Environment Law in the Northern Territory

Weeds & Invasive Species

Overview

In the Northern Territory weed management is regulated under the Weeds Management Act 2001 and Weeds Management Regulations. The Weeds Management Act 2001 imposes duties on land owners and occupiers to manage weeds in order to prevent the spread of weeds into and out of the Territory. It is an environmental offence to fail to manage weeds in accordance with the Weeds Management Act 2001.

For information about Pesticides read our Fact Sheet on Introduction to Regulation of Pesticides and Fertilisers.

What is a weed?

A weed is a species of plant which the Minister for Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport has declared to be a weed or potential weed.  A list of declared weeds is available from the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport website.

How are weeds controlled?

Once a species is declared to be a weed, the main way it is controlled by law is by requiring land owners and occupiers to comply with a Weed Management Plan or Emergency Weed Management Plan. Weed Management Plans are plans which set out how to prevent or manage declared or potential weeds in specific areas. They usually include details of how weeds have to be removed and any prohibitions or restrictions on the use of chemical substances to manage weeds.  Copies of Weed Management Plans are available from the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport website.

Who prepares weed management plans?

Weed Management Plans are prepared by the Northern Territory Weed Advisory Committee The Weed Advisory Committee prepares draft Weed Management Plans and consults with the community and people whose land may be affected by the declared weed. The Weed Advisory Committee is supported by Regional Reference Groups in Darwin Katherine and Alice Springs.

Can the public comment on weed management plans?

Before a Weed Management Plan can be approved by the Minister, a notice must be placed in a newspaper circulating in the Northern Territory telling people that they can review the proposed Weed Management Plan and provide comments on it. The Minister must take into consideration any comments received within four weeks of the notice, although the notice may provide a period of longer than four weeks for people to make comments. If you wish to make a comment on a proposed Weed Management Plan, you should always comply with the deadline stated in the notice. The Weeds Management Act 2001 does not provide the public with a right to comment on Emergency Weed Management Plans.

Once approved by the Minister, Weed Management Plans are valid for up to 10 years and are reviewed every three years.99 Emergency Weed Management Plans are valid for six months and may be renewed for a further 6 months.

Can I appeal a decision to approve a Weed Management Plan?

A person may appeal a decision of the Minister to approve a Weed Management Plan or Emergency Management Plan, or any other decision made by the Minister under the Weeds Management Act 2001 to the Local Court within 28 days of the person receiving notice of the decision. The Local Court will consider all of the facts of the case at the time of the hearing (including any additional matters which the Minister did not consider in making his or her decision). The Local Court has the power to make a new decision that will replace the Minister’s decision or to uphold the Minister’s decision.

Obligations to manage weeds

Land owners and occupiers have duties to manage weeds on their land. Land owners and occupiers must:

  • take all reasonable measures to prevent their land being infested with a declared weed and to prevent a declared weed or potential spreading onto other land
  • report declared weeds to one of the Regional Weed Management Officers within 14 days of first becoming aware of a declared weed
  • comply with any Weed Management Plan for a declared weed or potential weed
  • dispose of weeds only on the land or at a designated weed disposal area
  • not cut or mow an area for the purpose of producing fodder or mulch if the person knows or should reasonably know that the area is infested or contaminated with a declared weed
  • not (except in accordance with a permit)
    • bring a declared weed into the Northern Territory
    • propagate or scatter a declared weed
    • sell or offer to sell a declared weed or any thing that contains or carries a declared weed
    • hire any equipment, device or thing that contains or carries a declared weed or potential weed
    • purchase or offer to purchase a declared weed or any thing that contains or carries a declared weed
    • store, grow or use a declared weed or any thing that contains or carries a declared weed
    • transport or carry on his or her person a declared weed or anything that contains or carries a declared weed

Permits to use declared weeds

The Weeds Management Act 2001 allows the Minister to grant a permit to allow a person to use declared weeds. It is an environmental offence to breach a condition of a permit.

Enforcement

There are several ways that the Weeds Management Act 2001 can be enforced.

The Minister can issue a notice to a land owner or occupier who has failed to comply with a Weed Management Plan requiring them to comply with the Weed Management Plan within a specified time.  Alternatively, the Minister may require the owner or occupier to prepare a Remedial Weed Management Plan that sets out how the weeds are to be managed.

It is an environmental offence to breach the duties (listed above) to manage weeds. Breaches of these duties may be prosecuted.

Prosecutions for offences can only be brought by a Weed Management Officer. The penalty for offences is a level 3 penalty under the Environmental Offences and Penalties Act An individual found guilty of having committed an offence is liable to a penalty fine of between 77 and 770 penalty units. A body corporate found guilty of having committed an offence is liable to a fine of between 385 and 3850 penalty units.  The value of penalty units in dollars can be calculated by multiplying the number of penalty units with the current value of a penalty unit (which changes over time). From 1 July 2011 the value of 1 penalty unit is $137.  Read our Fact Sheet on Penalties for more information. If the offence has been continuing, the court may apply a further 10 penalty units for each day that the offence has been continuing.

What can the community do?

As prosecutions against people who have broken the law can only be started by a Weed Management Officer, if you suspect that there has been a breach of the law because an owner or occupier is failing to manage weeds on their land, in the first instance you should report this to a Weed Management Officer Weed Management Officers have wide powers under the Weeds Management Act 2001. They can enter land, search, take photographs, seize and inspect documents, and take samples. They can also order an owner or occupier to treat the land to control or eradicate declared or potential weeds.

If you cannot persuade the Weed Management Officer to take enforcement action under the Weeds Management Act 2001 please contact the Environmental Defenders Office to obtain advice on your legal options.

If the weeds are having an impact on your land, legal options may be available to help you under the law of nuisance. For more information on nuisances, read our Fact Sheet on Nuisance, negligence and trespass.

If weeds are having an impact on nationally protected or threatened plants and animals, the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 may apply.

Commonwealth law and enforcement

Under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 actions that have an impact on nationally protected or threatened plants and animals or on certain cultural sites or wetlands (called matters of national environmental significance) must be referred to the Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

The Department is responsible for assessing whether or not actions are likely to have an impact on a matter of national environmental significance. Depending on the environmental impact, the Department may prohibit the activity, or may permit the activity (possibly subject to conditions). Land management practices that adversely affect matters of national environmental significance could potentially be a breach of the CommonwealthEnvironment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 if those practices have not been lawfully approved.

There are a broad range of enforcement measures that can be used by the Commonwealth government if theEnvironment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 has been breached. These include civil and criminal penalties for individuals or corporations who fail to comply with the law and remediation orders requiring offenders to repair environmental damage, amongst other measures.

Invasive species

Invasive species are species of plants or animals that occur outside their normal distribution area because humans have introduced them as a result of human activities. Invasive species can have a major impact on Australia’s natural environment and biodiversity because they can destroy and displace native plants and animals. Invasive species include weeds, introduced pests, insects, fungi and parasites (including marine pests). Invasive weeds are among the most serious threats to Australia’s natural environment. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 the Commonwealth Government can list Key Threatening Processes which threaten the survival, abundance or development of a native species or ecological community. Some invasive species are recognised as Key Threatening Processes.

The Commonwealth government can develop Threat Abatement Plans to manage and reduce the impact of Key Threatening Processes on listed threatened species and ecological communities. For more information about the Commonwealth Government approach to invasive species see the Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website.