Have you checked the roof-mounted spotlights used for hunting and spotlighting are legal in the state you go hunting in? Australia, being a Federation of States, has both federal and state/territory laws and some topics detailed in the Australian Constitution give the Federal Government the authority to make laws on those topics – taxation, Customs imports and immigration just a few examples.
The states and territories make the laws governing their own state which are not under federal jurisdiction, but what sometimes happens is the states and territories agree to allow the Federal Government to legislate on a topic or accept federal legislation and rules into that state and territory law.
Most people would be aware of the Australian Road Rules and National Vehicle Standards for cars which apply to all states and territories. National vehicle standards, known as National Standards – Vehicle Standards (Australian Design Rules (ADR), regulate vehicles and fitting when that vehicle is to be driven on a road. Driving on a road when your vehicle does not comply with the ADR is a contravention of the Australian Road Rules and, depending on your state or territory, will incur about a $300 fine plus levy and possibly a vehicle defect notice. In the case of the National Standards – Vehicle Standards (ADR) these rules apply nationwide, though the states have authority to make changes to suit that particular state or territory.
So what has this to do with spotlighting? All vehicle lighting is regulated under the ADR. Technically under the ADR there’s no such thing as a spotlight – they must all be driving lights and must be fitted to the front of the vehicle, facing forward and work in conjunction with the vehicle’s high beam. Previous changes allowed driving lights to be fitted to the roof but this does not permit the fitting of a roof-mounted spotlight which is not forward-facing and not connected to the high beam.
There’s something else in the ADR called external cabin lights but don’t confuse these with spotlights. Cabin lights are what trucks have on the roof (either white or yellow) and must be 17 watts or less. As roof-mounted spotlights are neither driving lights nor external cabin lights they’re not approved in the ADR and therefore are not legal. More correctly, a vehicle with a roof-mounted spotlight cannot legally be driven on a road although this is where a state or territory can modify its laws to allow spotlights.
SA appears the most complicated situation. In recognising the work done by the SSAA and its Conservation and Wildlife Branch, the South Australian state government passed an exemption to the ADR, allowing a roof-mounded spotlight in special circumstances. The approval refers to spotlights as roof-mounted work lights, then roof-mounted cabin lights and roof-mounted search lights, just to confuse people even more.
To use this exemption you must have a South Australian firearms licence of either Category 3 – hunting, Category 5 – primary production, Category 7 – contract shooter or Category 12 – conservation purpose. The vehicle fitted with a roof-mounted spotlight must be used for animal harvesting and feral animal control, the ‘and’ meaning you must be engaged in both (perhaps it should have been ‘or’ instead of ‘and’ but that’s not what the exemption states).
Kangaroos are not feral animals therefore no vehicle-fitted spotlight for kangaroo culling. Shooting foxes is feral animal control but not animal harvesting so no vehicle-fitted spotlight for fox shooting either. Although if you were shooting foxes and also intended to harvest what rabbits you came across or culling kangaroos under permit at the same time, you’re both harvesting rabbits and controlling feral animals. Someone once stated the law is an ass – perhaps they meant a poorly worded law is an ass.
Once you’ve met the criteria of the licence category and complied with the harvesting and feral control requirement, you can drive the vehicle with fitted spotlight on a road if: You turn the light around to face rearward, the handle and swivel is either removed or secured so it will not dislodge or come in contact with an occupant of the vehicle, the power is disconnected so the light cannot be turned on, and you carry a written copy of this exemption (South Australian Government Gazette notice) in the vehicle while driving on a road – and no passenger is allowed to sit under the position of the spotlight. This exemption doesn’t allow you to spotlight on or from a road, it only allows the vehicle to be driven on a road with a roof-mounted spotlight fitted (if all other conditions are complied with).
The NT Government’s Motor Vehicle Registry Information Bulletin refers to spotlights as ‘search or work lights’ and allows these additional lights when intended to be used for temporary purposes such as reading signs, handling or adjusting loads or providing additional illumination in off-road situations. There’s no mention of shooting or spotlighting.
The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads – Vehicle Standards Instruction (24.1) has provision for searchlights or work lights while the vehicle is stationary and the light is being used for making adjustments or repairs to the vehicle or being used in an off-road situation. Again, no mention of shooting or spotlighting.
New South Wales
Rule 218.1 – using lights on a vehicle generally. Allows a spot or searchlight to be fitted and used when the vehicle is stationary but only for the purpose of examining or making adjustments or repairs to a vehicle – and the light is not projected more than six metres – or a light can be used to read signs, noticeboards or house numbers. There’s no mention of shooting or spotlighting and states ‘only for the purpose of’ the above stated exemptions.
The Vic Roads website does not list any exemption or approval to fit a roof-mounted spotlight to a motor vehicle.
Government of WA Department of Transport (IB-132C) allows for optional front lights, searchlight or work light intended to be used for temporary purpose such as reading signs, handling or adjusting loads or providing additional illumination in off-road situations and may be fitted to a vehicle in any location. Although approval for a searchlight is stated for off-road situations, it states additional illumination with no mention of hunting with a spotlight.
Tasmanian Government, Department of State Growth, Information Bulletin, September 2020: Additional lighting, discussed LED, HID and fog lights with reference to the ADR. There’s no discussion or approval for a roof-mounted spotlight.
South Australia is the only state with specific approval for roof-mounted spotlights, albeit with complicated conditions, while Tasmania and Victoria would appear to not allow them at all. Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory do allow the fitting of a roof-mounted spotlight but not for the purpose of hunting or spotlighting animals. In those states you may argue the spotlight is fitted for the purpose of reading signs but this comes with a level of risk.
The simple solution for spotlighting in all states is to use a temporary fitted spotlight which can be removed before driving on a road. You also don’t need to put a hole through the roof of your vehicle as suction-mounted spotlights are readily available from the big manufacturers such as Lightforce and it’s a simple way of avoiding non-compliance issues with the Australian Design Rules as well as possible fines and defect.