Of Protest, the Commons, and Customary Public Rights: An Ancient Tale of the Lawful Forest

In this article, John Page and I explore an ancient tale of customary public rights that starts and ends with the landmark decision of Brown v Tasmania. In Brown, Australia’s highest court recognised a public right to protest in forests. Harking back 800 years to the limits of legal memory, and the Forest Charter of 1217, this right is viewed through the metaphor of the lawful forest, a relational notion of property at the margins of legal orthodoxy. Inherent to this tale is the tension that pits private enclosure against the commons, a contest that endures across time and place – from 13th century struggles against the Norman legal forest, through to modern claims of rights to the city.

This article is now available as an Advance copy with the UNSW Law Journal.

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The Darling’s dead fish of late capitalism

Humans of Late Capitalism (HOLC) is a social media account that plays on the massively popular Humans of New York (HONY) phenomenon to starkly highlight the reality of what it is like to live on our planet today. Its darkly humorous images serve as an ironic critique of our society and, particularly, our economic system.

Over the last few weeks, Australia has produced two symbolic images that fit well into the HOLC narrative: a massive fish kill in Menindee lakes on the Darling River and Walgett, the town with two rivers and no water.

Water is critical to life on this planet. And yet clean water supplies are dwindling due to the impact of human activity, while demand continues to increase. The United Nations has estimated that ‘by 2050, at least one-in-four people is likely to live in countries affected by chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater’.

Read more over at Eureka Street.

The inequity of this silent killer

When our kids were little, our family moved to Hanoi for my partner’s job. After we’d settled in to our new neighbourhood of Tay Ho (Westlake), we enjoyed walking the streets and admiring the beauty of the city. Hanoi is set around a number of lakes and filled with historic buildings and old winding laneways that are too narrow for cars. It is also surprisingly green. Plants grow on every available square inch, crammed into tiny pockets of dirt and pots.

But we hadn’t been there long until we begun bemoaning the frequency of foggy days and waiting hopefully for the rare clear days when Westlake would shine blue and we could see clearly over the rooftops from our sixth-story terrace.

I can’t remember exactly when I admitted to myself that it wasn’t fog that was obscuring visibility. But once I had fully acknowledged the extent of the airborne pollution, I felt a lot less keen on living in Hanoi with young children.

— Read more over at Eureka Street

Climate change is here, now we need to adapt

Wentworth voters sent a strong message to the Coalition that it needs to start taking serious action on climate change or risk seeing its vote continue to fall.

The ALP should also sit up and take notice of exit polling from the Australia Institute, which found an overwhelming majority of voters (79 per cent) were influenced by climate change (and the need to replace coal with renewable energy), while almost half (47 per cent) indicated that this issue had a lot of influence on their vote, and a full third (33 per cent) named it as the most important issue.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, the Hague Court of Appeal has upheld the historic decision in Urgenda Foundation v. The State of the Netherlands (2015), which ‘determined the Dutch government must reduce CO2 emissions by a minimum of 25 per cent (compared to 1990) by 2020 to fulfil its obligation to protect and improve the living environment against the imminent danger caused by climate change’.

— Read more over at Eureka Street

Ideology and idiocy in national energy policy

The Australian Greens have called for the establishment of a government-owned energy retailer, Power Australia, in order to bring down energy prices and drive emissions reduction ‘by providing a guaranteed buyer for clean energy’ to ‘contract the next wave of renewable energy projects’.

Of course, you’d expect such a call from the Greens, but calls for investor certainty in the clean energy market have also been coming from industry, as the government struggles to develop a coherent, bipartisan energy policy (as has just happened in New Zealand).

In the wake of the recent ousting of Malcolm Turnbull over the emissions reduction components of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), new Prime Minister Scott Morrison decided to decouple carbon emissions from government energy policy.

— Read more over at Eureka Street

Christian PM should have a heart for climate

Australia has always been a land of bushfires, but usually not in winter. This past month, however, the NSW Rural Fire Service was faced with over 80 significant bushfires. Scientists were reportedly shocked by the scale of the fires and environmental change academics have, unsurprisingly, blamed global warming.

And what did our government do in response to these fires (and related widespread drought)? It decided to continue to play Survivor: The Musical Chairs Edition and knock off another leader — on the basis of his desire to introduce emissions reductions, no less. Good times.

As others have noted, climate change policy has played a key role in the political instability of Australian politics over the last decade. And it has mostly been due to the recalcitrance of our political class in resisting any action that might jeopardise its cosy relationship with the fossil fuel industry.

— Read the rest over at Eureka Street

 

The fight to make water a human right

[Excerpt from article over at Eureka Street.]

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council recognised the existence of a human right to water, guaranteeing access for everyone to ‘sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses’.

Eight years on, it is past time that Australia incorporated this right into domestic law. Nonetheless, any push to do so will face an uphill battle, due to the awkward position occupied by human rights within our culture.

Surveys of the Australian population have found a significant gap between those who believe our human rights are sufficiently well protected, and those more disadvantaged groups who experience a very different reality. Our political class also has a history of ambivalence, or even hostility, to providing more comprehensive protection for human rights, and has been especially reluctant to legally recognise socioeconomic rights.

–Read more over at Eureka Street.–