What we do
We are lawyers who are experts in using the law to protect Australia’s natural environment.
We deliver environmental justice to Australian communities and the long term health of the Australian environment.
We work in two ways. We take cases to court, and we work to make our environmental laws better.
Investigating Australia’s coal-fired power stations
Following many months of exhaustive research, Freedom of Information searches, surveillance of Australia’s major power stations and advice from health experts and industry whistleblowers, in August 2017 we released Toxic and terminal: How the regulation of coal-fired power stations fails Australian communities.
The report finds coal-fired power stations emit more than 30 toxic substances and are Australia’s biggest source of fine particles (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). These substances cause and contribute to asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, respiratory disease, headaches and nausea in nearby communities. In most cases emissions limits in Australia are much more lax than those in the US, EU and China. Mercury limits for some NSW power stations are 666 times higher than the US limits. Pollution reduction technologies that have been available for many years and are used overseas could significantly reduce power station emissions but are not in use in Australia. Find out more.
Climate change disclosure case against the Commonwealth Bank
In August 2017 we filed proceedings in the Federal Court on behalf of shareholders Guy and Kim Abrahams against the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for failing to adequately disclose climate change risk in the bank’s 2016 annual report. The case is the first anywhere in the world by shareholders to test how banks should disclose information about climate change risks in their annual reports.
The claim alleges that by not disclosing the risks climate change poses to its business, the bank failed to give a true and fair view of its financial position and performance, as required by the Corporations Act. The shareholders also claim the 2016 directors’ report did not adequately inform investors of climate change risks. The claim seeks an injunction to stop the bank making the same omissions in future annual reports.
Exposing under-reporting of pollution from coal-fired power stations
While we were examining the National Pollutant Inventory data released in May 2017 we noticed some figures that just didn’t look right. The big coal-fired power stations at Mt Piper, Eraring and Vales Point in NSW reported that fine particle emissions had dropped by 92%, 60% and 37% respectively in just one year! Frankly, we didn’t believe it. There is no way Mount Piper and Vales Point emitted only 10,000 and 12,000 kilograms of fine particle pollution in the last year. None of the big power stations in NSW have installed the kind of pollution controls that would achieve the emission reductions they are reporting. None of them monitor their emissions 24/7. And all of them self-report their pollution data.
We alerted the NSW EPA to this under-reporting and it launched a state-wide investigation into whether power stations are under-reporting their toxic emissions.
In February 2017, VicForests began to log an area known as the Blue Vein coupe, just a few hundred metres from the famous 350-year-old Ada Tree. Local citizen scientists had found rare protected habitats for the Leadbeater’s Possum within the area. With the bulldozers already at work EJA immediately reported this to the Environment Department and VicForests, on behalf of four local community groups, and demand that logging stop. The government called a temporary halt to logging operations and started an investigation, although part of the forest in the coupe had already been destroyed. Local citizen scientists – who suspected there were threatened species in the area – then worked into the early hours of the morning and found a colony of Leadbeater’s Possums!
Logging was halted, the colony of Leadbeater’s Possums was saved. The Environment Department investigation into illegal logging of rare protected habitat continues.
This case was a test case to get cattle out of the precious Alpine National Park and ensure the National Parks Act actually works to protect national parks.
Protection for threatened species
We brought a test case on behalf of Environment East Gippsland, successfully forcing the government to prepare plans for the protection of Victorian threatened species.
“Our threatened wildlife should have action statements prepared for their protection and survival, but the Victorian government had not prepared these for almost 400 species. For as long as 20 years, many listed species were sliding further toward extinction.”
“Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Felicity Millner represented us on behalf of four East Gippsland species including the glossy black cockatoo, the long-nosed potoroo, the large brown tree frog and the eastern she oak skink. The government settled rather than go to court, promising to produce the action statements as soon as possible.”
- Jill Redwood, environmental activist and founder of Environment East Gippsland
Protecting habitat for the Latham’s Snipe
Our representation of a community group in VCAT saved the home of a wading bird
“For 14 years, we’ve been fighting to protect a local wetland area that forms important habitat for a shy migratory bird called the Latham’s Snipe from a large housing development. We had the important local knowledge about the area, but we needed legal representation and expertise to ensure we could put our case in the strongest possible way.”
“Environmental Justice Australia provided that assistance, representing us before VCAT and arranging an ecologist and water engineer to prepare expert witness reports and give evidence at the hearing. The most recent hearing, in April, saw a partial victory, with the tribunal ordering a reduction in the number of lots to be developed and conditions such as a protective fence around the snipe habitat.”
“The only home worth having on these parts of the site is the one that’s already there — the home of a wading bird. It’s a better outcome, and one that couldn’t have been achieved without representation and advice from Environmental Justice Australia.”
- Don Stewart, South Beach Wetlands and Landcare Group
Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry
“When the Hazelwood Coal Mine caught fire in February 2014, clouds of toxic smoke were released over our town of Morwell, and the whole Latrobe Valley. Environmental Justice Australia helped to get a formal inquiry into the fire. Residents were sure there had been a spike in deaths – but we didn’t know how to make the government investigate this. EJA represented us, showing us how to get the Premier to take our concerns seriously, and get the inquiry re-opened to investigate them. The Inquiry then found that it WAS probable a spike in deaths had occurred due to the air pollution from the fire.”
- Wendy Farmer, Voices of the Valley
Carmichael mine Land Court Case
With our representation, an Indian environment group was able to lodge an objection to the mine with the Land Court of Queensland, explaining how coal pollutes the air, water and land of poor Indian communities.
“Indian coal giant Adani is planning to build what will be the southern hemisphere’s biggest coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. They say that shipping the coal to India will help allieviate poverty, but the truth is that India’s rural poor can’t afford the electricity that will be generated – all they’ll get will be damage to their health and the air, water, land and natural resource base on which their survival depends.
Environmental Justice Australia represented us before the Queensland Land Court in an objection to the mine. Without Environmental Justice Australia, we could never have had our concerns heard.”
– Debi Goenka of the Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai, India
Dual Gas Power station case
The VCAT case we brought with Environment Victoria and Locals Into Victoria’s Environment stopped a new coal-fired power station being built in the Latrobe Valley.
The case itself was described as “once in a decade case”, and resulted in findings that meant that climate change has to be a key part of any decisions about large carbon polluting developments.
Changing the law
All Australians would benefit from environmental laws that truly protect our environment. Our expert lawyers are very clear on what we need:
National climate change laws that set Australia on a path of genuine emission reduction .
Protection for nature with strong and effective laws at all levels of government.
Community health, wellbeing and participation in environmental protection enshrined in our laws.
That’s why our lawyers advocate for better environmental laws at national and state level. Our lawyers have the expertise to develop solutions to complex legal problems. They know how to achieve real change by meeting with policy makers, presenting evidence at Parliamentary inquiries and government hearings, and working with the conservation sector and grassroots groups to advocate for change.