The concept of 'Matters of National Environmental Significance' (MNES) is a political construction that does not necessarily reflect all nationally significant issues. At present, there are nine defined areas:
- World Heritage properties - A map of all Australian world heritage properties can be viewed at:
- Ramsar Wetlands - These are wetlands of international importance, particular as a habitat for birds. The name "Ramsar" comes from the town in Iran where the relevant international Treaty was signed. A map of all Australian RAMSAR wetlands can be viewed at: http://www.environment.gov.au/legislation/environment-protection-and-biodiversity-conservation-act/what-protected/wetlands
- Nationally listed threatened species and ecological communities- A list of the threatened species can be found at: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/index.html A list of the threatened ecological communities can be found at:http://www.environment.gov.au/topics/threatened-species-ecological-communitiesl Any member of the public can nominate a threatened species, ecological community or "key threatening process" for listing. To find out how to submit nominations visit : http://www.environment.gov.au/legislation/environment-protection-and-biodiversity-conservation-act/about-epbc-act/epbc-act-lists-0. National environmental groups such as ACF can also advise on how to make a nomination.
- Listed migratory species - These lists can be found at: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/migratory/index.html
- Activities related to nuclear energy, including uranium mining - [see ss 21 and 22 of the Act].
- The Commonwealth marine environment - maps of Commonwealth marine areas can be found at: http://www.environment.gov.au/legislation/environment-protection-and-biodiversity-conservation-act/what-protected/commonwealth.
- National Heritage Places - See: http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/pmst/index.html.
- The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park - further information can be found at: http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au.
- A water resource in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development - see: http://www.environment.gov.au/topics/about-us/legislation/environment-protection-and-biodiversity-conservation-act-1999/what-5.
The Commonwealth can add new matters to this list by regulation. The list must be reviewed every five years to see whether further matters should be included. If a proposed action is likely to have a significant impact on any of the areas, it may require Commonwealth approval before it can begin. It is illegal to undertake such an action without that Commonwealth approval.
Not all actions that affect a matter of national environmental significance need Commonwealth approval. The activity must be likely to have a significant impact on the matter. Whilst the legislation is silent as to the meaning of significant impact, the government has developed guidelines (http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/publications/nes-guidelines.html), to help proponents decide if this is the sort of action that needs to be referred to the Minister for assessment and approval.
Commonwealth approval is required for any action that takes place on Commonwealth land, or that is likely to affect Commonwealth land, if it has a significant impact on the environment. This extends beyond the eight matters of national environmental significance already mentioned to include all environmental impacts.
There are some actions that may be exempt from the Commonwealth assessment and approval requirements, even if they do have a significant impact. One exception is the logging of forests in areas that are covered by a Regional Forest Agreement (RFA).
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.