Workshop & Field Trips
Legal rights for rivers: could it (should it?) happen in Australia?
In 2017, four rivers received legal rights and became legal persons: the Whanganui in New Zealand, Rio Atrato in Colombia, and the Ganga and Yamuna rivers in India. Legal rights for rivers certainly sounds like a good idea: it means giving rivers the legal tools to protect themselves, and expands legal systems to include consideration of the needs and rights of nature, as well as humans.
But this very framing highlights a significant problem. Why should nature need to protect itself in law? Modern environmental law is part of a broader set of public interest laws intended to ensure that the law acts on behalf of those too vulnerable to speak up for themselves in an adversarial context. Giving rivers legal rights replaces this emphasis on the collective good with individual rights, most particularly the right to sue and be sued (legal standing), so that rivers can go to court and advocate for their own interests. Will giving rivers a voice mean we can effectively abdicate our responsibilities for looking after them?
This workshop will examine the recent international developments in granting legal rights to rivers, and what this powerful legal tool could (and should) mean in the Australian context. Speakers include:
- Rāwiri Tinirau, Deputy Chair of Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui, the post-settlement governance body for Whanganui Iwi for the purpose of the Whanganui River Settlement;
- Dr Erin O’Donnell, Senior Fellow at Melbourne Law School;
- Dr Avril Horne, Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Engineering.
Participants in the workshop will have an opportunity to develop the concept of legal rights for rivers in an Australian catchment, and explore how this approach could improve (or create new problems for) water resource management.
1. North West Bay River Catchment Tour - Summit to sea - BOOKED OUT
Starting at the summit of Mount Wellington and visiting various sites along the North West Bay River this tour will include a discussion of the recently developed catchment strategy for this area, riparian works to enhance riparian vegetation and control erosion, the high impact flooding event experienced in May 2018 and will finish with a tour of the spectacular Inverawe Native Gardens overlooking the sea. The small catchment size and close proximity to Hobart enables a comprehensive catchment tour and will include discussions with NRM agencies, local government, community members and local businesses with intimate knowledge of the North West Bay system.
2. Hobart Rivulet Tour - Urban Stream Management - BOOKED OUT
This tour will introduce participants to issues of urban stream management in Hobart, both historical and modern. The Hobart Rivulet was originally an important drinking water source for Aboriginal populations as well as early English settlers. As the city of Hobart grew, the Rivulet also supported development of industry along its banks, and it was increasingly modified (piped underground and diverted) to support human uses and manage flood risk in the city. This tour will follow the rivulet from Mt Wellington, through some industrial sites and along historical components of the Rivulet, into urban Hobart. Hear from local hydrologists, waterway managers and industrial figures about how they work with this urban waterway.