The new laws that take effect in Victoria and across Australia in 2021

The start of 2021 will bring some welcome news for many Victorians, with many set to benefit from the introduction of new laws and regulations across the state.

Some renters will gain more security from laws that offer additional protections, public transport fares will remain the same for the first time in years and electricity bills are set to drop slightly.

New laws will offer more protections to tenants in 2021.Credit: Domain

However, tenants will no longer be able to rely on relief from their landlords as some have in 2020.

State Parliament spent less time sitting in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and was often occupied with urgent COVID-19 legislation, meaning some proposed laws have been pushed back to the middle of the year and beyond.

Here are some of the new measures that take effect across Victoria in the first three months of the year:

New protections for renters

Permanent reforms designed to improve the standard of living for renters will come in on March 29, pushed back from January 1 due to the pandemic. Landlords will need to ensure their property meets a series of minimum standards, including a functioning deadlock on external doors, a vermin proof rubbish bin, functioning kitchen, mould and damp-free rooms and hot water connections.

They will also need to organise safety-related maintenance on items such as electrical appliances. Fines of up to almost $10,000 and "other punitive action" can be dished out to "those who cut corners or who do not prioritise compliance with their obligations", according to the new laws.

Rent relief curtailed

Special laws compelling landlords to negotiate rent reductions with tenants due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic will change on January 1. The new rules restore more power to landlords, who will no longer be legally required to offer relief. Tenants also will be obliged to start repaying their deferred rent from January 1 if the landlord asks for it.

Cheaper electricity

Power bills will drop by between about $20 and $40 for Victorian households and up to $158 for small businesses from January 1. The five main electricity providers – AusNet, CitiPower, Jemena, Powercor and United Energy – have dropped their network tariffs for six months, until new Victorian legislation requires them to resubmit their prices on July 1. It's worth noting average power bills went up this time last year by about $50 for residences and as much as $200 for businesses.

Public transport fares

The government has held prices for trains, buses and trams at the same price for 2021 "in recognition of the difficult year Victorians have had". Last year daily fares increased by 20¢, or 1.7 per cent, following several annual rises.

The following laws are set to take effect across Victoria from July 1, 2021:

Wage theft becomes a crime

Deliberate underpayment of workers will become a criminal offence in Victoria by July 1 2021, with fines up to almost $1 million for businesses and jail terms of up to 10 years for offending employers. Former attorney-general Jill Hennessy said workers will now "have the law on their side" after years of underpayment scandals involving businesses such as 7-Eleven, McDonald’s and Coles. However, the federal government is currently developing its own wage theft laws that could intersect with or cancel out Victoria's laws.

Greater powers for environmental watchdog

The Environment Protection Authority will be given more proactive powers to prevent waste and pollution as well as the ability to fine businesses up to $3.2 million and recommend jail sentences of up to five years for individuals. Delayed to July 1, 2021, because of the pandemic, the legislation comes after years of criticism that the EPA was toothless in cracking down on activity such as warehouses stacked with toxic waste.

Electric vehicle tax

One of the controversial inclusions in November's state budget, Victoria’s electric vehicle tax will be in place by July 1, 2021.

Drivers will be charged a levy of 2.5¢ per kilometre, the first such tax on zero emissions vehicles that Treasurer Tim Pallas says will bring electric car owners in line with fuel-engine drivers who pay their dues for state road maintenance through petrol taxes.

COVID support payments for welfare recipients are reduced from January 1.Credit:Kate Geraghty


A plethora of changes to federal government laws and regulations also take effect across Australia from January 1.

Among them are cuts to COVID-19 support payments, university fee changes, an export ban on glass waste and a revamp of Australia's foreign investment review framework.

Coronavirus support payments cut

The temporary JobSeeker coronavirus supplement will be cut from $250 to $150 a fortnight on Friday, with the bonus payment ending on March 31, 2021, after it was extended at the reduced rate.

Those on JobKeeper will see their payments lowered on January 4 to $1000 a fortnight for employees working 20 hours or more a week and $650 for those working less.

JobKeeper payments will come to a halt on March 28, 2021.

University costs

There will be mixed emotions among students beginning university, depending on the degree and subjects they choose, as student contributions and degree prices are adjusted under the Job Ready Graduates package.

Fees will increase for most humanities and social sciences subjects, while prices will be slashed for degrees in disciplines deemed to have future job demand, including teaching, agriculture and engineering courses.

There are winners and losers among changes to university fees.

Waste glass export ban

In a win for the environment and human health, the export of waste glass will be regulated from January 1.

Waste companies can export from Australia only if they hold a licence and meet certain requirements, in a bid to curb unprocessed materials being dumped overseas and encourage recycling.

The change, which was scheduled for July 1, 2020, was pushed back due to the pandemic, but now kicks off a swag of scheduled untreated material exports bans including for plastics, paper and tyres.

Foreign investment

Changes to Australia’s foreign investment review framework, the "FIRB regime", will come into effect at the start of the year, addressing national security, compliance and approval processes.

Among the changes, all investments in land or businesses related to sensitive national security must be approved, and the Treasurer will have strengthened monitoring, investigation and enforcement powers.

Prohibited substances and methods in sport

From January 1, athletes who test positive to "substances of abuse", including cocaine and heroin, may face a one-month sanction, compared to a possible four-year ban previously.

The annual update of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List indicates such a discretion applies if it is proved the substance was taken out of competition, unrelated to sporting performance and a drug rehabilitation program is undertaken. The reduced sanction may also apply retrospectively.

Also among the changes, athletes who use asthma medication which contains vilanterol are no longer required a therapeutic use exemption if the levels are below the manufacturer's maximum recommended dose.

Biosecurity goods

Most people will not have to worry about this change for some time, but once travellers get back in the air and water, passengers who don't declare high-risk biosecurity goods could be hit with a fine of $2664 from the beginning of the year.

The ability to cancel visas on biosecurity-related grounds will also be extended to capture student and temporary work visa holders, after considerations are made surrounding the seriousness of the breach, its impact on business and the individual situation.

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