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22 Mar 2016

Local Nuisance and Litter Control Bill

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 16:36 :48 ): I rise to speak to the Local Nuisance and Litter Control Bill 2015. I speak on behalf of my Liberal colleagues in relation to this bill. The Liberal Party will be supporting the second reading and at this stage does not envisage any amendments. I know that the Leader of the Labor Party in this chamber likes my quotes and poetry, so I thought I would give him one this afternoon. It is a quote from John Stuart Mill that says: ‘The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.’ It is relevant to the consideration of this bill.

The bill is the government’s response to the ongoing calls for the improved method of dealing with nuisance issues at a local level. There has been criticism and confusion surrounding the delineation between state and local government roles and responsibilities related to local nuisance issues. The government has stated that South Australia is the only state in which local government responsibility for nuisance issues is not legislated at least to some extent.

In 2012, the Statutory Authorities Review Committee handed down a report that originated from questions raised about the Environment Protection Authority’s role in site contamination. The report recommended that:

The Minister should consider the possibility of legislative reform to clearly define the roles and responsibilities between the EPA and other authorities (e.g. local councils) when dealing with minor/ local environmental nuisances.

Following this, the Local Government Association established a local excellence expert panel in 2013. One of the panel’s recommendations included:

The responsibility for investigating and resolving matters of local environmental nuisance be accepted as part of the function of a Regional Council on condition that the EPA provide support in the form of expertise and equipment.

The bill before the chamber is the government’s response to these recommendations.

The bill provides for a greater role for councils in managing local minor nuisances and littering in South Australia. The ultimate aim is to reduce litter and illegal dumping throughout South Australia, which will in turn provide improved amenity for all our communities.

‘Local nuisance’ is defined in the bill as ‘any adverse effect on an amenity value of an area that—is caused by’ the following: noise, odour, smoke, fumes, aerosols, dust and animals, whether dead or alive. It also includes:

(b) insanitary conditions on premises that unreasonably interfere with or are likely to interfere unreasonably with the enjoyment of premises occupied by persons in the vicinity;

As well as:

(c) unsightly conditions…on premises caused by human activity or a failure to act; or

(d) a contravention of, or failure to comply with a provision of an environment protection policy…

The government informs us that the bill will improve the management and consistency of nuisance and littering offences. It seeks to achieve this by the following provisions in the bill: providing local councils legislative power to manage nuisance and litter issues; reinforcing that the Environment Protection Authority must manage any nuisance matters that occur on EPA-licensed sites; imposing harsher penalties for illegal dumping; establishing three distinct classes of litter to differentiate between the seriousness of various types of offending; improving usability of surveillance for evidence gathered related to illegal dumping; enforcing the liability of vehicle owners for offences committed in association with or from their vehicle (which brings South Australia in line with other states); requiring non-government organisations to undertake compliance activities; providing for courts to order civil remedies where appropriate; permitting councils or administering bodies to enter into a negotiation, or apply to the relevant court for a civil penalty rather than applying to the court for a criminal penalty (therefore providing for a lower cost alternative to prosecution); establishing compliance standards by regulation; allowing for the sharing of authorised officers between councils and administering bodies to act on behalf of one or more councils; and establishing a public litter reporting scheme.

Whilst it is currently possible to report littering that occurs in South Australia to the South Australia Police, there is currently no public litter reporting program in place. The bill, in addition to applying responsibility to the owner of a vehicle, also outlines a process for citizen notification of littering. The provision in the bill stipulates that the contents of a notification may constitute evidence of the offence, and allows expiations to be issued as a result of a public litter report. This provision will bring South Australia in line with other jurisdictions across Australia.

I understand the EPA conducted extensive public consultation meetings across South Australia on behalf of the government as part of this process. In response to the feedback and concerns raised, particularly by the Local Government Association, significant amendments were made to the draft version of the bill. For example, serious concerns were raised regarding the extensive list of hazardous substances prescribed in the draft bill as class A hazardous materials.

Councils expressed a lack of expertise in being able to identify and handle these materials—for example, various liquids which authorised officers would not be aware existed, let alone identify. Following this, all class A substances were removed from the bill except for asbestos. The reason asbestos remains in the bill before the chamber is because asbestos dumping has become a serious issue in the South Australian community, with dumping offences occurring frequently across the state.

In order to facilitate greater community resistance to this practice, it was felt that it should remain in the bill. Furthermore, councils already have responsibility to clean up asbestos that has been illegally dumped. It remains open to expand the list of class A substances on the list at a later date through regulation.

Councils also expressed concern about the additional responsibility they will now have in managing litter and nuisance issues and expressed a need for support and resources in order to effectively manage these activities and implement the associated new procedures. I note that currently four full-time equivalent staff (FTEs) are responsible for local nuisance and litter within the EPA.

In response to these concerns, the EPA has indicated that the four FTEs will remain in these roles to provide the equivalent support to local councils and one FTE will relocate to the LGA in order to provide a greater level of support internally. The EPA has also indicated further resources will be provided, such as a centralised telephone complaints line operated by the EPA to direct complaints, training for council officers and the use of EPA equipment.

As a result, the LGA has now indicated that it will not oppose the passage of the bill but notes this is largely due to the changes that were made to the proposed bill and the assurances that the EPA has made to the LGA that it will provide ongoing support and additional resources to assist with the implementation of the new obligation. I commend the bill to the chamber.

See full session on Hansard

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