Legislation

A group of Weddell seals on the ice, some looking at camera, a large ice wall in background
Weddell seals are just some of the wildlife protected by legislation. (Photo: Ben O'L)

Antarctic and sub-Antarctic

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the Madrid Protocol), which Australia signed in 1991, requires that all activities proposed to be conducted in the Antarctic are subject to prior assessment of their impacts on the Antarctic environment and on dependent or associated ecosystems. The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980, (the AT(EP) Act) and associated Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations (the EIA Regulations), implement this obligation and must be complied with for all activities proposed to be conducted in Australian Antarctic Territory and for all Australian activities proposed to be conducted elsewhere in the Antarctic. The AT(EP) Act is administered on behalf of the Minister for the Environment and Energy by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD). It applies to the area south of 60°S.

In accordance with the requirements of the Madrid Protocol, the AT(EP) Act requires the proponent of each activity to undertake a Preliminary Assessment of the impact that the activity is likely to have on the environment. These Preliminary Assessments are used by the Minister's Delegate as the basis for making a determination regarding the significance of the likely environmental impacts, and whether or not a higher level of assessment will be required.

If the Minister's Delegate determines that an activity is likely to have a minor or transitory impact on the environment then an Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE) will be required. Similarly, if it is determined that more than a minor or transitory impact is likely, then preparation of a Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation (CEE) will be required.

The Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act 1981 is also administered on behalf of the Minister for the Environment and Energy by the Australian Antarctic Division. The Act implements the Convention of the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). It regulates harvesting of, or research into, all living organisms that are found in the marine environment within the Convention area (south of a series of coordinates that approximate the 'Antarctic Convergence'). However, if your activity is to be authorised under another Commonwealth Act, you will not require a permit under this Act. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has responsibility for regulating Australian commercial harvesting of marine organisms in the CCAMLR area.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) also applies in order to protect matters of national environmental significance, promote ecologically sustainable development, promote the conservation of biodiversity and to promote cooperation between stakeholders, governments, the community and landholders. The EPBC Act provides for the consideration of the environment for activities in Commonwealth areas, and activities undertaken by the Commonwealth. Commonwealth land includes the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT) and Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI). Environmental Impact Assessment may be required by Australians for activities that are likely to have a significant impact on the environment in these areas.

Sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island is part of the state of Tasmania. The island, along with the adjacent coastal waters to the three nautical mile limit, is listed as a nature reserve under the Tasmanian Nature Conservation Act 2002. The entire nature reserve, extended seaward to include the 12 nautical mile territorial sea limit, is listed as a World Heritage Area, in recognition of the island's unique geological features. The eastern boundary of the reserve is also contiguous with the Commonwealth's Macquarie Island Marine Park [PDF], dedicated in 1999 as part of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas.

The Tasmanian National Parks and Reserves Management Act 2002 enforces the Macquarie Island Nature Reserve and World Heritage Area Management Plan. These acts and the management plan are administered by the Parks and Wildlife Service in Tasmania within the DPIWE. As a World Heritage Area, Macquarie Island is subject to the relevant obligations of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Fauna listed under state and national threatened species legislation are also present on the island. Fauna projects will be assessed according to state priorities and protocols. Under the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970, permits are required for entry to Macquarie Island Nature Reserve and any proposed scientific, management or recreational activity. These permits are administered by the Department of Primary Industries, Water & Environment (DPIWE). Any persons seeking authorisation relating to this area should contact DPIWE directly.

The Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) consists of a remote group of islands lying close together in the southern Indian Ocean at approximately 53º05'S and 73º30'E. The main islands are Heard Island and McDonald Island. The Territory is a listed World Heritage Area and is contained within the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve, a Commonwealth Reserve declared under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in 2002. The HIMI Marine Reserve, including the HIMI Territory, is a Category 1a Protected Area (strict nature reserve) to be managed primarily for science and environmental monitoring. Several species of fauna listed under the EPBA Act are also present on the islands. The Heard Island and McDonald Islands Act 1953 is administered for the Minister of Environment by the Australian Antarctic Division. The ordinance seeks to preserve and manage the territory so as to protect its environment and the indigenous wildlife.

Activities in the HIMI territory are therefore subject to relevant obligations under the ordinance, the EPBC Act, and the management plan made under that Act. The Heard Island and McDonald Islands Reserve Management Plan contains requirements for permits and impact assessment.