Australian Ocean Governance and Relevant Legislation
Last updated:7 June 2023
This information provides an overview of legislation and background information which relates to data found in the Australian Marine Spatial Information System (AMSIS). The boundary information in AMSIS is sometimes contained in legislation or through Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. Although care has been taken in the preparation of this section it is provided as a guide only and users should obtain legal advice as required.
Users of the AMSIS application should read the Terms and Conditions for AMSIS before using the application.
The maritime boundaries displayed in AMSIS, including the continental shelf limits, have been determined in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Seas and Submerged Lands Act 1973.
More information on Australia's maritime boundaries can be found at Australia's Maritime Boundaries.
Note: the maritime boundaries data is a digital representation of the territorial sea baseline and of the outer limits of Australia's maritime zones. The baseline and zones are established under the Seas and Submerged Lands Act 1973. In the event of an inconsistency between maritime boundaries data and the baselines and limits under the legislation, the latter prevails.
The AMB data also includes information on boundaries agreed in certain maritime delimitation treaties which have not yet entered into force. In the event of an inconsistency between AMB data and the limits established under such a treaty, the latter prevails.
The limits of Australia's continental shelf, where they extend beyond the 200 nautical miles limit, are as submitted to the United Nations on 15 November 2004 for consideration by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).
The coastal waters limits displayed in AMSIS have been derived in accordance with the provisions of the Coastal Waters (State Powers) Act 1980 and the Coastal Waters (Northern Territory Powers) Act 1980.
The treaties shown on AMSIS are those related to various maritime agreements between Australia and neighbouring countries. The table below links the various treaties displayed in AMSIS with the text or details of the specific treaty. In some cases more than one treaty is relevant.
- Antarctic Treaties
- Indonesia 1971 seabed
- Indonesia 1972 seabed
- Indonesia 1975 Memorandum of Understanding
- Indonesia - 1997 treaty
- Indonesia - Provisional Fisheries
- New Zealand (Media release)
- New Zealand (proclamation) [PDF 549KB]
- Papua New Guinea
- Solomon Islands
- Timor Leste (East Timor) Joint Petroleum Development Area
Oceans and seas
The extent of Oceans and Seas are described in the International Hydrographic Organisation publication 'limits of the Oceans and Seas 1953'(S23). Australia disagrees with limits of the Southern Ocean as defined in this publication.
Coral Sea Islands Act 1969
The extent of the Coral Sea Islands is defined in the Coral Sea Act 1969.
Place names in AMSIS are derived from the Gazetteer of Australia which is endorsed by the Committee for Geographical Names in Australasia (CGNA) and the Australian Antarctic Gazetteer as endorsed by the Antarctic Names and Medal Committee.
Oil and Gas publications, reports and advice on acreage releases can be found at Geoscience Australia's oil and gas web site. Further information in relation to resources and energy policy and legislation can be found at the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.
The Act relating to the Exploration for, and the Exploitation of Australia's Petroleum Resources is The Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1967.
The Act relating to the management of Fisheries is The Fisheries Management Act 1991.
Note: Under Section 11 of this Act, certain areas of the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone are excepted from the provisions of the Act. These excepted areas are defined by proclamation published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. S 52, Friday 14 February 1992.
A full list of the extensive environmental administration legislation administered by the Department of Environment and Water Resources.
Of specific relevance to the management of the marine environment in Commonwealth waters are:
- Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
- Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981
Australian State and Territory marine reserves are administered by State or Territory Legislation:
- Queensland - Marine Parks and Reserves are governed by the Marine Parks Act 2004
- Western Australia - Marine Parks and Reserves are governed by the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is the Australian Government agency responsible for managing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Authority's objective is to provide for the protection, wise use, understanding and enjoyment of the Great Barrier Reef to ensure that all people can continue to enjoy this natural wonder of the world for generations to come.
Under an agreement between the Australian and Queensland Governments, day-to-day management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is conducted in cooperation with Queensland agencies and other Australian Government agencies, collaborating on behalf of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is primarily managed through zoning and regulations, plans of management, the issuing of permits and enforcement.
For more information please visit GBRMPA or freecall 1800 990 177.
The legal status of heritage listings for World Heritage, National Heritage, Commonwealth Heritage and the Register of National Estate are explained on the Department of Environment and Water Resources website.
Australian Antarctic Territory
- The Australian Antarctic Territory Act 1954 provides for the government of the Australian Antarctic Territory.
- The Antarctic Treaty Act 1960 gives effect to the Antarctic Treaty.
- Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
The data set shows the boundaries of Victoria's Aquaculture Fisheries Reserves. An Aquaculture Fishery Reserve (AFR) is a fisheries reserve declared under the Fisheries Act 1995. The declaration of an AFR sets aside an area of Crown land, including the water covering the land, for the purpose of aquaculture. For more information, refer to the Victorian Marine Aquaculture Fisheries Reserves.
The Marine Leases data set holds spatial areas of land registered as a Marine Farm lease from the Crown within the State of Tasmania. Marine Farm Leases are issued under the Marine Farming Planning Act 1995 for a period of 30 years. The lease describes the area in which marine farming activities are permitted to take place in accordance with the Act. The lease boundary is described on a survey plan registered in the Central Plan Register, as determined by the Minister and added as an attachment to the lease document. The LIST Marine Farm Leases data set is maintained by the Information and Land Services Division of the Department of Primary Industry and Water (DPIW) and contains spatial representation of all lease areas within Tasmania which are attributed with a Marine Farm Lease Number. The Marine Farming Branch of the Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Division of DPIW maintain Marine Farm Lease details, which are recorded against the Marine Farm Lease Number. For further information, refer to the LIST Marine Leases Dataset [PDF 424KB] or Marine Farming/Aquaculture.
Defence restricted areas
The Defence Act 1903 governs the operation of the Australian Defence Force. Military Firing Practice and Exercise Areas may be selected anywhere and details are published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette and the Designated Airspace Handbook. Restricted and dangerous areas with associated airspace coordinates and chartlets are published in the Australian Annual Notice to Mariners.
Customs port limits
The definition and limits of Ports for Customs purposes are covered under Section 15 of the Customs Act 1901.
Australian migration zone excisions
AMSIS contains the boundaries of areas excised from the Migration Zone. These excisions were gazetted as the Migration Amendment Regulations and came into force on 22 July 2005. They prescribe a number of islands as excised offshore places.
Search and rescue zones
The majority of all Search and Rescue Regions, including Australia have been unilaterally declared. They are operated according to a tacit acceptance by neighbouring states. The responsible agency in Australia for Search and Rescue is the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). Legislation related to AMSA's operations.
Offshore mineral leases
The Australian Government Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism administers Acts relating to Offshore Minerals Act 1994.
The National Native Title Tribunal is an Australian Government agency set up under the Native Title Act 1993. It is part of the Attorney-General's portfolio and mediates native title claims under the direction of the Federal Court of Australia.
On request, the Tribunal assists people in negotiations about proposed developments (future acts), such as mining. The Tribunal acts as an arbitrator or umpire in some situations where the people involved cannot reach agreement about proposed developments. The Tribunal also assists people who want to negotiate other sorts of agreements, such as Indigenous Land Use Agreements.
- Native title applications
Native title describes the rights and interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in land and waters, according to their traditional laws and customs that are recognised under Australian law.
- Register of Native Title Claims contains information about all claimant applications that have been registered. The Tribunal is responsible for maintaining the Register of Native Title Claims.
Applications are registered when they meet the registration test conditions. When an application is registered, the applicants have procedural rights and other benefits, including the right to negotiate with governments or the right to be consulted about proposed developments (future acts). They may also oppose non-claimant applications that seek a determination as to whether or not native title exists in a certain area.
Spatial data depicts the boundaries and core attributes of those applications on the Register of Native Title Claims.
Federal Court holds complete information about native title applications, including: claimant applications, non-claimant applications and compensation applications. The National Native Title Tribunal holds copies of this material and is referred to as the Schedule of Applications.
Spatial data depicts the boundaries and core attributes of those applications on the Schedule of Applications (Federal Court).
The Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements contains information about Indigenous Land Use Agreements that have been accepted for registration.
- Registered ILUAs are a type of contract between native title holders and other parties. They bind all parties and all native title holders to the terms of the agreement. Under the Native Title Act, the Registrar is responsible for maintaining the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements and must enter the following details:
- a description of the area covered by the agreement;
- the name of each party to the agreement and the address at which the party can be contacted;
- if the agreement specifies the period during which it will operate - that period; and,
- if the agreement includes any statements regarding extinguishment, validation or future acts - a reference to the fact, setting out any such statement
The spatial data on AMSIS depicts the boundaries and core attributes of those agreements on the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements.
- The National Native Title Register contains approved determinations of native title by the High Court of Australia, the Federal Court of Australia or a recognised body, such as South Australia's Supreme Court and Environment Resources and Development Court.
Spatial data depicts the boundaries and core attributes of those determinations on the National Native Title Register and may include some that are yet to be finalised or are conditional.
The navigation aids shown in AMSIS are those available via the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Electrical Cables and Telecommunications Cables
The locations of these features in AMSIS were derived from information provided by the organisations listed below as well as other industry sources and not from any official gazetted positions. Queries relating to these assets should be directed to the relevant individual asset owner.
REACH Global Services Ltd has interests in several submarine cables which terminate in Australia, including Australia Japan Cable, Tasman-2, JASURAUS and SEA-ME-WE-3.
Australia Japan Cable Ltd has interests in the Australia Japan Cable.
National Grid Australia is the owner and operator of the Basslink Interconnector which allows trade of electricity between Tasmania and the mainland.
Submarine Telecommunications Cables. Due to the increasing importance of submarine communications cables, the Australian Government introduced legislation designed to protect our most critical submarine cables - Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Protection of Submarine Cables and Other Measures) Act 2005. This legislation enables the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to declare protection zones over submarine cables of national significance.
ACMA has declared three protection zones over cables of national significance in New South Wales and Western Australia.
Two protection zones are situated off the NSW coast. Both of these zones protect branches of the Australia Japan Cable network (linking Australia to Japan via Guam) and the Southern Cross Cable network (linking Australia to the USA via NZ and Hawaii). The NSW protection zones are:
- the Northern Sydney Protection Zone, commencing at Narrabeen Beach; and
- the Southern Sydney Protection Zone, commencing at Tamarama and Clovelly beaches.
A third protection zone, situated in WA, protects the SEA-ME-WE3 cable (linking Australia to South East Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe)
- the Perth Protection Zone commences at City Beach in Perth, WA.
Each of the protection zones stretch from the shore out to a depth of 2,000 metres and extend one nautical mile either side of the cable. The Sydney protection zones also include the area between adjacent cables.
Within these protection zones, activities that pose a risk of damage to submarine cables are prohibited or restricted. Penalties apply for causing damage to a cable or contravening a prohibition, or restriction, in a protection zone. For further details on the protection zones, including a summary or full description of prohibited and restricted activities, detailed maps and further information about the protection zones, vist the Australian Communications and Media Authority or call 1300 856 337.
The shipping routes displayed in AMSIS are based on information supplied by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. These are derived from the ship reporting system, AUSREP and are established in accordance with the provisions of the Navigation Act 1912.
Dumping at Sea
An explanation about regulations for dumping at sea can be found at the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
The relevant legislation is the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981.