This paper will set the context for exploring what the governance frameworks for the next generation of environmental laws might look like. We identify key challenges and pose questions relating to the key themes of constitutional responsibility for the environment, environmental federalism, environmental institutions, shared governance, and implementation and effectiveness of environmental laws.

In Australia, environmental issues are managed within a federal and democratic system of government. Government includes official institutions of state, such as parliaments, executive governments (including ministers and the broad range of government agencies) and the courts.  Systems of taxation and public funding are integral to government functioning, as are relationships with foreign governments and international bodies. Government is responsible for extensive regulation of social and economic life, as well as the environment. 

Government in Australia operates under a written constitutional framework with some implied rights and responsibilities. This framework distributes power and responsibilities between federal, state and territory governments. It also provides for basic democratic principles such as representative and responsible government and the rule of law. 

In practice, management of the environment often involves people outside of government.  Communities, nongovernmental organisations, business and citizens do engage in decision-making processes, regulated and influenced by environmental laws. Processes of environmental management beyond direct government regulation are sometimes referred to as environmental governance.

Environmental governance is the system for governing (shaping, regulating, controlling, directing) the ways in which humans interact with the natural world, and how they interact with each other in relation to the environment. Regulation is one instrument of governance.