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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.

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

Please note disclaimer.

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 signatory 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 use of genetic resources. In December 2022, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was adopted as part of a suite of measures to address global biodiversity loss. The GBF includes four overarching goals for 2050, and 23 targets for achievement by 2030.

Australia is party to the World Heritage Convention. Queensland currently has five listed World Heritage areas, most 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).


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 'protected matters' otherwise referred to as 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.

The Australian Government’s Native Title Act 1993 (NT Act) recognises the rights and interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in land and waters according to their traditional laws and customs.

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 Strategy for Nature 2019-2030 is Australia’s national biodiversity strategy and action plan, and provides the overarching framework for all national, state and territory and local strategies, legislation, policies and actions that target nature. The strategy builds on previous and existing work, and is underpinned by science. The strategy has three priority focus areas, or goals, underpinned by twelve objectives. Each objective has a number of progress measures, which are used to track and report on the success of the Strategy. With its adoption of the Global Biodiversity Framework in 2022, Australia’s focus has shifted to the domestic implementation of the GBF.

In response to the Independent Review of the EPBC Act, the Australian Government announced the Nature Positive Plan.

The Australian Government’s Threatened Species Action Plan 2022-2032 maps a pathway to protect, manage and restore Australia’s threatened species and priority places. The Action Plan complements the objectives and operation of the EPBC Act. It encompasses new and existing initiatives from across the Australian Government to benefit threatened plants, animals and ecosystems and contribute to Australia meeting its national and international responsibilities.

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.


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 Queensland Government provides mapping that spatially represents most matters of State interest in the planning system through two GIS (Geographic Information Systems) platforms:

  1. the State Planning Policy Interactive Mapping System (SPP IMS), which is a standalone mapping system, and
  2. the Development Assessment Mapping System (DAMS), which incorporates mapping used for a number of different functions in development assessment.

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

The Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 (RPI Act) establishes the legal framework for land use planning and development assessment to manage the resource and /or regulated activities within areas of regional interest in Queensland.

The RPI Act identifies areas of regional interest (ARIs) across the state. It also requires proponents of resource and regulated activities to obtain a regional interests development approval (RIDA) prior to undertaking activities within the ARIs. The RIDA requires assessment at a landscape scale. State planning instruments (regional plans) or the Regional Planning Interests Regulation 2014 include spatial representations and prescribed solutions to determine if the resource or regulated activity will result in widespread and irreversible impact.

The Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act) is a key element of Queensland’s environmental legislation. 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 includes general environmental protection obligations that apply to all businesses and citizens in Queensland. The two primary duties are:

  • not to carry out an activity that may cause harm without taking measures to prevent or minimise the harm (the general environmental duty).
  • to inform the relevant authority and landowners when environmental harm has occurred or might occur (the duty to notify of environmental harm).

The EP Act and its subordinate legislation provide a range of tools to ensure its objectives are met. These range from approvals (called environmental authorities) for environmentally relevant activities (ERAs) through to statutory and enforcement tools such as environmental protection orders. For instance, the Environmental Protection Regulation 2019 prohibits activities that release water or waste to wetlands for treatment. The EP Act also regulates resource activities. Resource activities include mining, petroleum (including coal seam gas), geothermal, and greenhouse gas storage activities. Resource projects with significant environmental impacts may require assessment through an environmental impact statement (EIS) process under chapter 3 of the EP Act.

The Queensland Government maintains a Public Register that provides information and documentation related to the administration and enforcement activities it undertakes in line with the EP Act. Copies of environmental authorities and enforcement notices issued under the EP Act are available on the Public Register.

The Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 (WRR Act) promotes waste avoidance and reduction and encourages resource recovery and efficiency. The Waste Reduction and Recycling Regulation 2011 includes provisions on application fees, management of used packaging materials and responsibilities for planning and reporting on waste management.

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 as threatened.

In Queensland, many 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 NC Act provides for the listing of threatened wildlife. Currently there are five classes of threatened wildlife – extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable. In addition, there are non-threatened wildlife referred to as species of least concern, near threatened and special least concern. Many of these species are subject to international agreements such as the JAMBA, CAMBA, RoKAMBA and the Bonn Convention.

The Nature Conservation (Plants) Regulation 2020 and the Nature Conservation (Animals) Regulation 2020 provides for the protection and management of native plants and animals, 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. Permits are required for activities including works, research and tourism within State marine parks. Matters relating to works affecting fisheries resources are dealt with through the Planning Regulation 2017 can include self-assessable Accepted Development and assessment against the 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 plans.

The Vegetation Management Act 1999 (VM Act), together with the Planning Act, regulate 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. The vegetation management framework uses a series of maps to determine what vegetation is regulated. The framework uses a number of statutory instruments to regulate how clearing can occur including self-assessable Accepted Development Vegetation Clearing Codes (ADVCC) and the SDAP and Planning Regulation 2017.

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 and Management Act 1995 (CP Act) provides for the protection and management of coastal resources and biodiversity, including coastal wetlands, and ensures land use development decisions 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 framework.

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 can be compensated for elsewhere through an environmental offset. An environmental offset compensates for unavoidable impacts on significant environmental matters, (e.g., valuable species and ecosystems) on one site, by securing land at another site, and managing that land over a period of time, to replace those significant environmental matters which were lost. The offsets framework regulates when this approach can and can’t be used and the process that must be followed.

The Human Rights Act 2019 (HR Act) protects fundamental human rights and requires public entities to make decisions and act compatibly with human rights, and parliament to consider human rights.

The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 and the Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003 provide the legislative framework for the recognition, protection and conservation of Aboriginal cultural heritage and Torres Strait Islander heritage respectively.

The Environmental Protection (Water and Wetland Biodiversity) Policy 2019 (the Water and Wetland EPP), made under the EP Act, establishes environmental values, water quality for the waters and wetlands in Queensland. Water quality guidelines and water quality objectives are also stated in the Water and Wetland EPP. Another important function of the Water and Wetland EPP is that it provides for the development and implementation of healthy waters management plans, which are a key planning mechanism to improve the quality of waters in Queensland.

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 Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan 2021-2025 and the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan on 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 Great Artesian Basin Strategic Management Plan was developed by the Australian, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australian and New South Wales governments in consultation with the Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee (GABCC) and stakeholders. The Plan provides a framework for governments, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, water users and other stakeholders to achieve economic, environmental, cultural and social outcomes for the Great Artesian Basin (the Basin) and its users. Implementation of the Plan will assist all parties to identify and respond to the risks, issues, challenges and opportunities associated with use of Great Artesian Basin water.

The Queensland Native Title Work Procedures (QNTWP) is the Queensland Government’s official policy document to aid decision-making, and to ensure that native title is properly considered and addressed within the work of Government.

Cultural heritage duty of care is a key feature under the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 and the Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003. All landholders are required to take all reasonable and practicable measures to avoid harming Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage.

In 2022, Queensland Government released Conserving Nature – a Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for Queensland (the Biodiversity Strategy), which acts as an overarching framework for a coordinated approach to government strategies, programs and initiatives that contribute to positive outcomes for biodiversity and address continued loss.


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. [online] Available at:

Last updated: 10 July 2023

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2023) Programs, policy and legislation, WetlandInfo website, accessed 15 May 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation