How to have your say on Australia’s draft new environment laws

Until 30 March 2024, our federal government is taking public submissions on its proposed reforms to Australia's environment law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999.

This is the latest stage of consultation in a once in a generation reform process.

You can have your say on the proposed changes to our environmental laws until 30 March 2024.

Ready to make a submission?

Scroll down for a step-by-step guide

To read the concerns and recommendations of EJA lawyers, scroll down to read the full submission guide or download a PDF version.

Then, also email your submission directly to

  • Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek
  • your local federal MP

It's time for environment laws that actually protect the environment

You can either:

In addition, we recommend you email your submission directly to

You must lodge your submission by Saturday, 30 March 2024.

If you lodge your submission via the consultation portal, you can provide your comments either by entering them in the text box on the survey page, or by uploading a submission as a PDF on the following page.

If you want to write a longer submission, we recommend you draft your comments in a Word document or text editor.

Once you have finished, click through to the final page and click "Submit to lodge your comments."

If you have any questions, need additional support or want to share your submission with us, get in touch at [email protected].

How to structure your submission

The best submissions are unique. Good submission generally:

  • Are concise and well-structured
  • Emphasise the key points so they are clear
  • Outline concerns as well as suggesting recommendations to address them
  • Only include information and documents that are directly relevant to your key points.
  • Only include information you are comfortable to see published on the internet.

Begin your submission by briefly introducing yourself or the group or organisation you represent.

  • You can include basic information like your name and where you live.
  • Are you from an group or organisation whose work is relevant to protecting the environment?

Once you have introduced yourself, move on to sharing why this issue is important enough to you for you to spend time writing a submission to the Federal Parliament.

a. Outline your concerns
b. Provide suggestions
  • Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek at [email protected]
  • and to your local federal MP.

To meet the federal government’s commitment to end deforestation by 2030, our new laws must include much stronger protections for native forests. Land clearing – which currently escapes federal assessment time and time again – must be clearly brought within the new laws.  

We need a land-clearing trigger – either in the new Act or in the new National Standard for Threatened Species and Communities. This will ensure plans to clear areas over a certain size where threatened species are likely, or may occur, must be assessed under the new laws.

Read more about Matters of National Environmental Significance

The federal government has promised to turn around the extinction crisis and protect critical habitat, but the draft laws remove legal protections available for critical habitat in favour of narrower, ambiguous new terms like “irreplaceable.” 

Our new laws need to strengthen protection for critical habitat and make it mandatory for every species. This will ensure species like the koala don’t become extinct – one of hundreds of Australian species on the path to extinction because of habitat destruction. Red-lines to protect critical habitat must be drawn for every species.

Read more about Conservation Planning

The draft laws do not mention halting the decline of threatened species.

To deliver on its promise of no new extinctions, the federal government must introduce laws that rule out impacts that reduce the population numbers of species that are already on the path to extinction.

This requirement must be a centrepiece of the new National Standard for Threatened Species and Communities.

Nothing that pushes threatened animals and plants closer to extinction should be permitted. Halting and reversing decline should be a stated purpose of the new Act.

Read more about the new National Environmental Standards

Climate change exacerbates all of the pressures our environment is already facing, and widespread and severe climate impacts are already being felt across the continent. Our new laws must include a new climate ‘trigger’ to specifically require proper assessment of projects that will create significant carbon emissions (100,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent), and ensure projects with unacceptable climate risks cannot proceed.

To be effective, a climate trigger must include emissions that will result from Australian gas and coal being burnt overseas (scope 3 emissions). Our new laws must also respond to escalating climate impacts and protect ecosystems that absorb carbon. 

Read more

Environmental decision making must be based on the best available science and clear rules – no loopholes or special deals – not the personal whim of the decision maker of the day. Our new laws must remove excessive decision-maker discretion.

For example, it’s proposed that decisions about whether impacts are unacceptable and comply with the new National Standards will be subjective decisions that “satisfy'' the EPA; instead, these decisions must reflect the science.

Communities must have the right to review the merits of decisions – to make sure they properly follow the science.

There should be no Ministerial call-in powers that allow the Minister of the day to override the EPA and make political decisions to approve environmental destruction.

And, we need an EPA set up to succeed. To genuinely safeguard this powerful new position from political interference, the EPA CEO must be accountable to an independent board with qualified members.

Read more about the new Environment Protection Agency and assessments and approvals

Too often, offsets look good on paper but in practice they let companies off the hook for destroying and polluting our environment. Few gains are ever made on the ground from planned offset activities, which are supposed to make up for real-world losses suffered by species from destructive practices.  

No one should be able to buy the right to kill threatened species or bulldoze their habitat; introducing this proposal will take our environment laws backwards not forwards.

Our new laws must include strict rules on offset activities to make sure they actually deliver on-ground results for the same species in meaningful time frames.

Red-lines need to be set that won't allow offsets for everything – for species already on the path to extinction, critical habitat and population losses cannot be offset.

And, the government must rule out payments for destruction. 

Read more

EJA's full submission guide

If you make a submission using the online portal, open the government's online portal and click "start survey" to begin.

A survey will ask you to answer three questions and indicate what topic area you are making a submission on.

You can choose to address one topic, or as many topics as you like.

The topics are:

  1. Matters of National Environmental Significance
  2. National Environmental Standards
  3. Climate change
  4. Community engagement
  5. Conservation planning
  6. Environment Information Australia
  7. Environment Protection Australia
  8. Environmental assessments and approvals
  9. Regional planning or strategic assessments
  10. Other

Scroll down for the key concerns and recommendations from EJA lawyers on each of these topics – or download the guide as a pdf.

1. Matters of National Environmental Significance

Key points

Australia’s new environment laws must properly protect Matters of National Environmental Significance:

  • Some plants, animals, places and potential impacts are so important, they are listed as nationally significant. Our new laws need to increase their protection – not make it optional.
  • Protections for nationally significant matters already listed cannot go backwards. This means Australia’s new laws must continue to protect species considered ‘extinct in the wild,’ and continue to protect the environment from nuclear actions.
  • We need new nationally significant matters on the list to meet the climate and extinction crises we now face, and bring our laws into the 21st century.
  • A land clearing trigger and a climate trigger must be introduced to properly address the deforestation and climate crises in Australia.

More detail

Current protections cannot go backwards

Environmental lawyers believe Australia’s new environment laws must retain two key safeguards for all nationally protected plans, wildlife and places.

New nationally significant matters should trigger protection:

Additionally, three new triggers for assessment must be included in our new environment laws. Triggers are identified thresholds or actions requiring assessment for their potential environmental harm.

2. National Environmental Standards

Key points

To make our new laws effective and fair, Australia’s new National Environmental Standards must:

  • Rule out impacts that cause declines in population numbers of threatened species.
  • Rule out destruction of habitat critical to survival of threatened species.
  • Include requirements to maintain and improve both habitat and population numbers of threatened species.
  • Not allow payments that permit the destruction of listed threatened species and ecological communities – called ‘restoration contributions.’
  • Be clear, specific, measurable and outcome-focused – not vague and high-level.

More detail

3. Climate change

Key points

Our new laws must put the impacts of climate change on our environment front and centre and:

  • Explicitly require assessment of climate risk, with the power to reject projects due to their likely climate impacts.
  • Ensure assessment of all projects includes all climate emissions (scope 1, 2 and 3) in environmental impact assessments, and take account of cumulative impacts. 
  • Increase protections for ecosystems that absorb carbon.
  • Ensure climate change considerations are incorporated at every stage.

More detail

4. Community engagement

Key points

Australia’s new environment laws must give communities legal rights:

  • To access information.
  • To participate meaningfully and be heard in environmental decision-making processes overseen by the new national EPA.
  • To seek independent review of the merits of decisions.

More detail

Under our current laws, requirements for community participation leave a lot to be desired.

Consultation is a tick-box exercise.

It often looks like a bit of information posted on a hard-to-navigate website, and a quietly advertised opportunity to comment within a short consultation window.

Australia's new laws must fix this.

They must include clear requirements, in line with established best practice, for public participation in environmental decision making – at every stage of the process.

Consultation at every stage

Thorough community consultation should be undertaken by the new national Environment Protection Australia (EPA) and a project's proponent. The EPA should have a role in overseeing the pre-application consultation process by proponents, with rigorous oversight and the option of intervening.

Community feedback needs to be genuinely considered by the decision maker at each stage of the decision-making process. Both the project proponent and the new EPA must clearly explain how they have taken the community’s views into account.

When a decision maker gives notice to the proponent of a proposed decision and any conditions, there should be an opportunity for public comment. This is included in the current Act and should be retained – removing it weakens the law.

Without consultation at this stage of a proposed decision, community members do not get input on any conditions proposed, which may include things like offsets. Providing this opportunity is vital for transparency and community confidence.

Merits review

Community participation must not end with a project’s final decision. Our new laws must ensure that once a decision has been made, groups that care about the environment have the right to seek independent review of the merits of decisions, not just whether decisions followed the right process.

When decisions cannot be reviewed, it risks creating a decision-making culture of impunity with poor decisions for our threatened species.

Merits reviews will ensure the EPA rigorously and fearlessly assesses and decides on applications, based on the best available science. In doing so, it creates a culture of scientifically sound, well-bounded and justifiable decision making at the EPA.

5. Conservation planning

Key points

Our new laws must take environmental protection forward – not wind it back. That means:

  • Make identifying and protecting critical habitat mandatory for every species.
  • Retain current requirements in the Act to identify critical habitat and populations under particular pressure for threatened species and the actions required to protect them.
  • Instead of weakening the current laws to a requirement not to act inconsistently with part of a Recovery Strategy and Threat Abatement Strategy – the new laws need to strengthen the current law to require compliance with the whole of Recovery Strategies and Threat Abatement Strategies.
  • Clearly define “unacceptable impact” as including damage to critical habitat for threatened species and ecological communities.

More detail

6. Environment Information Australia

Key points

Australia’s new laws must mandate that:

  • Decision making is based on the best available scientific data.
  • Data must be available to the community.
  • Robust data collected by experts and citizen scientists must be given equal weight to other relevant pieces of evidence.

More detail

7. Environment Protection Australia

Key points

By law, Australia’s new federal EPA must:

  • Be able to independently and fearlessly assess impacts on the environment using the best available science.
  • Act without political interference or Ministerial “call in” powers.
  • Be properly resourced and empowered to assess environmental impacts.

More detail

8. Environmental assessments and approvals

Key points

Australia’s current environment assessment and approval processes are broken and full of holes. 

Our new laws must require rigorous, science-based decision making, not give decision makers god-like discretionary powers that are vulnerable to influence.

Under our new laws, decisions must:

  • Be objective – based on science and clear rules, not subjective – based on what a decision-maker might think and vague terms. 
  • Remove discretion – removing all references to decisions made ‘to the satisfaction of’ the EPA CEO or the Minister, because it makes decisions subjective instead of firmly based on science. 
  • Require actions to comply with all content in Recovery Strategies and Threat Abatement Strategies – not parts of those, and not to a weaker standard of ‘not inconsistent with.’ 
  • Apply the best-available science and consider cumulative impacts.
  • Be made within a fair and realistic time for EPA to thoroughly assess impacts applying independent data, not just rubber-stamp proponent’s self-assessments.
  • Not be permitted on the basis that cost-effectiveness is more important than protecting nature.

More detail

9. Regional planning or strategic assessments

Key points

Australia’s new laws must be built around robust and comprehensive assessment – not blanket approvals and corner cutting. This means:

  • All individual actions require individual assessments under the new laws.
  • No exemptions for ‘classes’ of actions, like logging.
  • Not permitting offsets or payments as replacements for genuine environmental protection

More detail

10. Other: First Nations Rights

Key points

First Nations must be meaningfully involved in decisions that impact their Country and culture.

Australia's new environment new laws should:

  • Grant First Nations people a key legal role in decision making, with guaranteed free, prior and informed consent.
  • Ensure legal rights for First Nations to protect, care for and manage Country and culture, and rights outlined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

More detail

10. Other – Offsets

Key points

No one should be allowed to buy their way out of environmental protection. Australia’s new laws must:  

  • Not permit financial offsets, termed ‘restoration contributions.’ 
  • Only permit offset projects in strictly limited circumstances, in line with the best available science. 
  • Recognise not everything can be offset; damage to critical habitat, World Heritage and National Heritage cannot be made good by a project elsewhere, and red lines must be drawn.

More detail