Environment Law in the Northern Territory

Alternatives to legal action

Legal action can be costly and time consuming. Before taking legal action on an environmental issue, it is worth considering whether alternative steps could be taken to resolve the problem. Alternative steps include:

  • contacting the person causing the problem
  • reporting the problem to the regulator
  • making a complaint to an Ombudsman
  • petitioning the government
  • organising a protest, demonstration, march or rally

Speak to or write to the person causing the problem

A first step to resolving a dispute can be to contact the person who has caused or is causing the problem. This may allow them an opportunity to put matters right without the need for legal action. By speaking to or writing to the person and explaining that you are concerned about the impact of their activities or decisions on the environment, you may cause them to change their behaviour or attitudes. If you have already spoken to the person, consider writing to them. This will show that you take the matter seriously. If you are concerned about whether or not you should contact the person, please contact the Environmental Defenders Office NT to discuss your case.

Report environmental harms to the regulator

Depending on the environmental harm being caused, there may have been a breach of environmental law. If you think that an environmental law has been broken or is about to be broken, you should consider reporting potential breaches to a regulator. In the Northern Territory, regulators are government departments. The regulator will often be in a position to investigate breaches of the law and may be able to take legal action, such as enforcement, to resolve matters.

It is important to make sure that you contact the right regulator for your issue. There are different regulators for different issues. Only the regulator which is responsible for administering the specific law that you think has been breached will be able to help you.

The main regulators for environmental laws and a description of their activities are shown below:


What does it do?

Relevant Legislation

Responsible Minister

Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority




Protects Aboriginal sacred sites on land and sea across the Northern Territory.

Maintains a Register of Sacred Sites and is responsible for approving or refusing works to Aboriginal sacred sites.

The public can report concerns about harm to sacred sites to the Authority.

Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act

Minister for Indigenous Advancement

Environment Protection Authority (NTEPA)





The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority is an independent statutory corporation established under the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority Act.

Assesses the environmental impact of development proposals through the administration of the Environmental Assessment Act.

Issues of licences to regulate activities subject to the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act and Part 7 of the Water Act.


Enforces environmental laws it administers.

Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority Act

Environmental Assessment Act 1982

Environmental Assessment Administrative Procedures

Environmental Offences and Penalties Act

Environment Protection (National Pollutant Inventory) Objective

Environment Protection (Beverage Containers and Plastic Bags) Act

Litter Act

National Environment Protection Council (Northern Territory) Act

Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority Act 2012

Nuclear Waste, Transport, Storage and Disposal (Prohibition) Act 2004

Waste Management and Pollution Control Act

Waste Management and Pollution Control (Administration) Regulations

Water Act

Minister for Lands, Planning and the Environment

Department of Mines and Energy




Regulates mining on land and sea in the Northern Territory.

Responsible for enforcing environmental management on

mine sites including pollution and waste that occurs within mine sites.

The public can report concerns about mining practices or harm to the environment on mine sites to the Department of Mines and Energy.


Mining Management Act 2012

Minerals Titles Act 2012

Petroleum Act 2011

Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 2011

Energy Pipelines Act 2011

Geothermal Energy Act 2011

Minister for Mines and Energy

Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPIF)



Controls regulation and management of fisheries, plant and biological organisms.

The department has responsibility to grant or refuse a licences, e.g. crop spraying, fish control, meat and livestock, and related industry pollution management.

The public can notify the Department of any concern related to animal / fish welfare, use of chemicals, biological, plant threats, pollution or any other concern related to primary industry or fisheries.

Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (NT) Act 2011

Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 2011

Biological Control Act 2011

Fisheries Act 2011




Northern Territory Minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries.

Parks and Wildlife Commission of the NT



Manages Northern Territory parks, reserves and sanctuaries.


The public can report concerns about Northern Territory parks, reserves, and sanctuaries to the Commission including concerns about damage to the environment, sacred sites, animals or property.


Parks and Wildlife Commission Act 2004

Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2011

Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal Land, Sanctuary and Marine Park Act 2011

Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park Act 2005

Minister for Parks and Wildlife

Department of Land Resource Management




Responsible for land management relating to water management and allocation, pastoral land, native vegetation, weed control, bushfire prevention and soil conservation.

The public can contact the Department of Land Resource Management for concerns related to pastoral leases, to report abuse, damage, or potential hazard or risk, such as increased potential for bush fire, land erosion, or report an identified exotic weed, damage to heritage trust sites, or pollution of waterways.

Bushfires Act 2009

Pastoral Land Act 2011

Soil Conservation and Land Utilisation Act 2009

Water Act 2011

Weed Management Act 2001

Minister for Land Resource Management

Department of Lands Planning and the Environment




Responsible for regulating planning and development and marine pollution.

The public can report concerns about developments, clearing of native vegetation, pollution from boats or ships, waste and pollution from industry and environmental assessment processes.


Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011

Environmental Assessment Act 1994

Environmental Offences and Penalties Act 2011

Marine Pollution Act 2004

Planning Act 2012

Waste Management and Pollution Control Act 2011

Minister for Lands, Planning and the Environment

Northern Territory Ombudsman Office

Email: nt.ombudsman@nt.gov.au




Independent statutory authority responsible for investigating complaints about administrative actions of public authorities.

Ombudsman Act 2011









Commonwealth Ombudsman Office





Responsible for investigating complaints against Australian Government agencies.

Ombudsman Act 1976

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Office Of the Information Commissioner for the Northern Territory






Responsible for ensuring that the public service complies with the rules for releasing information to the public.

The public can make enquiries about the process for seeking information from the public service.

The Information Commissioner hears appeals from decisions by the public service regarding the release of information.

Information Act 2012

Department of the Attorney-General and Justice

Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC)

Comments and general enquiries available online via;





Administers Australia’s national environmental laws including the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999,  SEWPAC is responsible for environmental assessment of activities that may affect matters of national environmental significance and enforces harm to nationally protected species, ecosytems and areas.


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Heritage Council Act 2003

Environmental Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978

Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environment Management Authority



Regulates the environmental management of offshore petroleum exploration and development.




Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006

Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act Western Australia 1982

Petroleum Act

Petroleum Act Northern Territory 2011

Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act Northern Territory 2011

Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act South Australia 1982

Minister for Resources and Energy

Complain to an Ombudsman

In the Northern Territory, the Ombudsman is an independent Officer of the Northern Territory Parliament. The Ombudsman receives complaints about actions of Northern Territory Government departments, local councils and statutory authorities. It provides a free and impartial complaints resolution service to members of the public.1The Ombudsman may inquire into what has happened and try to resolve a compliant. In serious cases, the Ombudsman can conduct major investigations.

The Ombudsman cannot overturn the decision of a government department, but it can publish a public report following any investigations it makes. The report will contain recommendations. Usually recommendations made by the Ombudsman are taken seriously by government departments.

If you have a complaint about a Commonwealth Government department, you can complain to the Commonwealth Ombudsman. The Commonwealth Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the administrative actions of Australian Government departments and agencies. The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s website has Tips and Advice to help resolve complaints.

Next steps

If you cannot resolve an environmental issue, you may need to consider taking legal action to resolve the matter. If you have a concern about an environmental issue in the Northern Territory, contact the Environmental Defenders Office.