Referring your project or development (action) to us will help you find out whether it needs further assessment or approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Make a referral if you think your project could impact protected animals, plants, habitats or places.
If your project could impact nationally significant (protected) animals, plants, habitats or places, you may need to refer it to the Australian Government.
We call these things 'protected matters', and you can use our:
- Protected Matters Search Tool (PMST) to check if any exist near your project
- Species Profiles and Threats Database (SPRAT) to find out about the nature and habitat of species near your project.
Your referral helps the minister decide:
- if your project is a controlled action (significant impacts are likely) that needs approval
- if your project needs approval, what level of assessment it requires.
You can refer your action even if you don't think it will have a significant impact, or if you’re unsure.
Failing to refer actions for the minister’s approval can result in serious penalties.
Before making an EPBC referral
Not all projects need referral. To find out if yours does, follow the self-assessment process steps in order.
The first step is to find out if the EPBC Act relates to your activity.
Start with a self assessment. This helps you check which matters we protect and regulate. It gives you some tools to see which rules apply to your project.
If you think your project might need a referral, book a free pre-referral meeting with us. While this meeting is optional, we'd really like to meet before you submit a referral application.
In the meeting, we’ll discuss:
- the nature of your project, and how big and complex it is
- the assessment process, including any costs
- potential impacts to protected matters and how to avoid or mitigate them
- what type of documents and evidence, such as ecological surveys, to include with your referral.
If you decide not to refer your project to us, keep a record of your self-assessment and how you came to your decision. It may be useful if you need to provide evidence for your decision later.
Projects in a bushfire-affected area
Special considerations may apply if your project is in a bushfire-affected area, or is about bushfire fighting or management.
- See how types of bushfire management activities relate to the EPBC Act, and check if yours could be exempt.
- Check if your project affects any of the 810 priority species and ecological communities for urgent management intervention.
- Find out if your project falls under the Australian Government’s commitment to help native wildlife and their habitats recover from the 2019-2020 bushfires.
Projects in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP)
If your proposed project is in the GBRMP, we suggest that you make contact with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). You'll need to discuss your project with them and may need a permit under the GBRMP Act.
When you refer your project, we'll consult with the GBRMPA to make sure they're aware of your proposal.
Contact the GBRMPA for more information.
Projects with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions
The Safeguard Mechanism applies to approved projects that generate over 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in a financial year. By law, we must share this emissions information with other authorities.
Who can refer a project under the EPBC Act
Under the EPBC Act, you can only refer a project to us if you're:
- the person who's proposing to take the action
- a Commonwealth, state or territory government, or an agency that's aware of a proposed action, with administrative responsibilities relating to that action.
You can ask someone else to prepare and submit your referral for you, but you remain responsible for the project.
A correct and complete referral will progress faster. If we need to ask you for more information, the process will be slower and could cost more.
Your referral must clearly state:
- all direct, indirect and facilitated impacts that your project could have on protected matters
- if impacts to protected matters are likely to be significant.
The referral must also:
- show how you've designed your project to avoid or reduce any significant impacts to protected matters
- explain how you'll implement your avoidance or mitigation measures
- explain how any avoidance or mitigation measures you'll use are likely to succeed
- attach supporting information, such as surveys, reports and clear, readable maps of your project area.
- using the report from the PMST tool to make a list of the protected matters that your project might impact
- checking SPRAT for the nature and habitat of the species on your list
- cross-checking the SPRAT results with the Significant Impact Guidelines.
Use the information from your pre-referral meeting to help you decide what information to include in your referral.
EPBC referral process
To refer your project:
- Register for and log in to the EPBC Act Business Portal.
- Start drafting your application. Once you've added some basic information to your application, you can print a copy of your draft. This lets you see the entire form, and plan the rest of the information you'll need.
- Gather the information you need to complete the form, and any other information that supports your referral.
- Complete the form.
Use Ask Us Anything if you have any questions.
You can also contact the Referrals Gateway team on EPBC.Referrals@dcceew.gov.au if you’re having trouble with the online services system.
You may need to pay a fee for your referral. If you do, you’ll get an invoice from us with payment instructions.
However, you may be entitled to either claim a fee waiver or request an exemption.
Avoiding or reducing impacts
Watch the video to learn about avoiding and mitigating impacts on protected matters.
A developer sits at their desk with a laptop, papers, and a coffee mug. The window behind them shows a beautiful natural environment. On the wall is a large map showing a terrain (with contour isolines) and the outlines of a proposed processing factory next to a reserve and lake.
When planning a new project, it’s important to identify protected matters…
We are now behind the developer, looking over their shoulder at their laptop open to the PMST tool page of the Australian government website. The page is titled “EPBC Act Listing Status: Listed as Vulnerable” and shows a frog and map area. A folder next to the developer says, “Self Assessment”. The developer clicks on the map.
…in an around your project area and understand how to avoid and mitigate any potential impacts on them.
A gorgeous environment comes into view. There is green grass, trees, and a stream with buildings in the background with birds flying overhead. Six circles representing the protected matters appear in front of the landscape.
Our nationally protected matters include unique threatened species, land and marine environments, heritage sites, migratory species, and wetlands.
The camera pans further to the right to reveal a lake, more of the stream, a frog on the stream bed, and Suzie the swift parrot sitting in a tree. A wireframe depiction of the proposed factory appears in and over the landscape.
Your project’s construction and ongoing activities could result in impacts to protected matters.
Circles appear around the wireframe development depicting a cement truck kicking up dust as it drives, a bulldozer felling a tree, and a pipe dumping liquid into the water sources.
For example, vehicle movements, land clearing, habitat disturbance, and operational activities after construction.
A folder appears labeled “Project Proposal”. The folder gets smaller as the word “Avoidance” appears and Suzie the swift parrot lands on it. Another swift parrot flies in and lands on a new word that appears: “Mitigation”.
Throughout all stages of the EPBC Act process, you must consider how you will avoid any potential significant impacts and, if you can’t avoid impacts, you must mitigate them.
Back outside, a developer stands on a landscape taking notes on a clipboard. There are trees, hills, green grass, two lakes, orchids, frogs, storks, Suzie the swift parrot, and reeds. Small shield icons appear around the scene indicating the protected matters.
If your project is likely to have a significant impact on a protected matter, you’ll need to submit a referral to the Australian government including details of your planned avoidance and mitigation measures.
Back to the developer at their laptop in their office typing on the keyboard.
Information that you provide in the referral will determine if an environmental assessment is required.
Over their shoulder, we see their laptop screen on the EPBC Act website, specifically on the EPBC Act environmental offsets policy webpage.
If impacts are unavoidable, you may need to offset residual impacts by repairing or compensating for them.
We zoom in on the developer’s clipboard containing a checklist with the following items: Site selection, Locations of buildings, Activities at the site, Undertake surveys, Timing of activities, Design of buildings, and Factory operations after completion. The first three items have been checked off.
The earlier you identify and understand potential impacts…
The laptop is back on the screen on the Australian Government website with a vulnerable protected matter pulled up. It shows the protected matter is a frog and shows the area the frog’s habitat. The mouse clicks on “Recovery Plan” and the National Recovery Plan for Wallum Sedge Frog comes up. This brings up a list: Biological information, Threats, Recovery objectives, Performance criteria, Recovery actions, and Management practices.
…the more time you’ll have to plan and design avoidance and mitigation measures. This can potentially reduce future costs and avoid delays.
The laptop moves away to reveal a blue background with the words “Avoidance” and “Mitigation” in white text boxes. Underneath “Avoidance” is Bobby the wallaby and sitting on “Mitigation” is Suzie the swift parrot.
Let’s explore avoidance and mitigation in more detail.
We cut to an isometric wireframe visualisation of a proposed factory on a landscape overlaying some gumtrees near an ecological community that includes grassland, trees and a pond. A cleared area is also visible next to the wireframe factory. At the top left is the word “Avoidance”. Bubbles containing a black cockatoo, Bobby, and a frog appear in places where they would be impacted by the wireframe factory. The factory moves over to the area that is already cleared to show how it can avoid impacting the wildlife. A fence appears between the factory and the protected matters.
Avoidance means planning and designing so that impacts do not occur. For example, instead of clearing vegetation where protected matters occur you can choose an alternative area to avoid impacts.
The camera pans along a dirt road with trees and bushlands, following a cement truck driving along. Dust billows out behind the truck, covering the vegetation near the road, Bobby, and a distressed Suzie. At the top left of the scene is the word “Mitigation”. A water truck drives down the same road, spraying a mist of water over the road behind it, turning the dirt road darker. Another cement truck follows and no dust is kicked up behind it.
Mitigation means putting measures in place to reduce or minimise impacts. For example, wetting dirt roads used by construction equipment can reduce the impact of dust on neighboring flora and fauna.
A laptop shows a webpage labeled “Free tools for Self-Assessment”. On the page are five icons: PMST, SPRAT, Significant Impact Guidelines, Referral Guidelines, and Survey Guidelines.
To help you with your project research and planning, you can access free resources on the department’s website.
The screen is split into four parts. At the top left is the developer calling the government worker in the top right. In the bottom left, a government agent responds to an email sent by the housing developer in the bottom right screen. Two icons representing methods of communication appear: phones and laptops.
Or talk with us. We’re here to help.
The Australian Government logo is at the center of a white background. Underneath that are the words “For more information, go to: dcceew.gov.au”.
To find out more about your responsibilities when planning a project, visit the website.
In your referral, describe the measures you'll use to avoid, mitigate or manage environmental impacts to protected matters. Include:
- what the measure is
- how the measure will work
- the timeframe or management plan for the measure.
Measures could include:
- only working at certain times, for example, to avoid key breeding or nesting periods for a protected matter
- avoiding a key breeding or foraging habitat
- design measures, like making routes into the site to avoid a habitat
- using specific work practices, such as avoiding artificial light spill, or minimising dust or noise.
For example, building when it won’t affect the breeding, roosting or nesting season of a listed threatened species shows that you’re minimising impacts to a protected species.
Include supporting information on your mitigation measures, such as whether they’ll work and how well.
You might also need additional agreements, such as from council or landowners, to undertake your mitigation measures.
Environmental offsets help to make up for impacts you can't avoid or mitigate.
The minister or their delegate can't take environmental offsets you propose into account when they decide whether your project is a controlled action.
This means information on your proposed offsets won't be relevant if they declare your project:
- not a controlled action
- not a controlled action – particular manner.
If your project is declared a controlled action, thinking early about offsets could help streamline the assessment process.
Learn more about offsets in the EPBC Act Environmental Offsets Policy and its assessment guide.
Include enough supporting information to enable the minister to make an informed decision. Provide this information as attachments to your referral, such as:
- scale maps, figures or diagrams showing the area and boundaries of your project and impacts to a habitat
- desktop research
- surveys and data using a Commonwealth-approved methodology
- technical advice
- photos (such as aerial shots) and videos.
Any maps, figures or diagrams you include must have:
- a clear, legible legend
- enough information to identify the place in its context, for example road, river or creek names
- clear titles that connect the map/figure to your project.
Make sure your attachments are less than 5MB each. You can separate out photos, maps and figures if you need to.
Giving robust baseline data about the existing conditions is important. The data should relate to the relevant protected matters that your project could impact, including:
- important features of any populations that your project might impact
- the location of that population
- the population's available habitat
- the quality and type of its habitat - for example, foraging or breeding.
This data is the basis for working out the likely and actual impacts of your proposal.
When designing and undertaking surveys, follow any survey guidelines for the protected matters relevant to your project outlined:
- in our publications (scroll down to the Survey Guidelines for Nationally Threatened Species section)
- in the Species Profiles and Threats Database (SPRAT)
You may need to plan surveys seasonally, more than once and over time, for:
- listed threatened species
- listed migratory species
- ecological communities.
Commercial in confidence
If you believe that any of your information is confidential, clearly identify it and explain why it's confidential.
The minister may decide not to publish this information if you demonstrate that:
- releasing the information would cause competitive detriment
- the information isn't in the public domain
- the information doesn't need to be disclosed under another law of the Commonwealth, or a state or a territory
- the information isn't easy to find.
Getting a decision
The Referrals Gateway will validate your referral application and prepare it for publishing. They'll let you know if you need to clarify anything before it can be published.
Once we've confirmed that your application is valid, we'll publish your referral on the Public Notices page. At this point, we'll begin the 20-business-day decision timeframe.
The public will be able to comment on your referral for the first 10 business days of this time. Once the public comment period closes, the minister or their delegate will make their decision within 10 more business days.
There are 5 possible outcomes.
Controlled action (CA)
If the minister or their delegate declares that your project is a controlled action, it needs further assessment under the EPBC Act.
Your project moves to the next stage of the process: Step-by-step guide to our assessment process under the EPBC Act.
Not a controlled action (NCA)
If the minister decides that your project isn't likely to have a significant impact on a protected matter, you don’t need to move to the next stage of assessment.
Your project can go ahead in the way you referred it to us, subject to approvals from other levels of government.
Not a controlled action – particular manner (NCA-PM)
The minister may decide you can go ahead if you do so in a particular way to avoid impacts.
You can proceed with your project under the condition that you meet any requirements we specify. You'll also need to regularly report on your compliance.
If an NCA-PM decision is an option, we'll tell you once we validate your referral. Before the minister makes an NCA-PM decision, we'll consult with you about the particular manners to confirm that:
- they accurately reflect the measures proposed in your referral
- you're able to implement them.
An NCA-PM decision attaches to the action, not to the person proposing to take the action. This means that if someone else needs to complete your action - for example, if you sell the site - you must give them the details of the particular manners.
The new person must then undertake the action in the manner specified in the referral decision notice. If they can do this, they won't need to re-refer the action to us.
If your project has clearly unacceptable impacts on a protected matter, the minister may decide that you can’t proceed.
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.
Find out more about how the minister (or their delegate) makes decisions on referred actions.
Get in touch
Contact our Referrals Gateway team:
- Email: EPBC.Referrals@dcceew.gov.au
- Phone: 1800 423 135 between 9 am and 5 pm AEST/AEDT.