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Environment and pollution laws

In Queensland, no single part of the environmental legal system or level of government regulates all activities. Instead, they are linked, forming a safety net that protects the environment.

Below is a summary of the major pieces of the Queensland environmental legal system, including the major Acts and Regulations, and codes of practice.
You can do a search for full details of all these laws (Acts).

Environmental Protection Act

The key piece of environmental legislation in Queensland is the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act).

The EP Act protects our environment with a focus on ecologically sustainable development.

It creates a general duty for all people, companies and government bodies to take all reasonable and practicable steps to avoid harm to the environment.

Under the EP Act, it’s an offence to cause harm to the environment. It’s also an offence to not notify authorities if you’re doing an activity and become aware that it’s causing environmental harm.

Read page 22 of the Synopsis of the Queensland environmental law system for more detail about the EP Act.

Government environmental compliance

Generally, the Queensland Government must comply with the following laws that protect the environment:

The Sustainable Planning Act 2009 is the foundation of the system, as it regulates planning and development for areas other than mining and petroleum, which have separate regimes.

Other environmental laws

Energy—clean, nuclear

Under the Clean Energy Act, medium-sized business energy users in Queensland must identify ways to reduce energy consumption and promote energy efficiency.


The Fire and Rescue Services Act 1990 regulates fire safety and the use of fire. It prohibits the lighting of fires unless the fire is:

  • authorised by a fire permit
  • less than 2 metres in length, width or height
  • in a fireplace
  • burning the carcass of a beast.

It also provides for local fire bans where there is a high fire risk.

Mining, oil, and gas

Greenhouse gases

The Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2009 regulates the long-term underground storage of greenhouse gases.

Marine and fishing

The Fisheries Act 1994 regulates fishing, development in fisheries habitat areas, and damage of marine plants in Queensland.

Water quality

Plant/forest protection

The Forestry Act regulates the removal of timber, other forest products and quarry material from state land. State land includes state forests, leasehold land and unallocated state land. It covers 80 per cent of the state. ‘Forest products’ includes all vegetable growth and material of vegetable origin.

Genetic medication

The Gene Technology Act 2001 regulates research, production and release of genetically modified organisations, and genetically modified crops and products.


Coast and river protection

The Coastal Protection and Management Act provides for the regulation of dredging, quarrying, canal construction, tidal works and other activities in coast management districts and erosion-prone areas.

Development and planning

Heritage protection

The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage.

Environmental regulations and plans


Read more about environmental regulations in Queensland.


Nature Conservation Act 1992:

Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993:

Read more about the environmental plans in Queensland.

Environmental codes of practice

Types of environmental codes

A code of practice is generally a collection of rules or procedures about a topic or activity.

In Queensland, there are 3 types of environmental codes:

  • industry codes of practice
  • nature conservation codes
  • codes of environmental compliance (to cease on 31 March 2013).

Industry codes of practice

Industries or industry associations usually prepare these codes to advise members how to prevent or minimise environmental harm.

Preparing a code is voluntary. Industries often prepare them to demonstrate their environmental responsibility. Codes of practice approved by the minister have legal standing under the EP Act—showing that you’ve complied with the code can give you a defence to certain offences under the Act.

Read more about industry codes of practice.

Nature conservation codes

Several codes of practice relate to the nature conservation legislation.

Read more about nature conservation codes.

Codes of environmental compliance

The minister may approve standard environmental conditions for ‘environmentally relevant activities’ under the Environmental Protection Act 1994. These conditions are contained in codes of environmental compliance.

Read more about codes of environmental compliance.

Pollution and air quality

Regulating and monitoring pollution

Air quality in Queensland is affected by emissions from human activities, such as transport, industry, rural and domestic activities. The main human sources of air emissions are transport and industrial activities.

Different approaches are applied to different activities to achieve the most efficient and effective mix of control measures. Natural events, such as bush fires, dust storms, temperature and rainfall, also help determine regional air quality but are not subject to human management.

State and national laws aim to regulate air quality to protect human health and well-being.

State regulation

The Environmental Protection Act 1994 and Environmental Protection (Air) Policy 2008 regulate Queensland’s pollution at a state level.

National regulation

The National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air Quality (Air NEPM) regulates pollution at a national level.

Air NEPM sets out national standards for the 6 key air pollutions to which most Australians are exposed:

  • carbon monoxide
  • ozone
  • sulphur dioxide
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • lead and particles.
  • The legislation also requires regions with a population of more than 25,000 to be monitored.

In Queensland, 9 such regions are monitored:

  • South East Queensland
  • Townsville
  • Cairns
  • Toowoomba
  • Rockhampton
  • Maryborough–Hervey Bay
  • Mackay
  • Bundaberg
  • Gladstone

Although Mt Isa is not required under Air NEPM, it is also monitored and reported on because of the region’s industrial activity.

Read more about the Australian air quality standards.

Emission standards for new vehicles are set by Australian Design Rules under the Commonwealth Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989. Ongoing tightening of these standards over the past 20 years has resulted in large reductions in emissions.

Managing land resources

Read about the obligations of land managers in Queensland.

More information

Read how the environmental legal system works.
Read more about types of air pollutants.
Read more about what causes air pollution, and what we can do to reduce it.
Find out how air quality is managed in Queensland.

Last updated
9 June 2017
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