Environmental Justice for Local Communities

A new duty of environmental protection and Victoria's 'plastics communities'

How does Victoria’s new Environment Protection Act and its general duty realise environmental justice?

How does it support vulnerable or relatively disadvantaged communities to realise environmental and human health improvements?

At a time when the Victorian Government was grappling with an environmental justice strategy for its state, Dr Brad Jessup was exploring the bounds and meaning of that concept locally, framed through the understanding and experience of community encounters with the law. Environmental justice was and remains a notion to forefront relative disadvantage or vulnerability in the minds of decision-makers under the law; especially so that disadvantage or vulnerability is not exacerbated by the introduction of environmental risks or harms. In his award-winning thesis on A New Justice for Environmental Law in Australia, Brad defined and demonstrated the application of environmental justice to legal controversies across Australia.

The Victorian Parliament has since enacted, in its pollution laws, a general duty to protect the environment. The duty arose from a review of laws which were criticised for creating environmental injustices of the type canvassed by Dr Jessup, especially for communities that hosted polluting industries, and highlighted in the aftermath of the Hazelwood coal fires.

Picking up the call for law student activism to respond to and arrest environmental crises, Brad and Melbourne Law School students decided to test the limits and possible reach of the duty to achieve environmental justice in the context of the plastics industry in Victoria.

The plastics industry is now confronting indirect regulation through bans of plastic items, including carrier bags, and facing a crisis arising from the limited avenues for plastic recycling resulting from restrictions on plastic waste trade. Brad and the law students argue that Victoria’s ‘plastics communities’ must be better protected from environmental risks if the duty of environmental protection is to mean anything in the state.

Their research is found in a report entitled Synthetic statutes: Unwrapping the new environmental duty within Victoria’s ‘plastics communities’.

University of Melbourne Research Team

  • Dr Brad Jessup, Melbourne Law School

Research Assistants

  • Miranda Aprile
  • Alexander Laurence

Virtual presentation: Introducing the Student Law Clinics Global Day of Action for Climate Justice – Plastics

  • Stephen Levett, Kate Fisher-Doherty and Brad Jessup 'Student Law Clinics - Global Day of Action - Plastics'
  • Miranda Aprile, ‘The new Victorian General Environmental Duty’

Foundational Materials and Outputs:

Thesis: A New Justice for Environmental Law in Australia

Article: ‘Trajectories of Environmental Justice – From Histories to Futures and the Victorian Environmental Justice Agenda

Article: ‘Environmental justice as spatial and scalar justice: A regional waste facility or a local rubbish dump out of place?

Article: 'Unwrapping Victoria's general environmental duty to plastics communities: Synthetic statutes' (2022) 47(3) Alternative Law Journal,  204-210

Relevant conference presentations:

  • ‘Layers of Consent. (Seeing Consent. Denying Consent. Disguising Consent.) The Kimba, SA Nuclear Waste Proposal’, presented at Institute of Australian Geographers Legal Geography Online Workshop, University of New South Wales; 9 July 2020 (with Cobi Calyx and Rebecca Colvin).
  • ‘Places of Justice in Australian Environmental Law: Lessons from Victorian and NSW Coal-mining Towns’, presented at RegNet, The Australian National University, 30 April 2019.
  • ‘Gender and Justice from the Environmental Frontline’ presented at the Frontiers of Environmental Law Colloquium, Queensland University of Technology, 14 February 2019.
  • ‘“Local crusades” across decades: Of gender, environmental justice and law’, presented at Environmental Justice Conference 2017, University of Sydney, 8 November 2017.
  • ‘Clearing the Air: Australia, environmental justice and ‘toxic’ pollution’, presented at Environmental Justice Australia, Melbourne, Australia, 8 July 2014.