long term due to changes in water quality, streamflows or regional groundwater levels
  • potential extensive or major effects on social or economic well-being due to direct or indirect displacement of non-residential land use activities
  • potential for extensive displacement of residences or severance of residential access to community resources due to infrastructure development
  • potential significant effects on the amenity of a substantial number of residents, due to extensive or major, long-term changes in visual, noise and traffic conditions
  • potential exposure of a human community to severe or chronic health or safety hazards over the short or long term, due to emissions to air or water or noise or chemical hazards or associated transport
  • potential extensive or major effects on Aboriginal cultural heritage
  • potential extensive or major effects on cultural heritage places listed on the Heritage Register or the Archaeological Inventory under the Heritage Act 1995.

What information should be submitted?

A proponent or decision maker referring a project should provide the Minister with information about the following matters:

General aspects of project

Particulars of the proponent: including the name and postal address of the business, key contact person (who may be a consultant) and their phone, facsimile and e-mail address and the industry and environmental expertise available to the proponent.

Description of the project: including its name, objectives, components, site layout, construction and operational activities. Ancillary works that are directly related to the current project should be documented.

Description of the proposed site or area of investigation: including location (map and grid references), aerial/satellite image of site and surrounds, ground-level photographs, descriptions of topography, drainage, vegetation coverage, current land use and physical features.

Land availability: proponent’s current and intended tenure over or access to the proposed project area.

Alternatives: key locational, scale or design alternatives already investigated or to be considered as part of the investigation of the project.

Required approvals: known or potential approvals required under relevant State legislation as well as under Commonwealth legislation, and names of agency personnel with whom the project has been discussed.

Project implementation: including the implementing organisation, intended timeframe and proposed staging.

Where a project is to be developed in stages, the referral should describe the:

  • overall project strategy for delivery of all stages and components
  • concept design for the overall project
  • intended scheduling of the design and development of project stages, and in particular, the availability of preliminary designs.

Preliminary environmental information

Existing environment: overview of the project setting and existing environmental assets, as well as the sources and accuracy of this information.

Potential effects: identification of potential environmental effects (adverse and beneficial), including:

  • brief description of potential changes or risks to environmental assets resulting from the project
  • available information on the likelihood and significance of such changes
  • the sources and accuracy of this information, and associated uncertainties. Potentially significant effects should be described in sufficient detail for a reasonable conclusion to be drawn as to whether the project could pose a significant risk to those assets.

Proposed mitigation measures: identified measures to avoid or mitigate the main potential adverse environmental effects.

Other activities in the vicinity: any other activities in the vicinity of the proposed project that a decision maker or proponent might reasonably be aware of that may have the potential for cumulative effects.

Relevant environmental assets might include:

  • topography
  • drainage and waterways
  • residential amenity and access
  • soil and geo-technical conditions
  • native vegetation types and cover
  • habitat areas
  • recorded flora and fauna
  • known cultural heritage sites and areas of archaeological sensitivity
  • significant landscapes and natural features
  • surface water quality and flows
  • groundwater
  • air quality.

Other relevant aspects might include:

  • land use and infrastructure
  • sensitive land uses
  • local residential population
  • road traffic
  • land degradation and hazards
  • waste streams
  • energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions
  • safety hazards.

Investigation program

Study program: environmental studies conducted to date by the proponent and any proposed future study program.

Consultation plan: consultation conducted to date (including activities and stakeholders) by the proponent and any proposed future plan.

The Minister may require a decision maker or proponent to provide additional information to assist in considering a referral.

What matters does the Minister consider?

The Minister, when deciding whether an EES is required, must consider the extent to which the project is capable of having a significant effect on the environment in terms of:

  • the potential for significant adverse effects on individual environmental assets, taking into account the magnitude, geographic extent and duration of change in the values of each asset
  • the likelihood of effective avoidance and mitigation measures
  • the likelihood of adverse effects and associated uncertainty of available predictions
  • the likelihood that available environmental standards provide a sufficient basis for managing key issues
  • the likelihood that the project is not consistent with applicable policy
  • the range and complexity of potential adverse effects
  • the availability of project alternatives that may warrant investigation to assess opportunities to avoid or minimise adverse environmental effects
  • other available assessment processes that may be suitable to address potential environmental effects
  • the likely level of public interest in a proposed project.

What is environmental risk?

Environmental risk reflects the potential for negative change, injury or loss with respect to environmental assets. The level of environmental risk will reflect the combination of likelihood and magnitude, as well as extent and duration, of potential environmental effects.

Whether a project is capable of having a significant effect requires consideration of the potential scope of effects and their degree of likelihood, in terms of the risk of adverse effects. For instance, an effect that may have a low likelihood may still be significant if its magnitude could be large.

What response might the Minister make to a referral?

There are three forms of response that the Minister can make to a referral:

  • an EES is required. or
  • an EES is not required if conditions specified by the Minister are met, or
  • an EES is not required.

In addition, the Minister may give a decision maker any other advice or assistance that they think fit to enable a decision to be made. The Minister can advise that a project is unlikely to be environmentally acceptable in the light of likely environmental effects and existing policy.

The Minister will notify the proponent, the party that referred the project (if that party is not the proponent) and any other decision makers that would need to approve the project if it were to proceed, of the response to the referral.

What does it mean if an EES is required?

The Minister will specify the procedures and requirements for an EES including:

  • matters that should be subject to in-depth investigation as part of the EES
  • scoping procedures that are to apply
  • quality assurance procedures to be adopted, including the need for expert peer review of any particular matters
  • a requirement for a consultation plan to be prepared and implemented
  • requirements for advertising and exhibiting scoping requirements, the EES, as well as other information relating to the assessment process
  • an indication of the likelihood of an inquiry being appointed and, if relevant, the likely form of inquiry.

The Minister can also specify particular matters that do not require investigation as part of the EES because they will be addressed through another assessment process.

If the Minister directs that an EES be prepared, they will advise decision makers that specific primary decisions that would enable a project to proceed should not be made until the EES has been prepared and the Minister’s assessment is considered by decision makers.

What happens if conditions are applied when an EES is not required?

The Minister can apply conditions to a decision that an EES is not required for a particular proposal. This establishes a practical alternative to an EES and provides additional safeguards when an EES has not been required.

The conditions might relate to a particular form, scale and location of development, with specific impact mitigation measures. Another form of condition could be to require that a particular process or specific investigations and/or consultations be carried out before a project is able to commence.

When will the Minister decide on a referral?

The Minister will normally provide a response to a referral within 20 business days of receiving a referral with adequate supporting information.

The Minister’s decision and reasons will be made publicly available.

Page last updated: 26/09/23