Environmental laws can be made by the Commonwealth Parliament, the Northern Territory Parliament and 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, under regulation 4 of the Northern Territory (Self‑Government) Regulations 1978.


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 that State’s system of government. 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, Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement, China-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 Legislation Database. For more information about by-laws and how they are made read the publications on Local government legislation.

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

While all care has been taken in the preparation of our Fact Sheets, they are a guide only and are no substitute for legal advice in individual cases. For any specific questions, you should seek legal advice.

This Fact Sheet last updated: January 2019

The EDO acknowledges the generous support of the Northern Territory Law Society Public Purposes Trust to enable publication of this Fact Sheet.