The principal government institutions responsible for environmental matters are the Department of Home Affairs and Environment, the Australian Environment Council, and the Council of Nature Conservation Ministers. A national conservation strategy, developed by the states, the Northern Territory, and the federal government, in cooperation with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the World Wildlife Fund, and the UNEP, became national policy in 1980.
The Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act of 1974 establishes procedures for ensuring that environmental impact is considered in governmental decision making. The Whale Protection Act of 1981 prohibits killing, capturing, injuring, or interfering with a whale, dolphin, or porpoise within Australia's 200 mi economic zone or, beyond the zone, by Australian vessels and aircraft and their crews. The Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Act of 1978 mandates the development of uniform safety standards for uranium mining and milling and for the transport of radioactive materials. The Protection of the Sea (Discharge of Oil from Ships) Act of 1981 and the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act of 1983 prevent or limit pollution from oil or noxious substances.
Water being a scarce resource in Australia, problems of water quality and availability are a constant concern. As of 2001, the country had only 352 cu km of renewable water resources, although safe drinking water was available to all urban and rural dwellers. A cause for concern has been the increased salinity in the Murray Valley, caused by diverting water inland from the coast for irrigation, as well as the rise in saline water tables in Western Australia, due to excessive land clearing for dry-land farming. Another significant environmental problem is inland damage due to soil erosion. The quality of the soil is also affected by salinization. As of 1993, Australia had 145 million ha of forest and woodland and had the third most extensive mangrove area in the world, covering over one million ha. In the mid-1990s Australia was among the top 20 world producers of carbon dioxide emissions from industry, which totaled 267.9 million tons per year, or 15.24 tons per capita.
In 2001, 58 species of mammals, 45 species of birds, and 1,871 species of plants were threatened. Endangered species include the banded anteater, greater rabbit-eared bandicoot, Leadbeater's opossum, northern hairy-nosed wombat, woylie, bridled nail-tail wallaby, five species of turtle (western swamp, green sea, hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley), Tasmanian freshwater limpet, granulated Tasmanian snail, African wild ass, western ground parrot, paradise parakeet, helmeted honey eater, noisy scrub-bird, western rufous bristlebird, Lord Howe wood rail, Lord Howe currawong, small hemiphlebia damselfly, Otway stonefly, giant torrent midge, and Tasmanian torrent midge. Lord Howe stick insect, Gray's marble toadlet, the dusky flying fox, the Tasmanian wolf, and the banded hare wallaby are among the country's 42 extinct species.