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Depp dog stunt distracts from real ecological violence

  • 21 April 2016


This week actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard limply apologised for bringing their undeclared dogs into Australia in breach of biosecurity laws. In the face of the increasing environmental destruction legally occurring within Australia's borders, chasing Depp and Heard comes across as a curated media stunt.

If biosecurity laws are important, why has the infamous Indian company Adani been given the green light for the Carmichael coal mine which will disrupt the Great Barrier Reef, contribute to excessive carbon emissions and global warming: the biggest biosecurity threat Australia will ever face?

Recently the NSW government passed legislation exposing anti-fracking protestors to up to seven years in jail and fines of $5500. At the same time the Nepean River emits gas bubbles and riparians are outraged their livelihoods are threatened. Also, the Nothdurft family seek compensation from the Queensland Gas Company so they can leave their contaminated home because their children are sick from the leaking gas wells on their property.

Bob Brown has sought a High Court challenge against the new Tasmanian anti-protest laws in the High Court on constitutional grounds. With others, he was arrested for protesting against the destruction of native forests: the substance of what Australia's biosecurity laws intend to protect. These protestors face up to $10,000 in fines and potential imprisonment.

Like everywhere in the world, Australian environmental law is at a crossroads. On one hand government regulations that permit violence against habitat increase, and on the other, legal challenges against this destruction rise. As judges and mediators face more claims from communities and individuals about the effects of environmental destruction and the right to protect against it, governments ramp up the volume of legislation that allows such destruction.

As a lawyer, I cling to hope that courts might pull back this trend towards anti-democratic corporate tyranny and violence against the environment.

However, a central problem of our inherited legal system is the lack of a rich environmental jurisprudence which could gift judges precedents to adjudicate upon the obvious fact that humanity has obligations to its habitat: the environment.

Western legal systems are premised upon social and property rights. Property rights have become fragmented and confused: the right to enter private land and insert gas wells makes a mockery of the sanctity of private property. Intellectual property laws laugh at farmers who wish to control their practises so that genetically modified crops or pesticides don't drift onto their soil. Native Title ownership has proved