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Biodiversity Law (LAWS90147)

Graduate courseworkPoints: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework
Subject codeLAWS90147
Availability(Quotas apply)
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

Conservation biologists warn that we are in the midst of a great extinction crisis. Biodiversity Law is an emerging field, examining legal regimes designed to conserve Earth’s endangered forms of life. We will voyage to foreign intellectual lands – e.g. environmental ethics, conservation biology – and take a few real voyages to see biodiversity law in action. We will examine the nuts and bolts of Australian and foreign legal regimes with an attempt to discern most effective legal practices to conserve biodiversity, grounding our analyses in in-depth case studies. Our investigations will be framed by two overarching questions: What is the legal framework for preserving life on Earth? What should be the components of the legal framework for preserving life on Earth?

Principal topics will include:

  • A short primer on principles of environmental ethics and conservation biology and how these principles inform the practice of Biodiversity Law;
  • Understanding the threats to biodiversity the law must confront;
  • In-depth study of Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) to understand how this law interacts with Australian State and Territorial law to protect biodiversity;
  • Consideration of Australian court cases that have interpreted the EPBC’s (and other biodiversity protective legal) provisions as applied to threatened species and ecosystems;
  • Comparative studies of United States, South Africa, and other national legal approaches to, and court decisions on, biodiversity conservation;
  • Attention to Australian (and foreign) biodiversity facing particular challenges (Great Barrier Reef, isolated marsupial populations, cetaceans) and how the law is (or is not) meeting those challenges;
  • Analysis of the Convention on Biological Diversity,and other international treaties including how they are implemented in domestic law;
  • In-depth case study on global wildlife poaching and smuggling;
  • Discussion of “ownership” of biodiversity, including the rights that indigenous populations have to biodiversity;
  • Discussion of market mechanisms designed to incentivize biodiversity conservation;
  • Examination of non-legal means to preserve biodiversity;
  • Synthesis of best practices for how to preserve and steward life on Earth.

Intended learning outcomes

A student who has successfully completed this subject will be able to:

  • Understand and critique with sophistication the ethical frameworks underlying laws to preserve life on Earth;
  • Explain the basic tenets of conservation biology and how those tenets inform biodiversity law;
  • Be able to critically analyse, interpret, and assess how the law does and does not successfully confront multiple, interconnected threats to biodiversity;
  • Name the primary tenets of the EPBC and assess in detail how Australia's flagship conservation law addresses threats to biodiversity;
  • Analyse with sophistication how the EPBC works in coordination with State and Territorial law to protect biodiversity;
  • Critically reflect on the legal strengths and weaknesses of an "endangered species" approach to managing biodiversity;
  • Explain and be able to apply the primary tenets of international agreements to conserve biodiversity
  • For a given biological entity (e.g. a particular population, species, ecosystem), be able to assess in detail how domestic and international law do or do not work together to provide a safety net for that biological unit;
  • Critically evaluate the role of market mechanisms for preserving biodiversity;
  • Explain and interpret in practice the legal rights that indigenous peoples possess to use or benefit from biodiversity;
  • Cite pertinent, foreign domestic legal protections for biodiversity protection, and critique these as models for how other nations, including Australia, might manage biodiversity resources;
  • Analyze the role climate change plays in affecting biodiversity, and critically reflect upon how legal regimes are or are not accounting for biodiversity's future in a changing climate;
  • Analyze and assess the role that NGOs, corporations, and International Financial Institutions play in Biodiversity Law;
  • Synthesize and derive complex, integrated legal prescriptions for how we should construct a legal regime to preserve life on Earth.

Eligibility and requirements





Non-allowed subjects


Recommended background knowledge

Applicants without legal qualifications should note that subjects are offered in the discipline of law at an advanced graduate level. While every effort will be made to meet the needs of students trained in other fields, concessions will not be made in the general level of instruction or assessment. Most subjects assume the knowledge usually acquired in a degree in law (LLB, JD or equivalent). Applicants should note that admission to some subjects in the Melbourne Law Masters will be dependent upon the individual applicant’s educational background and professional experience.

Core participation requirements

The Melbourne Law Masters welcomes applications from students with disabilities. The inherent academic requirements for study in the Melbourne Law Masters are:

  • The ability to attend a minimum of 75% of classes and actively engage in the analysis and critique of complex materials and debate;
  • The ability to read, analyse and comprehend complex written legal materials and complex interdisciplinary materials;
  • The ability to clearly and independently communicate in writing a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and to critically evaluate these;
  • The ability to clearly and independently communicate orally a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and critically evaluate these;
  • The ability to work independently and as a part of a group;
  • The ability to present orally and in writing legal analysis to a professional standard.

Students who feel their disability will inhibit them from meeting these inherent academic requirements are encouraged to contact Student Equity and Disability Support.



  • Class participation and preparation (10%)
  • Class presentation 10%
  • Research paper (80%) (7,500 to 9,000 words) (9 December) on topic to be agreed with subject coordinator.

A minimum of 75% attendance is a hurdle requirement.

Quotas apply to this subject

Dates & times

  • September
    Mode of deliveryOn Campus — Parkville
    Contact hours24-34 hours
    Total time commitment150 hours
    Pre teaching start date21 August 2019
    Pre teaching requirementsThe pre-teaching period commences four weeks before the subject commencement date. From this time, students are expected to access and review the Reading Guide that will be available from the LMS subject page and the subject materials provided by the subject coordinator, which will be available from Melbourne Law School. Refer to the Reading Guide for confirmation of which resources need to be read and what other preparation is required before the teaching period commences.
    Teaching period18 September 2019 to 24 September 2019
    Last self-enrol date26 August 2019
    Census date18 September 2019
    Last date to withdraw without fail 1 November 2019
    Assessment period ends 9 December 2019

    September contact information


    Professor David Takacs, Coordinator

    Email: law-masters@unimelb.edu.au
    Phone: +61 3 8344 6190
    Website: law.unimelb.edu.au

Additional delivery details

This subject has a quota of 30 students.

Enrolment is on a first come, first served basis. Waitlists are maintained for subjects that are fully subscribed.

Students should note priority of places in subjects will be given as follows:

  • To currently enrolled Graduate Diploma and Masters students with a satisfactory record in their degree
  • To other students enrolling on a single subject basis, eg Community Access Program (CAP) students, cross-institutional study and cross-faculty study.

Please refer to the Melbourne Law Masters website for further information about the management of subject quotas and waitlists.

Further information

  • Texts

    Prescribed texts

    Specialist materials will be made available free of charge from the Melbourne Law School prior to the pre-teaching period.

  • Available through the Community Access Program

    About the Community Access Program (CAP)

    This subject is available through the Community Access Program (also called Single Subject Studies) which allows you to enrol in single subjects offered by the University of Melbourne, without the commitment required to complete a whole degree.

    Entry requirements including prerequisites may apply. Please refer to the CAP applications page for further information.

  • Available to Study Abroad and/or Study Exchange Students

    This subject is available to students studying at the University from eligible overseas institutions on exchange and study abroad. Students are required to satisfy any listed requirements, such as pre- and co-requisites, for enrolment in the subject.

Last updated: 20 July 2019