From July 2000, Australia's World Heritage Properties are protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
This Act provides automatic protection for World Heritage Properties by ensuring that an assessment process is undertaken for proposed actions that will, or are likely to, have a significant impact on the World Heritage values of a declared world heritage property. This process allows the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment (the Minister) to grant or refuse approval to take an action, and to impose conditions on the taking of an action.
The EPBC Act imposes substantial civil and criminal penalties on a person who takes an unlawful action.
All Australian properties that have been inscribed on the World Heritage list are automatically 'declared World Heritage Properties' and are therefore protected. The EPBC Act also gives the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment the power to declare other properties where:
- the property has been nominated for, but not yet inscribed on the World Heritage list; or
- the property has not been nominated for World Heritage listing but the Minister believes that the property contains World Heritage values that are under threat.
The EPBC Act creates a mechanism for the Commonwealth and a State to enter bilateral agreements to achieve the requirements of the Act and to remove duplication of regulatory processes. This provides an avenue for formalising existing cooperative arrangements through Commonwealth accreditation of State World Heritage management plans and environmental impact assessment processes. In order to be accredited, the relevant State plan or process must be consistent with the Australian World Heritage management principles, which are regulations made under the EPBC Act.
The EPBC Act replaces and significantly improves on the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 (WHPC Act). The WHPC Act operated as a last resort mechanism for stopping specific actions. In contrast, the EPBC Act ensures protection and improved management for the world heritage values of Australia's World heritage properties.