On 1 February 2016, the Northern Territory Government (NT Government) published aBalanced Environment Strategy Discussion Draft, outlining strategies aimed at striking a balance between the economic development, and the environmental and social goals of the Northern Territory. This strategy comes soon after the NT Government announced a range of reforms to several industry frameworks on 18 November 2015 (see KWM Insight:Northern Territory announces significant reforms to environmental, oil and gas frameworks). Such efforts highlight the Government’s focus on creating regulatory certainty and transparency in planning and environment laws in the Northern Territory.

Changes to strike an environmental balance

The draft strategy outlines the policies and principles the NT Government intends to implement to achieve a stronger and more sustainable environmental management system, while also supporting economic development.

Some of the proposed changes and goals outlined in the strategy include:

  • improving the environmental regulatory system – the draft strategy indicates that the NT Government is committed to regulatory reform. Some of the proposed changes include:
    • improving certainty for major project proponents by implementing a ‘single front door’ system;
    • publishing environmental enforcement guidelines and procedures;
    • strengthening the audit and compliance role of the Environmental Protection Authority;
    • improving transparency of reporting by proponents;
    • establishing the Minister for the Environment as the decision maker where projects are not subject to other approval processes;
  • improving strategic planning – the NT Government plans to work with the Northern Territory Planning Commission to review and, if necessary amend, the Planning Act to integrate the consideration of environmental risks and impacts of an activity during the development approval process;
  • the use of scientific knowledge to guide decision making – the strategy proposes working with industry experts, research organisations, the Commonwealth Government and stakeholders to gain knowledge of evolving environmental, economic and social conditions and adapt its regulatory principles accordingly; and
  • balancing development and sustainability in the town planning and infrastructure system – the NT Government proposes actions such as streamlining town planning and administrative processes, such as improving environmental and planning assessment and approval processes.

Other changes

The strategy also focuses on implementing contemporary management practices, to mitigate the environmental impacts of development. For example, to do this the NT Government plans to develop an environmental offsets policy, implement threat management plans to reduce the negative impacts of wildfire, weeds and feral animals, and incorporate Aboriginal stakeholder knowledge in land management and environmental policy development.

Next steps

These proposals acknowledge the need for improvement to the current state of the regulatory system in the Northern Territory, which has not been amended since its creation over thirty years ago. Following community feedback, the strategy will work as a roadmap to guide future decision-making on the Northern Territory’s environmental management.

Importantly, the draft strategy proposes reforms which will impact both existing operations as well as future projects requiring assessment and approval. Submissions might consider identifying useful, balanced regulatory provisions from other jurisdictions for incorporation into any regulatory reforms as well as regulatory approaches to be avoided. If you would like any further details on the draft strategy, or assistance with preparing formal comments for submission, please contact us.

Participation in the public consultation process for the Balanced Environment Strategy is open until 18 March 2016. 

Further details are available at Have your say | Balanced Environment Strategy.