Date & time
Australian law has been slow to embrace, and remains hesitant in its adoption of, a concept of environmental justice. Before the turn of the decade, the concept was not present in law; its sole reference in legal archives was in the swearing-in of Chief Justice Preston of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court in 2004.
It took another decade for the law to be awakened to the concept. This paper looks at the different routes that the concept of environmental justice has taken tentatively into the laws of New South Wales and Victoria. Both starting points have been coal-mining towns, inviting reflections on the intersection between notions of environmental justice and climate justice, and perhaps suggesting the adoption of a discourse around climate justice may trigger a deeper entrenchment of the shared goals of the concepts in the Australian environmental legal framework.
In Victoria, the government promised the adoption of an environmental justice strategy following the forty-five day coalmine fire in the township of Morwell in the Latrobe Valley. While that strategy has not come to fruition, the government’s reform of the state’s pollution control laws, leading to the passage of the Environment Protection Act 2018, was commissioned to realise an improvement of environmental justice for rural communities like Morwell. The reform process instituted greater participatory rights and resulted in the funding of a program to disperse environmental regulatory expertise throughout the state.
In New South Wales, the judgments of the Chief Justice in the coal mining cases centred on the towns of Bulga and Gloucester have introduced justice concepts into that state’s jurisprudence. Within these cases the chief justice conceived environmental justice in environmental law as requiring a reweighting of the decision-making matrix for coalmine developments, a valorisation and appreciation for the local, and a goal of greater equity in the distribution of environmental harms spatially and temporally.
About the speaker
Brad Jessup is a lecturer at Melbourne Law School, and is completing his PhD on the topic of environmental justice at the ANU College of Law in 2019. Brad’s research focuses on local environmental conflicts. He adopts a mix of doctrinal, critical, and geographic approaches to his work. His recent and forthcoming publications include analyses of: the South Australian citizens’ jury on the disposal of nuclear waste; the prospects of an environmental justice strategy in Victoria; and the risk regulation of underground gas transmission pipelines in the peri-urban landscape.