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Programs, policy and legislation

The Queensland Government shares responsibility for the management of wetlands with the Australian Government, local governments, landholders and the wider community. These responsibilities are formalised in laws passed by the Queensland and Commonwealth governments; through international obligations, agreements and a suite of policies and programs. These are summarised below.

A range of laws, policies and programs administered by different government agencies operate to regulate and manage the different wetlands in our environment. These are summarised below.

Please note disclaimer at bottom of page.

Further information

Earthworks Photo by Niall Connolly

Quick facts


conventions and agreements play a key role in the regulation of wetlands in Australia. Conventions, or treaties, become binding when they are signed and ratified by the Australian Government.

International conventions and agreements

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)—called the 'Ramsar Convention'—is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the 'wise use', or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.[1]

The Ramsar agreement was signed in 1971. Australia was one of the first nations to become a Contracting Party. The Convention aims to reduce the global loss of wetlands and to conserve and manage remaining wetlands. The Queensland sites listed under the Convention are Bowling Green Bay, Currawinya Lakes, Moreton Bay, Shoalwater Bay and Corio Bay and Great Sandy Strait.

Australia is a Partner to The East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAF); a voluntary Partnership launched in 2006. The EAAF is a regional Ramsar initiative facilitating collaborative efforts to protect migratory waterbirds, their habitat and the livelihoods of those that depend on them. It is underpinned by a network of flyway sites of international importance for migratory waterbirds.

Australia is also party to bilateral agreements with Japan (JAMBA) 1974, China (CAMBA) 1986 and the Republic of Korea (RoKAMBA) 2007. These agreements provide for the protection and conservation of migratory birds and their habitat.

In 1991, Australia became party to the international treaty The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, also known as the Bonn Convention. The Convention aims to conserve animal species which undergo migration across international boundaries.

Australia is also a party to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD is a legally binding global treaty to promote the development of national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 was adopted by the parties to the CBD (including Australia) in 2010 and is an overarching 10-year framework for action on biodiversity.

In Queensland, World Heritage areas often incorporate wetlands. World Heritage areas are outstanding examples of the world's natural and cultural heritage. The World Heritage Committee oversees the listing of these areas under the World Heritage Convention on behalf of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Queensland currently has five listed World Heritage sites.


The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government’s central piece of environmental legislation. It provides a legal framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places. The framework incorporates matters of national environmental significance (MNES). Any actions that have, or are likely to have, a significant impact on MNES require approval from the Australian Government.

Ramsar wetlands, World Heritage properties, threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species protected under international agreements including JAMBA, CAMBA, RoKAMBA and the Bonn Convention are all MNES.

Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030 (the Strategy) is the guiding framework for governments to conserve national biodiversity. It provides an overview of the state of Australia’s biodiversity and outlines collective priorities for conservation. The Strategy aims to coordinate efforts at a national level across all sectors to sustainably manage biological resources in a way that meets current needs and ensures long term resilience, health and viability.

The Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy is a plan to prioritise effort and work in partnership with the community and state and territory governments. The Strategy sets out a road map to achieve the long-term goal of reversing species declines and supporting species recovery. Under the EPBC Act, the Australian Government may make or adopt and implement recovery plans for threatened species and ecological communities listed as MNES. These plans include actions for identifying, protecting and managing species habitat including wetlands.

The Australian Pest Animal Strategy 2017–2027 provides national guidance on best practice vertebrate pest animal management and the foundations to guide and inform the actions of stakeholders, including landholders, industry, communities and government. It highlights areas that require national collaboration and provides clarity around priorities, roles and responsibilities.

The Australian Weeds Strategy 2017–2027 provides national guidance on best practice weed management. It supports three national goals: prevention, detection and early intervention; minimise the impact of established weeds; and enhance Australia’s capacity and commitment to weed management. It aims to guide coordination of effort across all jurisdictions and affected stakeholders.

Strategies, agreements and plans relevant to Queensland

In 1999, the Queensland Government endorsed the Strategy for the conservation and management of Queensland’s wetlands (Strategy). The Strategy has driven many achievements that benefit and will benefit wetland management into the future. A number of policy objectives outlined in the Strategy are still relevant today including:

  • basing management and use of natural wetlands on ecologically sustainable management and integrated catchment management practices
  • developing community awareness of, and respect for, the values and benefits of wetlands, and to encourage community involvement in wetland management.

The Wetlands in the Great Barrier Reef Catchments Management Strategy 2016–21 supports the updated Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan July 2018 and the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan 2017-2022 in setting out a framework for the improved management of wetlands in the Great Barrier Reef catchments.

Queensland’s Declared Fish Habitat Area (FHA) Network Strategy 2015-2020 (PDF, 3.8M) sets the direction for Queensland’s declared FHA network. The strategic objectives for management of the declared FHA network fall into three broad initiatives: 1) consolidate the declared FHA network; 2) reinforce declared FHA management and 3) strengthen declared FHA policy.

The Basin Plan is intended to provide for the integrated management of the Murray-Darling Basin’s water resources in a way that promotes the objects of the Water Act 2007 (Cwth). The Basin Plan contains a number of requirements to achieve its purpose, including provisions for Basin-wide environmental objectives for water dependent ecosystems and the inclusion of water quality and salinity objectives.

The Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement Act 2001 was signed by Ministers of the Australian, Queensland, South Australian and Northern Territory governments. The Agreement provides for the development or adoption, and implementation of policies and strategies concerning water and related natural resources in the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement Area to avoid or eliminate so far as reasonably practicable adverse cross-border impacts.


The Planning Act 2016 (Planning Act) provides the legal framework for land use planning, development assessment and dispute resolution in Queensland. A hierarchy of planning instruments have been developed to address State, regional and local interests in the land use planning and development assessment system. Key instruments include the State Planning Policy (SPP), Planning Regulation 2017, regional plans and local government planning schemes. The SPP is supported by the SPP interactive mapping system that spatially represents matters of State interest (including MSES) in the planning system.

Under the Planning Act 2016, the State Government is responsible for assessing certain development where the State has jurisdiction or specifies that it has a particular interest through the Planning Regulation 2017. The State Assessment Referral Agency (SARA) carries out the State Government’s assessment of development applications that may affect a State interest, against criteria in the State Development Assessment Provisions (SDAP). Matters relating to wetlands are dealt with under the Planning Act 2016. They are prescribed by the Planning Regulation 2017 and assessed against a number of the SDAP state codes which establish outcomes for the protection of wetlands.

The Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act) is a key element of Queensland’s environmental legal system. Its objective is to protect Queensland’s environment while allowing for development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains ecological processes (ecologically sustainable development). The EP Act and its subordinate legislation provides a range of tools to ensure this objective is met. These tools range from providing an approval system for environmentally relevant activities (ERAs) (called environmental authorities) through to response tools such as environmental protection orders. The EP Act is also responsible for regulation of resource activities. Resource activities include mining, petroleum (including coal seam gas; CSG), geothermal, and greenhouse gas storage activities. A high-impact environmental resource project may be required to be assessed through an EIS process under chapter 3 of the EP Act.

The object of the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NC Act) is the conservation of nature, while allowing for the involvement of indigenous people in the management of protected areas in which they have an interest under Aboriginal tradition or Island custom. The Act provides frameworks and mechanisms for:

  • the dedication and management of important ecological areas as protected areas on public and private land;
  • the protection of native flora and fauna, including regulating the use of protected wildlife; and
  • the listing of protected wildlife is threatened.

In Queensland, more than 100 important wetlands are located in national parks such as Hinchinbrook Island, Eubenangee Swamp, Lakefield, Diamantina and Currawinya National Parks and other protected areas such as Townsville Town Common.

All plants that are native and in the wild in Queensland are protected under the NC Act. The NC Act regulates the clearing, growing, harvesting and trading of protected plants in Queensland by addressing the impacts of high risk activities on the conservation of Queensland’s native plants e.g. clearing of threatened native plant species and preventing the illegal trade of plants.

The Act provides for the listing of wildlife as threatened. Currently there are three classes of threatened wildlife – extinct in the wild, endangered and vulnerable, in addition to ‘unlisted’ least concern and near threatened wildlife.

The Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation 2006 provides for the protection of native wildlife, including those associated with wetlands.

The Marine Parks Act 2004 and the Fisheries Act 1994 protect important marine and estuarine wetlands in Queensland waters, including those in marine park and declared fish habitat areas. Separate application for permits are required for activities including works, research and tourism within State marine parks. Matters relating to works for fisheries resources are dealt with under the Planning Act 2016. They are prescribed by the Planning Regulation 2017 and are assessed by the SARA against the State Development Assessment Provisions (SDAP).

Pest animals, plants and diseases are major threats to biodiversity and wetland values. The Biosecurity Act 2014 (Biosecurity Act) provides a framework and powers for the management of biosecurity threats such as pest plants, animals and diseases. The Biosecurity Act imposes a ‘general biosecurity obligation’ (GBO) on all Queenslanders. The GBO means that everyone is responsible for managing biosecurity risks that are under their control and that they know about, or should reasonably be expected to know about. Pest management planning occurs at all levels - national, state, regional, local and property. At the local level, local governments must regularly review and update their local government biosecurity management plans.

The Vegetation Management Act 1999 (VM Act) regulates the clearing of native vegetation in Queensland. The purpose of the VM Act is to regulate the clearing of vegetation in a way that among other things, conserves remnant vegetation, prevents the loss of biodiversity and maintains ecological processes. Matters relating to clearing of native vegetation are dealt with under the Planning Act 2016. They are prescribed by the Planning Regulation 2017 and assessed against the State Development Assessment Provisions (SDAP). The relevant SDAP state code establishes outcomes for works to support the sustainable management of native vegetation. The vegetation management framework uses a series of maps to determine what vegetation is regulated and where clearing may not take place.

The Water Act 2000 (Water Act) provides a legislative basis for the sustainable planning and management of the State’s water resources. All rights to the use, flow and control of all water in Queensland are vested in the State. The Water Act empowers the State to plan for the sustainable management of Queensland’s water by preparing and implementing water plans and water use plans. Under these plans the State may allow the use of water by authorising persons to take or interfere with water.

The Coastal Protection Management Act 1995 (CP Act) provides for the protection and management of coastal resources and biodiversity, including coastal wetlands, and ensures decisions about land use development safeguard life and property from the threat of coastal hazards. It achieves this by defining coastal management districts and erosion-prone areas where coastal planning and development assessment provisions apply under the Planning Act.

Pest animals and plants are major threats to biodiversity and wetland values. The Biosecurity Act 2014 provides a framework and powers for improved management of pest plant and animals and the stock route network.

The State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (SDPWO Act) facilitates timely, coordinated and environmentally responsible infrastructure planning and development to support Queensland's economic and social progress. The Coordinator-General may declare a project to be a ‘coordinated project’ requiring an ‘environmental impact statement’ (EIS) or impact assessment report (IAR) if the project has the potential to cause environmental, social or economic impacts. This type of project often requires multiple approvals and has significant infrastructure requirements. The Coordinator-General may also independently declare a coordinated project if justified. Coordinated project declarations are published in the Queensland Government Gazette.

The Environmental Offsets Act 2014 provides a framework through which certain impacts on wetlands can be compensated for elsewhere. The offsets framework regulates when this approach can and can’t be used and the process that must be followed.

The Environmental Protection (Water) Policy 2009 (the Water EPP), made under the EP Act, establishes environmental values (EVs) and water quality objectives (WQO) for Queensland waters, including wetlands. The Water EPP also establishes Healthy Waters Management Plans (HWMPs) as a key planning mechanism to improve the quality of Queensland waters.


While every care is taken to ensure the accuracy of this product, the Queensland Government and Australian Government make no representations or warranties about its accuracy, reliability, completeness or suitability for any particular purpose and disclaim all responsibility and all liability (including without limitation, liability in negligence) for all expenses, losses, damages (including indirect or consequential damage) and costs which might be incurred as a consequence of reliance on the product, or as a result of the product being inaccurate or incomplete in any way and for any reason.

Pages under this section


  1. ^ Ramsar Convention on Wetlands 1971, The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat, <>.

Last updated: 26 July 2018

This page should be cited as:

Programs, policy and legislation, WetlandInfo 2018, Department of Environment and Science, Queensland, viewed 11 February 2019, <>.

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science