Animal Protection Act 2018

On 30 October 2018, the Animal Protection Bill 2018 was passed by the Northern Territory’s Legislative Assembly. The Animal Protection Act ('the Act') received assent from the Administrator of the  Northern Territory on 22 November 2018.

Commencement of the Act will not take place until the supporting Animal Protection Regulations (‘the regulations’) have been drafted and approved by Government. It is expected that drafting of these regulations will take between six to nine months, and key stakeholders will have an opportunity to have input. Codes of practice, to be adopted or prescribed under the regulations, will come into operation on the same day as both the Act and the Regulations. This is to ensure that if a person’s interactions with an animal are in accordance with an adopted or prescribed code of practice, the defence provided under clause 21(2) of the Act is made available to that person.

Overview of the Animal Protection Act

The proposed law aligns with and builds upon the existing regulatory framework in the Territory for animal welfare matters, with clearly defined rights, roles and responsibilities for government, industry and the community. Some of the key new initiatives covered in the proposed law are outlined below.

  • The new Act will assign administrative power to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the regulatory agency, rather than an Animal Welfare Authority. This is to increase accountability and transparency of decision-making.
  • The statutory requirement for the Minister to establish an Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (AWAC) is to be retained.
  • The existing definition of ‘animal’ will be broadened to cover all bony fish, cartilaginous fish (e.g. sharks and rays), crustaceans (e.g. crabs, lobsters and prawns) and cephalopods (squid and octopuses), irrespective of whether or not they are in captivity.
    Note: It will be a defence under the new Act if a person’s interaction with an animal (as defined under the Act) is in accordance with an adopted or prescribed code of practice. For example a person can take an animal for consumption, but before processing (e.g. bleeding, gutting or filleting), cooking or eating the animal it first needs to be humanely killed in accordance with practices set out in a code e.g. brain (or central nervous system) spiked and/or rendered insensible with a strong blow to the head with a blunt object.
  • Individual scientific users of animals for scientific purposes will need to be registered, rather than the current practice of only premises being licenced.
  • Accredited animal ethics committees will have increased oversight for research projects they approve, and it will be an offence to contravene a condition of a project approval granted by a committee.
  • Ensuring that the rights of Aboriginal Territorians - to undertake traditional cultural, hunting and fishing practices in accordance with Aboriginal laws and customs – are protected.
  • The use of regulations to prescribe and enforce codes of practice and standards relevant to animal welfare.
  • Animal welfare directions and improvement notices will be issued to anyone providing inadequate care to animals, with penalties for those who do not comply.
  • Under controlled circumstances, authorised officers will have the power to enter land surrounding a building, without a warrant or written consent from the occupier, to check on the condition of animals at risk. Prior to an entry authorised officers must first take reasonable steps to try to contact the occupier.
  • Authorised officers will have the power to enter premises where a registered person is keeping or using animals for scientific purposes, or where those premises are used for greyhound racing or related purposes, without the occupier’s consent or a warrant provided that entry is undertaken at a reasonable time.
  • Where racing greyhounds are kept, it will be an offence to keep other animals on the premises that may be used for blooding greyhounds (e.g. rabbits and possums).
  • An animal will be automatically forfeited from anyone found guilty of a cruelty or a related offence against that animal. A person can apply to the CEO DPIR to have the animal returned if they agree to comply with stringent conditions imposed to protect the ongoing welfare of the returned animal.
  • A person convicted of three animal cruelty or related offences within a five-year period will automatically be banned for five years from being in control of an animal.
  • Drivers will be required to appropriately restrain dogs riding on the tray or back of motor vehicles while travelling on public roads.
  • Under controlled circumstances, an authorised officer will have the power to destroy an animal (or have it destroyed) humanely and without unnecessary additional suffering, if the animal is so severely injured, diseased or in such poor physical condition that it is cruel to keep it alive.
  • The maximum term of imprisonment under the new Act will increase from two to five years and the maximum fine will increase from 200 penalty units (currently equating to $31,000) to 500 penalty units (equating to $77,500). Note that one penalty unit currently equals $155.

Background on animal welfare regulation in the Northern Territory

Animal welfare in the Northern Territory is currently regulated under the Animal Welfare Act. This Act came into effect in March 2000 and covers the welfare of animals in the care of humans, as well as those in their natural environment.

The Department of Primary Industry and Resources (DPIR) Animal Welfare Branch (AWB) is the administrative arm of the current Animal Welfare Authority. Each year the AWB receives more than 500 reports relating to matters of animal welfare. The branch averages between seven and 11 successful prosecutions for animal welfare offences each year.

Further information

The new Act, along with copies of the Explanatory Speech and the Explanatory Statement, can be viewed on the Department of the Legislative Assembly’s website.

For any further information, please call DPIR on (08) 8999 2394 or contact the department via email to:

Download fact sheet Animal Protection Act 2018 (proposed law). (320.7 kb).

Last updated: 14 January 2019