At a glance
Australia has had national standards and goals for ambient air quality for almost 20 years—the National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air Quality (Air NEPM). These are based on strong empirical evidence about the health impacts of major pollutants. However, revision of the standards has been slow, despite new evidence that many pollutants do not have a threshold below which adverse health effects do not occur, and much work done by several groups and parties.
During the past 30–40 years, state and territory environment protection agencies have employed a variety of regulatory measures (including works approval, licensing and notices) to control and greatly restrict emissions of air pollutants from industrial and commercial sources. More recently, nonregulatory measures (such as codes of practice, market-based mechanisms and cleaner production incentive schemes) have been increasingly used to complement regulatory controls. In some jurisdictions, local government has a role in controlling emissions (mainly of particles and odour) from commercial sources. Local government also tends to be the main tier of government responding to complaints at the neighbourhood level about smoke from domestic wood heaters.
Although the size of the Australian vehicle fleet is continuing to grow (as are the distances travelled), exhaust emissions are expected to continue to decline during the next decade because of tighter national fuel and vehicle emissions standards, and the replacement of ageing vehicles with more efficient ones. There are national emissions standards for new vehicles, set in the Australian Design Rules, and fuel quality standards, both of which are established through Commonwealth legislation (the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 and the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000, respectively). However, non-exhaust emissions are likely to continue to grow and become a larger proportion of particulate matter emissions. Non-exhaust emissions include particulate matter from brake, clutch, and road surface wear, as well as resuspension of these particles. State and territory authorities are responsible for enforcing compliance with emissions standards for vehicles, and Australian Government officials monitor and enforce compliance with fuel standards.