Meeting environmental obligations and duties

You and your business have a legal duty to meet general environmental protection obligations that apply to all businesses and citizens in Queensland.

The Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act) lists obligations and offences to prevent environmental harm, nuisances and contamination. Read more about environmental harm, including environmental harm thresholds.

The 3 primary duties that apply to everyone in Queensland are the:

  • general environmental duty—not to carry out an activity that may cause environmental harm without taking all reasonably practicable measures to prevent or minimise the harm
  • duty to notify of environmental harm—to inform the relevant authority and landowners when environmental harm has occurred, or might occur
  • duty to restore the environment—where an incident has resulted in unlawful environmental harm, to take measures to rehabilitate or restore the environment to its condition before the harm.

If you hold an environmental authority (EA) for an environmentally relevant activity (ERA), you must meet these general environmental obligations in addition to your EA conditions.

You can find industry codes of practice developed to help businesses comply with their general environmental duty for a range of activities, including ERAs.

General environmental duty (GED)

To decide how to meet your general environmental duty, you need to think about the:

  • nature of the harm or potential harm—for example, how severe is the potential environmental harm?
  • sensitivity of the environment you are operating in—for example, are you operating near a residential area, protected area, waterway or sensitive habitat?
  • current state of technical knowledge for the activity—for example, what is the current best practice for the activity?
  • likelihood of possible measures being successful—for example, how likely are different measures to successfully prevent or minimise environmental harm?
  • financial implications of taking different measures—for example, will taking certain prevention measures rather than others mean your activity is not commercially viable?

As of 1 July 2023 GED also includes a separate and distinct scenario regarding chemical use, storage, handling and disposal in support of the national Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management Standard (IChEMS) framework. This supports implementation of the national framework, delivers more consistent regulation, and makes it easier for industry to choose less harmful chemicals.

It is an offence to contravene the GED where the contravention causes, or is likely to cause, serious or material environmental harm. Penalties apply.

Read more about GED obligations (PDF, 313KB).

Duty to notify of environmental harm

If you see or cause an incident that results in or threatens serious or material environmental harm, it is your duty to report it quickly. If you cause an incident you must take action to prevent or minimise the harm and report it, in some cases within 24 hours of becoming aware.

Read the duty to notify guideline and form for details of:

  • when the duty to notify applies
  • giving written notice to the department (as the administering authority)
  • who to notify and how to inform them.
If you have identified that you are required to notify the department of environmental harm, especially within a 24 hour period, refer to the Duty to notify of environmental harm – Guideline (PDF, 319KB) for detail on what is required and use the Duty to notify of environmental harm – Form (DOCX, 201KB) to provide the notification to the department.

Read a summary of the duty to notify obligations under the EP Act.

Duty to restore the environment

If a person causes or permits an incident that results in unlawful environmental harm through contamination of the environment, they must, as soon as reasonably practicable, and as far as reasonably practicable, rehabilitate or restore the environment to its condition before the harm.

The duty clarifies that a person should not wait for the administering authority to issue a notice before commencing clean-up or restoration work.

The duty exists alongside the general environmental duty and requires consideration of similar matters in deciding how to comply. These include the:

  • nature and extent of environmental harm caused
  • sensitivity of the environment to remedial measures that might be taken
  • current state of technical knowledge for remedial measures that might be taken
  • likelihood of successful application of different measures that might be taken
  • financial implications of different measures.

Contravention of the duty to restore is an offence where the contravention relates to harm that is serious or material environmental harm.

For more information regarding the duty to restore read 'Duty to Restore the Environment – Overview' (PDF, 430KB).

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