Page 271 - Week 01 - Thursday, 10 February 2022

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countries, I would like to congratulate your countries for having already enshrined those rights. I also turn to you for advice and guidance as to how it has worked.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that both globally and locally the brunt of environmental harm, the burden of proof and the quest for justice has often been shouldered by marginalised communities. In agreeing to this motion, we are committing to working to eliminate that burden and to create a true and home-grown version of how the state shall protect and advance the right of people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature. I commend this motion to the Assembly.

MR RATTENBURY (Kurrajong) (3.42): I would like to speak briefly in support of this motion on the inclusion of the right to a healthy environment in the ACT Human Rights Act. I am going to start with a point that bears repeating in the context of the motion we are talking about today, and it is this: the thing that we call the “economy”, something which is often used in political discourse as a proxy for the entirety of human activity, is completely contained within that other thing we call the “environment”. It is not the other way around. The environment is not a subset or adjunct. The environment is not the backyard, while the economy is the house; nor is the environment a disconnected entity, something we can consider or visit on weekends when we have finished with the important stuff.

Just as the environment cannot be separated from the economy, neither can it be separated from issues of human rights. Many people have made this point, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who said last year, in the context of the unprecedented number of environmental human rights defenders that have been killed over the past couple of years:

We must build on this momentum to move beyond the false separation of environmental action and protection of human rights. It is all too clear that neither goal can be achieved without the other ...

She is spot on. We must recognise that the right to a healthy environment is important for all of us. There are direct benefits of a healthy environment. A beautiful place to live is intimately connected with our mental wellbeing. A city we can happily exist in is vital for our physical wellbeing. But it is also vitally important for reasons other than just avoiding living our own lives in a wasteland. Human beings are a part of nature not simply in terms of our evolutionary origins but in our ongoing lives. So many of the things we take for granted are due to existing environmental protections, and we erode those at the peril of our own health.

Now, more than ever, we need to keep this sense of interconnectedness at the forefront of our awareness. When we do, it is easy to see that the right to a healthy environment is not a fringe issue or a nice-to-have accessory in a fashion wardrobe of a modern Human Rights Act in a modern judicial system; it is actually integral. For all of us, the right to a healthy environment is the right to a healthy life, a safe future, equality of opportunity and protection from harm. The harm can be pollution of water or air, or it can be health crises born from habitat destruction. Scientists are sending us a message loud and clear that COVID did not hit us out of the blue. Habitat

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