Key Points:

The Northern Territory's Balanced Environment Strategy Discussion Draft sets out six goals.

The Northern Territory Government has released its Balanced Environment Strategy Discussion Draft for public consultation with submissions closing Friday, 18 March 2016.

The Draft Strategy identifies the nine principles which will guide future decision-making to ensure the responsible use, management and safeguarding of the unique Northern Territory environment.

We have previously examined the NT Government's recently announced agenda for reforming the current environmental regulatory process following on from the Dr Allan Hawke's Fracturing Inquiry and Review into the Environmental Assessment and Approval Processes. The release of the Draft Strategy is the next step in the Government's bid to put in place a robust regulatory system to safeguard the Northern Territory environment as the existing system has not been substantially amended since its creation over 30 years ago.

What is the purpose of the Draft strategy?

The purpose of the Draft Strategy is to seek consultation from the Northern Territory community on the strategy the NT Government will implement to achieve its vision to balance protection and sustainable use to maintain a healthy and resilient environment.

The Draft Strategy:

  • identifies the key challenges the Northern Territory environment faces, which are seen as challenges in other jurisdictions in Australia, such as climate and natural events; use of natural resources; pests, weeds and wildfire; growing population; waste; and urban development; and
  • sets goals to avoid, manage and mitigate risks to the Northern Territory environment caused by these challenges and the actions it proposes to take to achieve these goals.

Once finalised, the Draft Strategy will complement the NT Government's recent commitment to a significant reform of the environmental regulatory system to provide:

  • certainty for major project proponents by providing a "single front door" through the system;
  • testing and accrediting project legislation and agency procedures by the Minister for the Environment in consultation with the NT EPA;
  • the establishment of the Minister for the Environment as the decision-maker for projects not subject to approval by an accredited approval process;
  • transparent public reporting by proponents on compliance with environmental conditions;
  • strengthened audit and compliance role for the NT EPA;
  • the Minister for the Environment to give proponents and the community certainty by publishing policies and procedures; and
  • clarity in the roles and responsibilities of government agencies and the NT EPA in the system.

What are the goals and actions?

The Government's goals for a balanced environment are separated into the following key headings:

  • healthy water, catchments and waterways;
  • resilient ecosystems;
  • increased understanding and understanding;
  • contemporary management practices;
  • environmental responsibility; and
  • liveable cities and towns.

Each of these goals are explained in terms of their importance to the Northern Territory environment, what the Government aims to do develop each of these goals, and what actions will be implemented to achieve them.

At a glance, the aims and actions proposed in the Draft Strategy include things such as:

  • risk-based regulation of activities;
  • the use of the best available scientific knowledge to guide government decision-making;
  • research and innovation to develop options to protect the environment and manage any risks;
  • strengthening the regulatory system and making it more efficient and transparent, with legislative reform and more opportunity for consulting with key stakeholders and the community;
  • developing and implementing policy and guidelines to facilitate and manage key issues relevant to balancing land use and the environment; and
  • planning of cities, towns and infrastructure to ensure a balance between development and sustainability is achieved, including streamlining of key processes and introducing recognised standards and processes.

What are the next steps?

Submissions on the Draft Strategy can be made by taking a short online survey or making a submission in writing or in person as per the details set out on the Government's website.

It is understood that the final Strategy will be supported by a series of detailed implementation plans which will outline:

  • those government agencies which are responsible for delivery of the specific actions identified in the final Strategy; and
  • the monitoring and reporting process to be put in place to track the progress of achieving those actions.