Tuesday 22/04/2014 Graham Lloyd, The Australian
GREEN groups are planning a barrage of US-style privately funded legal actions against Australia’s resource projects amid what they claim has been a federal government rollback of environmental protections.
A delegation from heavyweight US environmental litigation group Earth Justice has just completed an Australian tour to brief local organisations on how to raise funds and be more aggressive in the courts.
The Victorian Environmental Defenders Office will next week relaunch itself as Environmental Justice Australia and seek public donations to run possible test cases.
Environmental Justice Australia spokesman Brendan Sydes said the increased willingness to resort to litigation reflected a general decline in confidence in environmental decisions. “There is a need for a strong and independent legal NGO,’’ Mr Sydes said. “The big-ticket items are around fossil fuels and fossil fuel mining.
“The other area is around biodiversity protection, given the trajectory of the commonwealth divesting their responsibility to the states with the one-stop-shop model.”
The resource industry says increased litigation is part of a green conspiracy to shut down Australia’s multi-billion-dollar coal export business.
The Queensland Resources Council said the Mackay Conservation Group’s Federal Court challenge to the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion was part of a strategy to shut down Queensland’s leading export industries.
The council’s chief executive, Michael Roche, said a 2012 strategy document signed by green groups involved in the Mackay court case said litigation was a key weapon.
The document, Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom, said legal challenges would be lodged against approval of all major new coal ports, as well as key rail links, the mega-mines and other mines chosen for strategic campaign purposes.
Wilderness Society national campaign director Lyndon Schneiders said how environment groups used the legal process was set to change.
“To date legal campaigns have generally been mounted to challenge a decision that has already been lost,’’ Schneiders said. “The agenda now is to be more proactive.’’
Green groups cite a long list of concerns including potential threats to the Great Barrier Reef, expansion of the coal- seam gas industry and the delegation of decision-making powers from the federal government to the states.
Other concerns include the federal government’s decision to review marine protected area zoning, the move to revoke 74,000ha of Tasmanian World Heritage area, approval for the great white shark cull in Western Australia, removal of wetland listings on the lower Murray-Darling Basin and withdrawal of funding for the network of Environmental Defenders Offices.