2019 was a tough year for our environment but through the bushfire crisis, the bad policy decisions and the lack of leadership on climate change, we still had some wins for our air, water and wildlife. Here’s just a few of our successes from the year to toast to over the festive season.

We released groundbreaking research on coal ash waste and won a Parliamentary Inquiry in NSW

In June this year, we released groundbreaking research, Unearthing the Toxic Legacy of Coal Ash in Australia, about the health and environmental impacts of coal ash, a toxic by-product of coal-fired power. We recommended all states with coal-fired power stations initiate Parliamentary Inquiries as a critical first step in understanding the threat posed by this enormous toxic waste issue and the solutions required to fix it.

Our report generated a huge amount of media, community and government interest and in October 2019, the New South Wales government announced a Parliamentary Inquiry into coal ash waste. This was a huge win for communities who live near coal ash dumps and worry about the impacts on their health and local environment.

We helped hold the operators of the Hazelwood mine fire accountable

On November 20, the owners of the Hazelwood mine were found guilty for breaches of the OH&S Act during the catastrophic mine fire. We acted on behalf of community group, Voices of the Valley, led by local resident Wendy Farmer, to write to Worksafe Victoria, making the case for Worksafe intervention and requesting they prosecute the mine owners for breaches of the OH&S Act in 2015. This verdict was a huge win for the community after a 5 year battle for justice and we congratulate all those involved, especially Voices of the Valley for their courage and perseverance.

We kept the chainsaws out of precious native forests in Victoria while we ran two landmark court cases

In 2019, we were in court defending our native forests from logging on behalf on some amazing community groups standing up and speaking out for the forests and wildlife Victorians love.

Protecting magnificent old-growth forests

Since 2017, acting for the Flora and Fauna Research Collective, our legal team has kept the chainsaws out of the ancient Kuark forest and over 30 other areas of old-growth forest across East Gippsland threatened by logging. These magnificent old-growth forests in far East Gippsland are home to rare rainforest found nowhere else on Earth, along with endangered owls, potoroos and gliding possums.

Our trial ended in February this year. Since then, we’ve been waiting for the judgment to be handed down. But in mid-December, the Environment Department filed an application to re-open its case after the Victorian government announced changes it will allow logging in native forests to 2030 and will change identification practices for old-growth forests. The case will return to court in March next year.

Protecting habitat for the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum and the vulnerable Greater Glider

Our Federal Court case, representing Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, to prevent logging in areas home to the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum and the vulnerable Greater Glider went to trial this year and included taking the judge and barristers on a tour of the forests in question. Since 2018, we’ve kept the chainsaws out of this precious habitat.

This case challenges whether logging in certain areas can continue to have a special exemption from Australia’s national threatened species law. In March the Court found the Regional Forest Agreement for the Central Highlands does exempt logging from the EPBC Act – despite non-compliance with the RFA’s requirement for five-year reviews – but importantly the Court found non-compliance with other terms in the RFA may remove that exemption. Now, we await judgement. If we win this case, it could change the way forests are manage around the country and help protect other threatened wildlife like the Swift Parrot, the Koala and the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo.

We continued to expose Adani’s account for their shocking track record

With legal advice, critical research and public commentary, we’ve continued to expose Adani’s Carmichael coal mine as a high-risk project proposed by a company which has failed to follow the law on numerous occasions. Just this week, global engineering firm GHD became the 62nd company to walk away from Adani over reputational and climate risk.

Protecting our rivers and waterways

In 2019, we worked hard to protect the health of our rivers and waterways. We ran workshops to support individuals and groups caring for our rivers, providing them with useful tools and strategies to take back to their local community groups, as well as inspiration to keep moving forward.

We worked closely with Traditional Owner communities on the Murray-Darling who are caring for country and restoring life to these vital waterways. And, we represented the Yarra Riverkeeper Association at public hearings into the North East Link Project, arguing for forms of ‘biodiversity sensitive urban design’.