The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is a federal law which is designed to protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places.

“Actions” that may potentially have “significant impacts” on Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) must be referred to the federal Environment Minister for assessment and approval before the activity can commence.

The two stages are:

1. The assessment decision stage – Whether the project requires assessment under the EPBC Act; and

2. The approval decision stage – Whether, following assessment, the project should be approved under the EPBC Act

The public is invited to comment on some of these referrals at both the assessment decision stage and approval decision stage.

Guidelines to help people decide whether or not they should submit a referral to Federal Government on whether an action is likely to have a significant impact on MNES have been prepared by the Federal Department of Environment and Energy, which can be found here.

Guidelines to assist members of the public or interest groups to provide comments on actions that have been referred under the EPBC Act can be found here.

The nine MNES to which the EPBC Act applies are:

  • world heritage properties
  • national heritage places
  • wetlands of international importance (often called ‘Ramsar’ wetlands after the international treaty under which such wetlands are listed)
  • nationally threatened species and ecological communities
  • migratory species
  • nuclear actions (including uranium mining)
  • Commonwealth marine areas
  • the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
  • a water resource, in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development.

“Actions” include, but are not limited to:

  • construction, expansion, alteration or demolition of buildings, structures, infrastructure or facilities;
  • storage or transport of hazardous materials;
  • waste disposal;
  • earthworks;
  • impoundment, extraction and diversion of water;
  • research activities;
  • vegetation clearance;
  • military exercises and use of military equipment; and
  • sale or lease of land.

Site preparation and construction, as well as alterations or modifications to existing infrastructure may also constitute “an action” under the EPBC Act.

If an action is referred to the Federal Environment Minister for approval, the referral is open to the public for comment as to whether it is a ‘controlled action’ requiring assessment or not.

The EPBC Act provides for a public comment period of 10 business days (with no extensions) on whether the project requires assessment. A decision on whether a proposed action requires approval will be made within 20 business days. 

Public comment is not limited to just referral applications (ie. at the assessment decision stage).

The public can also be invited to comment on draft recommendation reports; and applications to reconsider a referral determination (“S78A Reconsideration request1). Other opportunities to comment on EPBC matters may arise as the Minister determines.

Tips for a good submission:

  1. Reference the EPBC number and proposal title in your email subject line and the letter;
  2. State clearly whether you think the activity would have a significant impact on any of the matters of environmental significance or other protected matters without approval from the Federal Environment Minister, and detail what MNES will be impacted. Reference the guidelines to support your conclusion that the impact is sufficiently ‘significant’.
  3. Impacts can be direct (eg this mine will destroy a koala population) or indirect (eg this development will increase traffic, which may destroy a koala population).
  4. Provide any evidence you are aware of to support your claim that the impact would be significant, including anecdotal evidence from your experience of the site or surrounding region or academic or expert evidence you are aware of.
  5. Provide contact details so the department can follow up with you if they have questions about your submission.
  6. Note: public submissions are normally not confidential.
  7. Send your comments quoting the reference number and title of the referral to: 

    Fax: 02 6274 1620 
    Post: Referrals Gateway Environment Assessment Branch Department of the Environment GPO Box 787 Canberra ACT 2601

If you wish, use the template EDO has prepared for submissions to the assessment. See our template here >>


1. If a request for reconsideration is made by the proponent, then the assessment process is suspended until the Minister has made a decision on the request. If the Minister affirms the decision, the assessment process resumes.