Federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor has dismissed a Federal Court ruling that found the Australian government owes a duty of care to young people to protect them from the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.
Taylor said in a radio interview that he did not think it was appropriate for courts “to take over the role of government.”
The legal proceedings had been commenced by a group of Australian high school students, supported by an elderly nun.
They sought a declaration from the court that Federal environment minister Sussan Ley owed a duty of care to young people, to protect them from the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, when exercising her powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EBPC) Act.
Last week, the Federal Court delivered a legal victory to the students, agreeing that such a duty of care did exist – a ruling that could have ramifications for future government decisions involving fossil fuel projects.
Ley has indicated the government will appeal the decision.
Taylor said he did not think it was the role of the courts to dictate how decisions under the EBPC Act were to be made, and said coal would remain a feature of Australia’s energy system “for many years” to come.
“It’s the job of Government to, to balance the interests of all groups, including future generations, in the decisions we make all the time,” Taylor told Newcastle radio station 2HD. “We will be appealing that decision, we don’t think it’s an appropriate role for the courts to take over the role of Government.”
Taylor said it was important that the government “balance” the interest of different groups, suggesting that the protections owed to young people were to be considered against the interests of projects like the Vickery Coal mine.
“You know, it’s the role of elected officials and ministers to make these difficult decisions and important decisions,” Taylor said.
“They’ve ultimately got to be about getting the balance right. I mean, our energy system has always been and will always be about balance. Coal will continue to play an important role in our system for many years to come, but the balance is changing.
“We’re seeing the highest level of household solar in the world in Australia – one in four houses – no other country in the world has that level. So, we’ll get the balance right, that’s our job. We don’t think it’s the job of the courts and we will be appealing that decision.”
Notably, in delivering his judgement in the recent legal challenge, Federal Court Justice Bromberg took significant steps to avoid making an effective decision on the mine expansion on behalf of the environment minister, instead issuing a declaration that the impact of emissions on young people was a relevant factor in any decision that the minister ultimately made.
In ruling that a duty of care did exist, Justice Bromberg pointed to the fact that young people could bear no responsibility for the future challenges they will face through the potential impacts of climate change, and their dependence upon the government to act in their interests.
“It is sufficient to observe that common law jurisdictions have historically identified and our courts continue to identify that there is a relationship between the government and the children of the nation, founded upon the capacity of the government to protect and upon the special vulnerability of children,” the judgement says.
“Whether that recognition is sourced in the common law or merely in the “expectation that a civilised society would be alert to its responsibilities to children who are, or may be, in need of protection”, the recognition that children have a special vulnerability bolsters’ vulnerability’ and ‘reliance’ as affirmative indicators of a duty of care.”
“They bear no responsibility for the unparalleled predicament which they now face. That innocence is also deserving of recognition and weight in a consideration of the relationship between the children and the government they look to for protection.”