The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government’s primary environmental legislation and is designed to protect Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES). This legislation applies in addition to any state or local government environmental assessment processes and approval.
Approval may be required by landholders under the EPBC Act to clear vegetation even if you currently hold a state approval such as a ‘High Value Agricultural Clearing Permit.’
Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES)
MNES are listed in Part 3 of the EPBC Act and include:
- World and national heritage places;
- Internationally significant wetlands (declared RAMSAR wetland);
- Listed threatened species and ecological communities;
- Listed migratory species; and
- The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
The ‘Protected Matters Search Tool’ can be used to identify which MNES are recorded on or near your property. This can be found at https://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/pmst/index.html.
It is an offence to take an action (for example, vegetation clearing) that will result in a significant impact on MNES unless you are acting under an EPBC Act approval. The penalties can include imprisonment up to seven years or a fine of up to 420 penalty units.
While ‘significant impact’ is not defined under the EPBC Act, the ‘Significant Impact Guidelines’ have been developed by the Commonwealth to assist in determining whether your action will have a significant impact on MNES. ‘Significant Impact’ is described on page 2 of the Guideline as:
‘an impact which is important, notable, or of consequence, having regard to its context or intensity. Whether or not an action is likely to have a significant impact depends upon the sensitivity, value, and quality of the environment which it impacts, and upon the intensity, duration, magnitude and geographic extent of the impacts.’
This information provides advice of a general nature only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.