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What is the public review process for an EES?

In specifying the procedures and requirements for an EES, the Minister will determine the form and extent of the public review for an EES. The public review process will include:

  • public notice of the EES
  • exhibition of the EES for a specified period
  • receipt of public submissions.

The Minister may also specify the intended form of an inquiry, if one is to be held.

What is the procedure for public notice?

Public notice of the EES exhibition will be required:

  • in at least one daily newspaper
  • in one or more local papers circulating in the area of a rural or regional project
  • to be posted on the Department’s website.

The notice must be in a form acceptable to the Minister and include details of:

  • the proponent
  • the scope of the project (including ancillary works)
  • the location of exhibited material and the availability of documents for purchase
  • the timeframe for submissions
  • where submissions should be sent.

The proponent is asked to pay for the costs of advertising and may be asked to place the advertisements.

The EES will be exhibited for a period of 20 to 30 business days. In exceptional circumstances the Minister may decide that a longer period of exhibition is warranted.

Exhibition of an EES should allow for access to documentation by interested members of the public. The Minister may specify that the proponent:

  • place printed copies of the EES on exhibition at specified locations
  • ensure the EES is downloadable from the proponent’s website, with links from the Department’s website
  • make printed and/or CD/DVD versions of the EES available for purchase.

Prices for copies of the EES main report and appendices should be set at a level to enable effective access by interested parties.

Copies of the EES Summary are to be made available by the proponent free-of-charge to interested parties. If advertising of the EES coincides with applications for statutory approvals, joint advertising will be coordinated. The form of any joint notice, as well as the period and locations of document exhibition, should satisfy the requirements of the EES process

What should the scope of submissions be?

Written submissions in response to an EES should document comprehensively all the views and information the submitter considers relevant to the assessment of a proposal. Some forms of inquiry may allow limited opportunities for submission of further information.

How are public submissions treated?

Submissions should be received by the advertised closing date. They will normally be treated as public documents. They will be available to be inspected and used by officers of the Department, persons responsible for the conduct of an inquiry process, the proponent and any other interested parties. Statements of submission and supporting documents may be transferred to an electronic format and made available to other parties, including as part of an inquiry process.

In exceptional circumstances, a request for a submission or parts of a submission to be treated on a confidential basis (for instance, for reasons of commercial confidentiality or cultural sensitivity) may be considered.

If statutory approvals applications have been jointly advertised with the EES, the Department will put in place arrangements for coordinated receipt and circulation of submissions with the relevant agencies.

How should the proponent respond to public submissions?

To assist in the resolution of issues raised in the public review stage, a proponent should produce a document responding to issues raised in submissions on the EES (or otherwise through the consultation process). Such a written response should be provided to the Minister, if an inquiry has not been appointed. If an inquiry has been appointed, the response will be distributed as part of the exchange of documents.

In some circumstances a proponent may seek to negotiate a resolution to particular issues (for example, mitigation measures) with relevant parties, possibly including some submitters. It is advisable that negotiation take place prior to the commencement of any inquiry.

How will submissions be considered?

The process for considering submissions on an EES process will be decided by the Minister on the basis of the complexity of issues and level of public interest in an EES.

The Minister may choose to appoint one or more persons with relevant expertise to conduct an inquiry into a proposal’s potential environmental effects, including by considering the EES and submissions in response. If the Minister decides to appoint an inquiry, options for the form of inquiry are:

  • an inquiry by written submissions
  • an inquiry by submitter conference
  • an inquiry with a formal hearing.

The Minister will normally decide in-principle whether to appoint an inquiry, as well as the intended form of inquiry, at the time of deciding that an EES is required. This in-principle decision may be reviewed during the EES process if preparation of the EES or submissions on the EES reveal issues of greater or lesser complexity than anticipated.

A proponent may be asked by the Minister to contribute to the costs of an inquiry.

What is an inquiry by written submissions?

The Minister may decide to appoint one or more persons to conduct an inquiry on the basis of the written submissions to an EES, without presentation of further information by submitters or expert witnesses. The Minister might choose this approach where the proposal does not raise issues that would warrant further public input from submitters. The inquiry will submit its report to the Minister once it has considered the written submissions.

What is an inquiry by submitter conference?

The Minister may invite submitters to attend a ‘submitter conference’ or roundtable session to provide an opportunity for them to speak about their submission and for questions of clarification to be asked through an appointed chairperson. It may provide an opportunity for the proponent and submitters to seek a resolution of some issues.

A submitter conference is a more informal forum for consideration of issues than a formal public hearing. Conferences would not normally allow for presentation of further evidence or expert witnesses in support of a submission.

The chair of a submitter conference will provide the Minister with a report documenting the matters raised and identifying those matters that may warrant particular consideration in finalising an assessment.

What is an inquiry by formal hearing?

In more complex circumstances an inquiry with a formal hearing may be warranted. Formal hearings allow proponents to speak about their proposal and submitters to speak about their submissions in-depth. Expert witnesses may make presentations and questions of clarification may be asked of all parties.

The terms of reference for an inquiry with a formal hearing will typically require the inquiry to:

  • investigate specified matters
  • conduct a hearing to hear from the proponent and any submitters that wish to be heard
  • provide findings and recommendations to the Minister, for consideration by the Minister in making an assessment.

Where appropriate, an inquiry with a formal hearing may:

  • convene a special session of parties to seek to establish agreement about the nature of the issues in dispute or preferred responses
  • convene a special session of expert witnesses and other relevant persons to establish a shared understanding of complex scientific or technical matters.

An inquiry by formal hearing will normally be appointed where a similar process is required under another Act (such as the Planning and Environment Act 1987) for the proposal being assessed. A joint or combined panel/inquiry process will then be followed. If necessary, the procedures for the inquiry under the Environment Effects Act 1978 will be adjusted to avoid conflict with the statutory requirements of the other process.

When will the report of any inquiry be released?

The report of any inquiry will normally be released at the same time as the Minister’s assessment. The Minister may release the report before the assessment if the assessment is delayed, for example, because of a need to obtain further information.

Page last updated: 25/08/23