Environment Court Legislation to Enhance Nature Protections

Share this post

South West MLC Diane Evers will resume efforts this week to instigate a radical overhaul of state environmental protections, when she introduces the Environment Court Bill 2019 to Western Australian Parliament today.

Ms Evers has launched a concerted effort in recent weeks to effect positive changes on environmental legislation in WA and said she had observed too many systemic failings in her role as The Greens (WA)’s spokesperson for regional development to not act.

The establishment of a new expert court, independent of government, is aimed at reforming a current appeals system Ms Evers described as ‘failing people and the environment’. In determining applications, the Environment Court would be explicitly required to consider the public interest in its decision-making, with proceedings to be open to the public.

Ms Evers said judicial change would stop environmentally harmful projects from advancing development through a system that had become siloed and bureaucratic, festering a common strategy of development-by-stealth. These changes could be bolstered by the Court permitting fresh evidence to be presented that was not before an original decision-maker.

The introduction of this Bill precedes next week’s Second Reading in Parliament of the Rights of Nature and Future Generations Bill 2019, also introduced by Ms Evers last month.

Diane Evers is The Greens (WA) spokesperson for environmental portfolios such as forestry, fisheries & marine, wetlands and water. 

QUOTES ATTRIBUTED TO DIANE EVERS MLC:

“WA has a unique environmental appeals system that, unlike other Australian states, are not decided by a specialist independent tribunal or court.

“This system is clearly broken and is failing people and the environment — a common sense approach to the legal consideration of our environment must be found.

“Too often we see development pass through a convoluted and non-transparent bureaucratic process, which ends in the Minister determining the appeal – the same person in charge of making final decisions about these approvals.

“This Bill will reform the existing environmental appeals system through the creation of a new, independent and specialist body that acts as both a merits appeal tribunal and a court for judicial review applications under existing environmental legislation.

“These roles will be appointed by the Governor, keeping the Environment Court independent and free from undue political and administrative interference, with efficiency and efficacy of the utmost importance.

“Public interest would be of fundamental importance to the Environment Court, something that is not a requirement in the current environmental appeals system, which lacks these significant principles on which appeal decisions should rightly be made where the community is affected.

“The Court would also operate transparently, including through conducting public hearings — the current environmental appeals system is administered behind closed doors, excluding the public from participation and visibility over these key decisions.

“Current reforms of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA) proposed by the State Government do not address issues with environmental appeals, despite calls from many Western Australians for third-party appeal rights reform, including conservation groups, the National Environmental Law Association and the Law Society.

KEY POINTS:

  • The proposed Environment Court is to be made up of both judges, being legal practitioners of at least 8 years’ experience, and specialist members with experience in relevant fields such as planning, environmental science, cultural heritage and natural resource management.
  • The Environment Court would sit at an appointed Chief Judge’s direction.
  • Appeals against decisions of the Environment Court in relation to questions of law or judicial review proceedings would be made to the Supreme Court.
  • The Bill requires that the Court act according to equity, good conscience and the substantial merits of cases before it, rather than being bound by technicalities and legal forms which cause undue expense and delay, with most of the community unable to understand without significant legal assistance.
  • The Bill makes specific provision for people to appear before the Court with or without legal representation, maximising access to justice regardless of access to lawyers.

GET IN TOUCH:
Hon. Diane Evers
MLC for South West
(08) 9486 8070

Share this post