Legal framework for planning decisions


Information in this topic is worded in a general way to suit the circumstances in all Australian states and territories.

You will find an explanation of words in italics in 1.2 Planning language.


The regulations and agencies involved in planning, zoning and development assessment are among the most complex regulatory regimes in Australia. All three levels of government are involved in planning to various degrees.

The Commonwealth government does not have any specific powers under the Constitution for town planning or related matters, such as natural resource management and has generally kept a distance form direct involvement in planning and development approval issues. However, the Commonwealth is responsible for matters of “national environmental significance” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and, as a consequence, can become involved in specific projects and planning related matters for regions which cross state or territory borders.
The main responsibility for town planning in Australia lies with the states and territories and each has developed its own distinct planning system.

In general, the objective of each state or territory’s planning legislation is to achieve ecological sustainability and the legal framework to achieve this includes:
  • procedures and requirements for making planning schemes;
  • procedures and requirements for assessing development applications;
  • arrangements for public notification; and
  • appeal rights against some planning decisions.

Many planning functions have been delegated by the state to local councils (the ACT does not have local councils and councils within the NT do not have planning powers). A planning authority, usually the local council, prepares a planning scheme and devises appropriate land use controls. Administration of the planning scheme, including deciding on development applications to use or develop land, is usually undertaken by the local council.
There may be a range of planning instruments that apply in your town or city and some may override others. Commonwealth planning instruments override state or territory planning instruments, and state or territory planning instruments override local planning instruments.

For example, your town or city may be covered by a planning scheme, but if your town or city is also covered by a regional plan, then the regional plan overrides the planning scheme if there is any conflict between the two.

The planning system in each state or territory includes various accountability mechanisms such as availability of appeals, availability of comparable data on council outcomes, and access to information about rules and regulations and planning decisions.

Various processes are used to ensure consistency between state and local plans The most common process is the requirement that planning Ministers sign off on new planning schemes and amendments to planning schemes.

Related topics:
More on-line resources:

Australian Constitution

Planning legislation, planning process, and planning instruments in each state or territory:
We will build this list over time and invite you to contact us with suggested links you are aware of that can be added to this page.

Want to know more?
Is there something more you want to know about this topic? Contact us with your ideas for future inclusion in TOWN PLANNING FOR EVERYONE resources.

© The Planning Academy 2011
Last updated: 9 Dec 2013

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