- Applicants: Eight Australian children (led by Anjali Sharma) on their behalf and on behalf of the Australian children they represented
- Respondent: The Commonwealth Minister for the Environment
- The Extension of the coal mine required the Minister’s approval under the EPBC Act, as the proposed activity was likely to have a significant impact on threatened species protected under the Act, as well as its impact on water resources.
- Eight young people filed a putative class action in Australia’s Federal Court to block a coal mine extension project in New South Wales, as to stop the Australian Government from approving an extension of the Whitehaven Vickery coal mine.
- The plaintiffs claimed that,
- They represent all people under 18 years old.
- Federal Minister for the Environment has a common law “duty of care” for “young people”.
- Digging up as well as burning coal would exacerbate climate change and harm young people in the future.
- The plaintiffs sought an injunction to prevent the Minister from approving the project under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Does the Minister has a duty to take reasonable care when exercising her approval powers for the mine extension under EPBC Act?
Holding and Reasoning
- The Federal Court of Australia established a novel duty of care, regarding to avoid causing personal harm to children from emissions of carbon dioxide and subsequent global warming.
- Under EPBC Act s 130 and s 1331, the Minister has a duty of care in exercise of her powers, as to avoid causing personal injury or death to persons who were under 18 years old and ordinarily resident in Australia. Conclusively, the Court declared that the duty of care applied to “all Australian young people”, as both the applicants as well as Australian young people had the same interest.2
- The court also found the “foreseeable harm” from the project, and should the risk of harm crystallise, it would be “catastrophic”. Therefore, children should be considered while the Minister making the approval decision.3
- The Federal Court declined to issue an injunction to force the Minister to block the coal mine extension, as the plaintiffs had not established that the Minister would breach the duty of care in making approval decision.
- s 130 Timing of decision on approval, s 133 Grant of approval, at https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2023C00225/Html/Volume_1 (last visited 10/25/2023).
- para. 191 & para. 257, at https://www.judgments.fedcourt.gov.au/judgments/Judgments/fca/single/2021/2021fca0560#_Ref72921788 (last visited 10/25/2023).