1.4 Role of Northern Territory, Commonwealth and Local Government

Environmental laws can be made by the Commonwealth Parliament, the Northern Territory Parliament and by local councils.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory has the power to make its own laws under a Commonwealth law called the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978. As an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament, it is subject to amendment or repeal by the Commonwealth. This means that there are limitations on the Northern Territory’s law-making powers. If the Commonwealth Parliament does not agree with a law passed by the Northern Territory, it has the power to overturn that law.

The Northern Territory Parliament has the main responsibility for making environmental laws for the Territory.[i]


The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (Australia’s Constitution) provides the framework for the Australian system of government and sets out the law-making powers of the Commonwealth. Each State has its own constitution, which provides a framework for the system of government of that State. The Commonwealth Parliament has passed laws giving powers of self–government to both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

Australia’s Constitution gives the Commonwealth Parliament the power to make laws on any subject for the Territories, including environmental laws. The Commonwealth Parliament has a number of specific Constitutional powers to make laws for the States, for example, in relation to Australia’s external affairs or international trade.

Together, these law making powers allow the Commonwealth Parliament to make national environmental laws for the whole of Australia. An example of a national environmental law which applies in all Australian States and Territories is the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This is an example of an environmental law passed to incorporate Australia’s international treaty obligations into national law. It incorporates Australia’s obligations under the RAMSAR Convention[ii], Japan-Australia Migratory Bird AgreementChina-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement and Republic of Korea-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement into Australian law.

Local government

The Northern Territory has 16 local councils. Local councils can make by-laws for the good governance of their local area. By-laws are subordinate legislation made under the Local Government Act.

By-laws can be passed in relation to any function that the council can legally carry out, including some environmental matters. For example, councils in the Northern Territory have made by-laws about:

  • Animal management and control

  • Garbage removal and dumps

  • Noxious weeds

  • Litter

  • Water pollution

A list of current by-laws can be found on the Department of the Chief Minister’s Legislation data base. For more information about how by-laws and how they are made read the handbook on Council By-laws in the Northern Territory.

The contact details for your local council can be found on the website of the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory.

[i] See regulation 4 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Regulations 1978.

[ii]Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, Ramsar (Iran), 2 February 1971. UN Treaty Series No. 14583. As amended by the Paris Protocol, 3 December 1982, and Regina Amendments, 28 May 1987.

© 2019 Environmental Defenders Office (NT) Inc.