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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 and through international obligations and management agreements such as Ramsar.

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

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.

Wetlands are integral to a wide range of landscapes. There are many different programs, policies and laws affecting wetlands, and the administration of wetland areas is shared between many government agencies.

International conventions

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (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 agreement was signed in 1971 and included Australia and 17 other countries. The Ramsar Convention aims to reduce global loss of wetlands and conserve and manage remaining wetlands. Queensland sites listed under the Ramsar Convention include Bowling Green Bay, Currawinya Lakes, Moreton Bay, Shoalwater Bay and Corio Bay and Great Sandy Strait. Ramsar-listed wetlands are among the matters of national environmental significance protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwth).

Queensland strategy and plans

In 1999, the then Queensland Government endorsed the Strategy for the Conservation and Management of Queensland’s wetlands. The strategy has been a driver for many achievements that will benefit wetlands management into the future. A number of policy objectives outlined in the strategy are still relevant today including to:

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

A suite of tools has been developed through the Queensland Wetlands Program to support the implementation of wetland strategies, policies and legislation.

The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan drives a number of programs relating to wetlands including improved agriculture and grazing production practices. Initiatives for improved management of wetlands in the Reef coastal zone are also being delivered with partner organisations through the Queensland Wetlands Program.

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 object of the Water Act 2007(Cwth). These include providing for Basin-wide environmental objectives for water dependent ecosystems, and water quality and salinity objectives. The Plan aims to achieve a balance between environmental, economic and social considerations.

State legislation

The Queensland Government has been implementing legislative reform to improve the efficiency, consistency and certainty in the planning and development system.

The Sustainable Planning Act 2009 establishes a hierarchy of planning instruments that address State, regional and local interests in the land use planning and assessment system. The State Planning Policy (SPP) expresses state interests in land use planning and assessment in a single instrument for the whole of Queensland. The State interests are grouped under five themes including Environment and Heritage, which addresses biodiversity, healthy waters, coastal environments and heritage. Under the biodiversity state interest, the local government planning schemes must identify and manage any potential significant adverse environmental impacts on matters of state environmental significance (MSES)(Methods for mapping MSES), which includes wetlands. Matters of national environmental significance and local environmental significance are also integrated in schemes. The SPP is supported by SPP interactive mapping for plan making and development assessment.

The State Government is responsible for assessing and deciding on certain development because it involves a matter over which the State has jurisdiction or particular interest. These matters are administered through the State Assessment Referral Agency process and assessed against criteria in the State Development Assessment Provisions (SDAP).  Matters that must address wetland values and functions include wetland protection areas, vegetation clearing, fisheries resources and water resources. For example, the State has a role in assessing development involving high-impact earthworks in a mapped Wetland Protection area within catchments that flow into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Persons wishing to undertake such works are required to avoid, minimise and offset any significant residual impacts on wetland environmental values.  These values are described in the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008.

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. These areas are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 .

Important marine and estuarine wetlands such as Moreton Bay, Shoalwater Bay and Pumicestone Passage are protected in marine parks and fish habitat areas. These areas are protected under the Marine Parks Act 2004 and the Fisheries Act 1994.

The Vegetation Management Act 1999 regulates the clearing of woody vegetation within and near watercourses and wetlands identified on vegetation management mapping.  In addition to clearing that requires development approval under SDAP, clearing may be conducted under an exemption, self-assessable codes or area management plans.

The Water Act 2000 regulates the extraction of water from wetlands within a water plan area. The Environmental Protection (Water) Policy 1997 (the Water EPP), made under the Environmental Protection Act 1994, establishes environmental values for water, including wetlands. Many natural resource management (NRM) bodies have established water quality improvement plans that set out management actions to protect the water quality environmental values that are scheduled in the Water EPP.


Disclaimer: While every care is taken to ensure the accuracy of this product, the Queensland Government and Australian Government make no representations or warranties about it's 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.


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

Last updated: 12 March 2015

This page should be cited as:

Programs, policy and legislation, WetlandInfo 2014, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland, viewed 8 September 2016, <>.

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Heritage Protection