Management of specific pressures

Motor vehicles

Because motor vehicles are a main source of air pollution, their emissions are specially controlled.


The primary legislation for reducing emissions from motor vehicles in Australia are the:

  • Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000, which provides a legislative national framework for fuel quality and information standards – the Act requires that the fuel industry and suppliers provide fuel that meets strict environmental conditions and therefore minimises emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, sulfur oxides, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter
  • Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989, which makes it an offence to import, sell, or present new or used imported vehicles to the Australian market for the first time unless they meet the national standards, including standards for exhaust emissions.

A review of the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 as part of the National Clean Air Agreement initial work plan (2015–17) found that the Act has led to significant reduction in the level of pollutants and emissions arising from the use of fuel. The review recommended that the Act be retained, with amendments to improve its administration and enforcement.

Fuel regulations

The Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions, established in October 2015, brought together Australian Government infrastructure, environment and energy portfolios to explore options to reduce the environmental and health impacts of vehicle emissions.

In 2016, the Ministerial Forum released a discussion paper seeking public feedback on possible measures to reduce vehicle emissions in Australia. Taking into consideration feedback from 80 submissions, the forum released 3 further discussion papers for public consultation:

  • a draft regulation impact statement on improving the efficiency of new light vehicles
  • a draft regulation impact statement on strengthening noxious emissions standards for light and heavy vehicles
  • a discussion paper on improving fuel quality standards.

The Better fuel for cleaner air discussion paper explored and consulted on a range of policy options to improve Australia’s fuel quality. Building on feedback received from 70 submissions in response to the discussion paper, the Better Fuel for Cleaner Air Draft Regulation Impact Statement was released for public consultation in January 2018. In August 2018, a second statement was released that included a cost–benefit analysis of the 3 major policy reform options for the fuel standards (DEE 2018).

Subsequently, the Fuel Quality Standards Regulations 2001 were revoked and replaced with the Fuel Quality Standards Regulations 2019. This provided new, improved fuel standards, thus ensuring access to the latest vehicles, savings for motorists from more fuel-efficient vehicles and health benefits to the community from lower vehicle emissions. The new regulations included:

  • reducing the sulfur content in petrol from 150 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm
  • retaining regular unleaded petrol
  • reducing the pool average of aromatic hydrocarbon (volatile organic compound – VOC) content in petrol from 45% to 35%, as is the case in Europe
  • reviewing the limit for aromatic hydrocarbon content in petrol by 2022 to set a reduced limit by 2027 or establish an alternative solution
  • enforcing national fuel quality and fuel quality information standards for Australia.

However, a decision to wait until 2027 to enforce the reduced sulfur content of petrol to 10 ppm means that Australian cars will continue to pollute more than European cars for another 6 years. This has implications for the ability for new cars to deliver emissions reductions, as Australia will not import the higher standard Euro 6 vehicles because their catalytic emission control devices cannot work with petrol that has a high sulfur content.

Australia’s fuel quality and fuel quality information standards are created by individual legislative instruments known as ‘determinations’, which are made under the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2001. In 2019, the Fuel Standard (Petrol) Determination 2001 was revoked and replaced with the Fuel Quality Standards (Petrol) Determination 2019, and the Fuel Standard (Automotive Diesel) Determination 2001 was revoked and replaced with the Fuel Quality Standards (Automotive Diesel) Determination 2019.

Interestingly, technology to recover VOCs at the bowser has existed in New South Wales since the late 1980s (DECC 2007), but has not been implemented in other states. The technology can reduce VOC vaporising into the air at 2 stages: when tankers deliver the petrol (VR1) and when individual vehicles refuel (VR2). VR1 is required at all service stations supplying more than 0.5 million litres of petrol in the highly populated coastal regions from Shoalhaven to Port Stephens in New South Wales; only large metropolitan service stations are required to install VR2 technologies. Implementation of VR1 in Victoria is voluntary, as costs outweighed the benefits (EPA Victoria 2013).

Vehicle regulations

In 2020, the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions released 2 draft regulation impact statements for consultation:

  • a draft regulation impact statement on the possible introduction of improved noxious emissions standards, known as Euro 6, for new light vehicles
  • a draft regulation impact statement on the possible introduction of improved noxious emissions standards, known as Euro VI, for new heavy vehicles.

Projections presented in the Light Vehicle Emission Standards for Cleaner Air Draft Regulation Impact Statement (Figure 45) suggest that use of Euro 6d fuel will result in a decrease in fine particles of more than one-third (or 40% lower than the business-as-usual scenario) from 2027 to 2050 (DITRDC 2020). Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from light vehicles are expected to decline at a faster rate from the mid-2020s, to more than 64% lower than under business-as-usual projections. It is expected that foreign vehicle manufacturers will phase out Euro 5 standard vehicles (which are a lower standard than Euro 6d; Table 7). These improvements will flow through to the Australian vehicle market, but a date for introduction of the Euro 6d standards is yet to be determined. As long as Australia has less stringent standards than many other nations, the Australian vehicle market is likely to be dominated by more polluting cars that have been banned in other parts of the world.

The Diesel Vehicle Emissions National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) provides program guidelines to minimise emissions from diesel vehicles. Several jurisdictions operate programs to reduce exhaust emissions from diesel vehicles. Examples of these programs are smoky vehicle reporting, diesel retrofit programs, and diesel vehicle emission testing and repair or maintenance programs.

Figure 45 Projected impact of proposed noxious emissions standards (Euro 6d) on (a) NOx emissions and (b) PM2.5 emissions from the light vehicle fleet, 2010–50
Table 7 Changes in emissions standards for light vehicles ( ≤1,305 kg reference mass, category N1 Class I)


Introduced in Europe

Mandated in Australia for all new light vehicles

Emission limits (g/km) for petrol (diesel) engines



Particulate matter

Euro 5


1 November 2016

0.10 (0.23)

0.06 (0.18)

0.0045 (0.0045)

Euro 6 and 6d


To be determined

0.10 (0.17)

0.06 (0.08)

0.0045 (0.0045)

g/km =gram per kilometre; kg = kilogram; VOC = volatile organic compound


In general, industry emissions are managed and monitored through the NEPM standards and the National Pollutant Inventory. The impacts of specific industries are managed at a local level (see case study: Management of dust and odour at Brooklyn Industrial Precinct, Victoria).

In the town of Kwinana, Western Australia, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) of Western Australia imposed a buffer zone to prevent land being developed to the north of the Alcoa residual disposal area (EPA WA 2017). Quarrying of sand and limestone here generates dust, levels of which have sometimes breached the NEPM standards for coarse particulate matter (PM10). In recommending the buffer zone size, the EPA took into consideration the prevailing wind directions. Dust tends to be lifted in dry conditions and when the wind speeds exceed 23 m/s. To mitigate the dust emissions, Alcoa has installed sprinkler systems that prevent the material drying out during periods of dry weather. The size of the buffer zone is designed to ensure that large particles will deposit to the ground within the boundary of the buffer zone. Implementation of buffer zones around large industrial complexes can be an excellent way to mitigate exposure to air emissions.

Port Hedland, Western Australia, is one of the world’s largest export sites for the mining industry. Iron ore is transported to the port by railway, and transfer activities result in high dust concentrations for the local town. In 2016, the Western Australian Department of Health recommended a guideline value for PM10 of 70 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3) as a 24-hour average (DWER 2020). This is 20 μg/m3 above the current NEPM standard, but the Department of Health determined that it posed a negligible increase in risk because the population in the surrounding area was low. Keeping the population to a minimum is a priority to limit exposure. New developments on the port’s western side are restricted; in particular, no new aged care or childcare centres are to be built. Initiatives to restrict population growth on this western side are also being discussed, such as an industry-funded home buy-back scheme. Consultation on this initiative will end in 2023.

Case Study Management of dust and odour at Brooklyn Industrial Precinct, Victoria

Dr Rosemary Fedele, Environment Protection Authority Victoria

Brooklyn is a suburb 10 km west of Melbourne that has longstanding issues with odour and dust pollution. Much of this pollution comes from the Brooklyn Industrial Precinct (BIP), which consists of several major industrial, waste and recovery industries (construction and demolition waste, metal waste recycling, organic waste recycling), and skip and transport container storage facilities (Figure 46). The activities in the BIP will continue because the area is designated as one of 22 future key waste and resource recovery hubs in the Strategic Waste Management Plan for Victoria.

Several facilities in the BIP include large areas of open and unsealed land and roads, which are extensively used by heavy vehicles and machinery. They include uncovered material stockpiles, which are prone to wind erosion. BIP also has solid waste material crushing activities that can generate high levels of dust. The number of transport container storage facilities in the BIP continues to increase because of its location close to the Port of Melbourne. The increase in container transport between the port and BIP will lead to large numbers of diesel-fuelled vehicles driving through the nearby residential area. In recent years, several public reports have recognised the need to reduce air pollution in the BIP (Brimbank City Council 2016, VAGO 2018, Inner West Air Quality Community Reference Group 2020).

Figure 46 Container park site in Brooklyn Industrial Precinct (left) and aerial image of Brooklyn Industrial Precinct in 2020 (right)

Photos: left – Geoff Mitchelmore; right – Google Earth

Since the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA Victoria) started monitoring in October 2009, the air quality in Brooklyn has not met state or national ambient air quality standards for coarse particulate matter (PM10) (Figure 47). Victoria has adopted a lower annual PM10 limit of 20 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) called the Environment Reference Standard. This new level aligns with the levels set by the World Health Organization. Brooklyn’s annual average PM10 concentrations have been on average 35% higher (ranging from 22% to 56%) than at EPA Victoria’s other monitoring stations at Alphington, Footscray and Dandenong.

Figure 47 Annual average PM10 concentration over the past 10 years in Brooklyn, Footscray, Alphington and Dandenong

µg/m3 = microgram per cubic metre; NEPM = National Environment Protection Measure; PM10 = coarse particulate matter; SEPP = State Environmental Planning Policy

Note: Horizontal lines represent the national (Ambient Air Quality NEPM) guideline value of 25 µg/m3 and the Victorian (Environment Reference Standard) guideline value of 20 µg/m3) for annual average PM10 concentrations. No data are available for Dandenong from 1 January 2017 to 5 October 2017, and for Footscray from 10 April 2014 to 24 July 2014 and from 29 October 2019 to 8 February 2020 due to technical issues.

Brooklyn exceeded the PM10 24-hourly National Environment Protection Measure level of 50 μg/m3 on more days than in other areas in metropolitan Melbourne (Alphington, Footscray and Dandenong) since 2010 (Figure 48). Between 2016 and 2018, there was a 61% chance that PM10 daily average concentration would exceed the daily standard of 50 μg/m3 if the following 3 conditions occurred:

  • the maximum daily temperature was greater than 22 °C
  • there was less than 0.5 mm rain for the previous 2 days
  • the wind direction was from the north.

Figure 48 Number of days per year that have exceeded the PM10 daily air quality objective of 50 µg/m3 over the past 10 years in Brooklyn, Footscray, Alphington and Dandenong

µg/m3 = microgram per cubic metre; PM10 = coarse particulate matter

Note: No data are available for Dandenong from 1 January 2017 to 5 October 2017, and for Footscray from 10 April 2014 to 24 July 2014 and from 29 October 2019 to 8 February 2020 due to technical issues.

In 2011, there were fewer days that exceeded the PM10 limit. This may be because of the high rainfall experienced that year, which was 20–54% higher than in all other years since 2010. From 2015 to 2018, EPA Victoria’s regulatory and enforcement responses to pollution reports, and the sealing of 2 major roads in the BIP in 2015, resulted in:

  • lower emissions from industrial sources
  • the lowest annual average PM10 concentration recorded at Brooklyn in 2016 (Figure 50)
  • substantial reductions in the number of days that PM10 daily average concentrations exceeded the daily air quality objective of 50 μg/m3 during 2015–18.
  • However, in 2014, 2019 and 2020, bushfire smoke also impacted air quality in metropolitan Melbourne, including Brooklyn. Air quality in Brooklyn also continues to be impacted by industrial activities.

Other pollution sources

Wood heaters

Smoke from wood heaters makes a major contribution to domestic sources of air pollution, especially in Australia’s southern states.

Emission levels vary depending on the types of wood heater and how they are used. Users should follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions to use wood heaters efficiently. If the wood heater is being used properly, smoke emissions will be low.

More smoke is created when lighting and reloading heaters, and if the fuel has a high moisture content. Low oxygen flow into the heater also causes more smoke. Regular chimney sweeping can help reduce smoke emissions. New technologies such as wood-burning catalysts can help heaters burn fuel more effectively, but they may not reduce the amount of smoke (Johnston 2015). Re-education programs have been effective in reducing smoke in affected areas, such as in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales. The Western Australian Government demonstrated what a compliant and noncompliant heater looked like by setting up a display in a mobile trailer unit that was shown at community events. Jurisdictions also have smoke reduction information on their websites to assist residents (e.g. Burn right tonight). Best-practice approaches are being shared across jurisdictions, to ensure consistent messaging.

Improving the burn efficiency of wood heating appliances can also manage emissions from wood heaters. The preferred option agreed by ministers under the National Clean Air Agreement was for jurisdictions to adopt the new Australian Standards for wood heater efficiency (AS/NZS 4012:2014: increased the required efficiency from 55% to 60% from 2019) and wood heater emissions (AS/NZS 4013:2014: decreased the permitted emissions of PM10 from 2.5 grams per kilogram (g/kg) to 1.5 g/kg from 2019). Most jurisdictions have adopted, or are adopting, these standards into their regulations.

Banning wood heaters altogether is one of the major recommendations of the Clean Air Plan for Sydney (Paton-Walsh et al. 2019). Wood heaters are one of the biggest causes of air pollution for the southern states and territories in winter. To improve air quality, wood heaters can be phased out in areas that have access to other heating options, such as gas and electricity.

Prescribed burning and bushfires

Prescribed burns are an important part of fire management (Morgan et al. 2020). The aim of prescribed burns is to reduce the vegetative fuel load in the landscape to prevent large, out-of-control bushfires. However, many prescribed burning activities result in numerous complaints about air quality, so the practice needs to be effectively managed to gain maximum hazard reduction while minimising smoke exposure.

Fire agencies look to weather information to assess whether conditions are right for a safe and controlled prescribed burn. Most prescribed burns are timed to coincide with calm conditions to ensure that they are controlled, but calm conditions also limit the dispersal of the smoke (Johnston 2017). Starting the burns later in the morning when the height of the atmospheric boundary layer has increased helps to reduce smoke exposure (Di Virgilio et al. 2018).

Other tools aimed at reducing public exposure to smoke from prescribed burns are air quality forecast models such as AQFx, and the New South Wales Air Quality Forecasting Framework. These models aim to assess the level of air pollution already present in an area before a prescribed burn takes place. Best practice would avoid burning on days when the air pollution is already poor. The models can also predict the likely concentrations and spread of smoke when provided with information about the location and intensity of a fire (prescribed burn or bushfire). This information aids authorities in dispensing health recommendations to residents in affected areas.

Indigenous fire practices can also produce a cooler burn and result in less smoke (see the Extreme events chapter). This smoke is termed ‘good smoke’ by Indigenous peoples, who associate its presence with good land management practices (Oliver Costello, Bundjalung man and Chief Executive Officer of Firesticks Alliance, pers. comm.). The 2016 state of the environment report reported on the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project, where using Indigenous burning practices reduced emissions of greenhouse gases by 38% (Russell-Smith et al. 2013). It is important that the levels of air pollutants in the smoke produced from cultural burning practices are measured, so that policy-makers have a metric with which to compare smoke produced with current practices.

Commercial and domestic

Commercial and domestic sources of pollution are small appliances such as outdoor power equipment, including lawnmowers, leaf blowers, chainsaws and generators. These appliances are known as nonroad spark-ignition engines and equipment. Their regulation is best managed through improvements in efficiency, ensuring that any newly purchased equipment will produce fewer emissions.

To manage emissions from nonroad spark-ignition engines and equipment, the preferred option agreed by ministers was to introduce new Commonwealth legislation. The Commonwealth Product Emissions Standards Act 2017 provides a framework under which nonroad spark-ignition engines and equipment, and marine engines must meet prescribed emissions standards before being imported (from July 2018) or supplied (from July 2019) in Australia. New products must be certified as compliant, and it will be an offence to falsify compliance. The Act also has provision to set emissions standards for other products in the future.

Nonregulated diesel engines

The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (NSW EPA) estimated that industrial nonregulated diesel engines (NRDE) accounted for 64% of all nonroad diesel emissions in the greater metropolitan region of Sydney (NSW EPA 2015).

To manage emissions from NRDE used in construction, mining, industry, power generation, marine applications, forestry and logging, and horticulture, the 2015–17 National Clean Air Agreement workplan included actions to implement the NSW EPA Diesel and Marine Emissions Management Strategy and to evaluate a national approach to managing these emissions (NSW EPA 2015). The draft strategy requires that any new equipment purchased for open-cut coalmining after January 2019 should meet the United States Environmental Protection Agency Tier 4 final emission standards, or European Union stage IV standards. These standards require use of ultra-low-sulfur-content fuel, use of low-ash oil and keeping vehicles well maintained. The same standards are required of any NRDE purchased by government agencies. In purchasing or leasing NRDE, the proposer must report whether it conforms with United States or European Union emissions standards, and a higher weighting is given to lower emissions engines when awarding tenders.

The NSW EPA Diesel and Marine Emissions Management Strategy is now included in the 10-year New South Wales Clean Air Strategy (DPIE 2021a), and the evaluation of the national approach was carried over to the 2018–20 National Clean Air Agreement work plan.

The NSW strategy aims to reduce the impact of NRDE pollution further by:

  • reducing engine idling time
  • fitting NRDE with anti-pollution control devices
  • avoiding petrol- or diesel-operated generators where mains power is available
  • avoiding siting NRDE close to schools and sensitive populations.