2.1 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.

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.

© 2019 Environmental Defenders Office (NT) Inc.