Many countries rely on formal legislation to protect and plan for the recovery of threatened species. Even though the listing procedures in threatened species legislation are designed to be consistent for all species there is usually a bias in implementing the laws towards charismatic fauna and flora, which leads to uneven allocation of conservation efforts. However, the extent of bias in national threatened species lists is often unknown. Australia is a good example: the list of threatened species under the Environmental Protection and Biological Conservation Act has not been reviewed since 2000, when it was first introduced. We assessed how well this Act represents threatened species across taxonomic groups and threat status, and whether biases exist in the types of species with recovery plans. We found that birds, amphibians and mammals have high levels of threatened species (12–24%) but < 6% of all reptiles and plants and < 0.01% of invertebrates and fish are considered threatened. Similar taxonomic biases are present in the types of species with recovery plans. Although there have been recent improvements in the representation of threatened species with recovery plans across taxonomic groups, there are still major gaps between the predicted and listed numbers of threatened species. Because of biases in the listing and recovery planning processes many threatened species may receive little attention regardless of their potential for recovery: a lost opportunity to achieve the greatest conservation impact possible. The Environmental Protection and Biological Conservation Act in Australia needs reform to rectify these biases.