Students claim moral win on climate harm

Tracey Ferrier |

Anjali Sharma (C) and her fellow students are urging voters to remember their case, on polling day.
Anjali Sharma (C) and her fellow students are urging voters to remember their case, on polling day.

Eight students who initially won, but then lost, a legal bid to force the federal government to protect them from climate change say it’s a disgrace they ever had to go to court.

The students on Tuesday confirmed they won’t challenge the federal government again in court, and say their public shaming of the coalition is a victory in itself.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley last month won a Federal Court appeal against the students. They had previously won a legal case, finding the minister had a duty not to cause them personal injury when approving a coal mine expansion.

In siding with the minister, the court’s full bench offered reasons including that federal environment laws don’t require Ms Ley to protect people from climate change.

Other reasons included the tiny contribution to the overall risk of damage from climate change posed by the minister’s decisions, and insufficient closeness and directness between her actions and the risk of harm to the students.

On Tuesday, the students said a High Court challenge was out of the question for reasons including the cost.

But they believe they’ve had a moral victory, if not a legal one, and hope voters will remember it when they complete their ballot papers on May 21.

In a joint statement, they criticised Ms Ley’s use of taxpayer money to fight kids seeking protection from the harms of fossil fuel consumption.

“We urge the environment minister, and by extension, all members of parliament and candidates, to listen to the voices of young people …. who are begging for more comprehensive action on climate change and urgent action to reduce carbon emissions.”

Four of the eight high school students who brought the case have since turned 18. 

One of them, Anjali Sharma, said she will feel a deep sense of satisfaction when she votes for the first time.

“For me, ticking that box is going to be a feeling that my voice is finally being heard, and not actively ignored,” she told AAP.

She said activism was never without setbacks, but would persevere.

“We hope that it leads to the eventual triumph that we are all holding out for.”

AAP has sought comment from Ms Ley.

In the wake of her successful appeal last month, the minister said the decision was welcome and added: “The Morrison government remains committed to protecting our environment for current and future generations”.