1 December 2022

The ACT will soon have the right to a healthy environment: here's what that means

| Lottie Twyford
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Canberra countryside

The ACT Government is now committed to the introduction of the right to a healthy environment before the 2024 election. Photo: Visit Canberra.

A new right will soon be introduced in the Territory – the right to a healthy environment – which means all new laws will need to consider the impact they will have on the planet.

That’s thanks to a commitment made this week by the ACT Government to make this right a reality during this term in office.

Earlier this year, the ACT became the first jurisdiction in the country to consult on whether the right to a healthy environment is in fact a human right thanks to a motion from ACT Greens crossbencher Jo Clay.

Considering it had also been part of the Labor-Greens Parliamentary and Governing Agreement.

Jo Clay

ACT Greens crossbencher Jo Clay kept the Government to account on its promise to look into the right to a healthy environment. Photo: Region.

Ms Clay in February called on the Government to provide a timeline for its implementation of the right – something it has now done.

She said this week she was pleased to see the Government’s commitment and it was “high time” for this action to be taken.

The move was warmly welcomed by legal and environmental advocates.

Currently, every piece of legislation passed in the ACT has to be compatible with the Human Rights Act.

If the right to a healthy environment was included in the legislation, it would mean the environment would have to be considered, too.

The United Nations passed a resolution at the end of 2021 on the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, although no Australian jurisdiction has yet implemented this in its human rights legislation.

Many UN member states already recognise this right, including the United Kingdom, France, the Philippines and Colombia.

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GreenLaw research advocate Peta Bulling previously told Region it was not just about enshrining the right to a healthy environment in legislation, but actually about changing and improving the lives of Canberrans.

“On a practical scale, that could mean community batteries being rolled out by the Government or the phase-out of gas happening more quickly,” she explained.

“Gas being used in the home is a really good example because gas is not only about fossil fuels but it’s about the impact on people’s health, too.”

Ms Bulling said this sort of legislation was tangible for Canberrans.

“We can all relate to wanting to swim in the creek or the visceral impacts of bushfire smoke in the Black Summer or those hailstorms which have been linked to climate change,” she said.

“If we want to live a healthy life, we have to have a healthy environment.”

The Human Rights Law Centre has also supported the push for the right to be enshrined in law.

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For the past few months, the Government has been undertaking community consultation on the right to a healthy environment, for which Minister for Human Rights Tara Cheyne had shown there was strong support.

“The feedback noted a range of benefits would flow from recognising the right to a healthy environment, including greater awareness and dialogue [about] environmental impacts,” Ms Cheyne told the Assembly.

“In particular, it was considered the right would have significant benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who hold a unique relationship with country as traditional owners and custodians and who are disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental degradation.”

According to the YourSay listening report, some participants wanted to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people included in decision-making processes regarding lands, waterways and resources as part of a healthy environment.

Almost 600 people were surveyed and the Government received 22 written submissions as part of its consultation process.

A range of issues will need to be worked through next year regarding the scope of the right to a healthy environment and how it will interact with existing frameworks for environmental protection.

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I thought we already had a healthy environment. That is until the Greens/Labor local government reduced our tree canopy, increased urban crowding, created traffic congestion and culled the kangaroo population.

thoughtsonthesubject12:07 am 04 Dec 22

Congratulations on the fight for the right of a healthy environment. Planners will then be ready to tackle the damage that will result from what is called the Urban Heat Island Effect produced when large areas of concrete infrastructure will act as heat sinks. This means stopping the 70% urban infill policy.
The CSIRO report ‘Our Future World of July 2022 confirms: “Heat-related deaths are predicted to grow by 60.5% or more across major Australian capital cities from 2020–50, but this is likely to be a conservative estimate. Recent research suggests that official records of deaths attributed to excessive heat in Australia are underestimated by at least 50 fold.”
Canberra, planned as decentralized city, has been more fortunate than Sydney where temperatures in Penrith have already reached 50 degrees in the past, a heat fatal to most. As citizens we will claim the right not to have our environment destroyed by high-density, high-rise housing which will produce temperatures that impact on everybody’s health and shortens the life especially of the elderly.

When I first heard about the proposal for the “right to a healthy environment” I thought this could cause problems.

It sounds so benign. It’s something we all assume is a natural right, something that sounds reasonable, until you realise that it will dictate all future legislation.

This could turn us into a Greens-controlled “Nanny State”.

Capital Retro5:10 pm 03 Dec 22

What a lot of rubbish.

William Newby3:19 pm 03 Dec 22

So… I’ve read your article and I’m still none the wiser as to “here’s what that means”.

Driven by the Greens, and the UN, I can only assume that this will come at no additional cost to those currently living in the ACT, and will probably even drive down the cost of living, hell it may even help with the housing shortage?

Any win for the greens comes at a cost to you!

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