Biological resources in the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory (NT) is rich in biological resources, many of which are unique in both Australia and the world.

These genetic and biochemical resources could be important for scientific research. They could also be developed or incorporated into a variety of commercial products.

The research and commercialisation of these biological resources is a process referred to as bioprospecting.

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Bioprospecting includes researching and / or commercialising genetic materials found in bioresources such as plants and animals. These genetic materials may include biochemical compounds, micro- and macro-organisms, genes or other products. The products that may result from bioprospecting include, but are not limited to, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and pesticides.

Bioprospecting in the NT is administered by the Department of Trade, Business and Innovation and regulated under the Biological Resources Act 2006.

The aim of the Act is to safeguard the sustainable development of biological resources and ensuring that the community receives fair compensation from commercialisation. It also aims to ensure that the special knowledge of Aboriginal Traditional Owners about biological resources is recognised and results in the financial benefits being shared.

The following uses of biological resources are not bioprospecting:

  • Aboriginal traditional use
  • fishing for commerce or recreation
  • taking wild animals or plants for food
  • harvesting wildflowers
  • collecting peat or firewood
  • taking essential oils from wild plants
  • collecting plant reproductive material for propagation
  • commercial forestry
  • biological material of human origin
  • biological resources exempted by the minister
  • taking biological resources available to the public on an unrestricted basis
  • taking biological resources that are considered genetically modified under the Gene Technology Act
  • a plant variety for which a plant breeder’s right has been granted under the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act 1994
  • aquatic life managed under the Fisheries Act.

The Act requires parties engaging in bioprospecting, for example the bioprospector, to establish a benefit-sharing agreement with the resource access provider, for example the landholder.

A benefit sharing agreement is established through negotiation of a benefit sharing deed.

The resource access provider could be:

  • the NT Government (for example national parks)
  • freehold landholders
  • the Aboriginal Land Trust
  • other organisations.

It is the responsibility of the bioprospector to ensure they have an established benefit-sharing agreement with the landholder.

For more information on how to establish a benefit-sharing agreement, go to the Northern Territory Government website.

After a benefit-sharing agreement has been established, the bioprospector must apply for a permit to collect the required biological resources from the land or marine permit issuing authority, either:

  • land: Parks and Wildlife Commission within the Department of Tourism, Sport and Culture
  • marine: Fisheries within the Department of Primary Industries and Resources.

The permit issuing authority will assess the application. Providing the application meets their requirements, and the department is satisfied that a benefit-sharing agreement is in place, a permit will be issued.

For more information on the permit application process, go to the Northern Territory Government website.

For more information, phone 08 8999 6888 or email industrydevelopment@nt.gov.au

To find out more about establishing a benefit-sharing agreement and applying for a research permit, go to the Northern Territory Government website.

Last updated: 05 September 2019

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