The Environment Minister Just Got Grilled On Her Moral Duty To Protect Kids From Climate Change

"I do care about the climate. I do care about the children. I do respect their advocacy."

sussan ley

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Federal Minister for Environment Sussan Ley has been asked if she has a “moral duty of care” to protect children from the effects of climate change after a court ruled she did not have a legal obligation to do so.

Last year, eight teenagers and a nun, Sister Brigid Arthur, sought an injunction to stop Ley from approving the expansion of the Vickery coal mine — arguing that she had a duty of care to protect children from the inevitable impacts of climate change. However, earlier this week, the federal court overturned the initial decision and ruled that a duty of care should not be imposed on the minister.

In an interview with ABC Radio host Patricia Karvelas on Thursday, Ley was asked if people would “expect no less from the environment minister” than protection from climate change.

Ley asserted that she does care about the climate, and about children, but didn’t accept that she had any obligations above the law.

“So I understand that there’s been an emotional response to the duty of care question in this particular case,” said Ley. “I do care about the climate. I do care about the children. I do respect their advocacy, but what that duty of care was what was being considered by the court was whether I had obligations over and above the law. And the point is that I implement national environmental law under the EPBC Act.

“I’m very conscious of my statutory responsibilities, and I make decisions in the interests of Australians. Every single day now, the three judges agreed that the duty of care was incoherent and inconsistent with my statutory obligations. And that was what this court case was about. But I know that people interpret it as a sort of broader duty of care, but I want to separate that emotional response from the legal question before the court.”

While Ley called it an “emotional response”, Karvelas was quick to point out that we’re currently feeling the catastrophic impact of climate change — which is probably why children feel so strongly about it.

“On the horizon, young people are concerned because the future is at risk. It’s not really emotional, it’s based on science and people having a response based on what they’ve been told by the experts,” said Karvelas.

But instead of acknowledging the science, or any sort of moral obligation she may or may not have, Ley simply dodged the question and reiterated that she has no legal duty of care.

“When you just ask me about a moral duty of care, which is not the legal question before the court,” said Ley. “I mean, I just want to make that point. And but I understand the emotion in the responses that have come to me and in the responses of those who took the case to the court, but I do want to separate what my obligations are under Australian law, and a court case that was effectively asking me to go further beyond what my statutory obligations are, and clearly the three judges of the fourth federal court agreed with the case that the government impose terms of the inconsistency of what was being asked for under the duty of care with my statutory obligations are.”

Despite the ruling on Tuesday, the students have not been deterred to continue their fight against climate inaction.

“Today’s ruling leaves us devastated, but it will not deter us in our flight for climate justice,” one of the students, 17-year-old Anjali Sharma said. “This case demonstrates that young people are determined to be heard on this issue at the highest levels.

“We’re proud of representing young people in Australia and fighting to hold people in power responsible for their actions.”