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After the Royal Commission, what next for Murray-Darling Basin law reform?

While most people are still digesting the recently released 756-page final report of the South Australian Murray Darling Basin Royal Commission, law reform responses are already being drafted to address some of its alarming findings.

Parliamentary responses have included private member’s bills ranging from a broad sector-based approach – for example to ban cotton exports – to a specific amendment to the water buy-back limit under the Commonwealth Water Act 2007, to calls from indigenous groups for legislation to establish a federal Royal Commission into the issue.

This blog identifies the key findings made by Commissioner Bret Walker SC and discusses what could be next for law reform in the Murray Darling Basin.

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The other Rocky Hill grounds

The ground-breaking climate change aspects of last Friday’s Land and Environment Court merits appeal decision on the Rocky Hill Coal Project continue to be the deserved subject of media attention. However, the Court also upheld the original refusal of the mine on a number of other important environmental, social, economic, and cultural grounds finding that the mine project would “severely impact on people’s sense of place”. 

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Landmark legal win for climate and community

Chief Justice of the Land and Environment Court Brian Preston SC handed down his judgment today in a landmark case, refusing approval of a new coal mine to be built just outside of the town of Gloucester in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley. This is the first time an Australian court has refused consent for a coal mine on the basis of its climate change impacts.

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Hearing on lethal shark drumlines

Our legal challenge to the use of lethal shark drumlines within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on behalf of Humane Society International (HSI) commenced in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Brisbane on Wednesday.

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Video: A case for sharks

David Morris of EDO NSW and Nicola Beynon of HSI Australia discuss our legal challenge to the permit granted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to install 173 lethal drumlines throughout the Park.

Thank you to HSI for the drumline footage in this film.

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Documenting reports of rural land clearing

We receive numerous calls to our legal advice line from people concerned about land clearing in their local rural areas, especially since new rural land clearing laws came into force in August 2017, with a subsequent dramatic increase in rates of clearing.

Often, clearing will be authorised under a development consent or under the rural land clearing laws. However, it can be very difficult to know whether any clearing you observe is authorised and being carried out lawfully.

The only option is to report the clearing to the regulator – in this case the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).

This form is intended to keep a record of reports made to the OEH in order to inform EDO NSW law reform and compliance work. Any information you give in this form will be kept confidential and no personal information will be made public. 

Before completing the form

Before completing this form, please report the clearing you have witnessed to the OEH by calling the Environment Line on 131 555. You can make reports anonymously if you wish.

Ask for (and record) a reference number and make a note of the date and time of the report as well as who you spoke to.

Completing our form

Please provide as much detail as possible about your report and the clearing you observed, including:

  • any relevant approvals you are aware of;
  • the method of clearing (eg. chainsaw, bulldozer, burning);
  • the type of vegetation cleared (ecological communities and/or specific species)
  • estimated diameter of tree trunks;
  • any known or suspected threatened species or ecological communities on site;
  • any evidence of injured or killed wildlife;
  • any evidence of felled hollow bearing trees;
  • any evidence of soil or ground cover disturbance;
  • any evidence of water pollution from run-off associated with soil disturbance;
  • estimated buffer distances (if any) around streams;
  • estimate of overall size of area cleared; and
  • evidence of purpose of clearing (eg. crops, grazing etc).

If you have evidence of the clearing (photos, videos etc), please indicate what you have.


Forest update: NSW turns its attention to forestry on private land

The NSW Government wrapped up major changes to logging on public land in late 2018 and now turns its attention to private native forestry, with the first round of public consultation open until 31 January 2019.

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Court challenge to lethal shark drumlines within Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

A legal challenge to the use of lethal shark drumlines within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park commences in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Brisbane on Wednesday 30 January 2019.

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Pacific plastics guide included at UN meeting

Regulating plastics in Pacific Island Countries: a guide for policymakers and legislative drafters, produced by EDO NSW with SPREP and EDO ACT, was included as an information document at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Fourth Intergovernmental Review Meeting in late 2018.

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Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association v Leigh Creek Energy

In September 2018, Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA) engaged EDO NSW to apply for an urgent injunction in South Australia's Supreme Court to halt plans by Leigh Creek Energy (LCE) to trial underground coal gasification (UCG) at Leigh Creek (approximately 500km North of Adelaide in South Australia).

LCE has conducted a program of exploratory and appraisal drilling at Leigh Creek since July 2016 in order to test the potential for undertaking UCG at the site. UCG involves converting coal into a gas within the coal seam. The gas is then extracted from the underground coal seam via wells.

ATLA has consistently opposed UCG due to the importance of the site and the coal to Yulu, the Kingfisher Man, one of the major creation ancestors of the Adnyamathanha people. 


Coal rail tracks near Leigh Creek. Photo credit: Boobook48 Flickr

In February 2018, ATLA made objections to the draft Environmental Impact Report and draft Statement of Environmental Objectives (SEO) for the UCG trial. Despite these objections, the SEO was approved in April 2018.

When the UCG trial received its final Activity Approval in early September 2018, ATLA sought an urgent interim injunction in the Supreme Court, arguing that the approval was invalid. The Court handed down its decision on 21 September 2018. Despite finding that the UCG trial would cause significant, and largely irreparable, prejudice to the cultural interests of the Adnyamathanha people, the Court decided that the "balance of convenience" weighed against the grant of the injunction to prevent the trial from going ahead. In making its decision the Court had regard, amongst other things, to the financial "prejudice" that would be suffered by LCE should its plans be delayed.

LCE began its three-month UCG trial in October 2018. However, it has had to request suspensions of the trial because it has had difficulties establishing full gasification in the coal seam. In late 2018 LCE proposed to undertake additional drilling and seismic testing in the area to inform the design for a potential commercial facility. 

We are continuing to advise ATLA on its legal options for protecting their Adnyamathanha people’s ancestral lands. 

Link to this case summary >>