New environmental and economic laws take effect in the ACT

New laws include tree protection, a plastic bag ban and reforms to improve the night-time economy

New environmental and economic laws take effect in the ACT

The ACT is ushering in the new year with laws promoting positive change for the environment and the economy.

From 1 January, the government is implementing new tree protection laws, a ban on heavyweight and boutique plastic bags, and reforms for the hospitality sector to improve the night-time economy.

Plastic bag ban

To reduce environmental impact, the ACT government has banned single-use shopping bags made fully or partially of plastic, including heavyweight and boutique variants. Minister for City Services Tara Cheyne emphasised that this prohibition builds upon the successful ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags introduced in 2011.

The ban extends to soft plastic bags exceeding 35 microns in thickness and bags made from plastic-laminated paper or cardboard. Exemptions will apply to certain plastic bags, such as those without handles, unsealed bags used for perishable food, and shopping bags with specific characteristics.

"Canberrans have really embraced the phase-out of single-use plastics to date. Remembering to bring reusable and non-plastic paper bags when heading to the shops is a great way for all Canberrans to participate in the circular economy," Cheyne said.

Tree protection laws

Under the newly enacted Urban Forest Act 2023, Canberra is fortifying its commitment to preserving and expanding its tree population. Minister Cheyne highlighted the significance of trees in enhancing the city's livability by providing shade, cooling temperatures, and mitigating air pollution. The legislation categorises all public trees as protected. It introduces measures to safeguard trees on private land, including reducing size requirements and classifying certain dead native trees as protected.

A comprehensive tree bond system will discourage the removal of trees during construction, ensuring replacements either on-site or through financial contributions. The ACT Tree Register will be expanded to celebrate and protect significant trees, while improved compliance provisions will impose penalties for damaging trees or breaching protection plans.

Night-time economy reforms

The ACT will also introduce changes to further enhance its night-time economy. Smaller licensed restaurants and cafes will automatically be permitted to trade until 2am, liquor licensing fees for such establishments will be reduced, and the requirement for separate areas for on-premises and off-premises liquor consumption will be eliminated.

According to Cheyne, these reforms aim to reduce costs and administrative burdens and encourage extended trading hours for smaller hospitality businesses, ultimately contributing to a more diverse night-time experience for Canberrans.

Subject to legislative approval, further reforms are expected to take effect by July 2024. These reforms will incentivise venues to showcase cultural activities and allow all licensed businesses to extend trading hours up to 10 times a year at no cost.


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