ACT Legislative Assembly Committee Recommends the Protection of the Human Right to a Healthy Environment

January 25, 2024

In an Australian first, an ACT Government Parliamentary Committee has recommended that the human right to a healthy environment be recognised under ACT law and protected within the Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT).

The ACT Legislative Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety today released its final report into the Inquiry into Human Rights (Healthy Environment) Amendment Bill 2023.

If adopted, the ACT will be the first jurisdiction in Australia to explicitly protect environmental human rights and comes less than a year after the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to recognise the right to a healthy environment as an essential human right.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) commends the move saying establishing a standalone human right to a healthy environment is a major step forward in guaranteeing a safe, clean and healthy  environment.

Annika Reynolds (they/them), Senior Co-Chair of ALHR’s Environment and Human Rights Committee said,  “This is a critical first step towards bringing all Australian jurisdictions in line with the global consensus  that a sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of almost every human right protected within the core UN Human Rights Treaties.”

“The Standing Committee’s recommendations are a testimony to the significant role the ACT has played in leading the country on human rights compliance.”

“The climate and environmental crises impacting all Australians must be approached within a human rights framework. Legally recognising that a healthy environment is a prerequisite for the enjoyment of all fundamental human rights is the only way to ensure those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation are not left behind,” said Reynolds.

ALHR also welcomes the Committee’s recommendations to legislate a shorter timeline for access to the ACT Supreme Court for alleged breaches of the new right, and the call to fund the Human Rights Commission to conduct an audit of government compliance with the right. “Notably,” said Reynolds, “the dissenting report of the Shadow Attorney General Peter Cain recommends that the ACT Supreme Court have immediate powers to review allegations that a public authority has breached the right to a healthy environment. It is essential that all human rights are treated equally under our Human Rights Act.”

More than 80 percent of UN Member States, 156 out of 193, legally recognise environmental rights and 19 out of 27 EU countries have enshrined these protections in their constitutions.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s proposed model federal human rights act, currently under consideration by the Commonwealth as part of its Inquiry Into Australia’s Human Rights Framework, also recommends the explicit protection of the right to a healthy environment nationally.

For all media inquiries, contact: Michael Salmon, ALHR media manager, on  0417 495 018

Read ALHR’s full submission to the ACT’s Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety on the Human Rights (Healthy Environment) Amendment Bill 2023

Read ALHR’s submission to the August 2022 Justice and Community Safety Directorate Public Consultation to Inform Consideration of the Right to a Healthy Environment