Can the law help you to protect your environment?

Happy World Environmental Day – a day that encourages environmental awareness and action. But how can the law help you to protect your environment?

Environmental justice is new to Australia, although it has been used extensively in America and internationally. At its heart, environmental justice is about encouraging grass-roots participation in decisions about people’s environment.

Giving Victorians the chance to voice concerns on environmental impact
Last year, we funded the Environment Defenders Office (EDO), a not-for-profit community legal centre specialising in environmental law, to explore the concept of ‘environmental justice’ and develop three case studies to show how the concept could be applied in Australia.

The ultimate aim of the project is to give people who feel that their lives (or the livelihood of their community) are being negatively impacted by the actions of a company or the decision of government a framework to voice their concerns or seek justice.

“In particular,” says EDO Policy and Law Reform Lawyer Elizabeth McKinnon, “vulnerable and disadvantaged communities will have a platform from which to ask, with regard to harmful environmental impacts, ‘why in our backyard?’ and ‘is this fair?’.”

Historically, the people most affected by environmental harm – from toxic waste dumps to highway developments – are those from disadvantaged communities. In America, proponents of environmental justice have traced harmful environmental practices to racism.

As part of this grant, the EDO will demonstrate how environmental justice could apply to:

  • rural access to environment-related legal resources;
  • Aboriginal involvement in natural resource management, and;
  • the location of hazardous industry in relation to people from low socioeconomic groups.

The EDO has already directly interviewed people to ask them how they wish to participate in decisions affecting their environment. A final report will propose practical suggestions to expand legal access on environmental decisions, and the findings will be shared widely by the EDO.

So why did we fund this project?
As an organisation, we are committed to improving Victorians’ experience of the law and the legal system. This grant project looks at some of the barriers that prevent Victorians from accessing the law and will provide some practical ways for them to voice their concerns.

The project fits with the EDO’s mandate to provide planning and environmental law advice and assistance to people who wish to protect the environment and who cannot otherwise afford to pay for private lawyers. Incidentally, the EDO was started in 1991 with a grant from the Victorian Law Foundation. Visit the EDO’s website for more on their environmental justice project.

Looking for funding for your own legal project?
Each year, we fund projects about the law that benefit Victorians. Your project could be one of them. Applications for our next round of general grants close 12 September 2012. Small grants are available year round, if your project budget is less than $5000.

Contact our Grants and Awards Manager on 03 9604 8100 to talk about your project or idea, and to find out more about the support we offer to grant applicants. Or read about other general grants awarded by the Foundation.

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