This project is the first of several projects required to deliver an accepted national remediation framework (NRF) and guidance.
The Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) carries out research into the assessment and clean-up of contaminated sites. During the preparation of its successful bid for funding to 2020, the need for a nationally consistent approach to remediation of contaminated sites was identified by:
- representatives of environmental regulatory bodies from across Australia
- major corporate entities which operate and clean-up sites across multiple jurisdictions.
It was acknowledged that current guidance for the remediation and management of contaminated sites comprises some high quality, but dated, national documents, and high quality, but non-harmonised, guidance issued by some jurisdictions. Early discussions regarding the purpose, benefits and limitations of a new remediation framework identified the following elements as important in the consideration of the approach, structure and content of the document – the framework should:
- enable a nationally consistent approach to remediation of contaminated sites
- be established under the umbrella of the Standing Council on Environment and Water (SCEW)
- NOT impinge on the policy and decision-making prerogatives of the states and territories
- NOT be legally binding
- distil and utilise existing documentation and experience, and
- provide practical guidance within an overall framework which establishes the context for remediation in Australia.
This project is the first of several projects required to deliver an accepted national remediation framework (NRF) and guidance. It is essentially an initial and exploratory scan of national and international sources in order to identify:
- international remediation and management frameworks which may be suitable for adoption or adaption in an Australian context
- current regulation of remediation and management of site contamination in Australia, and
- barriers to the adoption of an Australian NRF and management of contaminated sites.
The focus of the project was the gathering of information that may assist the national remediation framework steering group (NRFSG) as it considers:
- effective ways to approach the development of the framework in the Australian regulatory context
- the potential structure of the framework and the areas to be covered within the framework, and
- content to be included in the framework.
Information was gathered regarding frameworks that are used to guide the remediation and management of contaminated sites in a number of international jurisdictions. Information was also gathered regarding general approaches taken to remediation and management in the six states and two territories of Australia. Some national documents, approaches and processes for dealing with assessment of contaminated sites were also considered for their potential for adaptation to a management and remediation context.
A number of common elements exist in the structure and content of framework documents scanned for this project. There is also commonality in the way that remediation and management of contaminated sites is approached generally in jurisdictions in Australia and internationally.
In order to synthesise the information gathered in this project in a useful way, an example framework has been provided, including possible elements of a framework document. The particular priorities, requirements and content for the Australian national remediation and management framework will, of course, be developed over the coming years.
The example framework is offered simply as a tool to summarise the elements common to remediation and management as found in this scanning project, and to organise, in framework style, some of the elements and issues that could be addressed as part of the harmonisation process. In summary, the example framework comprises two distinct parts which are themselves comprised of particular elements as briefly described as follows:
Part 1: Philosophy
– includes background and jurisdictional arrangements, as well as the purpose and intended audience for any framework documentation
– includes discussion of agreed principles and policy approaches that do or will guide activities related to remediation and management, e.g. precautionary principle, liability, risk management, green remediation
Part 2: Practice
– includes practical guidance for practitioners, provided either as specific advice or techniques outlined within the text of the framework document, or as references to tools and guidance available elsewhere.
Guidance could relate to all steps of the remediation and management process from the setting of remediation objectives to post-remediation auditing and the use of institutional controls.
A full description of the example framework is provided in Section B of this report.
Addressing barriers to a national approach on remediation and management
Barriers to a national approach toward remediation and management of contaminated sites are most likely to arise from the lack of an existing legislative and regulatory framework through which such matters can be addressed. Unlike the development of the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure (NEPM), which provides a framework for the assessment of contaminated sites and was undertaken using processes established under law, the development of a national remediation and management framework is not provided for in existing legislation.
The Australian experience in developing a national approach to the assessment of contaminated sites does demonstrate the success of cooperative efforts across states and territories in the past. That this cooperation is an ongoing asset has been demonstrated during the recent review and proposed variation of the NEPM. Recent restructuring of the ministerial council system may also assist the process of developing a national framework for remediation and management of contaminated sites.
Following the 2010 review of the ministerial council system by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the SCEW Council was established with a number of priorities, the first being to pursue seamless environmental regulation and regulatory practice across jurisdictions.
A seamless environmental regulation thematic oversight group (SERTOG) has
been established to further the Council’s aims, and the development of a national remediation and management framework has been selected as a pilot project. Comprising representatives from jurisdictions across Australia, SERTOG has the potential to be a key resource, given the relationship its members have to regulatory practice in the states and territories. The group’s membership and structure should enable it to become an effective mechanism for the identification, management and resolution of potential paths and barriers to the adoption of a national framework.
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