The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) entered into force on 16 July 2000.

The EPBC Act and EPBC Regulations provide a national framework for environment protection through a focus on protecting matters of national environmental significance and on the conservation of Australia's biodiversity.

The objects of the Act, with relevance to Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) Marine Reserve, include:

  • To provide for the protection of the environment, especially those aspects of the environment that are matters of national environmental significance
  • To promote ecologically sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources
  • To promote the conservation of biodiversity
  • To promote a co-operative approach to the protection and management of the environment
  • To assist in the co-operative implementation of Australia's international environmental responsibilities.

The Proclamation of the HIMI Marine Reserve as a Commonwealth reserve under the EPBC Act means that the Commonwealth reserve provisions of the Act and Regulations apply to the Reserve. Those provisions, plus other relevant provisions of the EPBC Act and the legislation specific to the HIMI Territory, now provide the main legislative framework for the management and conservation of the Reserve.

The following provides a summary of the EPBC Act provisions relating to management of Commonwealth reserves, activities in Commonwealth reserves, environmental impact assessment requirements, plus a brief summary of the provisions of the EPBC Regulations.

More information on the EPBC Act and Regulations is available from the EPBC Act pages of the Department of the Environment website.

Provisions relating to management of Commonwealth reserves

The EPBC Act places general responsibility for the administration and management of Commonwealth reserves with the Director of National Parks (the Director). For the HIMI Marine Reserve, the Director’s powers and functions under the Act have been delegated to the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) of the Department of the Environment.

The Act requires the Director to prepare and give effect to a management plan for each Commonwealth reserve. Management plans must be approved by the Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and tabled in each House of the Commonwealth Parliament. Plan may be disallowed by either House on a motion moved within 15 sitting days of the House after tabling.

See the Management Plan pages in the Protection and Management section of this website for more details on the requirements for management plans.

Provisions relating to activities within Commonwealth reserves

The EPBC Act (s.354) states that certain actions can only be undertaken in a Commonwealth reserve if authorised by and undertaken in accordance with a management plan made for that reserve under the EPBC Act. These actions are:

  • kill, injure, take, trade, keep or move a member of a native species
  • damage heritage
  • carry on an excavation
  • erect a building or other structure
  • carry out works; or
  • take an action for commercial purposes.

The Act also prohibits mining operations in Commonwealth reserves unless they have been authorised in accordance with the EPBC Act and are carried out in accordance with a management plan made under that Act (s.355).

The Act contains provisions (Part 13) that prohibit and regulate actions taken in Commonwealth areas – such as the HIMI Marine Reserve – in relation to listed threatened species and ecological communities, listed migratory species, cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and listed marine species.

The Protection page in the Nature section of this website includes a table that lists fauna species of significance to the Reserve, including species that are listed under the EPBC Act.

Provisions relating to environmental impact assessment

Under the EPBC Act, actions that are likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance are subject to rigorous referral, assessment, and approval processes. An action includes a project, development, undertaking, activity, or series of activities. The EPBC Act currently identifies seven matters of national environmental significance:

  • World Heritage properties
  • National Heritage places (from 1 January 2004)
  • Ramsar wetlands of international importance
  • listed threatened species and ecological communities
  • listed migratory species
  • the Commonwealth marine area; and
  • nuclear actions (including uranium mining).

The EPBC Act’s assessment and approval provisions also apply to actions that are likely to have a significant impact on the environment of Commonwealth land (even if taken outside Commonwealth land) and actions taken by the Commonwealth that will have a significant impact on the environment anywhere in the world.

For the purposes of the above, land within the Reserve constitutes ‘Commonwealth land’ and the maritime component of the Reserve constitutes part of a ‘Commonwealth marine area’.

Civil and criminal penalties may be imposed for breaches of the EPBC Act.

See the Environmental Impact Assessment page in the Protection and Management section of this website for more details of the environmental impact assessment requirements established by the management plan for the HIMI Marine Reserve .

Further information on the EPBC Act’s referral, assessment and approval requirements and processes is available from the Assessment and Approvals pages of the Department of the Environment website.

EPBC regulations

The EPBC Regulations control, or allow the Director to control, a range of activities in Commonwealth reserves, such as use of vehicles and vessels, littering, commercial activities, commercial fishing, recreational fishing and research.

Many of these activities are prohibited unless certain exemptions apply, for example where the Director has issued a permit that authorises the activity, or where a management plan in force for the Commonwealth reserve allows the activity (see r.12.06(1)).

Activities in that part of the Reserve that does not form part of the Territory will be regulated through reliance on the EPBC Regulations.

The Regulations are applied by the Director subject to, and in accordance with, the EPBC Act and management plans.

In the HIMI Marine Reserve, certain activities that are otherwise prohibited by section 354(1) of the EPBC Act, or by the EPBC Regulations, may be carried on in the Territory (the islands plus the 12 nautical mile territorial sea) if authorised by and undertaken in accordance with permit issued under the Environment Protection and Management Ordinance 1987 (the EPMO).

See the HIMI Territory Legislation page in the Protection and Management section of this website for more information about the application of the EPMO in the Reserve.