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Jo Clay MLA – Our right to a healthier environment

Jo Clay MLA – Our right to a healthier environment

This op-ed piece explains. ACT Greens Member for Ginninderra, Jo ClayACT Human Rights Act must recognize the right of healthy environment

Every Canberran should be able to enjoy a healthy environment.

The environment is everything. It provides the air we breathe, water we drink, and food we eat. It is where you can connect and unwind. It is our home, our beauty, and our peace.

Our environment is precious, even more than any human being. I take comfort knowing that the Earth will still be there long after I’m gone. It is my goal to preserve it for my daughter, and hers, after I’m gone. It is also a living thing. I hope that one day, the planet will be more healthy than it is right now.

However, our Human Rights Act in the ACT doesn’t yet recognize the human right to a healthy and peaceful environment.

I grew-up in the middle of a discussion about human rights. Why didn’t Australia have an Act? Were we required one? What was our Constitution protecting and why did we need so many judges and lawyers to tell us the truth?

I was very proud that the ACT was the first Australian jurisdiction ever to pass a Human Rights Act. We didn’t wait to hear more Federal filibustering. We just did the job. I was even happier when Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales followed our lead.

While the ACT was established in Australia as the first, we are not world leaders. Other countries have a stronger human rights law, and many United Nations members have recognized the right of healthy environments.

In October 2013, the UN Human Rights Council passed an resolution recognising that everyone has the right to a healthy and safe environment. Global politics is often confusing and distant for me. But this was simple. The UN stated that protecting our environment was a foundation for other human rights, both current and future.

It is not a right that we should be adding to our list. It is the foundation of everything. Without a healthy environment, we cannot live healthy lives.

We need to act quickly. We are in a climate emergency. Water is becoming scarcer. Urban development puts pressures on wild places. Every day we make choices about what to protect and what to need. A healthy environment isn’t just another choice. It is the foundation of every good decision.

The Greens campaigned to include this in their 2020 election platform. It was included in our Parliamentary and Governing Agreement With Labor. There is a lot of research happening in the ACT on what this right could look, and how it will acknowledge and draw from Indigenous knowledge.

On Thursday 11 February, the ACT Legislative Assembly will be calling me to ask for an investigation into enshrining a right to a healthy atmosphere in our Human Rights Act. This is something I am very excited about. I cannot wait to see the government work with the community and human rights experts as well as our Indigenous community to make this happen.

Jo Clay is the Ginninderra member of ACT Greens and the ACT Greens spokesperson on circular economy, parks and conservation.

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