Yesterday Attorney-General George Brandis announced the Federal Government’s intention to repeal a provision of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in order to stop what the Coalition describes as “vigilante litigation”. The Pirate Party believes that the Australian legal system should remain available to anyone wishing to challenge the legality of administrative decisions, regardless of who they are or what ideology they represent.
“The notion of ‘vigilante litigation’ is frankly ludicrous,” said Simon Frew, President of the Pirate Party. “The law must be followed by the government and its agencies. When it is not, there must be a mechanism for the public to challenge these decisions through impartial courts — especially in the case of environmental issues that often have a regional, national and global impact. If that right is taken away, genuine vigilante actions might be the only way to challenge government action.”
This proposal is part of a wider trend of shifting power away from the public, the Parliament and the courts and instead tipping the balance toward government and big business control. Data retention, threats to journalists for reporting on national security issues and Internet censorship take away rights fundamental to a democratic society — privacy, freedom of speech and of the press, and freedom of information. At the same time treaties like the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement are being negotiated in secret and various other free trade agreements enable foreign businesses to sue governments for passing laws that harm their profits.
“For a political party that calls itself ‘Liberal’, it sure is authoritarian,” continued Mr Frew. “This proposal is a direct result of the decision to overturn approval of the Adani Coal Mine in Queensland. The Federal Court overturned the approval because Greg Hunt did not fulfil his legal obligations as Minister for the Environment. Changing the law to protect Ministers from their own incompetence and to more easily allow their donors to build environmentally destructive mines is crony-capitalism at its worst.”
While the passage of the legislation through the House of Representatives is assured, the same cannot be said for the Senate. The Labor Party’s environment spokesperson Mark Butler indicated the ALP would oppose the legislation and it seems unlikely that the Greens and other cross-benchers would be willing to undermine the rule of law by supporting such a proposal.
“The Government should be willing to stand up to scrutiny,” said Adien Treleaven, Pirate Party Councillor. “Our elected officials should not be above the law; we should be able to hold them accountable for their actions. The Pirate Party believes that in a liberal democratic society it is essential for government to be transparent and accountable. The Attorney-General should be able to trust the court’s ability to be impartial instead of being concerned about ‘radical green activists’ and dissatisfied with the Federal Court’s verdict. We all have a stake in the environment, and we should all be able to challenge development decisions that put it at risk.”