Claire BooklessWhat’s your favourite thing about Tasmania?

Predictably, my favourite thing about Tasmania is its incredible natural beauty. I love the fact that, on a summer’s day, after work I can go for a snorkel off a rocky reef in the Derwent or a run through beautiful forests on kunanyi. No matter where you live in Tasmania, you are always within a few minutes of some incredibly special natural place. There’s no other place like it.

What led you to study law? Has it been what you thought it would be?

I decided I wanted to study law when I was quite young, however the idea of becoming an environmental lawyer occurred to me after reading about the Huaorani people’s decades-long fight against oil exploration and drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The book highlighted the connection between environmental and social injustice, and helped me to understand that, fundamentally, strong and healthy communities rely on a strong, healthy environment.

I never thought working as an environmental lawyer would be easy, but I have been surprised by how rewarding and diverse the work can be. I don’t think there’s any other area of practice that covers so many different legal areas, including criminal, administrative/public, and civil law. On top of this, practising environmental law requires a good understanding of science. I have really enjoyed the challenge of developing and refining my skills and knowledge in each of these areas. Every day brings something new for me to learn or investigate.

What’s been your most satisfying experience at EDO Tas? 

Whether helping people resolve local disputes, or advising groups about how to challenge significant development mining or tourism proposals, there are so many incredibly satisfying aspects to my work with EDO Tas. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to help people from diverse backgrounds better understand the law and how it can be used to protect the places they love.

One of my most satisfying experiences working at EDO Tas was successfully defending an appeal against a decision that our client, the Tarkine National Coalition, had standing to challenge a decision to grant two mining leases in the takayna /the Tarkine. The requirement to establish standing to challenge such decisions in court creates a significant barrier to access to justice for many of our clients. The TNC case is one in a line of cases where courts have recognised that environmental NGOs have the right to ensure that governments and administrative decision-makers are properly interpreting and applying the law.

What’s been the most disappointing environmental law decision over the past few years?

This is a tough question. There are so many worthy environmental legal cases that do not even make it to court. This is primarily because our clients do not have the resources to gather the evidence, pay experts and lawyers to represent them, let alone pay the costs of the other parties if they lose. Unfortunately, this means that many unjustifiable decisions with significant and long-lasting environmental consequences go unchallenged and untested. I certainly don’t think the claim that wider standing provisions give rise to “lawfare” is justified given the reality of just how difficult it is for individuals or community groups to take a case to court.

In terms of cases that have made it to court, I have been very disappointed by the various courts’ decisions relating to the Adani Carmichael mine. These cases have raised so many important questions about how environmental laws should work to protect the Great Barrier Reef, threatened species, and groundwater. They have also looked at questions around how climate change should be considered in the approval of new coal mines. If nothing else, these cases have highlighted the urgent need for reform of both state and Federal environmental laws.

Given all the bad news on the environment, how do you stay hopeful?

It is easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge of tackling the numerous environmental issues facing the world, whether climate change, loss of biodiversity or toxic pollution. While it is important to keep an eye on the “big picture”, I think it is useful to set and work towards small goals as steps along the way to resolving the problems. It is highly unlikely any single legal case will resolve these issues, but each case we take can have positive flow-on consequences for how the law is interpreted and applied. Even if we don’t win, our cases can still raise awareness about environmental issues and the limitations of the law in addressing them.

On a personal level, I also find great hope through volunteering with other community organisations. Volunteering and working together with EDO Tasmania’s clients has exposed me to so many passionate people dedicated to social and environmental justice, I can’t help but be inspired to continue to contribute where I can.

If you could make one change to improve Tasmania’s environmental laws, what would it be?

It is hard to choose just one area! Probably the first thing I would do to improve Tassie’s environmental laws would be to strengthen threatened species laws to protect threatened species’ habitat from destruction or degradation.  This would include mandatory requirements for planning authorities to consider threatened species impacts when deciding whether or not to approve developments. These reforms would go a long way to ensuring Tasmania’s precious and unique flora and fauna are conserved into the future.