A RULING that the federal Environment Minister will have a duty of care to avoid causing children harm when approving a new coal project was written into law on Thursday.
Justice Mordy Bromberg's ruling entrenches the duty of care into Australian law following an historic Supreme Court case brought by eight high school students against Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley earlier this year.
At the conclusion of Sharma v Minister for the Environment Federal Court case in May, Justice Bromberg found that carbon emissions released from mining and burning fossil fuels will exacerbate climate change causing personal injury and death to Australian children.
Following the ruling, both parties were asked by Justice Bromberg to make additional submissions before the duty of care was enshrined into law.
At the heart of the case was the pending approval of Whitehaven Coal's Vickery coal mine extension project in the state's North West.
The court's ruling in May found that emissions from the project would foreseeably expose children to a risk of injury and death and any approval would therefore risk breaching the "duty of care".
On Thursday, the court made a declaration that the Minister has a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing personal injury or death to Australian children when exercising her powers to approve the Vickery extension project under national environment law.
The Minister was also ordered to pay the students' legal costs in bringing the claim.
However, it is now incumbent on Environment Minister Sussan Ley to decide how to proceed with the approval process.
A Whitehaven spokesperson said in May that company was committed to the project and was awaiting the Ms Ley's decision.
"The company sees a continuing role for high-quality coal in contributing to global CO2 emissions reduction efforts while simultaneously supporting economic development in our near region," the spokesperson said in May.
"There is strong market demand for the high-quality product of the type [the Vickery mine] will produce."
Representing the students from Equity Generation Lawyers, David Barnden said the ruling was an historic one for the country.
"Today's historical outcome provides a safe harbour for the Environment Minister to act sensibly to not only protect the environment, but to ensure that she does not increase the risk of death and injury to children by approving new coal mines," Mr Barnden said.
"It is now law in Australia that people in power have a responsibility to not harm children. We hope this breaks the political deadlock that is condemning young people to a treacherous future."
Thursday's decision has prompted landholders such as Boggabri producer Sally Hunter to call for the project to be scrapped.
"We always felt that this project was the wrong mine at the wrong time. We knew it was going to harm not just the Namoi River, Kurrumbede Homestead, and the social fabric of Boggabri, but the world more broadly by further adding to catastrophic climate change," Mrs Hunter said.
"This judgement is recognition that this particular coal project will have a climate impact. That impact may not be huge on a global scale, but it is significant and relevant, especially when combined with other coal mines in the Namoi Valley and Liverpool Plains, and across Australia.
"Our community congratulates the teenagers who took on and won this historic case, and thanks to Sister Marie and their legal team."
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