— Brendan Sydes, Lawyer, CEO, EJA
As Paul Keating once said, “When you change the government, you change the country” – a view shared by most politicians, I think.
Many of us hoped our country would change last weekend. We hoped for a government formed by representatives who would champion real action on the climate and extinction crisis, a new generation of environment laws, a more inclusive and tolerant Australia and a greater commitment to justice for indigenous Australians.
Instead we are stuck with policies that see delay, half measures and even inaction as acceptable. Confronted by a climate and extinction crisis, we should be debating the best approach for urgent action, not the need to act at all. Delay is simply not an option.
Worse, the threat is not just inaction. Dismantling laws and permitting and encouraging actions that harm people and the planet are now back on the national agenda. We now have an emboldened federal government, supported by powerful vested interests, threatening to turn back hard-won environmental protection gains.
The team here at Environmental Justice Australia are, like many others, shocked by the situation we find ourselves in. This was the “climate election” and our colleagues at other environment organisations and many of you worked hard to make sure that the demand for urgent action was heard as never before.
So, what should we do now? In some ways, I feel like we were here five years ago when the new Abbott government cut funding to all of the Environmental Defenders Offices, including us at EDO Victoria. We faced a choice – retreat and hunker down, or rise to the challenge, take some risks and find new ways to build powerful demands for change. We chose the latter, and relaunched as Environmental Justice Australia.
Since that time our team has worked hard to build our capacity, to work with others to increase our impact on the issues that matter. We realised then that as lawyers, we could help communities and environmental organisations develop a powerful voice that goes well beyond what can be achieved through the ballot box.
We’ve continued to develop ways to combine our legal expertise with community demands to cut toxic pollution and end logging practices that endanger wildlife. And we’ve focussed our efforts on campaigns for new and better laws and strategic litigation to hold governments and businesses to account.
So we’re putting aside our disappointment that objectives we’ve been passionately pursuing for years, like a new generation of national environment protection laws, won’t unfold in the way we had hoped. We’ll keep working with others to develop new ways to pursue these agendas. We’ll also double down on building our work fighting for justice for nature and our communities.
We thought we’d be holding a new government to account on their promises to address climate change. Instead, we need to return to finding legal strategies to hold governments and business to account for climate inaction. Now, more than ever, we need to find ways to use the power of the law to hold political leaders and businesses who harm the planet to account.
There’s a need to be clear-eyed about the challenges. Pessimism about the climate and extinction crisis is realistic, and warranted. But we should also be optimistic about the will to change our country for the better regardless of who holds the reins in Canberra.
The climate crisis and extinction crisis are on the agenda now like never before. Fighting – for environmental justice, for a sustainable future, for the places and wildlife we love – is worth doing, needed now more than ever, and will prevail.