Many projects and developments impact animals, plants, habitats and places. But laws are in place to protect anything that's nationally significant. You might need approval for a project before you start. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (EPBC Act) governs this process to ensure consistent, fair and transparent decisions.
In general, states and territories are responsible for land use, water, pollution control and air quality.
But you may need Australian Government approval if your proposed project or development could impact nationally significant (protected) animals, plants, habitats or places. We call these things 'protected matters'.
We manage this process under the EPBC Act.
Our step-by-step guide will help you understand what happens before, during and after an assessment.
Before an assessment
Before going through the full assessment, you can do a few things to make it more streamlined. Work out whether you need to refer your project to us by starting with a self-assessment.
Find out if the EPBC Act relates to your project
The Act covers 9 protected matters:
- world heritage areas
- national heritage places
- wetlands of international importance (listed under the Ramsar Convention)
- listed threatened species and ecological communities
- listed migratory species (protected under international agreements)
- Commonwealth marine areas
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
- nuclear actions (including uranium mines)
- water resources (in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development).
The Act also protects the environment when projects or developments (actions) are taken:
- on Commonwealth land, or when they impact upon Commonwealth land
- by an Australian Government agency anywhere in the world
- that impact Commonwealth heritage places overseas.
To work out if your project might impact things we protect, you'll need to do a self-assessment. Do this before you book a pre-referral meeting as it will help make the meeting more effective.
You don't legally need to book a pre-referral meeting, but it will help you to understand the potential impact of your project.
Avoid any impacts to the environment. If you can't avoid impacts, you should try to minimise them as much as possible. Consider how significant they might be.
Think about the scale, intensity, duration and frequency of your action.
Take particular note of:
- the sensitivity, value, quality and size of the environment your action might impact
- how your project site connects to other habitats, and its importance in broader environmental conservation
- the nature of the potential impacts that are likely to result from your actions
- whether mitigation measures will avoid or reduce these impacts.
We suggest taking a cautious approach. If you're not sure whether your project will have a significant impact on a protected matter, contact us early for advice.
If you don't seek approval for a project that impacts a protected matter, then the Australian Government could charge you. You could face a fine or imprisonment. The government or other interested parties could ask a court to stop your project from going ahead.
Book a pre-referral meeting
We can help you understand what you need to do next.
If you think your proposed activity or project might have significant impacts on protected matters, or you're not sure, you can book a pre-referral meeting.
This optional step is free and lets you chat with us about the assessment and approval process.
You can choose whether to have the meeting in person, via video conference or over the phone. It usually takes 30 to 90 minutes.
Before the meeting, we'll send you an 'Information of Proposed Action' form to fill in. This gives us basic details about your project's location and scope.
Attend the pre-referral meeting
At this meeting, you can discuss your project with one of our assessment officers. Before the meeting, send us accurate, up-to-date information such as surveys, mapping and supporting details. This will help us prepare and target our discussion.
A suggested agenda for the meeting might include discussing:
- the background and description of your proposed action, including expected timeline
- protected matters, including solutions to avoid or minimise impacts
- outline of proposed mitigation and management measures to avoid or minimise impacts
- environmental offsets
- any other issues, including timing and details of any external processes
- our EPBC Act assessment process and fees.
After the pre-referral meeting, we'll send you an email outlining our discussion. The email will also give you information on the referral process in case you go on to formally refer your project.
We can't tell you:
- whether you need to refer your action
- whether or not your project is likely to be approved.
Referring your project is the best way to find out if it needs formal assessment. You may face legal consequences if you choose not to refer when you should have.
We strongly encourage you to take advantage of this pre-referral meeting. It will help you understand what to include in your referral application and make the process simpler.
Referral of an action
To work out if your project needs a full assessment, you need to first refer it to us.
Under the EPBC Act, you can only refer an action to us if you're:
- the person proposing to take the action (or their delegate)
- a Commonwealth, state or territory government or an agency that's aware of a proposed action, with administrative responsibilities relating to the action.
This is an important step in the process. It forms the basis for the Environment minister's decision as to whether your project needs approval. If so, the referral helps the minister to decide what type of assessment is most appropriate.
You're welcome to refer your project to us even if you don't think it will have a significant impact, or if you're unsure.
Submit the online referral application
We accept referrals via our EPBC Act Business Portal.
If there's a cost to submit your referral, we'll send an invoice.
You may be able to claim a fee exemption when completing the referral form. At the start of the process, we'll outline the fees, exemptions and waivers.
One of our Referrals Gateway officers will look at your application.
Once your application is validated, we'll publish it on our website for public comment. You'll see key details on your project on EPBC Act Public Portal.
EPBC Act referral form preparation guide
The EPBC Act referral form preparation guide will assist you to prepare a referral in the EPBC Act Business Portal.
The guide lists the referral form questions and application details you are required to provide.
- EPBC Act referral form preparation guide (DOCX - 719 KB)
Note: the guide cannot be completed and submitted to the department.
To submit a referral, you must register and use the EPBC Act Business Portal.
Get our decision
It takes us 20 business days to decide whether your project is a controlled action that needs a formal assessment.
We'll send you our decision via email, letting you know whether your action is:
- not controlled and doesn't need ministerial approval
- not controlled if undertaken in a particular manner, and doesn't need ministerial approval, as long as you do the action exactly as the particular manner sets out
- controlled and needs a full assessment
- clearly unacceptable and cannot go ahead.
If we decide your action is not controlled, you can go ahead with your project or development. You don't need to continue with the assessment.
If your action is deemed unacceptable you cannot go ahead with your project. You can either:
- redesign your action to have less or no impact and submit a new referral
- ask for a reconsideration of the decision. Referral decisions can only be reconsidered in a limited set of circumstances.
We'll publish our referral decision on EPBC Act Public Portal.
Depending on its potential impact, we have several ways we assess a controlled action. Each process involves different levels of detail and community consultation. If your project needs a full assessment, we'll let you know the next steps.
The assessment process can take some time. We may need to come back to you for more information. While every project we assess under the EPBC Act is different, we use a set of common processes to deliver consistent, fair and transparent decisions.
The total cost of the referral and any subsequent assessment depends on the nature of your project. You'll need to pay the relevant fee before each stage of the process.
We may charge extra fees if the minister asks for more information.
However, you may be able to claim a fee exemption for the assessment.
For more information, see fees, exemptions and waivers.
If we tell you that your action is controlled under the EPBC Act and needs assessment, we'll explain the reason. We might ask you for more information.
Depending on your project scope and the extra information we need, you might choose not to go ahead with your project. You'll need to tell us this in writing.
Otherwise, gather the information and send it to us. Make sure you give us everything we've asked for.
Once we have all the information we've asked for, we'll let you know how and where you need to publish all your project information.
Local authorities and members of the general public can view and comment on your project.
If you receive any comments, you'll have to consider them and respond in your final project documentation. You'll then send us this document for review. This becomes your final assessment document.
You'll also need to publish this document for information only.
Respond to any requests for more information
After we receive your final assessment document, we aim to send you our assessment decision within 40 business days.
However, at any point during this time, we may ask you to send us more information about one or more aspects of your project.
If this happens, the 'clock will stop' and won't resume again until you've sent us the information we need.
For example, imagine that it takes you 2 weeks to send us the extra information we need. The clock would stop for those 2 weeks, meaning the total time would extend by 2 weeks.
Wait for a decision
Once we've finished our assessment, we'll send you our proposed decision. You will have an opportunity to see our proposed conditions and make comments.
We'll then finalise our report to the minister or their delegate for formal decision. This report includes details of the project, assessment and our recommendation.
The minister then decides whether to:
- approve your project
- approve your project with conditions
- not approve your project.
We'll let you know the minister's final decision by:
- publishing an Approval Decision Notice on our EPBC Act Public Portal page
- sending you the Approval Decision Notice, which will include the details of your approval and any conditions.
If your action is approved, you must meet any conditions of the approval, including the expiry date, and any management plan or offset strategy.
You'll need to comply with annual or other reporting conditions.
If you breach any approval conditions, you may face civil or criminal penalties.
Learn more about your responsibilities as an approval holder.
Receive emails from us
Our Post-Approvals team will email you a letter that provides:
- contact information
- a copy of the Approval Decision Notice with conditions attached.
You might also need to submit one or more action management plans for us to approve.
If you need more information about complying with your conditions of approval please email email@example.com
For advice on changing or complying with conditions, read our information for approval holders.
Submit reports and keep in touch
Once your project is underway, you'll need to make sure you continue to meet the conditions of approval.
You may have to submit annual:
- compliance reports
- monitoring reports.
If you have any questions about what you need to do once your project is underway, please contact our Compliance team. Their contact details will be in the emails you receive after approval is granted.
Get in touch
Contact our Referrals Gateway team:
- phone 1800 423 135 between 9 am and 5 pm AEST/AEDT.