An impact assessment required under the Act should be prepared in the context of a systems approach, proportionality to risk and ecologically sustainable development.
A systems approach considers potentially affected environmental systems and interacting environmental elements and processes. Assessing systems, rather than their components separately, enables potential interdependencies to be identified, helping to focus investigations and tailor opportunities to avoid, minimise, mitigate or manage adverse effects.
A risk-based approach should be adopted in the assessment of environmental effects. Suitably intensive methods should be applied to accurately assess matters that pose relatively high risk of significant adverse effects and to guide the design of strategies to manage those risks. Simpler or less comprehensive methods of investigation may be applied to matters that can be shown to pose lower risk. An environmental risk assessment is not necessary. However, for some projects it might be appropriate to use environmental risk assessment as a tool to help identify potential effects and guide the level of effort for investigations informing impact assessments.
Ecologically sustainable development maintains the ecological processes on which life depends both now and into the future, in a way that safeguards the welfare of future generations.
The process commences with a screening or referral stage, to determine if assessment under the Act is required (Figure 1). If an assessment is required, there is a scoping stage to determine what the impact assessment needs to examine, ahead of it being prepared by the project proponent. Once completed, the proponent’s impact assessment usually goes through public review, prior to the Minister issuing a formal assessment of the project’s environmental effects to conclude the process.
A strength of the assessment process under the Act is its flexibility. The Act allows:
- different ways a project can be referred to the Minister
- tiers of assessment the Minister can require in response to a referral
- tailored scoping of an EES or environment report
- specification of process requirements, including timeframes for public comment; and
- different forms of public review or inquiry.
Figure 1. Overview of processes under the Environment Effects Act
Under a bilateral agreement between the Australian and Victorian governments, state assessments are accredited to assess impacts on matters of national environmental significance protected under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). An accredited state assessment removes the need for a separate assessment of a ‘controlled action’ by the Commonwealth under the EPBC Act. To enable a timely decision on use of an accredited assessment, proponents should align referral of their project to the Commonwealth and Victorian Ministers. Where an accredited assessment is undertaken, the Minister’s assessment is considered by the Commonwealth Minister when determining whether to approve the ’controlled action’ under the EPBC Act.