National Gene Technology Scheme legislation

Federal legislation governs the National Gene Technology Scheme, supported by corresponding state and territory laws. Emergency provisions give the responsible Australian Government minister the power to act where there is a threat to the health and safety of people or the environment.


The National Gene Technology Scheme is underpinned by the following legislation:

The scheme is supported by the intergovernmental Gene Technology Agreement 2001.

The Act defines gene technology as any technique used to modify genes or other genetic material. It does not include:

  • sexual reproduction
  • homologous recombination
  • other techniques that the regulations specify are not gene technology.

Learn more about the legislation, including all amendments, on the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator’s website.

Key features of the Act

The Act:

  • prohibits all dealings with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) unless authorised
  • empowers monitoring and enforcement of the legislation
  • outlines a process for assessing risk
  • established committees for governance and expert advice
  • appointed the regulator to make decisions
  • established a database of all GMOs approved in Australia.

Legislation in states and territories

Legislation supporting the National Gene Technology Scheme was developed in consultation with all jurisdictions across Australia. Under the intergovernmental agreement, each state and territory government must pass and maintain laws corresponding with Commonwealth gene technology legislation.

All Australian jurisdictions contribute to review of gene technology legislation. Any proposed changes are reviewed by each state and territories’ responsible minister and undergo public consultation.

Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Tasmania do not have regulations, as they automatically adopt any amendments to the Commonwealth Act and Regulations.

Some states and territories also have other legislation related to the use of gene technology.

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory


South Australia



Western Australia

Guidelines for emergency response under the Act

Where there is an actual or imminent threat to the health and safety of people or the environment, emergency provisions exist to allow a cooperative, effective and rapid response.

Potential threats include, for example:

  • the outbreak of a plant, animal or human disease
  • a threat from a particular plant or animal, such as a pest or invasive species
  • an industrial spillage.

The Australian Government minister responsible for the scheme has the power to:

  • temporarily exempt a specific GMO from licensing requirements, where it will help address an emergency and we can adequately manage any risks
  • declare something to be a GMO for a limited period where:
    • it poses a threat
    • we are unsure whether it meets the definition of a GMO in the Act
    • it is likely the declaration will address the threat.

Read the guidelines for more information about the types of emergencies and processes involved.

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