For almost 30 years, we’ve been fighting for environmental justice for communities and nature. We’ve had some incredible successes. Here are just a few.
We won a Parliamentary Inquiry into coal ash in NSW
In June 2019, we released groundbreaking research, Unearthing the Toxic Legacy of Coal Ash in Australia, about the health and environmental impacts of coal ash, a toxic by-product of coal-fired power. We recommended all states with coal-fired power stations initiate Parliamentary Inquiries as a critical first step in understanding the threat posed by this enormous toxic waste issue and the solutions required to fix it.
Our report generated a huge amount of media, community and government interest and in October 2019, the New South Wales government announced a Parliamentary Inquiry into coal ash waste. This was a huge win for communities who live near coal ash dumps and worry about the impacts on their health and local environment.
We helped get a formal inquiry into the Hazelwood mine fire
“When the Hazelwood Coal Mine caught fire in February 2014, clouds of toxic smoke were released over our town of Morwell, and the whole Latrobe Valley,” said Wendy Farmer, of community group Voices of the Valley. “Environmental Justice Australia helped to get a formal inquiry into the fire. Residents were sure there had been a spike in deaths – but we didn’t know how to make the government investigate this. EJA represented us, showing us how to get the Premier to take our concerns seriously, and get the inquiry re-opened to investigate them. The Inquiry then found that it was probable a spike in deaths had occurred due to the air pollution from the fire.”
We stopped a new coal-fired power station in Latrobe Valley
The VCAT case we brought with Environment Victoria and Locals Into Victoria’s Environment (LIVE) stopped a new coal-fired power station being built in the Latrobe Valley. The case itself was described as “once in a decade case” and resulted in findings that meant climate change must be considered when Victorian governments make decisions about large carbon polluting project proposals.
Although VCAT ultimately allowed the permit for the power station, the conditions we secured for the approval meant that the new coal fired power station did not proceed.
We pioneered climate finance risk litigation globally
In August 2017, in a world first, we represented 23-year-old Mark McVeigh, who filed a legal action against the trustee of his retirement fund, the Retail Employees Superannuation Trust (REST), for failing to adequately consider climate change risks. This was the first time a member had challenged their super fund on climate change grounds, setting an important global first for others to follow.
With almost $50 billion under management, REST is one of Australia’s largest asset owners and in thetop 150 pension funds in the world. A judgment would set an important international precedent that encourages super funds to consider climate change risks when managing other people’s money.
The case is still ongoing, with McVeigh now represented by Equity Generation Lawyers, a law firm set up by former EJA lawyer and lead lawyer on this case, David Barnden.
We kept the chainsaws out of precious old-growth forests in Victoria
In 2017, acting for the Flora and Fauna Research Collective, our legal team won an urgent court injunction to stop logging in the ancient Kuark forest while we took the case to the Supreme Court. Since the case began, it’s grown to include over 30 areas of old-growth forest across East Gippsland threatened by logging.
These magnificent old-growth forests in far East Gippsland are home to rare rainforest found nowhere else on Earth, along with endangered owls, potoroos and gliding possums, are earmarked for logging.
Our trial began in Victoria’s Supreme Court on the 10 December, 2018 and in our last week of Court for the year, we had a huge breakthrough. Under cross-examination by our barrister, a key witness for the Environment Department admitted logging in old-growth forest should stop altogether. This huge admission shows just how important it is to hold governments to account in Court to protect our magnificent forests. We now await the judge’s decision that will determine the future of some of Australia’s precious remaining old-growth forests.
We won an injunction to stop logging in Leadbeater’s and Greater Glider habitat
In May 2018, we successfully won a Federal Court injunction to prevent logging in five areas that are home to the endangered Greater Glider in Victoria’s Central Highlands, while our Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum v VicForests case goes to trial.
This case challenges whether logging in certain areas can continue to have a special exemption from Australia’s national threatened species law. In March the Court found the Regional Forest Agreement for the Central Highlands does exempt logging from the EPBC Act – despite non-compliance with the RFA’s requirement for five-year reviews – but importantly the Court found non-compliance with other terms in the RFA may remove that exemption. We are awaiting judgement. If we win this case, it could change the way forests are manage around the country and help protect other threatened wildlife like the Swift Parrot, the Koala and the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo.
We won new laws to protect our Yarra River
The Yarra is Greater Melbourne’s most important green corridor. It is culturally significant and loved by people across the state. But for many decades the Yarra was seen as little more than a drain – its flows have been modified, its connections to wetlands disrupted, its governance fragmented. We worked with the Yarra Riverkeeper Association and many friends groups, environment groups and residents’ groups on the passage of the Yarra River (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Protection Act through Victoria’s Parliament on 21 September 2017. This was the first time a Victorian river had a single piece of legislation devoted to its protection. The Act set up a long-term environmental framework for the protection and management of the Yarra and established a Birrarung River Council including Traditional Owners to advise and advocate for the river and its surrounds.
We made sure an Indian environment group’s objections to Adani were heard in Queensland’s Land Court
With our representation, an Indian environment group was able to lodge an objection to the mine with the Land Court of Queensland, explaining how coal pollutes the air, water and land of Indian communities.
“Indian coal giant Adani is planning to build what will be the southern hemisphere’s biggest coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin,” said Debi Goenka of the Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai, India. “They say that shipping the coal to India will help alleviate poverty, but the truth is that India’s rural poor can’t afford the electricity that will be generated – all they’ll get will be damage to their health and the air, water, land and natural resource base on which their survival depends. Environmental Justice Australia represented us before the Queensland Land Court in an objection to the mine. Without Environmental Justice Australia, we could never have had our concerns heard.”
We secured the Victorian community’s right to take polluters to court
In 2018, our advocacy in partnership with Victorian communities, won Victorians the right to take polluters to court if they are breaking the law. We fought hard for citizen enforcement rights to be included in the new Environment Protection Act. This is a key environmental justice reform. Although we expect the Environment Protection Authority to remain the primary enforcer of pollution laws, the proposed right to take enforcement action will provide an important safety net should the EPA fail to do its job in enforcing pollution control laws.
We won stronger laws to address climate change in Victoria
We advocated for stronger laws to address climate change in Victoria for many years. In 2010 the Brumby Labor government introduced a Climate Change Act that began that process. Although it was gutted one year later by the Ballieu Liberal government, the whole scheme was strengthened in 2016 by the Andrews Labor government. The Andrews Government included an emissions reduction target of net zero emissions by 2050 along with interim five yearly targets. Many elements of the laws that we advocated for, for years, are now enshrined in the Act, such as a whole-of-government consideration of climate emissions and impacts. Working with Environment Victoria and Friends of the Earth, we continue to make sure the Act is implemented to its full extent by the government