Australia is home to many animals, plants, habitats and places that are found nowhere else on earth and it’s important to protect them. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is Australia’s national environmental law and it makes sure that ‘nationally significant’ animals, plants, habitats and heritage places are identified, and any potential negative impacts on them are carefully considered, before changes in land use or new developments are approved.
This means that landowners, developers, companies, individuals and governments must seek Commonwealth approval in addition to state and territory or local government approvals if their plans might significantly impact on matters of national significance. Find out what is protected. The Australian Government continuously updates this list, and a common set of processes is used for all applications. Do you need approval?
If you are working on a project or development proposal, it’s best to contact the department on 1800 803 772 as early as possible to understand the process and investigate ways that improved environmental outcomes can be built into your project from the start.
The purpose of the referral process is to determine whether or not a proposed action will need formal assessment and approval under the EPBC Act. Your referral will be the principal basis for the Minister's decision as to whether approval is necessary and, if so, the type of assessment that will be taken.
Start with the following questions:
- Is the proposed action likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance?
- Is the proposed action likely to have a significant impact on the environment in general (for actions by Commonwealth agencies or actions on Commonwealth land) or the environment on Commonwealth land (for actions outside Commonwealth land)?
If the answer to both questions is No, approval is not required from the Minister.
If the answer to either question is Yes, the person proposing to take the action makes a referral to the Minister.
If you are unsure about your proposed action, or wish to make a referral even if you believe your action is not going to have a significant impact, a pre-referral meeting may be useful for you. A pre-referral meeting is optional and can be undertaken at any time prior to submitting a referral.
When should I seek a pre-referral meeting?
You may wish to seek a pre-referral meeting if you:
- Do not fully understand the assessment and approval process required under the EPBC Act (including the possible expense to you under cost recovery arrangements)
- Want to discuss the potential impacts your proposal may have on matters of national environmental significance or other protected matters.
Preparing early and being able to discuss key aspects of your proposal with Departmental assessment officers will help ensure that the referral process and any assessment and approval stages are efficient and potentially reduce cost recovery charges.
How do I set up a meeting?
Please view the following documents if you would like to organise a pre-referral meeting with the Department:
- Summary information to assist with a pre-referral meeting – Guidance for proponents and consultants
This guide covers summary information to assist proponents or consultants prepare for a pre-referral meeting.
- Information on proposed action template (DOCX - 111.36 KB) | (PDF - 56.4 KB)
This table to be completed by proponents or consultants, provides information on your project including issues and questions you would like discussed at the pre-referral meeting.
- Pre-referral meeting agenda template (DOCX - 73.04 KB) | (PDF - 66.76 KB)
This suggested agenda template can be modified by proponents or consultants to include additional key areas you would like to discuss during the pre-referral meeting.
The completed table containing information on the proposed action and the modified agenda should be emailed or sent back to the Department (contact details are available in the pre-referral meeting guide as highlighted above). The Department will then organise a suitable meeting date and time and inform you of the final arrangements.
The purpose of a referral is to determine whether your proposed action will need formal assessment and approval under the EPBC Act. Your referral will be the principal basis for the Minister's decision as to whether approval is necessary and, if so, the type of assessment that will be taken.
Note: You may still make a referral if you believe your action is not going to have a significant impact, or if you are unsure.
Following the receipt of a valid referral, the Minister has 20 business days to decide if the proposed action triggers the matters protected by the EPBC Act and requires further assessment and approval.
As part of the 20 business days, the EPBC Act provides a public comment period of 10 business days (with no extensions). This provides an opportunity for relevant Australian, State and Territory government ministers and members of the public to comment on the proposed action.
At the end of the 20 business days, the Department will write to you to advise you of the outcome of your referral and whether or not formal assessment and approval under the EPBC Act is required. The decision will also be available on the public notices page.
During the decision process (including comments from the public) the Minister can make one of three decisions:
Not controlled action
If the proposed action is not likely to be significant, approval is not required if the action is taken in accordance with the referral. Consequently, the action can proceed (subject to any state, territory or local government requirements).
Not controlled action - 'particular manner'
If the proposed action is not likely to be significant if undertaken in a particular manner, approval is not required.
If the proposed action is likely to be significant, it is called a 'controlled action'. The matters which the proposed action may have a significant impact on (e.g. Ramsar wetlands or threatened species) are known as the controlling provisions.
Consequently, the proposed action will require approval and is subject to further assessment and approval processes. In most cases, the type of assessment is decided at the same time (decision assessment approach).
Your proposed action will come to the 'Decision on assessment approach' stage if it is considered a controlled action (because the proposed action is likely to have a significant impact to the matters protected by the EPBC Act).
Proposed actions can be assessed using different methods, depending on a range of considerations, including the complexity of the proposed action. The Minister will let you know which method will be used in assessing your proposed action.
Actions can be assessed using one of the following assessment approach:
- accredited assessment (e.g. bilateral agreements)
- assessment on referral information (assessment undertaken solely on the information provided in the referral form)
- assessment on preliminary documentation (referral form and any other relevant material identified by the Minister as being necessary to adequately assess a proposed action)
- assessment by Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or Public Environment Report (PER)
- assessment by public inquiry
The process and timing requirements for each type of assessment under the EPBC Act is summarised in the environment assessment process flowchart.
The Department will write to you and advise you about which type of assessment approach your proposed action will be assessed under through a letter and will also be published on the public notices site.
Following the assessment of your proposed action, the Minister will decide whether to:
- approve your action
- approve your action subject to constraints (e.g. will place conditions on the action)
- not approve your action
The Minister will provide a proposed decision whether or not to approve an action and conditions (if any) to the person proposing to take the action and the designated proponent for comment before making a final decision.
When deciding if a proposed action should be approved, and what conditions to impose (if any), the Minister will consider the impacts of the proposed action on matters protected by the EPBC Act and other economic and social matters. The Minister must take into account:
- the principles of ecologically sustainable development
- the outcomes of the assessment of the impacts of the proposed action
- referral documentation
- community and stakeholder comment
- any other relevant information available on the impacts of the proposed action and
- relevant comments from other Australian Government and state and territory government ministers, and members of the public (such as information on social and economic factors)
The Minister may also take into account the environmental history of the individual or company proposing to take the action, including the environmental history of the executive officers of companies, and parent companies and their executive officers.
Once the Minister has made a decision you will receive a copy of the approval or notice of the refusal. Decisions are published on the Government Notices Gazette and on the public notices site.
If your action has been given the approval, the approval may or may not have conditions.
The Minister may attach conditions to an approval to protect, repair or mitigate damage to a matter protected by the EPBC Act. Conditions can include bonds or other securities, independent environmental auditing and compliance monitoring.
Compliance monitoring and auditing
The Department closely monitors projects referred and approved under the EPBC Act to ensure compliance with approval conditions as well as compliance with other decisions involving environmental commitments made by approval holders (e.g. 'particular manner decisions').
The Department’s annual Compliance Monitoring Plans describe the compliance monitoring activities that are proposed for each financial year.
The 2019-20 bushfire season has had a significant impact on protected matters. These impacts will be considered when assessment and approval decisions under the EPBC Act are made.
The department will rely on the best available scientific information to support decision making and may seek further information from proponents to ensure we have the most up-to-date information.
If you are proposing to take an action that may impact a protected matter and/or its habitat, which is on or near a bushfire site, contact the department on 1800 803 772 to discuss your plans. We have experienced staff who can provide advice about protected matters, significant impacts and help you to understand the assessment and approval process.