Environmental Law Australia

EPBC Act lecture 2015

A lecture on Australia’s main national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act).

This lecture was delivered in May 2015 as part of a course on environmental law at the University of Queensland.

The handout referred to in the lecture is available here.

In summary, the take-home points from the lecture are:

  1. 1.Under section 51(xxix) of the Commonwealth Constitution the Commonwealth Government has power to enact legislation that is reasonably capable of being considered appropriate and adapted to fulfil Australia’s international legal obligations. Due to the width of Australia’s international legal obligations, this gives the Commonwealth a wide power to make laws to protect the environment.
  2. Under section 109 of the Commonwealth Constitution, where a State law is inconsistent with a Commonwealth law, the Commonwealth law prevails to the extent of inconsistency.
  3. The EPBC Act is the cornerstone of Commonwealth environmental laws and the major trigger for approval under it is impacts on matters of national environmental significance such as World Heritage areas.
  4. While State approvals are much more numerous and projects are rarely stopped under the EPBC Act, it plays an important role for environmental regulation in Australia, particularly as a check on State-sponsored projects.
  5. The EPBC Act “referral” process for controlled actions is not part of the IDAS system under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld) (SPA).