Approvals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EBPC Act) have conditions that approval holders need to understand and follow. There are consequences for starting a project without an approval, or for breaching conditions. Learn what happens if you breach the EPBC Act, and how we check for compliance.
Conditions attached to an approval
Under the EPBC Act, projects that could have an impact on protected matters.
After we complete an assessment, we may grant an approval to allow the project (also called actions) to proceed. An approval holder may be a person or an entity.
We attach conditions to these approvals to protect, or avoid impacts to a protected matter. We develop these conditions by identifying what the impact will be.
We design conditions to be:
- in line with the risk posed by the impacts
- consistent with our internal procedures.
Sometimes state and territory laws may protect different matters from those the EPBC Act protects. In these situations, we may also take into account state and territory approval conditions when we assess an action. Neither state nor territory laws override Australian Government laws, so both sets of laws still apply.
Learn more about our EPBC Act Condition-setting Policy.
The EPBC Act allows the Environment minister to change the conditions attached to an approval in some situations. This could occur if:
- the approval holder doesn't comply with the conditions
- the approval holder asks for conditions to be changed
- the action's impact has been greater than originally predicted.
Compliance with conditions of an approval
If you receive an approval with conditions attached, you'll need to comply with them. The approval conditions tell you how you can proceed with an action that has an impact on a protected matter.
Take the time to read through these conditions and make sure you understand them before you proceed with your project. Read about how we enforce compliance in our compliance policy.
In addition to your approval conditions, you'll need to be aware of your general legal obligations under the EPBC Act. For example, approval-holders must notify third parties that rely on the approval, such as contractors, that:
- they have an approval
- the approval has conditions attached
- complying with approval conditions is a legal requirement for both the approval-holder and the contractor.
- You also need to be aware of any additional state and territory requirements.
Starting an action without an approval
If you begin undertaking an action without an approval, we may need to investigate. This could lead to a compliance action. It may be a serious offence to undertake an action:
- outside of the legal referral and assessment process
- while we're still assessing that action.
If you received an approval for your action before the Act began, you may not need a new approval. If you think this may apply to your project, contact email@example.com.
Compliance actions might result in criminal penalties.
You could be subject to a compliance action if your action:
- results in a significant impact on a protected matter or on Commonwealth land
- starts after you submit a referral, but before our assessment process is complete.
Learn what to expect during the referral and assessment process.
Reporting and investigating non-compliance
We take compliance with the EPBC Act seriously and assess every allegation.
We conduct all investigations in line with our compliance policy.
We check that approval holders are implementing their projects as planned through compliance audits.
To help us monitor compliance and investigate non-compliance, we use:
- monitoring programs
- audit programs
- compliance reports from approval holders
- independent audit reports
- risk assessments
- intelligence tools.
You can contact us if you'd like to discuss a compliance issue, or believe that a breach of the EPBC Act has occurred, or is likely to occur.
Learn how to report a breach.
Mechanisms for compliance and enforcement
The EPBC Act sets out ways in which we can enforce the Act.
If an approval holder breaches the conditions of their approval, we may issue infringement notices. Infringement notices have financial penalties attached.
Learn more about infringement notices and how we register them.
An injunction is a court order. We can use injunctions to prevent someone starting or continuing an activity that breaches the EPBC Act.
The Federal Court grants injunctions. To apply for an injunction or interim injunction, you must be either:
- the Environment minister
- an 'interested person' - an Australian citizen, resident or organisation who is affected by the activity, or who has been working in environmental protection, conservation or research for 2 years.
The Court may also grant an interim injunction. This means further fact finding needs to happen to justify a permanent injunction.
Injunctions are detailed in Chapter 6, Part 17, Division 14 of the EPBC Act.
Directed environmental audits
If the minister believes that an action's impact is larger than, or different to, what was approved, we conduct a directed environmental audit to check.
Additionally, if a permit holder or approval holder is likely to breach a condition of their permit or approval, the minister may require a directed environmental audit.
The minister directs an audit with a written notice to the person or entity that holds an approval or permit under the Act. The notice specifies:
matters to be covered in the audit
the due date.
A directed environmental audit does not affect other audit obligations. The minister can request one in addition to any audits that are part of the approval or permit conditions.
Directed audits are detailed in Chapter 6, Part 17, Division 12 of the EPBC Act.
Strict civil and criminal penalties
There are civil (fines) and criminal (prison time) penalties for breaches of the EPBC Act.
If the minister grants an approval or sets approval conditions as a result of false or misleading information, any damage to the environment resulting from the action is then a consequence of the false or misleading information. In this case, penalties may apply even though you have an approval.
If you have questions about specific penalties, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remediation of environmental damage
The minister can direct approval holders to repair, remove, mitigate or prevent any damage that breaches the EPBC Act.
For example, if you caused damage to the habitat of a listed threatened species, the minister may direct you to rehabilitate the habitat.
The Federal Court can also require you to repair or mitigate any damage to the environment, in the past, present or future.
You may also be required to compensate an affected party for loss or damage. This could include expenses or liabilities to repair, remove, mitigate or prevent damage as a result of your action (or lack of action).
Provisions for remediation of environmental damage are found in Chapter 6, Part 17, Divisions 14A and 14B of the EPBC Act
An enforceable undertaking helps to protect or conserve a protected matter. It is usually a consequence related to a civil penalty. Enforceable undertakings are a direction from the minister, to:
- pay a specified amount
- within a specified time
- to the Commonwealth or another party.
Enforceable undertakings are detailed in Division 15, Chapter 6, Part 17, Sections 486DA and 486DB of the EPBC Act.
Liability of executive officers
Executive officers of a body corporate entity may be liable when the entity breaches the EPBC Act. This includes being liable for civil and criminal penalties.
Publishing of breaches
The minister can publish a breach of the EPBC Act or EPBC Regulations in any way that they consider appropriate.
Get in touch
We can answer your questions about compliance with the EPBC Act.
You have an approval
If you have an approval and have questions about compliance, or would like to self-report a breach, contact us on email@example.com.
You don't have an approved project
If you'd like to know more about whether your activity needs approval under the EPBC Act:
Phone: 1800 423 135
You want to report a breach
Learn about how to report the breach of the EPBC Act.
Contact our Environmental Compliance team on:
Phone: 1800 110 395