Preface

09 Aug 2016 - 21:23 | Version 1 |

This is the third edition of the ACT Environmental Law Handbook to be published by the Environmental Defenders' Office of the ACT (EDO ACT). It is an up-to-date guide to the patchwork of laws and regulations that protect the environment in the ACT.

Australia has a proud, but piecemeal history of environmental legal protection. In The Colonial Earth (2000) Tim Bonyhady points to laws which as early as 1790 set international legal precedents in flora and fauna protection.

Nonetheless, the ecosystems, the animals and plants, the water and the air don't have standing in our courts and tribunals. People must take action on their behalf, not only by using the law to ensure our environment is protected, but also to advocate for a strengthening of that protection where it's needed. This activity is the core work of the EDO and this third edition of our Handbook provides specific information about ACT environmental protection laws, what they provide and the guidance that people need if they wish to take on those responsibilities here in the ACT.

In the second edition of the Handbook in 2009, the then EDO Chair Kasy Chambers put the ACT as the bush capital into context. The Territory lies within the upper catchment of the Murray Darling Basin. Fifty-five percent of the ACT is either nature park or reserve. This area includes significant remnants of endangered ecosystems, such as the yellow box red gum grassy woodlands, and numerous important species of fauna and flora.

Our built environment is also significant and unique. Canberra is Australia's largest inland city--lakes, wetlands and nature parks are a vital part of its expanding footprint of suburban development, and its sophisticated service-based economy.

Canberra has always been a planned city, able to adjust quite quickly to our changing expectations of environmentally sustainable design. And since self-government in 1989 the ACT has proved to be progressive. The Territory leads Australia in supporting the development of renewable energy and in aiming to reduce its carbon footprint.

However, the legislation and regulations regarding energy efficiency, air quality and sustainable development, as they apply in the ACT, are fragmented . This new edition incorporates the extensive changes made to Commonwealth and, particularly, ACT law since 2009. These include, but are not limited to the:

The Handbook is an important tool if you want to do your bit to protect the environment of which you are a part. It will also help you to work out when you are probably wasting your time, and the time of others. The law isn't perfect. We can all be more effective, and realistic, if we know when it is worth taking action and when it isn't. And whether it might make better sense to improve the law itself.

These are interesting times for those involved in the environment and the law. The need for real local and global action on climate change is obvious, but there is no clear agreement on what actions we should take. It has often seemed preferable for government and business interests to shoot the messenger rather than stop the industry or activities doing the damage. The decision by the Abbott Government immediately on its election in 2013 to terminate Commonwealth funding to all EDOs across Australia bears witness to that. On the other hand, the tone has recently changed again. There is renewed optimism in the field of renewable energy at least.

The underlying purpose of EDOs across Australia is to protect the environment through law. And law is an iterative thing. Public interest litigation and advocacy both play an important role in our evolution as a society. It provides a public opportunity for us to consider the future as well as the present, people beyond our borders as well as those within, and the health of this planet and its richness of life as well as our own richness and well-being.

That's why the recent characterisation of community-based legal action as "lawfare" is so facile. It suggests that, in terms of environmental protection, the courts are there merely to serve the private interests of businesses, landowners and perhaps governments. EDOs work with, and for, those who think otherwise.

All these factors point to the need for a Handbook that can guide and support people in our community seeking to ensure that the environment is appropriately protected, that the progressive goals which underpin our own urban development are taken seriously, and that we face up to the tensions between our global ambitions for a healthy planet and our immediate desire for a comfortable life.

To conclude, I'd like to thank our key contributors.

EDO ACT CEO and principal solicitor Camilla Taylor acknowledges, elsewhere in this Handbook, the profound and generous support of the community of volunteer researchers and writers who contributed to this and previous editions. I'm grateful for the extraordinary effort Camilla herself has put into this, our signature publication.

I'd also like to thank John Pratt for his fabulous artwork. John is an artist, a teacher, a Canberra community member, and a Mt Ainslie Weeder of many years standing - or perhaps I should say kneeling. We are indebted to him for his thoughtful generosity.

I'd like to thank Peter Sutherland from SoftLaw Community Projects for supporting the Handbook, pulling in other funding and in effect underwriting its publication.

Finally, I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the ACT Government's Justice and Community Safety Directorate (JACS) for its help in funding this publication, and the Environment, Planning and Development Directorate (EPD) which helped fund the writing of the Handbook.

Roland Manderson

Chair, EDO ACT

October 2015

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