South West MLC Diane Evers has said she is acting on a demand for change in Western Australian communities, after introducing a Bill to Parliament last month calling on the rights of the environment to be enshrined in law.
Ms Evers gave notice of the motion to introduce the Rights of Nature and Future Generations Bill 2019 in the WA Legislative Council on Thursday, October 31, with debate scheduled for November, once Parliament resumes
Offences proposed in the Bill would prohibit significant interference with these rights by governments and corporations, providing a recourse for nature and future generations both legally and in practical terms through restoration and payment of damages.
Ms Evers pointed to the failings of current legal and bureaucratic systems as rationale for the Bill and heralded it as a necessary step in protecting the environment for current and future generations of Western Australians, by giving a ‘voice to the voiceless’.
She also acknowledged the Bill was designed to recognise First Nations people’s special rights and responsibility to country, with a unique role considered in respect to those rights.
Under the Bill, strong penalties for significant violations would reflect the importance of the rights of nature, with corporations to potentially receive fines as high as $5 million and its directors able to be held personally liable for those same offences.
Individuals found to have significantly interfered with the rights of nature and future generations could be penalised through fines of up to $500,000 and/or five years in prison.
Ms Evers described this as a basic application of the polluter-pays principle, making those who profit from environmental harm accountable for the costs to the community and nature.
Under the Bill, the State Government would be required to take positive action to ensure that nature is able to flourish and be restored, allowing the people of Western Australia to enjoy clean air and water, a safe climate and the incredible and unique biodiversity that the state boasts.
Other jurisdictions such as New Zealand, India, Ecuador and Bolivia have moved in recent times to legally enshrine the rights of nature, while in the United States of America, Toledo city councillors drew up an emergency ‘bill of rights’ for Lake Erie in December 2018.
Ms Evers is The Greens (WA) spokesperson for environmental portfolios such as forestry, fisheries & marine, wetlands and water.
QUOTES ATTRIBUTED TO DIANE EVERS MLC:
“At the heart of this of this Bill are people and the environment — the rights of nature and future generations should be held by all.
“Future generations deserve a healthy and safe environment, but human encroachment, fossil fuel mining, inappropriate development and a systemic bias towards capital gain have seen the rights — and systems — of nature eroded.
“Nature is a common and public asset to be enjoyed by the whole of the community, and this Bill provides a simple mechanism for communities to protect nature and themselves from irresponsible government and corporate action.
“Currently, our legal system gives a voice to corporations where nature, ecosystems, native species and future generations are voiceless.
“Failing to appreciate the laws of nature by only viewing the environment as property or as part of a bureaucratic process has created serious problems such as climate change.
“Governments should not have the power to sanction significant degradation of the environment, such as species extinctions as we saw in the approvals for the Yeelirrie uranium mine, over-allocation of water for coal mining in Collie, or uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions from the massive LNG projects in our North-West that are fuelling the climate crisis.
“Nature should be accorded the right to exist, flourish and be restored, and present and future generations of Western Australians provided a right to a healthy environment — including clean air and water.
“This Bill will enshrine the right for Western Australians to live in a safe climate system and maintain a vibrant community of life.
“It is important also to give particular recognition to First Nations people through an additional right to be joined to any proceeding — we are privileged to live on this land, which has been so diligently cared for by its original custodians for over 60,000 years.
“These are necessary and basic bottom lines – indeed, it is difficult to see how the other elements of our legal system, society and economy could even function without these conditions.”
GET IN TOUCH:
Hon. Diane Evers
MLC for South West
(08) 9486 8070