Chapter 15

National Environmental Laws

When dealing with environmental problems that have national significance, you will sometimes need to refer to Commonwealth laws.

State and local governments are responsible for managing most activities that impact on the environment. However, in some cases a person planning an activity or development may need to obtain federal government approval - in addition to any approvals needed under State law (see Division of Powers).

By far the most important federal law is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 – commonly referred to as the ‘EPBC Act’

This Chapter provides a brief summary of the EPBC Act to assist you if you are dealing with an issue of national environmental significance.

About the EPBC Act

What does the EPBC Act do?

Most significantly, the EPBC Act identifies a number of 'matters of national environmental significance’ (MNES) and requires approval from the Federal Environment Minister for ‘controlled actions’ which may have a significant impact on these matters.

In addition to the assessment and approval of actions affecting MNES, the EPBC Act:

  • Establishes a permit system for taking, trading, importing and exporting threatened species
  • Prohibits killing and injuring cetaceans (such as whales and dolphins) in Australian waters
  • Establishes a list of National heritage places and Commonwealth heritage places
  • Deals with the management of World Heritage properties and heritage places
  • Provides for banning of “declared commercial fishing activities”

How are actions assessed under the EPBC Act?

Unless they have been exempted (see below), any actions that are likely to have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance must be assessed and approved by the Commonwealth Environment Minister.

If the EPBC Act applies to a particular action, and it is carried out without an approval from the Minister, the action will be unlawful and the person or organisation carrying out the action may be prosecuted or have an injunction issued against them.

EPBC Definitions

It is important to understand a few key concepts under this Act:
:?: What is a ‘controlled action’?

‘Actions’ are defined to include such things as a project, a development, an undertaking, an activity, or an alteration to one of these things.

:!: A decision by government to grant approval for an action, or to grant funding for an action is not an action in itself.

‘Controlled actions’ include:
  • actions likely to have a significant impact on a ‘matter of national environmental significance’;
  • actions likely to have a significant impact on the environment of Commonwealth land; and
  • actions by the Commonwealth Government or a Commonwealth agency likely to have a significant impact on the environment (this could include actions taken by the Commonwealth Government outside of Australia).
:?: What is a ‘matter of national environmental significance’?

There are currently eight ‘matters of national environmental significance’ listed under the EPBC Act:

  • World Heritage values of World Heritage properties;
  • Wetlands of international importance (Ramsar wetlands);
  • Listed threatened species and ecological communities;
  • Listed migratory species;
  • Commonwealth marine areas;
  • Nuclear actions (including uranium mines); and
  • Listed National Heritage and Commonwealth Heritage places;
  • The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

:!: In June 2013, legislation was passed to introduce an additional MNES for coal seam gas and large coal mining development that has, or is likely to have, a significant impact on water resources. At the date of writing, this provision has not commenced.

⇔ Lists of Ramsar wetlands, threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species and heritage places can be found on the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website.

:?: What are ‘triggers’?

Matters of national environmental significance are often referred to as “triggers”, as they trigger the application of the EPBC Act.

Over time, numerous additional triggers have been proposed, including projects with significant greenhouse gas emissions and developments in national parks. With the exception of a trigger for the impact of coal seam gas extraction and coal mining on water resources, such proposals have not been adopted.

:?: What is a ‘significant impact’?

“Significant” is not defined in the EPBC Act. However, based on a range of court decisions, the general test for whether an impact is significant is whether the impact is “important, notable, or of consequence, having regard to its context or intensity”.

The Commonwealth has published Significant Impact Guidelines to assist you to determine whether a proposed action is likely to have a significant impact.

In considering the significance of the potential impacts of an action, the Minister must consider all direct impacts as well as indirect impacts which are:

  • facilitated, to a major extent, by the action; and
  • within the contemplation of the person taking the action; and
  • reasonably foreseeable
:?: What is the Precautionary Principle?

Section 391 of the Act requires the Minister to take account of the Precautionary Principle when making a wide range of decisions.

The Precautionary Principle is explained in the EPBC Act as follows:

“Lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing a measure to prevent degradation of the environment where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage”.

:?: What are 'Bilateral Agreements'?

The EPBC Act also allows the Commonwealth to enter into agreement with the States and Territories. There are two types of bilateral agreements:

  1. “Approval Bilateral Agreements” - these agreements allow a State or Territory approval process to be recognised for the purposes of the EPBC Act. That is, the State approval process simply replaces the Commonwealth process and becomes a decision under the EPBC Act.
  2. “Assessment Bilateral Agreements” - these agreements allow certain environmental impact assessment processes undertaken by the State to be accredited and used by the Federal Minister when s/he makes a determination under the EPBC Act. The final decision rests with the Federal Minister, however no further assessment is required.

Approval bilaterals

To date there are no bilateral agreements in place that enable project approval via State processes. However, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has recently proposed a change that could see these agreements becoming more prevalent. COAG’s rationale for encouraging greater use of State bilateral approvals is to reduce duplication and speed up the approval process for developers.

Many groups have opposed the proposed changes (⇔ for example, see the Places You Love campaign), arguing that delegating approval powers to the States would compromise the protection of matters of national environmental significance. The main concerns raised by opponents are that:

  • State legislation does not provide sufficient safeguards; and
  • State governments may not be far enough removed from the ‘action’ to recognise possible national consequences. The COAG proposal has the potential to distort the approval process, so that matters of national environmental significance take a back seat to State economic interests.

:!: In December 2012, the Federal government announced that plans to implement Approval Bilaterals would be deferred, as many State governments had failed to demonstrate that their legislation could meet the same standards as the EPBC Act.

In March 2013, the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications released its report into proposed legislation to remove the power to enter into Approval Bilaterals. The Committee noted concerns regarding the need for rigorous accreditation criteria, but did not support completely removing the power to enter Approval Bilaterals.

⇔ Click HERE to view the Committee’s report.

Assessment Bilaterals

There are a number of ‘Assessment Bilateral Agreements’ in force throughout Australia.

The Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments re-signed an assessment bilateral agreement in 2011. Under the agreement, the following impact assessment procedures under Tasmanian laws are accredited for the purposes of the EPBC Act:

☛ See Chapter 5 for more details about these assessment processes.

If the Federal Minister decides that a controlled action will be assessed by the “accredited process”, assessment reports prepared under the Tasmanian laws will be submitted to the Federal Minister for consideration before she or he makes a decision. No further impact assessment is required.

:?: What are Ministerial Declarations?

The Minister can also make declarations under the EPBC Act that certain actions do not need approval under the Act. A declaration can exclude specific classes of action (for example, mineral extraction below a certain volume), or can provide that actions are exempt if they are carried out in accordance with an accredited management plan.

Who administers and enforces the EPBC Act?

The Federal Environment minister is pivotal in the Act and has the following roles:
  • Administering the EPBC Act through the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
  • Responsibility for assessing and approving controlled actions, making decisions about civil enforcement of the EPBC Act, such as obtaining injunctions or revoking permits.
  • If a developer has breached the conditions of an approval, the Minister has broad powers to immediately suspend, revoke, vary or amend the approval or its conditions.
  • Recommending to the Director of Public Prosecutions that criminal prosecution be commenced for offences under the Act (such as carrying out development without an approval or providing misleading information).

1. The Referral Process

How is the Minister alerted to proposed activities or developments covered by the EPBC Act?

Proposed activities or developments can be referred to the Minister in four ways:
  1. The person or organisation proposing to take the action (the ‘proponent’) has a duty to refer it to the Minister for a decision as to whether the proposed action is a ‘controlled action’.

  2. A State or Territory government or agency (such as DPIPWE) can refer the proposal to the Minister. There is some dispute as to whether local councils can make referrals, but local councils can certainly lobby the State or Federal Minister if they believe a project should be referred.

  3. The Federal Environment Minister may request the proponent to make a referral. If no referral is made within the set time period, the Minister can deem the action to be referred.

  4. A Commonwealth agency or responsible Minister can refer a proposed action to the Minister.

:!: A proponent can include a number of alternatives for an action in the referral (for example, the proponent may propose two different locations for a factory). The Minister can approve one or more of the options proposed.

Can members of the public refer an 'action' to the Federal Environment Minister?

No, citizens and community groups cannot formally refer actions proposed by other people.

If you want a proposal to be referred to the Minister for a decision (about whether an approval is required), you should write to either the proponent or to relevant government agencies and ask them to refer the proposal to the Minister.

You could also write to the Minister and ask him or her to request that the proponent refer the action. If the action is not referred, you can also report the proposal to the Compliance and Enforcement section of Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

Who decides whether a proposed activity or development is covered by the EPBC Act?

If a proposal is referred, the Federal Environment Minister must decide whether a proposed activity is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance or on Commonwealth land.

If the Minister decides that a proposed development or activity is covered by the EPBC Act, it will be declared to be a controlled action and will need to be assessed and approved by the Minister before it can go ahead.

There are significant penalties for taking a controlled action without approval. The maximum penalty for an individual is $660,000 and the maximum penalty for a body corporate is $6.6 million. Some offences are also punishable with up to seven years imprisonment.

How does the Minister decide whether a proposed activity or development is a 'controlled action'?

When a proposal is referred to the Minister, s/he must publish the Referral on the Department's website and invite the public to comment on whether the action is a controlled action. The Minister can request further information about the proposed action from the proponent.

If no further information is requested, the Minister must decide whether the proposal is a controlled action within 20 business days of receiving the referral.

:!: When deciding whether a referred proposal is a controlled action, the Minister must take into account The Precautionary Principle.

:!: If the proponent acknowledges in the referral document that the proposed activity or development is a controlled action, the referral is not released for public comment at this stage.

The Minister can decide that an 'action' is:
  • a Controlled Action,
  • not a Controlled Action, or
  • not a Controlled Action, provided it is carried out in a certain manner.

The Minister must give notice of the decision, which is published on the Department’s website. Any ‘interested person’ can request reasons for the decision.

How do I comment on 'referral' documents?

There are no formal requirements about how comments are made. However, all submissions should include your name, address and contact details.

Comments in relation to referral decisions must be made within 10 business days of the date of the public notice.

When making your comments you should:
  • read the referral documents carefully. Point out any missing or wrong information in your comments, e.g. listed species not mentioned, incorrect hydrological impact information;
  • attach any existing evidence or reports which support your comments, e.g. lists of birds spotted in the area;
  • make reference to the Significant Impact Guidelines, or any other relevant material, to show significant impact; and
  • comment on the assessment approach that should be used (for example, environmental impact statement).

:!: It is important to comment at this stage. If the action is determined not to be a controlled action, the Federal Minister does not need to assess the development any further and you will not get another opportunity to comment.

:!: If the Minister decides that the development is not a controlled action, the proponent cannot later be prosecuted under the EPBC Act even if it turns out that the proposal does significantly impact on a matter of national environmental significance.

2. The Assessment Process

If the Federal Environment Minister decides that a proposed activity or development is a controlled action, the next step is for the Minister to assess the environmental impacts of the proposal.

The EPBC Act provides a range of ways for a controlled action to be assessed:

  • Assessment on referral information only – for actions for which the likely impacts are ‘straight forward’
  • Assessment on preliminary documentation – for actions with few or confined impacts that are reasonably well understood
  • Accredited assessment process – the Minister can refer to assessment documents prepared under other laws. If a bilateral assessment agreement has been signed, the assessment process accredited in that agreement will be followed.  See information above in this Chapter about assessment bilaterals.
  • Public Environment Report (PER) - where a number of issues are raised and further information is required to assess the impacts of the proposed action.
  • Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) - where a large number of issues are raised and further information and analysis is required to assess the impacts of the proposed action.
  • Public inquiry - for actions where the impacts are expected to be large, wide-ranging and there is a need for extensive public involvement. A public inquiry can be used in conjunction with other assessment approaches such as a PER or EIS.

The Minister must decide on which assessment approach will be used, based on the information provided by the proponent, comments from the public and relevant State government agencies, and factors set out in the EPBC Act.

What is assessed?

The Federal Minister can only assess impacts on matters of national environmental significance, Commonwealth land, or an action taken by the Commonwealth. A proposed action may have environmental impacts going beyond those covered by the EPBC Act, but these do not have to be assessed or considered by the Commonwealth. However, they are likely to be assessed under State or Territory laws (☛ see Chapter 5 for information about the Tasmanian approval process).

What are the opportunities for public participation in the assessment process?

Each of the different types of assessment requires advertising, which provides an opportunity for the public to review all the documents submitted by the proponent and to provide comments about the potential impacts of the proposal. All public comments are provided to the Minister.

If the assessment is carried out by another Commonwealth department or a State or Territory government under an assessment bilateral, there may also be additional opportunities for public comment and access to information about the proposed action.

3. The Approval

How does the Minister decide whether or not to approve the action?

☝ The Minister must decide whether to grant an approval for the action (and, if so, on what conditions) within 20 – 40 days of receiving the environmental assessment documents. The time limit will depend on the type of assessment approach that has been undertaken.

In making the decision, the Minister must take into account:
  • the impacts on each relevant matter of national environmental significance, or the Commonwealth environment;
  • economic and social matters;
  • the principles of ecologically sustainable development;
  • any assessment report, PER or EIS or report of a public inquiry (including a summary of public comments);
  • any comments given to the Minister by another Commonwealth Minister; and
  • the proponent’s history in relation to environmental matters.

If the Minister believes that he or she does not have enough information to make an informed decision, s/he can ask the proponent for extra specified information. The time taken to provide the information is added on to the time limit for making a decision.

:!: In granting an approval or imposing conditions on an approval relating to World Heritage sites, Ramsar wetlands, threatened species or ecological communities or migratory species, the Minister’s decisions must be consistent with Australia’s obligations under any relevant international conventions.

:!: The Minister must not grant an approval that is inconsistent with a Recovery Plan or a Threat Abatement Plan for a threatened species in place under the EPBC Act.

What kinds of conditions can the Minister impose?

The Minister has a wide discretion to impose conditions on an approval to protect the matter of national environmental significance or Commonwealth environment, or to mitigate or repair any damage that might be caused by the action.

For example, the Minister can impose conditions that require the proponent to:
  • provide a bond to cover any mitigation or repair work;
  • carry out periodic, independent environmental audits;
  • prepare and implement management plans;
  • establish a reserve area to offset any habitat loss caused by the controlled action.

Can an approval or conditions be varied or revoked?

The Minister may suspend or revoke an approval if the Minister believes that:
  • a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance has occurred because of a breach of an approval or a condition;
  • the impacts identified were inaccurate because of negligence or a deliberate attempt to leave out information.
Conditions to approvals can be revoked or varied if:
  • any condition of the approval has been breached;
  • there has been an impact on a matter of national environmental significance that was not identified when originally assessing the controlled action; or
  • the person taking the controlled action agrees to the change.

Biodiversity Offsets

Biodiversity offsets are increasingly considered when assessing developments that involves the conversion or removal of native vegetation. When a proposed development will impact upon natural values, and there are no other alternatives that can be used, biodiversity offsets may be imposed as a mitigation tool. For example, a condition may provide for actions at one site, such as planting trees, to compensate for the loss of trees at another site.

⇔ Click HERE to see the EPBC Act Environmental Offset Policy, which guides how offset conditions are applied.

4. Appeal rights

Can I appeal against the Minister’s decision?

There are no provisions for appeal against the Minister’s decision in relation to a controlled action. However, you may be able to pursue an action under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act if you believe that the Minister did not follow the proper legal process (for example, by failing to take a relevant consideration into account).

Judicial review actions are taken in the Federal Court and can be very complex and expensive. It is strongly advisable to seek legal advice before you decide whether to take such action (☛ Go to Chapter 14 for information).

Are there other options for legal action under the EPBC?

Though appeal rights are limited, the EPBC Act does allow an interested person to apply for an injunction to stop any activity that breaches (or threatens to breach) the Act. For example, an interested person could seek an injunction to stop a development which threatens World Heritage values if the development had not been approved under the Act.

‘Interested person’ includes:

  • an individual citizen or resident who has been involved in a series of activities to protect the environment for the past two years or more; or
  • an organisation that has been involved in a series of activities to protect the environment for the past two years or more, and has protection or conservation of the environment, or research into the environment, among the objects or purpose of the organisation.

Any application for an injunction needs to take place in the Federal Court and should only be considered after you seek legal advice.

When it first commenced, the EPBC Act included a provision protecting interested persons from being required to provide security for costs when seeking an interim injunction. That provision was later removed. The Federal Court still has discretion to waive the requirement to deposit security for costs, but you should seek advice about the cost risks before commencing any injunction proceedings.

How effective is the EPBC Act?

Weaknesses of the EPBC Act

Inadequate triggers The main weakness of the Act is that the list of ‘triggers’ is limited. For example, the Act does not give the Minister power to regulate developments that would result in significant greenhouse gas emissions or that would use significant volumes of water (surface or ground water).

Exemptions The EPBC Act specifically exempts actions carried out under Regional Forest Agreements from the assessment and approval provisions of the Act. The Minister can also declare ‘exemptions’ for some activities that could have a significant environmental impact.

Limited public appeals As discussed above, there are limited opportunities for the public to seek a merits review of decisions made by the Minister under the EPBC Act. However, the broad standing provisions allowing “interested persons” to apply for an injunction under the Act are commendable.

Hawke Review

In 2008, an independent review of the EPBC Act was undertaken by Dr Allan Hawke. This was done in order to assess the Act’s operation and the extent to which the Act was achieving its objectives. This independent review has become known as the Hawke Review.

While the Hawke Review is generally positive about the overall operation of the EPBC Act, it also outlines a number of different areas where there are opportunities for reform, including:

  • greater use of strategic assessments (Recommendation 4). Strategic assessments may characterise entire regions as suitable for particular classes of development, rather than assess each development proposal individually.
  • a new trigger for 'ecosystems of national significance' (Recommendation 8).
  • introduction of an interim greenhouse trigger for developments that will produce over 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in any 12 month period (Recommendation 10).

Government Response

The government agreed to improve the implementation of strategic assessment options, meaning it is likely that there will be greater reliance on strategic assessments in the future. While this would streamline the assessment and approval process, it would also allow expansive developments to take place without specific scrutiny. It will be important to ensure that strategic assessments are subject to rigorous criteria.

The government agreed to implement the ecosystems of national significance recommendation in part, by introducing a trigger for the ecosystem itself, rather than the character of the ecosystem (which it claimed would be too subjective). To date, no such trigger has been introduced.

The government refused to implement the recommendation in relation to the greenhouse gas emissions trigger, relying instead on its Clean Energy Act to effectively manage high emission activities.

Other federal laws

Aside from the EPBC Act the Commonwealth has a range of legislation and programs dealing directly with specific issues such as:

  • genetically engineered crops (☛ see Chapter 10)
  • heritage protection (☛ see Chapter 12)
  • fisheries and marine protection (☛ see Chapter 9)
  • forestry (☛ see Chapter 8)
  • agricultural chemicals (☛ See Chapter 10) and
  • the Antarctic environment.

To find more about Commonwealth laws, responsibilities and programmes go to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website.

Product Stewardship

The Federal government has recently enacted the Product Stewardship Act 2011, which aims to better manage the lifecycle of products, particularly their disposal. The legislation contains voluntary, co-regulatory and mandatory product stewardship.

This legislation has helped to create recycling schemes involving tyres, mercury-containing lamps, as well as televisions and computers.

As part of the National Waste Policy, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) have also endorsed a national Packaging Covenant. The Covenant involves stakeholders at a national, state and local level. The covenant aims to encourage recycling of packaging materials, as well as minimise the impact caused to the environment from the disposal of used packaging.

When do Commonwealth laws apply?

This can be a confusing area of law and it may be difficult to work out which legislation applies in certain circumstances. The following guidelines may be helpful.

National laws apply in these situations....
  • to all Commonwealth agencies and their activities;
  • on Commonwealth land or water;
  • in areas where the Commonwealth has joint jurisdiction (such as world heritage areas, and marine fisheries);
  • where the Commonwealth already has ‘reserve powers’, such as the ability to control export permits;
  • where federal legislation gives the commonwealth explicit power to act (eg. matters listed in the EPBC Act);
  • where the federal government has signed an international agreement obliging it to comply with that agreement (e.g. Antarctica, biodiversity, wetlands, whaling, marine protection, ozone, world heritage, migratory species and greenhouse gas emissions);

:!: Just because the Commonwealth has the power to act does not mean that it automatically will. The public has an important role in pressuring it to do so.

Complying with its own laws

The federal government is required to comply with its own laws. So if the case you are dealing with involves the Commonwealth or one of its agencies, or even federal funding, you may be able to apply national legislation.

Is the federal government bound by state laws?

Sometimes Commonwealth laws and state laws say different things about the same topic. If the laws are inconsistent, then the Commonwealth law overrides the state law to the extent of the inconsistency.

Federal–state cooperation

To avoid dogfights with the states over environmental matters, the federal government has generally adopted a policy of cooperative federalism – getting all states and territories to come to agreement on important issues. It does this through meetings of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

Such national agreements are often of limited use to those who are trying to protect the environment – except where they result in agreed mandates that have been built into law (i.e. given 'statutory force').

Tasmania has signed up to a number of important nationwide agreements which have significant implications for future environmental laws, including:

1. National Environment Protection Measures

In recent years, a number of nationwide ‘policies’, known as National Environment Protection Measures (NEPMs) have been agreed to by all Australian States. These deal with wide-ranging issues including diesel emissions, marine and fresh water quality, noise, site contamination, and hazardous wastes.

Tasmania has effectively incorporated these NEPMS into Tasmanian law by declaring them to be State Polices.

Details regarding each of the NEPMs are available on the Standing Committee on Environment and Water's website.

2. Inter-governmental Agreement on the Environment

The IGAE (signed in 1992) is a broad in-principle agreement about the division of responsibilities between the three levels of government. An important aspect of this agreement is that it includes the importance of The Precautionary Principle being implemented in environmental legislation.

A copy of the IGAE appears as a Schedule to several national Acts including the Environment Protection Council Act 1994

3. Competition Principles Agreement

This national agreement (signed in 1995) requires each State to review and reform all legislation that is seen to restrict competition. (ie. legislation should not restrict competition unless its benefit to the community as a whole outweighs the costs, or unless the legislation cannot avoid restricting competition.)

To pursue this agenda the Tasmanian Subordinate Legislation Act 1992 outlines a timetable for staged automatic repeal of certain government regulations and compels State government agencies to review the legislation they administer.

This agreement can have some positive, as well as negative, impacts on the environment.

4. National Water Initiative

The National Water Initiative (signed in 2005) sets out objectives and actions for national water reform issues, such as water trading, best practice pricing and integrated management of water resources. Tasmania’s Water Management Act 1999 was passed (and subsequently amended) to achieve compliance with this national initiative (☛ go to Chapter 10 for more information).

5. Carbon emissions trading

On 1 July 2012, Australia introduced a price on carbon. This initiative aims to make polluters pay for contributing to climate change, in order to encourage businesses to reduce their energy consumption and opt for renewable energy sources.

The Clean Energy Legislation includes the Clean Energy Act 2011 and the Clean Energy Regulator Act 2011. This legislation sets up and regulates the carbon pricing mechanism (CPM), with a view to moving to an emissions trading scheme by 2015.

The Climate Change Authority Act 2011 provides for a periodic review of the CPM, and sets out the implementation of carbon pollution caps.

☛ For more information on carbon emissions trading and climate change, see Chapter 16.

6. Caring for Our Country program

The Federal Government has committed $2 billion from 2013-2017 to implement natural resource management plans and foster biodiversity conservation in Australia.

The Caring for Our Country program, administered by the National NRM body, provides funding for a range of nationwide environmental initiatives such as:

  • Landcare program
  • National Reserve System Program
  • Reef Rescue Marine Monitoring Program
  • Working on Country Program

Caring for Our Country projects also provide support to Indigenous landowners to manage their lands for the protection of natural and cultural features in accordance with internationally recognised standards and guidelines.

Closer to home, the program provides funding for research into Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease and helps landowners sustainably manage internationally recognised wetlands such as Little Waterhouse Lake and Lower Ringarooma River.

Information and useful contacts

About federal laws

☛ Go to Chapters 2 and 3 for general information about federal, state and local government roles and responsibilities.

☛ Go to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website, to find more about various commonwealth laws, responsibilities and programs.

About Australia's international obligations

Click HERE to see information about international agreements that Australia has committed to implementing.



Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
King Edward Terrace, Parkes ACT 2600
GPO Box 787, Canberra ACT 2601
Ph: 02 6274 1111 Fax: 02 6274 1666

National Environment Protection Council (incorporated into the Standing Council on Environment and Water)
GPO Box 787, Canberra ACT 2601
Phone: 02 6274 1819


Environmental Defenders Office:
131 Macquarie Street, Hobart 7000
Ph: 6223 2770 Fax: 6223 2074

Some national laws and regulations

The Precautionary Principle


Minister must consider precautionary principle in making decisions

Taking account of precautionary principle

(1) The Minister must take account of the precautionary principle in making a decision listed in the table in subsection (3), to the extent he or she can do so consistently with the other provisions of this Act.

Precautionary principle

(2) The precautionary principle is that: lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing a measure to prevent degradation of the environment where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage.

Decisions in which precautionary principle must be considered

(3) The decisions are:

ItemSection decision is made underNature of decision
175whether an action is a controlled action
2133whether or not to approve the taking of an action
3201whether or not to grant a permit
4216whether or not to grant a permit
5238whether or not to grant a permit
6258whether or not to grant a permit
6A269AAwhether or not to have a recovery plan for a listed threatened species or a listed threatened ecological community
7269Aabout making a recovery plan or adopting a plan as a recovery plan
7A270Awhether or not to have a threat abatement plan for a key threatening process
7B270Babout making a threat abatement plan or adopting a plan as a threat abatement plan
8280about approving a variation of a plan adopted as a recovery plan or threat abatement plan
9285about making a wildlife conservation plan or adopting a plan as a wildlife conservation plan
10295about approving a variation of a plan adopted as a wildlife conservation plan
10A303CGwhether or not to grant a permit
10AA303DCwhether or not to amend the list of exempt native specimens
10B303DGwhether or not to grant a permit
10C303ECabout including an item in the list referred to section 303EB
10D303ENwhether or not to grant a permit
10E303FNabout declaring an operation to be an approved wildlife trade operation
10F303FOabout declaring a plan to be an approved wildlife trade management plan
10G303FPabout declaring a plan to be an accredited wildlife trade management plan
10H303GBwhether or not to grant an exceptional circumstances permit
11316about making a plan for managing a property that is included in the World Heritage List and is entirely within one or more Commonwealth areas
11A324Sabout making a plan for managing a National Heritage place
12328about making a plan for managing a wetland that is designated for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance kept under the Ramsar Convention and is entirely within one or more Commonwealth areas
13338about making a plan for managing a Biosphere reserve entirely within one or more Commonwealth areas
13A341Tabout endorsing a plan for managing a Commonwealth Heritage place
14370about approving a management plan for a Commonwealth reserve

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