Is the legal tide turning on climate change?

Late last week, the NSW Land and Environment Court refused approval for a new coal mine outside the town of Gloucester in the Upper Hunter Valley in a decision that the NSW Environmental Defenders’ Office is calling a ‘landmark legal win for climate and community‘.

While in many ways this decision was uncontroversial — in that it merely upheld an earlier ministerial decision — Chief Justice Preston’s judgment was significant in the Australian context both for its extensive reference to climate change and for his honour’s clear acceptance of the science.

Read more over at Eureka Street.

 

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#MeToo exposes legal failures, but ‘trial by Twitter’ isn’t one of them

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In a 2016 ABS survey, one in two women reported having experienced sexual harassment, but 90% of them did not contact the police. – Cindy Zhi/The Conversation NY-BD-CC

Cristy Clark, Southern Cross University

Six months after the explosive allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein came to light, giving impetus to the #MeToo movement, this series looks at the aftermath of the movement, and if it has brought about lasting change to sexual harassment and gender equality.


Critics have raised concerns that #MeToo has turned into a “trial by Twitter”, suggesting it has turned the legal principle of innocent until proven guilty on its head. The Australian’s opinion columnist Janet Albrechtsen argued this point on the ABC’s #MeToo Q&A special last month.

But such comments reveal an ignorance of the meaning and context of this principle. Leaving aside the fact that some people on social media side with the accused, public discussion – whether it takes place on Twitter or around a water cooler – is not comparable to state punishment.

Those concerned about the failure of a legal principle in relation to #MeToo might better focus on that of justice for victims.

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Law, legitimacy and activism in the Anthropocene

In the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred reflects on how she and her fellow Handmaids found themselves in their current predicament – living in a world where a small group of elites have rewritten the law in line with an inhumane and brutally enforced ideology that serves their own interests.

When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists, and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then either. … Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.

In the real world, there’s a dominant narrative that we are blindly walking down the path to catastrophic climate change, which is a pretty depressing thought. But the truth is even scarier – we are being shepherded down this path quite deliberately. We may have taken a while to wake up, but ever since we did and began to object, our governments have been making ever increasing use of state power to silence us.

I reflected on this during a recent trip to Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Heron’s reef supports around 4000 turtles, while many more return to the island in spring to nest. During one afternoon snorkeling trip, I was lucky enough to see three turtles, including a small juvenile, feeding on seaweed just metres from me. As I watched, my feelings turned from wonder to horror as it occurred to me that they are likely to see the reef die around them; gradually boiled to death.

[Please buy your copy of AQ: Australian Quarterly to read the rest of my article.]

The government vs the environment: lawfare in Australia

The good people at The Conversation asked me to write an article about the government’s proposed changes to the EPBC Act after the success of the litigation against the Adani Coal mine:

A key feature of authoritarianism is that the government is above the law – it is not accountable to the people for its actions. In contrast, under a democratic system, the rule of law means that the government is constrained by law and can be held accountable by the people. Continue reading

Brandis’ vision for human rights in Australia

This post was originally published on Larvatus Prodeo.

Before the election, the Human Rights Law Centre asked Mark Dreyfus, Penny Wright and George Brandis to each write a short article outlining their visions and priorities for human rights and justice in Australia. Now that Brandis has become our Attorney-General, it’s worth examining what he said in his piece.

The title of Brandis’ article, ‘Reclaiming human rights from the fury of ideologues‘, tells us a lot about his approach to the issue of human rights. He sees it as an explicitly ideological contest. Brandis starts off by complaining that, ‘the [current] discussion of human rights issues has been both narrow and one sided. The very term “human rights” has been appropriated by the Left, as if human rights advocacy were a left-wing cause.’ Then he proceeds to outline a frighteningly ‘narrow, one sided’ and conservative vision for human rights under his watch.

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