What every farmer needs to know on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

Do you know there are up to three levels of approvals you may need to undertake a new farming enterprise on your land?

Currently there are local council laws, state environmental legislation AND national environmental protections on all privately owned land. This information will try to explain Commonwealth environmental law.

While the (Comwlth) Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is only a component of the suite of environment legislation for land managers, it does still have a critical effect. The agricultural sector refers very few actions for approval and is under represented as a sector in considerations of impacts from the EPBC Act process. In compliance terms there are numerous cases currently being assessed in the Commonwealth Compliance and Enforcement Branch.


  • Communicating with the Commonwealth Department regarding cases of alleged breaches of the EPBC Act, including native vegetation clearing, can be daunting, expensive and time consuming. It is crucial a land manager understands what can and can’t be done.
  • Farmers intending to clear listed ecological communities, or native habitat supporting listed threatened species, need to be aware of the EPBC Act and their potential obligations under the Act. Generally, farmers’ understanding of environmental legislation is at a state level. Often an action is taken with no consideration of EPBC Act protected matters, which can lead to compliance action under the Act.
  • The EPBC Act provides exemptions for continuous and routine farm activities; however a landholder’s long term plans for land use, such as expansion or intensification, can trigger the Act. 
  • The continuing use provisions also require farmers to maintain pre-EPBC Act farming practices. This could mean that changes in agricultural practices since July 2000, including enterprise diversification, applying new farming technology and adaptive management techniques may have the potential to trigger the EPBC Act.

What every farmer needs to know on the EPBC Act – How to avoid being the next compliance statistic

 Every farm has environmental assets on it, whether its soil, water or native vegetation. Most of these environmental assets are protected by environmental law.

 Environment protection legislation was drafted and enacted to protect the declining native vegetation and biodiversity in Australia. Its presence, as a land management issue along with compliance and regulation in its current form is here to stay, at least for today.

Penalties for breaching this legislation are substantial and in these times of aerial/ satellite imagery it is easier and easier for compliance officers to prepare evidence for civil or criminal prosecution.

How does the agricultural sector respond? Setting aside state government legislation and process for the moment, currently the agricultural sector generally does not refer matters to the Commonwealth Department of Environment. The sector is however full of cases of compliance processes, fines, civil pecuniary outcomes and even custodial sentences.

The following steps are drafted to help address this current situation and are to be used by land managers establish their understanding of national environmental law.

Step 1

Matters of NES

Establish if your property has any matter of National Environmental Significance (NES) using the Department’s web link to produce an Environmental Report using the Environmental Reporting Tool (ERT).


These are the steps to complete an ERT report, which lists nationally protected matters under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

This report will give the user an idea of matters protected under the EPBC Act that ‘MAY’ occur on their property. From there they need to assess if those listed matters actually occur on the land and what action, if any have a significant impact on those matters.


There is a map of Australia, click on it,

Tick each box for what EPBC item you would like to see/report,

Choose between address, geographic search and zoom to coordinate search,

  • Address search- type in details
  • Geographic search- click to zoom in
  • Coordinate search- type in co ords

Top right side of map is a red circle with an ‘i’ in it, click button on left to generate an email report

Input email address, click to select how to mark location (grey dot) and input ‘radius’ I use 10km

Click report, Indicative report will be generated with web links to species profile will be sent to email address.

Step 2

Ground ‘truthing’

Your ERT report can now be used to establish the science of the EPBC thresholds vs on ground evidence. You will be able to determine if your property has any matters of NES.

Document it; best way to record your property’s natural features is to document it through photos, diary entries, cropping or pasture improvement reports and ecologist/ consultants reports.

Step 3


Assess your management practices of your enterprise. Is it consistently the same prior to 2000?

Additionally has there been any intensification or change to your enterprise? If not, you are exempt from the EPBC Act under Section 43(b) the prior and continuing use provision. http://www.environment.gov.au/resource/prior-authorisation-and-continuing-use-exemptions-sections-43a-and-43b

Step 4

Environmental change

Will your proposed new action change the present ecology of your farm? No? Ensure you comply with state environment legislation and continue to operate.

If yes call the ELO to discuss referral or mitigation of impact.

Step 5 (if required)

Referral assessment approval process

You will need to prepare a referral to the Commonwealth Department of Environment.


Further information is available on this fact sheet: Rumours, myths and misconceptions…Farming and National Environment Law

For further information:

Email: [email protected]


•        Compliance hotline – 1800 110 395

•        Community information unit- 1800 803 772









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