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BSCA v EPA: Litigation for climate change action

Dominating the political and media sphere is Australia’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is unsurprising given the fast-approaching 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) and G20, where world leaders will gather and deliver their roadmap on climate action. Australia’s position on climate change has been met with mixed views as the federal government has yet to establish a net-zero target on a national level. Despite the federal government’s lack of progress, the case of Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action Incorporated v Environment Protection Authority [2021] NSWLEC 92 (BSCA v EPA) shows an unprecedented step forward by an Australian Court in holding a statutory body to account for action against climate change.

In the landmark decision of BSCA v EPA, the NSW Land and Environment Court (Court) made an order compelling the states lead environmental regulator in NSW, Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to develop guidelines and policies to protect the environment from climate change.
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Mandating Covid-19 Vaccinations in the Workplace

With NSW slowly returning to a degree of normalcy following the recent Covid-19 ‘Delta’ outbreak, it is critical that employers do not become complacent about the ongoing risk of viral infection and continue to take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees and other persons in the workplace.

The preponderance of advice from medical and health experts is that the best long-term protection against Covid-19 infection (and the more serious forms of health issues arising from such infection) is to be fully vaccinated with an approved Covid-19 vaccine.

In mid-October 2021, the Supreme Court dismissed several legal challenges over the NSW Government’s Public Health Orders, and affirmed the power of the Health Minister to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for workers in certain industries under the Public Health Act 2010.

Following the Supreme Court’s decisions, more and more employers have begun taking the initiative of introducing vaccination mandates within their own workplaces.  However, such a step is still fraught with legal risk particularly given that non-compliance with such mandates is liable to result in employee dismissals (and the claims that will inevitably follow).
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Updated Guidance for Councils – Flood Prone Land

On 14 July 2021, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment introduced updated guidance for councils in respect of flooding in land-use planning, to support better management of flood risk beyond the 1% annual exceedance probability (“AEP”), and to ensure best management practises in managing and mitigating severe to extreme flood events. The updated guidance and materials are:

  1. a new planning circular: Considering flooding in land use planning: guidance and statutory requirements (and revoking the existing planning circular PS 07-003);
  2. a new guideline: Considering Flooding in Land Use Planning (2021) (and revoking the Guideline on Development Controls on Low Flood Risk Areas);
  3. an amendment to clause 7A of Schedule 4 to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000. The changes will simplify the notation to advise of flood-related development controls up to the flood planning area (clause 7A(1)) or between the flood planning area and the PMF (clause 7A(2));
  4. two standard instrument local environmental plan (LEP) clauses which introduce flood related development controls (one mandatory, one optional);
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Application Modification

The recent NSW Court of Appeal case of AQC Dartbrook Management Pty Ltd v Minister for Planning and Public Spaces [2021] NSWCA 112 raises concerns as to the power to modify an existing development consent. The bench included Meagher, Leeming JJA and Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court Preston CJ.

The case involved an application to modify an underground coal mine in the Hunter Valley. The Court found that the Land and Environment Court judge has erred in joining the objectors and ordered that the joining of the objectors be set aside.

Preston CJ, however, provided extensive consideration in his judgment as to the issue of whether there is power to amend an application to modify a development consent. His Honour concluded that there is no expressed or implied authority to permit the amendment of an application by developers or relevant consent authorities under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW) (‘EPA Act’). Conversely, his Honour emphasised that the absence of authority is contrasted to clause 55 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulations 2000 (NSW) (‘EPA Regulations’) which expressly permits the amendment of an application to modify a development consent before the application has been determined.
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Laws for the Paws

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed what we used to consider a “normal” working environment as working from home is now the new status quo. Fortunately, this has allowed many of us to bond with our pets but what happens when our beloved pets get themselves into trouble? And the next question that follows, to what extent can local council officers enter our property to seize our pets?

Powers to entry property under the CAA Ct

In New South Wales, the Companion Animals Act 1998 (NSW) confers large powers upon local councils to regulate the effective and responsible care and management of our little furry companions.

One of the key provisions in the CAA Act is section 69A Powers of authorised officers to enter property, which allows an authorised officer to:

  • enter any property to seize or secure any companion animal, or
  • determine whether there has been compliance with, or contravention of the Companion Act or the Companion Regulations.
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Impact of Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020 on Local Governments

In December 2020, the Commonwealth parliament passed the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020 (Cth) (Foreign Relations Act), which will impose new restrictions on local governments’ autonomy in making certain types of arrangements with foreign entities.

The Foreign Relations Act requires State and Territory statutory bodies, including local governments, to notify the responsible Minister (which is currently the Foreign Minister) before entering into arrangements with foreign public entities. The type of “arrangement” that will trigger compliance with this requirement are extremely wide and include:- any written arrangement; agreement; contracts; understandings; or undertakings, whether legally binding or not. The types of foreign entities with whom arrangements are entered into that will trigger the notification requirement are also very wide, including:- foreign countries; foreign local governments; and certain types of universities.

Under section 34 of the Foreign Relations Act, a local government must notify the Foreign Minister when it proposes to enter into an arrangement with a foreign entity. The Foreign Minister may then, under sections 35 and 36, make a binding declaration that the local government must not enter into the notified arrangement if the Foreign Minister is satisfied that the arrangement would adversely affect, or would be likely to adverse affect, Australia’s foreign relations, or would be, or would be likely to be, inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy.
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New Practice Note Issued in NSW on Voluntary Planning Agreements

On 12 February 2021, the Planning Secretary issued a new Planning Agreement Practice Note (VPA Practice Note) under clause 25B(2) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulations 2000 (EPA Regulations), replacing the Development Contributions – Practice Note – Planning Agreements (Former VPA Practice Note) issued on 19 July 2005. This clause provides guidance on the making, administration and negotiation of VPAs under section 7.4 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (EPA Act). On the same day, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Development Contributions) Regulations 2021 (Amendment Regulations) made numerous amendments to the EPA Regulations.

VPA Practice Note Differences to Former VPA Practice Note

The VPA Practice Note contains numerous differences from the Former VPA Practice Note; most notably:

  • Providing specific guidance on offers to enter into VPAs,
  • Providing specific guidance on developer’s obligations under a VPA through security for enforcement,
  • Providing specific guidance on VPA registration,
  • Providing specific guidance on re-notifications of draft VPAs where material changes are made post-public notice,
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Home owners should not underestimate the importance of Council approval!

It’s likely crossed most home owners’ minds:  it might be nice to replace the front fence, or it’s time to upgrade to a bigger backyard garden shed. But before home owners get too excited, it’s crucial that any plans for any kind of development are submitted to the local Council. Omitting this step could result in not only a potential fine and conviction, but the demolition of that dream development.

Why do Home Owners need Council approval?

Home owners sitting on their deck admiring the view should be thankful that there are no high rise developments in their line of sight and for that they can thank their Council’s Local Environment Plan. Each Council’s Local Environment Plan sets out what each parcel of land in a suburb and community is zoned as and therefore what can or cannot be built there. So in a residential area, it may be prohibited for buildings taller than two stories to be built, or for a rubbish dump to be next to a child’s primary school. But these same regulations also limit what a home owner can and cannot do with their own land, from what kinds of home businesses they can run, to what kind of additions, renovations and developments can be constructed as well as what kinds of development require consent.
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