What is a referral, an action and 'significant impact'?
What is a referral?
A referral is an application for the approval of an action that could have a significant impact on any matter of National Environmental Significance (NES), including National Heritage values. The owner or manager of the place, or person proposing to take the action, is required to decide whether or not the action proposed has the potential to have a significant impact on National Heritage values.
What is an action?
An 'action' could include a project, a development, an undertaking, an activity or series of activities, or an alteration of any of these things, which has, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on National Heritage values at a National Heritage-listed site or a location that includes a heritage place.
What is a 'significant impact'?
Generally, a significant impact is an action that has an important, notable consequence. Whether or not an action is likely to have a significant impact depends upon the sensitivity, value and quality of the environment that is impacted, and upon the intensity, duration, magnitude and geographic extent of the impacts. All these factors should be considered when determining whether an action is likely to have a significant impact on the National Heritage values of a place.
The Significant Impact Guidelines state that an action is likely to have a significant impact on the National Heritage values of a National Heritage place if there is a real chance or possibility that it will cause:
- one or more of the National Heritage values to be lost
- one or more of the National Heritage values to be degraded or damaged
- one or more of the National Heritage values to be notably altered, modified, obscured or diminished.
Any person proposing to take an action may find it useful to seek the advice of a heritage professional in determining significant impacts on National Heritage values. The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts can also provide informal advice about works proposals. However, the ultimate responsibility for deciding whether or not to refer an action remains with the person proposing to take the action.
What is an approval?
After receiving a referral, the Minister (or delegate) decides whether the action has, will have, or is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance (or the National Heritage values).
If the Minister decides that significant impacts are likely, then the action requires approval under the EPBC Act. The action is known as a 'controlled action'. Find out more about controlled actions.
If the Minister decides an action is not likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance (i.e. the National Heritage values), then the action does not require approval under the EPBC Act. The proposal may proceed in the form that it was referred, subject to any other approvals such as those required by a state or territory government or local council.
Unapproved actions with special conditions
In some cases the Minister may decide that approval is not required as the proposed action will be implemented in a way that avoids impacts on a protected matter. If that is the case, the proponent may be able to proceed without further assessment and approval, on the condition that the action is taken in accordance with a particular manner that has been specified in the referral.
Find out more with the A Guideline on Application of 'Particular Manner' in Decision-Making under the EPBC Act.