Canberra is a transient base for politicians from the States and Territories. Accordingly, it attracts a large number of lobbyists, think tanks and bureaucrats. Canberra also has the highest mean income of all the States and Territories. The town is characterised by a well-worn labyrinth of cycle paths and nature parks. According to the 2011 Census, about 4.7% per cent of the populous walk or cycle to work. Namadgi National Park is located 40 km southwest of Canberra city and makes up approximately 46 per cent of the ACT’s land area.

Since the first edition of the ACT Environmental Law Handbook was published in 2002, local environmental groups have achieved on-the-ground victories. These include the re-introduction of the eastern bettong in the ACT by the Bettong Bungalow campaign. For the first time since their extinction on mainland Australia, the bettong has flourished in a purpose built sanctuary in Mulligans Flat. There has also been ongoing lobbying and law reform work undertaken by environment groups including Pedal Power, Canberra Ornithologists Group, the ACT branch of Australian & New Zealand Solar Energy Society, and the peak organisation that advocates on environmental issues in the ACT, the Conservation Council ACT Region (Conservation Council) (see Contacts list at the back of this book).

Since previous editions there have also been consistent efforts by environment groups to promote the importance of sustainability and conservation on a national and international scale. Although Canberra may have relatively small numbers on a local scale, several initiatives have allowed concerned people from all over the world to coordinate and communicate powerful messages, with the help of social media. As part of the Climate March in September 2014, more than 1000 Canberrans protested at the Australian National University to show their dissatisfaction at the Federal Government’s position on climate change. The Climate March is one of the largest coordinated efforts to combat climate change with over 2700 rallies, marches and protests taking place in over 160 countries in 2014. A further example is the Earth Hour initiative. Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007 with 2.2 million people participating, and has become a global phenomenon. In 2015, Earth Hour had gathered such momentum that it became the largest environmental movement worldwide with over 172 participating countries and territories.

As the home of the Federal Parliament, groups regularly gather in Canberra to take action on national issues. The Parliamentary Triangle has been the site of protests relating to the Australian response to asylum seekers, logging in Tasmanian forests, and is an ongoing site of significance for Australian Aboriginal rights.

Scope of chapter

The process of taking action can be broken down into eight elements:

1. research and evidence gathering—background science, economics, key players, policy context

2. disseminating information to public—events, stalls, website

3. media—building relationships, effective messaging, creative stunts, timing

4. legal and advocacy platforms—Freedom of Information, going to court, parliamentary processes, law reform

5. political—supporting candidates, how to vote cards, the running of fair elections, lobbying

6. fundraising—seeking donations, grants, selling merchandise

7. non-violent direct action (NVDA)—necessity, safety, police, media, logistics, criminal justice system

8. personal sustainability and growth/survival of group—trust exercises, active listening, establishing decision making processes.

Think of these eight elements as tools in your toolbox that need to be in working order; the use of a tool or a number of tools involves strategic consideration of the bigger picture. Going to court is just one strategy/tool; very rarely is it the solution in itself. The group must monitor and anticipate the bigger picture, including how your action ties in with public sentiment, the election cycle, the legitimacy of the group’s objectives, and the reasonableness of the solutions being proposed.

This chapter provides information on element 4, the legal and advocacy platforms, and element 7, criminal law aspects of NVDA. More detailed inquiries on the information here can be directed to the Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO) in the ACT (see Contacts list at the back of this book).

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