Complying with the national environment law
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
The department recognises the important role farmers, agricultural organisations and natural resource managers play in protecting our environment.
Farmers need to know about Australia’s national environment law as some agricultural activities may need federal government approval. This could be in addition to state or local government approvals.
National environment law protects matters that are of national environmental significance. Those most relevant to farmers are:
- nationally threatened and migratory species
- nationally threatened ecological communities
- wetlands of international importance
- world and national heritage properties, and
- the Great Barrier Reef.
New farm activities, such as land clearing, may require approval from the federal environment minister under national environment law.
If you are unsure, it is best to check by calling the Department on 1800 110 395. You should also check state and local governments’ approval requirements.
Protected matters on your farm
National environment law only applies to matters of national environmental significance. You can check if there are likely to be protected matters on or near your property by using the environment reporting tool.
Do I need federal approval for all my farming activities?
No. You can continue routine farm activities without approval if they began before national environment law was introduced in July 2000. Only new farm activities that are likely to have a significant impact on a protected matter may need approval.
Will my activity have a significant impact?
Whether or not the impacts of an activity are significant depends on several factors, including how long the impact will last and the sensitivity of a nationally protected matter. Guidelines are available at EPBC Act policy statements.
If you are unsure, you should check, otherwise you may accidentally break the law.
How do I get approval?
If you think your activity could have a significant impact on a protected matter, or you just want to be certain that it won’t, you will need to refer your actions to the federal environment Department. A referral form is available at Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Once referred the department will notify you within 20 business days whether or not approval is required, and if so how it will be assessed.
What happens if I break the law?
If you think you may have broken the law, it is best to contact the federal environment Department as soon as possible to explain what has happened. The Department may be able to work cooperatively with you to repair any damage to the environment.
The department investigates all alleged breaches of the law and takes compliance very seriously. Not knowing the law or your obligations under it is not an excuse. There can be significant penalties for non-compliance with the law including gaol terms and penalties of up to $5.5 million.
Can I get government assistance?
There are several programs to help farmers and others manage our natural resources and nationally protected matters, such as threatened species and ecological communities. You can contact the Department for more information.
About the legislation
Applying the Act
- Environment assessment and approval process
- Referral of proposed action
- EPBC Protected Matters Search Tool
Notices and lists
Information for farmers
Policy statements for protected matters
- Agricultural development and national environmental law
- EPBC Act - Frequently asked questions
- Northern Territory cattle production and national environment law
Grasslands and woodlands
- Farming and nationally protected Coolibah - Black Box Woodlands
- Farming and nationally protected Grey Box woodlands and grasslands
- Farming and nationally protected New England Peppermint (Eucalyptus nova-anglica) Grassy Woodlands
- Farming and protecting the critically endangered Peppermint Box Grassy Woodland
- Farming and protecting the critically endangered Iron-grass Natural Temperate Grassland
- How does the listing of gamba grass and four other grasses as a key threatening process affect me?
- Grasslands and woodlands of the Victorian Volcanic Plain
- Guide to the Eucalypt Woodlands of the Western Australian Wheatbelt - a critically endangered ecological community
- Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaved Mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) Woodland
- Lowland Rainforest and Landholders - January 2012
- Monaro grasslands - 2019
- Natural Grasslands of the Murray Valley Plains
- Proteaceae Dominated Kwongkan Shrubland - 2014
- Tasmanian Black Gum and Brookers Gum Forests and Woodlands: A Nationally Significant Ecological Community - 2020
- Tuart Woodlands and Forests of the Swan Coastal Plain: A Nationally Significant Ecological Community - 2019
Other publications relating to the EPBC Act