Another day, another dire move in the conservation of the environment proudly brought to you by the Morrison government. Federal environment minister Sussan Ley successfully appealed against a court decision that found she had a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis, particularly when assessing fossil fuel related developments.
In 2021, eight teenagers and a nun sought an injunction to stop Ley from approving a proposal to expand the Vickery coalmine in northern New South Wales, with the group arguing the minister had a common-law duty of care to protect young people against any future harm resulting from climate change.
Why has the duty of care ruling been overruled?
It was found the minister had a duty of care not to act in a way that would cause future harm, but the injunction was not granted as Justice Mordecai Bromberg was not satisfied the minister would breach her duty of care. A politician going against their word? Never heard of that happening. A full bench of the federal court yesterday overturned that judgement, deciding while Bromberg’s findings were “open to be made,” a duty of care shouldn’t be placed on the minister.
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Three justices heard the appeal, giving differing reasons for the decision reached including the court process being unsuitable to determine matters of public policy, and the protection of the public from injury caused by climate change impacts was not the responsibility of the minister as per Australian environment law.
The teenagers who brought the action – alongside Sister Brigid Arthur who volunteered to be their litigation guardian – said they are considering an appeal to the high court, and that it has not deterred them from fighting for a safer future for all. Conversely, Minister Ley said at a media conference following the proceedings that common sense had prevailed and that she takes her responsibilities under the environment protection and biodiversity conservation at very seriously.
The decision comes amidst a time of intense flooding across northern New South Wales and Queensland, where many have lost homes and their livelihoods across periods of torrential rain. If you’d like to help those in need, we have compiled a list of ways to help communities affected by flash flooding.