At a glance
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is one of the world’s most effective international environment protection agreements, orchestrating the phase-out of a broad range of ozone depleting substances (including some of the first generation of chlorofluorocarbon substitutes). Australia has ratified the protocol and, as a signatory, all subsequent amendments and has reduced its use of controlled substances well ahead of its international obligations.
For more than a decade, Australia has had national standards and goals for ambient air quality—the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM)—based on strong empirical evidence about the health impacts of major pollutants. The measure mandates a consistent approach to air quality monitoring, which has been applied by all states and territories, but—recognising the different legislative arrangements in each jurisdiction—does not dictate the means to be applied to achieve the goals. The AAQ NEPM is supported by national emission standards for new vehicles, set in the Australian Design Rules, and by fuel quality standards, both of which are established through Australian Government legislation (the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 and the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000, respectively).
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 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), emissions are expected to continue to decline over the next decade as a result of tighter national fuel standards and the mandating of improved emission-control technologies under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989. State and territory authorities are responsible for enforcing compliance with emission standards on in-service vehicles, and Australian Government officials monitor and enforce compliance with fuel standards.
Australian governments have actively sought to improve indoor air quality through a range of interventions (both regulatory and nonregulatory) targeting environmental tobacco smoke and unflued gas heaters. All states and territories prohibit smoking in cinemas and theatres (originally motivated by concern over risk of fire), in most types of public transport and in areas where food is prepared and consumed. Increasingly, similar bans are being applied to various outdoor public spaces. Unflued gas heaters are regulated in all states and territories; although the regulations vary between jurisdictions, they all require compliance with Australian standards. However, as various studies have shown, conformity with the Australian standards does not guarantee that emissions will not adversely affect health.