Starting an action without an approval from the Environment minister can either be a serious breach or an offence under our laws. This includes starting an action while you're waiting for a decision. Learn how we enforce these rules, what the penalties are and how we can help you refer your project.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) defines the actions, including projects and developments, that may need assessment. These include any action that could have an impact on protected matters.
The Environment minister will decide whether to approve your action. If the action may have a significant impact on protected matters, it's either a serious breach or a serious offence to start it:
Doing so could lead to a fine or imprisonment.
Fines are measured in penalty units. The value of a penalty unit is set in the Crimes Act 1914. For offences committed on or after 1 July 2020, a penalty unit is $222. This amount increases every 3 years. At the current rate, the maximum penalty for breaching the EPBC Act is:
- a civil penalty of up to 5,000 penalty units for an individual, or up to 50,000 for a body corporate
- a criminal penalty of up to 7 years’ imprisonment and/or 420 penalty units.
The Federal Court could also issue an injunction to stop your action from going ahead.
Making a referral
If you intend to take an action that may have a significant impact on a protected matter under the EPBC Act, you can:
- contact us about it, and discuss any issues directly with an assessment officer in a pre-referral meeting
- refer it to us to determine whether or not it needs formal assessment and approval under the EPBC Act.
You can still refer your action to us if you believe it won't have a significant impact, or if you're unsure. Lodging a referral will help you avoid unintentionally breaching the EPBC Act.
Learn more about how to lodge a referral.
Some actions don't require referral. These include:
- actions with prior authorisation (see Section 43A of the EPBC Act)
- actions that are lawful continuations of land use (see Section 43B of the EPBC Act).
We take compliance with the EPBC Act seriously. We assess any alleged breaches, and may investigate them. You could be subject to a compliance action if you don't have an approval and your action results in a significant impact on:
- a protected matter
- the environment, if your action was taken on Commonwealth land
- the environment on Commonwealth land, if your action was taken outside that land.
The Australian Government must also comply with these laws.
Unlawfully taking an action without an approval in these categories can attract either civil or criminal penalties. Learn more about penalties to enforce the Act.
How we enforce the EPBC Act
We have a range of options we can use to enforce compliance with the EPBC Act, including:
- applying to the court to assign civil or criminal penalties to executive officers of companies that have breached the Act
- applying to the court to require whoever breached the Act to repair any damage to a protected matter (remediation determination)
- accepting a promise from whoever breached the Act to pay a certain amount to protect and conserve the protected matter (enforceable undertaking).
Read about compliance with the EPBC Act.
Get in touch
If you have any compliance issues, or if you suspect a breach of the Act:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone: 1800 920 528 between 9 am and 5 pm Canberra time.