Laws, acts and regulations govern most environmental issues you can think of from drinking water standards to salinity to wetland conservation and much, much more. 

This topic will give you an overview of some of the major laws, acts and regulations that apply to some environmental issues, a brief summary of the issued covered by that law, act or regulation and where you can find out more information about them.

The purpose of the topic is to explain and provide links to a number of water and environmentally related laws, acts and regulations which may be of assistance mainly within the Geography 7-10 and 11-12 curriculum.  Unfortunately a lot of the text cannot be changed or simplified as the wording of laws and acts is very specific and if changed may alter the meaning of the law and make it incorrect, null and void.

Commonwealth Environmental Acts

NSW Environmental Acts


Commonwealth Government Organisations

The role of Commonwealth Government organisations is to administer laws, acts and regulations that are of national significance and require control at a national level.  These departments are also responsible for reporting on these matters in Parliament to the Cabinet and Outer Ministry including those that have a direct responsibility for issues relating to the natural environment and water resources, especially those departments headed by the:

  • Prime Minister
  • Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
  • Minister for Climate Change
  • Minister for  Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
  • Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism

A full list of the current Ministers and their Departments can be found on the Parliament of Australia website

The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities is the principal Commonwealth government department dealing with issues relationg to the natural environment and water resources.

The role of the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts is to:

  • Provide the Australian Government with policy advice and program management which protects or promotes the protection of the environment and Australia's heritage
  • Provide the Australian Government with policy advice, program management and agency support which promotes excellence in, preservation and maintenance of, and access to Australia's cultural activities, cultural collections and Indigenous languages
  • Administer environment and heritage laws, including the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999  
  • Manage the Australian Government's main environment and heritage programmes including the $3 billion National Heritage Trust
  • Implement an effective response to climate change
  • Represent the Australian Government in international environmental agreements  related to the environment and Antarctica
  • Preserve and maintain access to Old Parliament House and the National Portrait Gallery and their respective collections.

The Department of Environment,Water, Heritage and the Arts  is divided into 17 divisional groupings which are:

  • Approvals and Wildlife Division
  • Arts and Indigenous Policy and Programs 
  • Australian Antarctic Division 
  • Australian Greenhouse Office 
  • Corporate Strategies Division 
  • Environment Quality Division 
  • Film and Collections
  • Heritage Division 
  • Industry, Communities and Energy Division 
  • Marine and Biodiversity Division 
  • Natural Resource Management Programmes Division 
  • Old Parliament House and National Portrait Gallery
  • Parks Australia Division
  • Policy Coordination Division 
  • Supervising Scientist Division 
  • Water Efficiency Division 
  • Water Governance Division
  • Water Reform Division  

The Department administers the following laws, acts and regulations through these divisions:

The Department is responsible for the following major Environmental Report:


SoE Reports are written every four years to update and inform both the Australian government and public on all matters relating to the environment.  They are also utilised on an international level at environmental conferences and meetings. 

This is a comprehensive report which includes the following topics: See List

This is an interim, smaller, report compiled between the major SoE reports.  It is intended to be an update on any immediate changes which may have occurred.


Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Hatton, T; Cork, S; Harper, P; Joy, R; Kanowski, P; Mackay, R; McKenzie, N; Ward, T; Wienecke, B (2011 Australian State of the Environment Committee), 2011

(Also found at this web address are the 1996, 2001. 2006 SoE’s)


State Government Organisations - NSW


The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) is a separate office within the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet. OEH is an environmental regulator and a manager of parks and gardens in NSW, and develops and leads policy and reform in environmental regulation, sustainability, biodiversity and native vegetation, coastal protection and Aboriginal cultural heritage.

OEH manages 6.8 million hectares of national parks and reserves, which is almost 9 per cent of NSW.  The Heritage Branch within OEH works with communities to identify important places and objects and provides guidance in looking after heritage items.

It is the role of this office to combine knowledge, innovation, regulatory and field experience to deal with environmental, climate change, natural resource and cultural heritage issues within NSW.  They do this through:

  • Working towards a healthy environment cared for and enjoyed by the whole NSW community 
  • Managing the state's natural resources, including biodiversity, soils and natural vegetation 
  • Managing natural and cultural heritage across the state's land and waters 
  • Acting to minimise the impacts of climate change 
  • Promoting sustainable consumption, resource use and waste management 
  • Regulating activities to protect the environment 
  • Conducting biodiversity, plant, environmental and cultural heritage research to improve decision-making.


See List


See List


The following Acts are also related to the regulation of the environment in NSW, but are not administered by the DECC (formally the NSW EPA).  They are administed by the following NSW Departments (and their associated agencies):

  • NSW Department of Primary Industries – this includes all legislation relating to agriculture, fishing and aquaculture, forests and minerals and petroleum
  • NSW Department of Energy, Utilities and Sustainability – this includes water, energy and sustainability related legislation
  • NSW Department of Planning – including environmental planning legislation
  • NSW Maritime – includes ports, harbours and related waterways
  • NSW Department of Natural Resources – including water management, vegetation, soils, floodplains and wetlands

Go to the NSW Legislation Website to view the below Acts. 

See List

Gateway to NSW Government environmental agencies, policies and legislation:

Department of Planning

The website has information on environmental planning policies such as SEPP’s (State Environmental Planning Policies) and REP’s (Regional Environmental Policies) and action plans such as the Sydney Metropolitan Strategy.

The Heritage Office

The Heritage Office is a division of the Department of Planning. The website includes the NSW heritage database which is a list of all statutory-listed heritage items in NSW and also has guidelines and publications on heritage policy and management.

NSW Department of Primary Industries

DPI was formed in July 2004 with the amalgamation of Mineral Resources NSW, NSW Agriculture, NSW Fisheries and State Forests NSW. The website provides information such as environmental legislation, reports, policies, impact statements. (Fact sheets and periodicals are also available).

NSW Office for Water

The NSW Office of Water provides information on a range of water based topics including:

  • Urban water, including local water utilities and country towns water and sewerage program
  • Water management
  • Water policy
  • Water sharing plans
  • Water availability and allocations, monitoring, modelling, environmental flows, ecology and water quality
  • Water licensing, approvals and trading.


As with the Commonwealth Government the State Government of NSW (and all of the States and Territories) also has a Cabinet of Ministers.  These Ministers are appointed specific areas of responsibility for which they must impose all of the administration acts and regulations which apply.  Click here for a list of State government minister departments that relate to the environment and the administration acts and regulations they must enforce.


The Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water has joint administration of all Acts listed for the Minister for Water Utilities and of all Acts listed for the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water (Environment) (which are not listed below), and the following Acts: See List


The Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water (Environment) has joint administration of the following Acts with the Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water

See List


See List


See List


The Minister for Water Utilities has joint administration of the following Acts with the Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water.

See List



  • Growth Centres (Development Corporations) Act 1974 No 49 (other than section 5 and Part 3A, Division 3) so far as it relates to the Festival Development Corporation (remainder, the Minister for Planning)

Local Government Organisations


Local governments in NSW are regulated by the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW).  The purposes of this Act are as follows:

(a) To provide the legal framework for an effective, efficient, environmentally responsible and open system of local government in New South Wales,

(b) To regulate the relationships between the people and bodies comprising the system of local government in New South Wales,

(c) To encourage and assist the effective participation of local communities in the affairs of local government,

(d) To give councils:

  • The ability to provide goods, services and facilities, and to carry out activities, appropriate to the current and future needs of local communities and of the wider public
  • The responsibility for administering some regulatory systems under this Act 
  • A role in the management, improvement and development of the resources of their areas,

(e) To require councils, councillors and council employees to have regard to the principles of ecologically sustainable development in carrying out their responsibilities

The Local Government Act 1983 (NSW) designated the need for a Council Charter (a document that outlines the principals, functions and organisation of a corporate body) that must abide by the following two main points:

(1) A council has the following charter:

  • To provide directly or on behalf of other levels of government, after due consultation, adequate, equitable and appropriate services and facilities for the community and to ensure that those services and facilities are managed efficiently and effectively
  • To exercise community leadership 
  • To exercise its functions in a manner that is consistent with and actively promotes the principles of multiculturalism
  • To promote and to provide and plan for the needs of children 
  • To properly manage, develop, protect, restore, enhance and conserve the environment of the area for which it is responsible, in a manner that is consistent with and promotes the principles of ecologically sustainable development 
  • To have regard to the long term and cumulative effects of its decisions 
  • To bear in mind that it is the custodian and trustee of public assets and to effectively account for and manage the assets for which it is responsible 
  • To facilitate the involvement of councillors, members of the public, users of facilities and services and council staff in the development, improvement and co-ordination of local government
  • To raise funds for local purposes by the fair imposition of rates, charges and fees, by income earned from investments and, when appropriate, by borrowings and grants 
  • To keep the local community and the State government (and through it, the wider community) informed about its activities 
  • To ensure that, in the exercise of its regulatory functions, it acts consistently and without bias, particularly where an activity of the council is affected 
  • To be a responsible employer.

(2) A council, in the exercise of its functions, must pursue its charter but nothing in the charter or this section gives rise to, or can be taken into account in, any civil cause of action.

Under the Local Government Act, Local Governments are responsible for implementing the following environmental and non-environmental Acts with the related responsibilities (which are described next to the Act):



Responsibility of Council

CommunityLandDevelopment Act 1989

Planning functions as consent authority

Companion Animals Act 1998

Companion animal registration and control

Conveyancing Act 1919

Placing covenants on council land

Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979

Environmental planning

Fire Brigades Act 1989

Payment of contributions to fire brigade costs and furnishing of returns

Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act 1957

Fluoridation of water supply by council

Food Act 2003

Inspection of food and food premises

Impounding Act 1993

Impounding of animals and articles

Library Act 1939

Library services

Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997

Pollution control

Public Health Act 1991

Inspection of systems for purposes of microbial control

Recreation Vehicles Act 1983

Restricting use of recreation vehicles

Roads Act 1993


Rural Fires Act 1997

Issue of permits to light fires during bush fire danger periods
Requiring the furnishing of information to the Rural Fire Service Advisory Council and its Co-ordinating Committee

State Emergency Service Act 1989

Recommending appointment of local controller

Strata Schemes (Freehold Development) Act 1973

Approval of strata plans

Strata Schemes (Leasehold Development) Act 1986

Approval of leasehold strata plans

Swimming Pools Act 1992

Ensuring restriction of access to swimming pools


The exercise by a council of its functions under this Act may also be modified by the provisions of another Act.  Some of those Acts and some of the modifications they affect include:



Responsibility of Council

Coastal Protection Act 1979

Limitation on coastal development by councils

Environmental Offences and Penalties Act 1989

surrender of council functions to person appointed by Governor

Freedom of Information Act 1989

Council required to publish certain information, to grant access to certain documents and to amend certain records that are shown to be incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading

Heritage Act 1977

Rating based on heritage valuation

State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989

Council required to prepare for emergencies

Unclaimed Money Act 1995

Unclaimed money to be paid to the Chief Commissioner of Unclaimed Money

Under the Act Councils are also required to complete State of the Environment Reports (SoE).  They must publish a comprehensive report every four years and a supplementary report every other year.  These can be found on a Councils website for the public to view and download.


The Minister for Local Government is a State appointed Minister but it is relevant to mention in this section as his/her responsibilities relate to the application of the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW) among many others.  Click here for a list of the Acts which the Minister for Local Government covers:

See List

Gosford City Council

Wyong Shire Council

Gosford/Wyong Councils’ Water Authority

The Gosford/Wyong Councils’ Water Authority is responsible for all aspects of the water supply system on the Central Coast, NSW through Gosford City and Wyong Shire Councils.  The board structure of the Authority is as follows:

Gosford City Council:

  • Mayor
  • 2 Councillors
  • General Manager of Council
  • Director of Waste & Sewerage
  • Councillor (Alternate)

Wyong Shire Council:

  • Mayor
  • 2 Councillors
  • General Manager of Council
  • Director of Shire Services
  • Councillor (Alternate)

Please refer to the Gosford/Wyong Councils’ Water Authority website for current names of those appointed to the positions listed above.  Councillors are appointed and removed from membership of the Board at the discretion of the Council to which they represent.