Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, August 2011
The Australian Government is reforming national environment law—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999—to better protect Australia's environment, with less paperwork, more streamlined environmental assessment and approval processes, and more long-term certainty for landholders and the community.
What won't change?
The reforms will have no impact on landholders' ability to carry out usual day-to-day farming activities on their land.
As before, routine farm activities that began before national environment law was introduced in 2000 can continue.
The legislation will continue to protect nationally significant matters. So, as is currently the case, only changes to land use or development likely to result in significant impacts on nationally protected matters would need to be submitted to the federal environment department to determine whether an assessment is needed.
Legislation to give effect to the reforms is expected to be introduced into Parliament early in 2012.
Will the changes result in more paperwork?
No. The Australian Government's aim is to reduce red tape without compromising environmental protection.
What are the main changes of relevance to landholders?
For the small number of new farming activities that do require environmental assessments, there will be better and faster processes. Individual assessments will be streamlined, and a faster assessment method will be introduced for proposals that meet specific criteria, which will result in a final decision in 35 business days.
Looking at the big picture
The Australian Government will take a more strategic approach, focusing its efforts on whole regions and ecosystems rather than on individual projects.
This will be done through a greater use of regional environment plans, strategic assessments, and regional threatened species recovery plans. These types of assessments look at cumulative environmental impacts across whole regions before development begins, rather than at individual projects.
Taking a strategic approach provides more long-term certainty, cuts red tape, and reduces duplication between federal and state processes.
So if your region is assessed under a strategic assessment or regional environment plan, and you are planning to develop your land in a way that triggers national environment law, it will be much faster and easier for you to go ahead with that work, as long as your project is consistent with the approved plan.
More and better upfront guidance
There will be more certainty for landholders about what new farming activities might need to be submitted for federal environmental assessment. We will provide more upfront guidance through a clear environmental offsets policy, referral policy guidelines, and significant impact guidelines.
More opportunities to earn an income
Over time, the reforms are expected to provide an opportunity for landholders to gain an income for protecting valuable areas of biodiversity on their land by putting a value on biodiversity.
This will be done through the greater use of biodiversity banking schemes under which landholders can generate 'biodiversity credits' by improving and protecting biodiversity values on their land, and sell them to organisations wanting to invest in protecting the environment. The Australian Government is seeking to develop national standards for these schemes with states and territories.
More opportunities to have your say
Where a region is being assessed under a regional environment plan or strategic assessment, affected landholders will have the opportunity to have a say during both the development and the finalisation of the assessment or plan. Comments received through this process are taken into account before a final decision is made.
Will there be better alignment of state/territory and federal processes?
The Australian Government will lead national discussions with the state and territory governments to streamline processes, including through: national standards for environmental impact assessments that can be consistently applied across all jurisdictions; joint assessment panels for major projects; nationally consistent approaches to environmental offsets including biodiversity banking schemes; and a single national list for protected species and ecological communities.
The threatened species and ecological communities listing processes will also be standardised across jurisdictions so that a single assessment could be done to meet both state/territory and federal requirements through nationally agreed and scientifically robust criteria.
Where can I get more information?
For more information about national environment law for farmers go to:
You can also contact the department's environment liaison officer outposted to the National Farmers' Federation. We are available to help with any questions or uncertainties faced by those working in the agricultural sector—contact us on 1800 704 520 (free, including from mobiles), or (02) 6269 5666, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.