Joint Media Release with the Shadow Attorney-General and the Shadow Minister for National Security, Mark Dreyfus QC.
Labor welcomes indications today that the new Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg will abandon the ridiculous vendetta of the Abbott Government against those who bring actions to uphold Australian laws designed to protect our natural environment and national heritage.
Since mid-2015 Attorney-General George Brandis and Mr Frydenberg’s predecessor Greg Hunt have been threatening to destroy the capacity for concerned groups or individuals to bring legal challenges against developments that could harm the environment in contravention of Australia’s environmental protection laws. This campaign was founded on the ridiculous argument that such cases amounted to ‘lawfare’ or ‘legal vigilantism’ that would hurt the economy.
These attacks were always a ruse for Tony Abbott and George Brandis’s attacks on green groups and those who opposed their destructive environmental agenda. The spectre of thousands of vexatious lawsuits brought by “activists” was also never more than a hyperbolic scare campaign of the kind that Mr Abbott made his stock in trade.
At its core, this Government policy is about making it harder for unlawful decisions to be contested. The government should not be afraid of compliance with the law being enforced.
Our legal system has always played an important role in protecting our environment, and it is vitally important that role is maintained. This includes farmer seeking to protect their farmland from coal seam gas developers, Indigenous groups trying to protect ancestral sites, or community groups trying to save an environmental treasure such as the Great Barrier Reef.
Sadly, the proposed changes to the Environmental Protection and and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act were only ever one part of the Government’s attack. Under Senator Brandis’s tenure, Environmental Defenders Offices (EDO) across the country, had their Commonwealth funding completely withdrawn at the behest of the mining industry.
EDOs have for decades acted on behalf of our natural environment in the public interest, frequently representing farmers, Indigenous communities and other Australians who otherwise could not hope to do legal battle with huge mining companies and property developers. EDOs have given those people a voice in the court system. Since Senator Brandis gutted funding, EDOs have been reduced to a handful of dedicated, overworked lawyers who are continuing their important work out of sheer dedication.
Labor calls on Senator Brandis to follow Mr Frydenberg’s lead, and return funding to EDOs so they can continue doing their vital work. The abandonment of changes to the EPBC Act is an encouraging indication the government is listening and may be moving away from the anti-environmental ideology of the Abbott years, and Labor will continue to advocate for further change.