Types of public land

Areas of public land are divided up into two overarching categories under the ACT legislative framework: areas that are reserves and areas that are not reserves. Reserves are broadly managed under the Nature Conservation Act 2014 (ACT) (‘Nature Conservation Act’) and make up the vast majority of public land in the ACT. Areas that are not reserves are managed under the Planning Act. The division between reserves and non-reserved public land exists as different management plans are created for areas of differing environmental significance. Different offences are also applicable to conduct depending on the type of reserved area involved.


Reserves are a distinct and broad category under the umbrella of public land. Section 169 of the Nature Conservation Act defines a reserve as a wilderness area, a national park, a nature reserve, a catchment area or any other area of land that is identified in the TP as a reserved area under section 315 of the Planning Act (see above) and is prescribed by regulation to be a reserve.


All areas of public land that do not fall within the Nature Conservation Act definition of a ‘reserve’ are regarded as non-reserved areas of public land. These areas of public land are managed under the Planning Act and, if the area is public unleased land, the Public Unleased Land Act 2013 (ACT) (‘Public Unleased Land Act’).

Ramsar wetlands

Reserves may also contain Ramsar wetlands (s 175). One reserved area in the ACT, the Namadgi National Park, contains a declared Ramsar wetland known as the Ginini Flats Wetland Complex. Ginini Flats was declared to be a Ramsar site in 1996. A Ramsar site is a wetland recognised to be protected under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, opened for signature 2 February 1971, 996 UNTS 246 (entered into force 21 December 1975) (‘Ramsar Convention’). This Convention was created with the intention to prevent the widespread loss of wetlands around the world.

For an Australian wetland to be protected under this Convention, it must be declared as a Ramsar Wetland by the Federal Government pursuant to section 17 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (‘EPBC Act’).

Public unleased land

Public unleased land is unleased territory land that the public is entitled to use or is open to, or used by, the public (Public Unleased Land Act s 8). In the ACT there is a wide range of public unleased land in urban parks and nature reserves. Public unleased land is managed by the Public Unleased Land Act alongside either the Planning Act if the land is not a reserve or the Nature Conservation Act if the land is a reserve.

These areas of land are available for use by the public and applications can be made under the Public Unleased Land Act for a permit allowing exclusive use of an area of public unleased land over a specified period of time (see Part 3 of that Act). Examples of activities for which permits can be issued include weddings, corporate functions or sporting events.

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