Peaceful protests, demonstrations, rallies and marches can be ways to raise publicity or show support for an environmental issue. Demonstrations and protests usually involve activists giving a speech, carrying signs or performing in a public place to raise attention to an issue. Rallies are protests and demonstrations where members of the public are invited to join in. Marches are processions where people walk (usually along a street) as part of the protest.
Protests, demonstrations, rallies and marches are often held in public places. For example: roads, pavements, playing fields or parks. Public places are usually controlled by local councils.
In most areas of the Northern Territory, it is a legal requirement to seek a permit from the local council before holding a protest, demonstration, rally or march in public place. Some council by-laws also apply to private land e.g. where there is a public right of access, such as a pathway, across private land. Some local councils also require a permit for other things, such as distributing pamphlets or using microphones.
Before organising or taking part in a protest, demonstration, rally or march, or related activities contact your local council to find out whether a permit is required for the activity you will be undertaking on the land you will be using. The contact details for your local Council can be found on the website of the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory.
Any activities on private land, including land owned by Aboriginal people under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth), requires permission to be sought from the land owner.
Examples of council laws on protests
- In the municipality of Alice Springs Town Council, it is an offence under s33 of the Alice Springs (Management of Public Places) By-laws 2009 to organise or lead a demonstration or protest in a public place without a permit. An individual who is found guilty of the offence is liable to a fine of up to 100 penalty units or payment of a fixed penalty fine if an infringement notice is served. You can work out what a penalty unit is in dollars by multiplying the number of penalty units with the current value of the penalty unit. The value changes each year. From 1 July 2011 the value of a penalty unit is $137.
- In the municipality of Jabiru, under s51 of the Jabiru Town Development (Roads and Public Places) By-laws, a person must not take part in a procession or demonstration; organise or participate in a political meeting or political rally; organise or participate in a religious service or rally; distribute or exhibit a printed written pamphlet; or use a microphone, loudspeaker or megaphone without having obtained a permit. There is a $200 fine for breach of this law.
- In the municipality of Tennant Creek, the Tennant Creek (Control of Public Places) By-laws require a permit for public meetings which are likely to interfere with, or prevent the reasonable requirements of the public using that place. A person who does not obtain a permit is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $200.
There is no statutory right to peaceful assembly in the Northern Territory.
When organising or taking part in protests, demonstrations, marches and rallies it is important to make sure that you do not break the law. You should seek independent legal advice from a lawyer if you have questions about what you can and cannot do at a protest, demonstration, rally or march, or if you are arrested or charged as a result of your participation.
If you cannot afford the services of a lawyer, you may be able to get legal advice or assistance from:
Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission; and/or
A local Community Legal Centre.