We have strong laws in place to protect our environment. They help us to protect our unique plants, animals, habitats and places. Read about the benefits of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), how we assess proposals that may impact the environment, and how we review the Act.
About the EPBC Act
Australia’s environment is a vital part of our natural identity, our First Nations heritage and our economy. One of the key ways we protect it is through the EPBC Act.
The EPBC Act and regulations are Australia's main national environmental legislation. They provide a way for us to protect and manage nationally and internationally important plants, animals, habitats and places.
Read the EPBC Act 1999 on the Federal Register of Legislation.
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Watch the video to learn about the EPBC Act
Australia is home to many animals, plants, habitats, and heritage places that are found nowhere else on earth. It's important that we protect them.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is a national law that makes sure that Matters of National Significance are identified and potential impacts on them are carefully considered before changes in land use or new developments take place.
If you are planning a new project that impacts on Australia's natural environment or heritage or involves commonwealth land such as mining, land clearing, property development farming intensification, or any other type of activity that will have an impact on Matters of National Significance you may need approval from both the Australian government and your state or territory or local governments before you start work.
To find out if there are any Matters of National Significance on or related to your property you can use the Protected Matters Search Tool on the department's website.
If your project is going to impact on Matters of National Significance, then you must do your research, carefully consider how any potential negative impacts can be avoided or impacts on them reduced.
Tell us how you'll build improved environmental outcomes into your project from the start and refer the project to the department if it will have a significant impact.
Benefits of the Act
The EPBC Act helps to:
- protect the environment, especially protected matters
- conserve our biodiversity - the variety of all life forms in Australia
- protect and manage our important natural and cultural places
- assess the environmental impact of projects, and decide whether to approve them
- control how plants and animals, including specimens and products, move in and out of Australia
- promote ecologically sustainable development through careful use of our natural resources
- appreciate the role of Indigenous peoples in protecting and sustainably using the environment
- promote using Indigenous peoples' knowledge, with their permission and cooperation.
The EPBC Act refers to the living things (including plants and animals), habitats and places that need protecting as 'matters of national environmental significance'. There are 9 of these:
- World Heritage areas
- Commonwealth Heritage places
- wetlands of international importance (listed under the Ramsar Convention)
- listed threatened species and listed ecological communities
- listed migratory species (protected under international agreements)
- Commonwealth marine areas
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
- nuclear actions (including uranium mines)
- water resources (relating to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development).
The Act also protects the environment when actions are taken:
- on Commonwealth land or impact upon Commonwealth land
- by an Australian Government agency anywhere in the world
- that impact Commonwealth heritage places overseas.
We call these things 'protected matters'.
Learn more about what's protected under the Act.
Referral and assessment process
If you're planning a project (also called 'an action') that might have an impact on protected matters, you may need to refer it to us for assessment.
We'll review your documents, and the Environment minister will decide if your project is a controlled action under the EPBC Act. The Act governs this process to ensure consistent, fair and transparent decisions.
If you decide to refer your project, you'll need to do so through the EPBC Act Business Portal.
Follow our Referrals and assessments guide. We're here to help you every step of the way.
Decisions on controlled actions
The minister makes decisions at 3 key stages in our assessment process:
- Referral decisions — the minister decides whether an action is a controlled action, not a controlled action or is clearly unacceptable.
- Assessment decisions — the minister decides how we'll assess the potential impacts of a controlled action before we assess the proposal.
- Approval decisions — the minister decides whether to approve a controlled action. They can also attach conditions to an approval, which may require offsets and include environmental management plans.
Consequences of not referring to us
We need to assess any action that might cause harm to a matter protected under the EPBC Act. It's a serious offence to:
- take action before the minister has made a decision on the referral or assessment process
- undertake an action while we're assessing it.
Read about Compliance with the EPBC Act.
History of the Act and its changes
The EPBC Act came into force on 16 July 2000. Its purpose was to:
- clarify the Australian Government's role in protecting and conserving our unique environment and heritage
- help us work better with the states and territories on protected matters.
Learn more about how we do this in the agreement on roles and responsibilities for the environment.
The Act also includes a set of rules that help us implement it, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations 2000.
Reviews of the EPBC Act
The EPBC Act requires an independent review of operations every 10 years.
The most recent 2020 review, led by Professor Graeme Samuel AC, recommended major changes to the Act.
In response to the Samuel Review, the Australian Government created a roadmap for environmental law reform.
Amendments to the EPBC Act
You'll find other changes and updates to the EPBC Act and its regulations on the Federal Register of Legislation website:
Get in touch
For more information about the EPBC Act, please contact us by either:
- online enquiry form
- Phone: 1800 920 528 phone service operates 9am to 5pm (AEST) Monday to Friday, except public holidays