Part 15 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) provides for the establishment and management of five different Commonwealth protected areas. These are:
- World Heritage Properties
- Ramsar Wetlands
- Commonwealth Reserves
- Conservation Zones, and
- Biosphere Reserves.
The Commonwealth can submit properties for inclusion on the lists for these protected areas, for example the World Heritage List or the List of Wetlands of International Importance, only after seeking the agreement of the relevant States, Territories and land holders. For properties that are entirely on Commonwealth land, the Minister must prepare management plans for the property. For all other properties the Minister must prepare and implement management plans in co-operation with the relevant State or Territory authority. A Commonwealth Reserve can only be declared over an area of land or sea that:
- the Commonwealth owns or leases
- is in a Commonwealth marine area, or
- is outside Australia and that the Commonwealth has international obligations to protect.
Upon proclamation the Reserve is assigned to a particular category that affects how the Reserve is managed and used. Management plans restrict the type of activities that can be undertaken in the Reserves. Other restrictions are imposed by Regulations under the Act. The Act also provides for land to be leased from indigenous people and jointly managed for conservation purposes. The Governor-General can declare a Commonwealth area a Conservation Zone. This protects the biodiversity within the area while it is being assessed for inclusion in a Commonwealth Reserve. Activities within these areas can be regulated by Regulations. People who have existing rights relating to the area that is later included in a Conservation Zone can continue to exercise those rights within the Zone. A Zone can be revoked if the Minister is satisfied that the area should not be included within a Commonwealth Reserve.