Electrical safety legislation reform

The Northern Territory Government is in the process of reforming, consolidating and modernising the legislation governing electrical safety in the Northern Territory.


In April 2018, the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice established the Electrical Safety and Licensing Reference Group to review and develop recommendations on amending the following items of legislation:

The reference group consisted of representatives from:

  • Electrical Trades Union
  • Electrical Industry
  • Power and Water Corporation
  • Electrical Workers and Contractors Licensing Board
  • Office of Sustainable Energy
  • Licensing NT
  • NT WorkSafe
  • Consumer Affairs
  • Department of the Attorney-General and Justice

On 20 December 2019, the Reference Group submitted a report to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice detailing 37 proposals.

One of the key proposals was development of a new legislation focused solely on electrical safety.

Electrical Safety Bill 2021

The Hon Selena Uibo, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice introduced the Electrical Safety Bill 2021 during the November 2021 sittings of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.

Key Features of Bill

  • The proposed legislation aims to:
    • impose obligations on persons who may affect the electrical safety of others by acts or omissions;
    • update or make regulations, ministerial notices and codes of practice about electrical safety;
    • enhance the requirements for safety management systems for prescribed electricity entities;
    • introduce safety requirements for all electrical goods through the adoption of a national scheme;
    • provide for the safety of all persons through modernised licensing and discipline of persons who perform electrical work;
    • provide for the appointment of an Electrical Safety Regulator; and
    • establish the Electrical Safety Board to advise the Minister and oversee the activities of the Electrical Safety Regulator.
  • The proposed legislation will apply to all places where electricity is transmitted or consumed. It will not be limited to workplaces, but extend to domestic residences and public places. The proposed legislation encompasses:
    • all electrical installations, works of an electricity entity, electrical equipment, cathodic protection systems and activities conducted near and on exposed live electrical parts; and
    • all persons who may affect the electrical safety of others and whose electrical safety may be affected.

More detailed information on the Electrical Safety Bill 2021 can found in the following explanatory statement below.

Make a comment

Interested stakeholders have an opportunity to make comment on the Electrical Safety Bill 2021 before it is debated in February 2022.

Comments should be sent to:

Director Regulatory Reform
NT WorkSafe
GPO Box 1722
Darwin NT 0801

The closing date for making comments is 31 January 2022.

Related information

Questions and answers

  • In late 2018, the Hon Natasha Fyles MLA, (the then Attorney-General and Minister for Justice), established the Electrical Safety and Licensing Reference Group (that consisted of industry, worker, training, licencing and safety regulator and legal representatives) and asked that its members to, amongst other things, develop recommendations relating to amendments to both the Electricity Reform Act 2000 and the Electrical Workers and Contractors Act 1978.

    These recommendations would:

    • Identify legislative mechanisms to improve electrical safety for all Territorians;
    • Identify existing gaps and issues in current legislation and potential way to improve the operation of the legislation;
    • Consider legislation and governance in other jurisdictions in mapping out future reforms in the Northern Territory (NT);
    • Provide direction on how electrical licensing in the NT can better align with other jurisdictions and provide pathways to national licensing;
    • Clarify the roles and responsibilities for the Electrical Licensing Board and NT Worksafe Electrical Inspectors.

    The Reference Group handed up its final report in December 2019. In that report the Reference Group identified:

    In respect of regulatory responsibilities, the Reference Group recommended that:

    • there is a need for a single government regulator responsible for the overall administration of the legislation for both safety and licensing. This would cover matters such as the issuing of licences, supervision of inspectors, industry education and enforcement (disciplinary action and prosecutions);
    • there is a need for other bodies (such as a licensing / disciplinary authority) that would deal with more complex licensing decisions (e.g. licensing applications rejected by the government regulator), disciplinary matters and policy reviews and consultations as directed by the Minister; and
    • there be a single enforcement inspectorate with stronger auditing and regulatory powers and more appropriate penalties that will maximise safety outcomes.
  • The enactment of legislation mandating standards concerning the safety of electrical appliances will now be aligned with those in place elsewhere in Australia.

    Currently in the Northern Territory the safety of electrical appliances and tools is covered either by consumer law for domestic use (for a very limited range of goods) or work health and safety obligations for industrial use.  Neither framework offers the strongest assurances of safety for users of electrical appliances and tools. In other jurisdictions there exists an Electrical Equipment Safety Scheme (EESS) that provides that strong assurance.

    Historically, under the Section 21 of the (repealed) Electricity Act, the Authority could create by-laws controlling electrical equipment (which was further established under Electricity By Law 5 that set out, that certain equipment could not be sold and called-up inter-state approval frameworks) whilst section 22 allowed that electrical equipment may be inspected and tested with section 23 allowing a person to request an inspection not just of equipment but of anything associated with the electricity network including generation and transmission.

    This framework was not carried over into the Electricity Reform Act 2000 (ERA 2000).

    Currently a number of jurisdictions have an electrical equipment safety system to ensure that any electrical equipment manufactured in that jurisdiction or imported from an international manufacturer meet minimum safety standards.  As there have been issues with conformity between jurisdictions and the systems needed modernisation, an updated (national) system was commenced in March 2013 in Queensland.

    However, this cannot occur in the Northern Territory as the ERA 2000 specifically excludes electrical equipment. It is appropriate that this opportunity be taken to enable such a system to be implemented in the Northern Territory.  This Act implements the EESS already enacted in other jurisdictions. The EESS is a regulatory framework aimed at increasing safety when interacting with electrical equipment.

    The key objective of the EESS is to eliminate the human and financial costs of shock, injury and property damage that can be caused by unsafe electrical equipment used by consumers and workers; and installed or in use in their premises or workplaces. While workers are covered by the duties owed by person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU’s) under the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (WHS Act); Northern Territorians using electrical equipment for household, personal or similar use are not as protected. This Part will rectify that situation.

    The EESS outlines the safety requirements for registration of Responsible Suppliers and equipment in a centralised national database. That database is managed by Queensland as the jurisdiction which created the parent legislation. However this Act will call-up all systems in Australia and New Zealand to ensure comprehensive coverage and thus maximum assurance of safety; noting that no such system will be created in the Northern Territory.

    Responsible Suppliers are local manufacturers or importers of in-scope electrical equipment. The Responsible Supplier must be a legal entity in Australia and is responsible ensuring the safety of the electrical equipment sold onto the Australian market.

    This Act captures low voltage electrical appliances (Consumer electrical equipment) that are designed, or marketed as suitable, for household, personal or similar use as defined under the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 4417.2 (Regulatory compliance mark for electrical and electronic equipment).

    The relevant classes of equipment will be prescribed (and published) in the Northern Territory by the Electrical Safety Regulator who will be informed by Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 4417.2 (Regulatory compliance mark for electrical and electronic equipment), Annex B.4. Examples of classes of equipment that will be prescribed include hand-held portable electric tools, battery chargers, dishwashers, ovens, and toasters

    Prescribed appliances must be approved before they are offered for sale. They must be marked with either the Regulatory Compliance Mark (RCM) or the Approval Number. The conditions for use of the RCM are set out in AS/NZS 4417. Approval numbers are issued by electrical safety regulators who operate electrical equipment safety schemes when satisfied that a product complies with the electrical safety regulations.

    Please note that the Northern Territory will not be operating such a scheme.

    These new requirements will impact a very limited number of businesses. The impact will be on those companies that import goods and those companies that sell used goods.

    Currently there are four Northern Territory based companies registered on the national system that import goods. There are no other known importers as all other wholesalers and retailers rely on national or interstate importers and manufacturers and so are covered by their registration. As such the impact is likely to be minimal.

    The impact on sellers of second-hand goods has been mitigated to some extent by the allowance for checks of safety prior to offering for sale. Additionally, defences are allowed that gives a possible offender greater latitude in being able to show compliance with these new requirements.

    However the national EESS has been in place since 2013 with assorted national and international arrangements in place before then. This national EESS directly impacts the Northern Territory even though it is not enforceable as the vast majority of prescribed goods enter the Northern Territory from interstate rather than overseas; and will have been entering under the national EESS nearly 10-years (by the time this Act commences and comes out of transition). As such, the large amount of goods that may be put up for second-hand sale will already be fully compliant with these new provisions.

    Given the clear benefits of formally adopting, and being able to enforce, the EESS in the Northern Territory versus the small amount of impact, these clauses have been assessed as reasonable.

  • Unlike in the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (the WHS Act), there is no exception for an unincorporated association or a volunteer association. The reason for this is that the underlying intent of this Bill is that all people are safe from electrical risk; and a volunteer or community organisation, or an unincorporated association cannot be excluded from being required to comply with essential electrical safety duties.

    It should be recalled that without a separate legal ‘identity’ for the group (as distinct from the individuals involved in the group) an unincorporated association can’t be prosecuted as a separate body if it fails to meet an electrical duty. Instead, individual members of the group could potentially each bear personal responsibility for the group’s actions.

    The WHS Act makes a fair and reasonable policy decision to exclude volunteer groups, unless they have employees, from holding duties under that Act as the impacts of such regulation far outweigh the risks; as well as acknowledging that in almost all cases the volunteer group actually has little capacity to influence safety matters that are captured under the WHS Act.

    However the Electrical Safety Act will have not that exclusion as electricity, unlike workplaces (all of which are captured by the WHS Act), is ubiquitous and the likelihood of dangerous interactions due to a lack of care are much higher.

  • The various regulatory requirements applicable to “electrical installations” will now apply to solar panels, batteries, other small generation units and other emerging technologies.

    This is proposed because these small generation units represent a significant area of danger to ordinary citizens and to the electricity network.

    This is because poorly designed or installed units can lead to electrical shock or fires (which are known hazards for households) and can also leak power back into the electricity network in an uncontrolled manner (which is an increasing risk to electrical workers and networks).

    Battery systems can be dangerous pieces of electrical equipment so need to be captured by the new Act. The regulatory burden is more than outweighed by the increase in public and worker safety provided by an appropriate level of regulation that cannot be provided through simple administrative or policy settings.

  • The Power and Water Corporation and Territory Generation and other companies providing or transmitting electrical energy are in the main exempt from regulatory activity by the Electricity Safety Regulator as the definition of an electrical installation in the ERA 2000 explicitly excludes electricity infrastructure (e.g. electricity generating plant; powerlines) owned or operated by an electricity entity.

    The Utilities Commission issues licences to distribution, electricity and generation entities (electricity entities). Currently where appropriate the Utilities Commission imposes a condition that the licence holder must present to the Utilities Commission a Safety Management and Mitigation Plan (SMMP) for approval.

    SMMP are informed by legislation, Australian Standards and a National Electricity Network Safety Code. They are used to define how the licence holder ensures the safe design, construction, commissioning, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of its electricity works.

    This Act converts that particular licence condition imposed administratively by the Utilities Commission into a legislated requirement which can be realistically enforced. It defines a SMMP as a written document that sets out:

    • the hazards and risks associated with the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the entity’s works;
    • how the electricity entity will manage the hazards and risks to ensure that its electrical safety obligation is properly discharged;
    • what the entity will do to ensure that contractors for the performance of electrical and other work for the entity comply with the requirements of the SMMP.

    While this is a new regulatory burden it is not an additional impact. The actual impact is that non-compliance with SMMP requirements are now offences that can be prosecuted and that the entities every three years will need to source an external reviewer rather than reviewing their SMMP internally. However the ability to be able to enforce an accepted requirement that assures safety outweighs any impacts.

  • As currently administered under the Electricity Reform Act 2000 there is limited capacity to order a person responsible for poor electrical work to rectify that work.  The Electrical Safety Act sets out that directions to rectify defective electrical work may be issued by the Electrical Safety Regulator; and only if the Regulator considers that:

    • the way the electrical work was performed was not safe from electrical risk; or
    • the person who actually performed the electrical work was negligent or incompetent in performing the work; or
    • the work was performed in a way that causes a person or property to not be safe from electrical risk.

    They are designed to ensure that work conducted by a licence holder is bought to standard if it was not so originally. The intent is that while work of such poor or dangerous nature may be an offence, the owner of any equipment of installation so affected should not be forced to rectify the poor or dangerous work themselves. However the Act does allow that if the responsible licence holder cannot be found, the direction may be given to the current owner of the equipment of installation to ensure that electrical safety is achieved.

    The impact if this new provision may be amplified in the eyes of industry members by the new limitation periods.

  • The Act sets out the limitation periods for when proceedings for an offence may begin. Proceedings must be commenced:

    • within two years after the Electrical Safety Regulator became aware of offence under Part 2 (Electrical safety duties),
    • within one year after a finding in a coronial or other official inquiry that the offence has occurred, or
    • within 5 years of the occurrence of any other offence.

    The five-year period also sets the maximum time beyond which a rectification be cannot be issued to the original duty holder.

    The limitation periods provided balance the need of a duty holder to have proceedings brought and resolved quickly with the public interest in having a matter thoroughly investigated by the regulator so that a sound case can be brought. It also allows enough time for defects and offences of a technical nature to come to light and be prosecuted if necessary.

    The current limitation period is six-months. This issue was identified in the Review of Electrical Safety and Licencing with the relevant section of the report provided below.

    Under section 52 of the Local Court (Criminal Procedure) Act 1928 where no time is specially limited for commencing a prosecution of an offence the prosecution must be commenced within six months from the time when the offence occurred.

    Neither the Electricity Reform Act 2000 (ERA 2000) or the Electrical Workers and Contractors Act 1978 (EWCA) contain a specific provision dealing with the limitation periods for the commencement of prosecutions. This means that the prosecution of offences under either of these Acts are likely to fail if commenced more than six months after the offence occurred. This can be contrasted with the position under the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (WHS Act). Section 232 of the WHS Act provides that the limiting period is two years commencing when the offence first comes to the notice of the regulator or one year if a coronial report indicates that an offence has been committed.

    For offences of a regulatory nature (such as those under the ERA 2000 or the EWCA it is often the case that there is no knowledge about an offence until well after the expiry of the six months limitations period. Additionally, putting together the paper work for prosecuting for a regulatory offence can be so time consuming as to mean that laying the necessary complaint in time is impossible.

    The default limitations per in section 52 of the Local Court (Criminal Procedure) Act 1928 was designed in the context of the prosecution of offences commence in courts of summary jurisdiction by police e.g. minor assaults, minor thefts and other offences of the kind contained in the Summary Offences Act 1928. The provisions in the WHS Act represent best practice for regulatory offences.

    In extending the limitations period there will be an impact upon workers and contractors who undertake electrical work. While most workers and contractors will comply with the Australian Standards and industry best practice, they may still be factoring into their costings that they will not expect to be required to rectify any work or pay a fine as the vast majority of poor or unsafe work is not identified until after the current six-month limitation period.

    However there are a number of workers and contractors who will undertake the work to cost rather than standard or do not comply with industry best practice when working in the tropics.

    NT WorkSafe and the Licencing Board get between 5 and 10 complaints every year about poor or unsafe work. In the vast majority of cases, the home or building owner is required to pay for rectifications themselves while the duty holder continues working unpunished.

    This is creating both a safety risk and an unfair imposition upon owners (normally home owners as commercial and industrial clients often have tight contract conditions which can require rectification). This provision will impact the industry but only those willing to cut corners.

    Even if costs are passed on to the consumer, the net outcome in terms of public safety and the peace of mind of home owners, outweighs the impact of these new limitation periods.

  • The Bill will allow that interstate licensed electricians (licenced workers, not licensed businesses) will be able to provide electrical services of the kind permitted by their interstate licence in the Northern Territory without obtaining a Northern Territory licence.  This proposal could be critiqued by local industry in so far as it goes further in liberalising licensing requirements than is the case throughout most the rest of the country. Only Queensland, by statute, permits interstate licensed workers to operate in Queensland without any need to comply with the Mutual Recognition legislation.  Other jurisdictions (NSW and Victoria) have administrative processes in place.

    Concerns about unfair business advantages would be valid if they made it cheaper to operate a business in the Northern Territory.  However, the detail of the allowance is that this will avoid any such unfair advantage e.g. they cannot not set up a permanent business in the Northern Territory, they must notify the regulatory body that they intend to conduct to work in the Northern Territory and they must comply with Northern Territory laws regarding matters such as standards and certificates of compliance. Automatic recognition will not apply to corporate licensees.

  • All licences issued under the Electrical Workers and Contractors Act 1978 are valid under the Electrical Safety Act.

    No changes to licence classes are currently being considered.

    Any changes in licence class or requirements will only occur after extensive consultation.

  • This proposal represents an expansion of regulatory oversight, as currently the certificates are only provided to the electricity providers as part of their process to energise a connection to the electricity grid. It is supported because significant works can occur after connection that may also need inspection. This additional process ensures that the Electrical Safety Regulator is informed of electrical work that they can then inspect to ensure public and community safety.

    The Act requires a person who conducts electrical work to complete and sign a certificate of compliance that certifies that the electrical work was tested to be safe from electrical risk and the electrical work complies with this Act and any standards prescribed or adopted by the regulations.
    This clause elaborates on the concept of the certificate of compliance introduced in Section 67 of the ERA 2000 and fully set out in Part 3 of the Electricity Reform (Safety and Technical) Regulations 2000. It also includes provision to ensure certificates are kept by the Regulator without disposal – this lack of requirement to keep a record in perpetuity is an issue that a recent coronial investigation highlighted.

    This proposal represents an expansion of regulatory oversight, as currently the certificates are only provided to the electricity providers as part of their process to energise a connection to the electricity grid. It is supported because significant works can occur after connection that may also need inspection. This additional process ensures that the Electricity Safety Regulator is informed of electrical work that they can then inspect to ensure public and community safety.

    While this requirement is a slight increase in regulatory burden, the clause also rectifies anarchic settings that saw certificates essential to assuring safety not being provided to the Regulator or being kept for the lifetime of the installation or connection.  As such this is a reasonable burden that will have positive safety outcomes that outweigh the impacts.

    It should be noted that common-sense exceptions have been set for these requirements that will actually reduce impact of the system already in place.

  • The supply of electricity is an essential service and any deliberate interference with supply could have catastrophic or even deadly outcomes. The deliberate diversion of electricity is theft as well as creating an electrical safety risk.

    This Division replicates and modernises requirements, offences and powers relating to safety and integrity of the supply of electricity set out in Parts 4 and 8 of the Electricity Reform Act 2000.

    While a number of the offences are new to the Electrical Safety Act, they were recognised as necessary by the Review. The actual language was developed in consultation with stakeholders and in reality only punishes people who deliberately breach the law through interfering with vital public infrastructure or steal electricity.

    In terms of theft the Review found that thefts of electricity can be difficult to prove. In part this is because of the often disingenuous nature of the offence. Often it arises from activities and actions which affect the measuring of the amount of electricity that is being consumer. Such activities and actions include those where:

    • the measuring meter is by-passed (so that the electricity being used is simply not measure);
    • the meter is physically affect by being made to run slower (meaning that there is an under measurement of electricity being used.

    It most cases it is relatively easy to prove who has received the benefit of the under measurement of the electricity. It is much less easy to prove that that person had the requisite criminal intent.


    • Enforcement of some offences under the ERA 2000, including for stealing of electricity is somewhat problematic for electrical entities as they have no experience with criminal law.
    • In addition the current level of penalty is low in relation to the cost of an investigation and prosecution.
    • There may also be issues about who is responsible for prosecutions – the crown as is the case for most prosecutions of the criminal law or the electricity entity (as the entity that is suffering commercial losses from the theft/tampering with devices).

    Section 96 and 97 of the ERA 2000 includes a range of civil penalty provisions (either 100 or 200 penalty units) that were intended to be enforceable by the Electricity Safety Regulator. However, the Electricity Safety Regulator (in its functions under section 8 of the ERA 2000) does not have the function to ‘enforce’ these provisions. The Utilities Commission does have the power to ‘enforce’ its offences under the ERA 2000 (although it does not have many) because section 6 of the Utilities Commission Act 2000 provides that one of the Utilities Commissioner’s functions is to ‘enforce compliance’.

    Section 100 of the ERA 2000 also allows that it is a defence to a charge of an offence against this Act if the defendant proves that the offence was not committed intentionally and did not result from any failure on the part of the defendant to take reasonable care to avoid the commission of the offence.

    These findings led to these new provisions that have no impact.

  • The Act looks to resolve practical issues about who is responsible for vegetation on private and public land as it relates to the safety of electrical installations such as power lines.

    Currently section 64 of the ERA 2000 provides that electricity entities can, through electricity officers, enter land and clear it vegetation to the extent necessary to avoid interruption to the electricity supply. For such entry there is a need for consent from the land owner or a warrant that authorises entry.  The electricity entity pays for the costs of dealing with the vegetation and incurs a liability to make good any damage.

    Additionally, there are sometimes trees on public land (such as nature strips) that are, in practice, the responsibility of the adjoining land owner – in the sense that such trees are often planted and cared for by the landowner.

    This current legislative framework means that, in practice, distributors of electricity in the Northern Territory rely on cooperative arrangements with landowners. This is not how the majority of other jurisdictions deal with these issues.

    In light of this, this Bill replicates and modernises requirements, offences and powers relating to safety of the supply of electricity through powerlines as set out in Part 4 Division 4 of the Electricity Reform Act 2000 and Part 7 of the Electricity Reform (Safety and Technical) Regulations 2000.

    The Act sets out that the Electrical Safety Regulator may establish guidelines on the clearance from powerlines of vegetation on land to prevent the vegetation from creating an electrical risk. If any guidelines are made, they must be published, and must be consistent with requirements set out in other relevant legislation (e.g. the Planning Act 1999).

    The Act also allows that an electricity entity may establish requirements for the clearance of vegetation on land from its powerlines to prevent the vegetation from creating an electrical risk. It requires the electricity entity to notify its customers of its requirements for the clearance of vegetation.

    It then creates an offence for the owner or occupier of land to not take reasonable steps to keep vegetation on the land clear of any powerline in accordance with any guidelines (as set out above). The maximum penalty is 100 penalty units.

    The major impact of these updated clauses is that electricity entities now have the option to remedy electrical risks due to vegetation if the owner or occupier of land does not comply with published guidelines. It does this by allowing the officers of the electricity entity to enter land to which the entity supplies electricity, without the consent of the owner or occupier, to ensure that the vegetation on the land is clear of any powerline. The clause clarifies that the electricity entity may recover any costs it incurs in clearing the vegetation.

    The Bill seeks to balance a land owners right to privacy with the public good of assuring continual flow of electricity. The use of guidelines and education gives land owners the opportunity to contribute to the public good. This is a balanced approach to public safety over individual privacy.

  • This power is already present in the Electricity Reform Act 2000 and the inclusion of the power in the Electrical Safety Act has included limitations and controls on that power that are not present in the Electricity Reform Act 2000. No issues have been encountered in the inspectors using their powers under current arrangements.

    It should be noted that inspectors will only ask to enter if they have safety concerns and that members of the public should take note of the concerns of inspectors and seek to improve electrical safety through allowing inspectors to ensure compliance with the Act.