International Treaties

Sustainable Development

Environmental Law

Case Studies


Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Australia

While the Australian Constitution does not contain provisions for the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws for the environment, the Commonwealth does possess the power to legislate in relation to environmental matters

The Commonwealth’s key environmental legislation is called the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The EPBC Act is reviewed every ten years.

Featured Legislation

1972: The National Parks and Wildlife Act was ratified. This Act, consisting of 81 sections divided into six Parts and completed by 13 Schedules, provides for the establishment and management of national parks and reserves for public benefit and for securing the conservation of wildlife in their natural environment. The Act establishes the South Australia National Parks and Wildlife Council and regulates its operation and also provides for the establishment and organization of advisory and consultative committees and regulates the appointment and powers of wardens (Part 2). The Act provides for the constitution and management of national parks, conservation parks, game reserves, recreation parks, regional reserves, sanctuaries (Part 3) and for the respect of traditional rights on land and natural resources. For the purposes of this Act, the General Reserves Trust Fund is established and regulated (Part 3A). The Act provides for the conservation of native plants (Part 4) and native animals (Part 5), for the farming of protected animals and for hunting and related permits (Part 5A). The Act is completed by the following schedules: National parks; Conservation parks; Game reserves; Recreation parks; Endangered species; Vulnerable species; Rare species; Unprotected species and Species to which Part 5 Division 4A applies.

1978: The Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act was brought into force,  appointing  a Supervising Scientist for the purpose of protecting the environment in the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory from the effects of mining operations.

1980: The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act was passed, covering the conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora; offences relating to the environment; and civil penalty provisions and criminal proceedings.

1981: The Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act was introduced, providing for the protection of the environment by regulating dumping into the sea, incineration at sea and artificial reef placements, and for related purposes.

1981: The Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act was signed, governing the conservation of marine living resources of the Antarctic and its surrounding seas.

1989: The Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act was signed,  governing the regulation of the export, import and transit of hazardous waste.

1993: The Environment Protection Act was tabled. This Act, consisting of 140 sections divided into 15 Parts and completed by one Schedule, concerns the protection of the environment and provides for the establishment and organization of the Environment Protection Authority and of the Environment Protection Fund. The Act is divided into the following Parts: Preliminary (1); Objects of Act (2); Administering agencies, conferences and the Fund (3); General environmental duty (4); Environment protection policies (5); Environmental authorizations and development authorizations (6); Sustainability licence endorsements (6A); Voluntary audits and environment performance agreements (7); Special environment protection provisions (8); General offences (9); Enforcement (10); Special provisions and enforcement powers for site contamination (10A); Civil remedies and penalties (11); Emergency authorizations (12); Appeals to Court (13); Public register (14) and Miscellaneous (15).

1994: The National Environment Protection Council Act was instituted, overseeing the establishment of a National Environment Protection Council.

1999: The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was passed. The legislation covers the following areas;

  • The protection of the environment, especially matters of national environmental significance conserve Australian biodiversity.
  • National environmental assessment and approvals process
  • The protection and management of important natural and cultural places
  • The international movement of plants and animals (wildlife), wildlife specimens and products made or derived from wildlife
  • Sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources
  • The recognition of the role of Indigenous people in the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of Australia’s biodiversity
  • The promotion and use of Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of biodiversity with the involvement of, and in cooperation with, the owners of the knowledge

2003: The Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Manufacture) Amendment Act was amended, impose a levy on the manufacture of HCFCs, methyl bromide and SGGs under licences granted under the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act of  1989.

2007: The Water Act was created to make provisions for the management of the water resources of the Murray‑Darling Basin, and to make provision for other matters of national interest in relation to water and water information.

2007: The Marine Park Acts was voted on. This Act, consisting of 63 sections divided into ten Parts, provides for the establishment of marine parks with the objects to protect and conserve marine biological diversity and marine habitats by declaring and providing for the management of a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of marine parks; and to assist in the maintenance of ecological processes in the marine environment, the adaptation to the impacts of climate change in the marine environment, protecting and conserving features of natural or cultural heritage significance, allowing ecologically sustainable development and use of marine environments, and in providing opportunities for public appreciation, education, understanding and enjoyment of marine environments.

2011: The Climate Change Authority Act was approved, outlining actions taken by the Environment Minister, the Climate Change Minister and the Agriculture Minister about climate change measures that relate to the land sector.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • Australia has joined Indonesia in Operation Gannet 5, a joint maritime cooperation effort to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; people smuggling and human trafficking; environmental protection and transnational organised crimes that occur along the maritime boundary. The result of the Indonesia-Australia Fisheries Surveillance Forum, Operation Gannet 5 commenced in March 2021: To protect civil maritime security interests against the growing threat of  unauthorised maritime arrivals  and other regionally dispersed security threats over the country’s maritime and terrestrial domains. IUU fishing activities in Australia have led to  an unfavorable fishery business climate, weakened competition in the fishing industry and the marginalization of fishermen. In Chief Executive, Office of Environment and Heritage v Clarence Valley Council (2018), The local government authority for Grafton and the Clarence Valley, Clarence Valley Council lopped the crown of a Red Bean tree, a culturally significant object to the local Gumbaynggirr people.  Clarence Valley Council was issued with and paid a penalty notice for harming an Aboriginal object, in breach of s 86(2) of the National Parks and Wildlife Act (NPW). The case is especially important because the presiding judge used restorative justice as an approach to repairing harms and preventing crimes from reoccurring; this is achieved by restoring (or building) relationships between the offender and victim.

References and Further Reading


Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment: 1800 803 772 or