Australian laws protect certain nationally significant (protected) animals, plants, habitats or places. We call these things 'protected matters'. If your project or development (action) could have an impact on a protected matter, you may need to refer it to the Australian Government so we can assess it.
Once you refer a proposed action to us, it will go through a rigorous referral and assessment process.
If the Environment minister, or their delegate, decides that your action is a controlled action, we'll need to assess it under the EPBC Act.
The minister will decide this within 20 business days of receiving a referral.
We'll tell you the result of the assessment decision via email as soon as possible. We'll also usually publish this decision on our public notices website.
Since the EPBC Act started more than 20 years ago, we've received over 6,000 referrals. Of these, more than 1,000 were controlled actions.
Possible decisions on a referred action
The minister uses the referral process as the main tool to decide:
- whether an action needs approval
- if so, what type of assessment is best.
Under the EPBC Act, the minister can make 5 types of decisions on referred actions.
Clearly unacceptable (CU) decision
This decision means that your proposed action has, or will have, a clearly unacceptable impact on protected matters.
Sometimes, the minister may quickly decide this without having to determine whether your proposed action is a ‘controlled action’.
Controlled action (CA) decision
This decision means that your proposed action has, or will have, a significant impact on protected matters.
For the minister to make a controlled action decision, your referral must assess the impacts of your proposed action on a protected matter, consistent with the significant impact guidelines. You'll also need to show the avoidance and mitigation measures you plan to take.
If the minister decides that your proposal is a controlled action, we will need to assess it further. The minister or their delegate will then decide whether to approve it.
The assessment and approval phases only look at impacts that we identified and recorded as part of the controlled action decision.
Not a controlled action - particular manner (NCA-PM) decision
This decision means that the particular manner in which you proposed to take your action ensures that it won't, or isn't likely to, have a significant impact on protected matters.
If we make this decision, you must undertake the action according to the particular manner in the decision notice. This means we won't need to further assess your proposed action
If you don't undertake the action in the manner the decision specifies, you may be in breach of the EPBC Act, and might be fined.
An NCA-PM decision is NOT an approval. Instead, it specifies how you can undertake an action to avoid a significant impact on the environment.
If you want to undertake your action in a different manner, you'll need to re-refer that action under the EPBC Act. In limited circumstances, you may be able to ask for a reconsideration.
Not a controlled action (NCA) decision
This decision means your proposed action is unlikely to have a significant impact on protected matters, no matter how you propose to undertake it.
This in turn means your proposed action needs no further assessment, but you must undertake it as described in your referral.
If the minister decides that your proposal is not a ‘controlled action’, you can't be prosecuted under the EPBC Act for carrying out the work. This is the case even if it ends up having a significant impact on a protected matter or Commonwealth land.
Decisions under s74A of the Act - split referrals/larger actions
If your proposed action appears to be part of a larger action, under section 74A of the EPBC Act, the minister or their delegate may refuse, at the referral decision stage, to accept it. These types of actions are also called 'split referrals'.
This is at the discretion of the minister or their delegate, who may consider several factors in their decision-making process.
If the minister deems your referral part of a larger action, we'll talk to you about what to do next.
Decision-making process for actions covered by a bilateral agreement
Bilateral agreements under the EPBC Act allow states and territories to assess projects under their environmental laws.
Through bilateral agreements, the Australian Government can accredit some of those processes to reduce duplication.
Get in touch
For more information on referred action decisions, please contact EPBC Referrals Gateway on either:
- Email: EPBC.Referrals@awe.gov.au
- Phone: 1800 423 135 between 9 am and 4 pm AEST/AEDT.