Written by Julia Day
When I was speaking with Rachel I was excited to learn we have led almost parallel lives. Rachel grew up in Armidale (as did I), we went to the same primary school (we even shared the same year 6 teacher), and we both completed a law degree before going on to do a master’s degree in a specific area of law.
We are both passionate about the environment, but rather than just appreciating and revelling in our natural environment, Rachel is doing everything in her power to protect it. When Rachel was studying law at ANU she realised she was different from many of her fellow students. Whilst they were competing to successfully gain clerkships at corporate law firms in their summer holidays, Rachel was hiking to see critically endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda and later working as part of a conservation team in Tanzania.
Rachel’s love of the environment was piqued during childhood adventures with her mum and dad – who was a Professor in Geography and worked at UNE for 37 years. When she wasn’t bird watching and going on picnics with her family, she was watching David Attenborough documentaries. During holidays with her family, her dad would always use the opportunity to give Rachel and her brother a (not always riveting) geography lecture.
Since 2003 Rachel has been working for the Environmental Defenders Office NSW (EDO) as a public interest environmental lawyer. The EDO is essentially a community legal practice whose main client is our precious environment and those who seek to protect it. The EDO is an independent body, which allows the team to advocate for law reform on behalf of a wide range of clients who want a healthy and sustainable environment. The service is not aligned to any political party or corporation. They have guidelines relating to the matters they can take on as well as a phone enquiry service. They empower local communities to understand and use the law to protect the environment. She notes that even though the resources are often very minimal at the EDO, the job satisfaction is immense.
Rachel is passionate about promoting more effective biodiversity laws. She wants to make laws to prevent extinction and promote sustainable native vegetation and water management. She has recently been working on water law reform for the Murray Darling Basin and was part of the team who helped expose the governance failures of this natural resource. This work received considerable media exposure as a result of the Four Corners documentary – Pumped. In addition, the EDO legal team recently won a landmark climate change case for clients Groundswell Gloucester who successfully argued the Rocky Hill coal mine should be refused due to unacceptable social and climate impacts.
At the CR-SD Symposium Rachel spoke about ‘Risks and benefits of new governance approaches for biodiversity, native vegetation and water management.’ Professor Paul Martin persuaded Rachel to speak at the conference as he wanted the delegates to hear a perspective that may be different from their own. Paul knows Rachel after they both worked together on the Australian Panel of Experts of Environmental Law.
In terms of the ultimate question which was addressed at the symposium – relating to government or governance of natural resources – Rachel notes there is no one right approach for every situation. ‘In some areas private sector involvement works well. In terms of private land stewardship, this is often best left to Aboriginal groups and farmers, but government investment is critical. There will always be a need for government to have strong laws and enforcement powers, and resources to implement the laws. If management of precious natural resources is deregulated or dependent on market-mechanisms to deliver environmental outcomes – this can be risky and it is the environment and local communities that bear the risk. Outsourcing the responsibility for NRM also allows governments to outsource liability and accountability. New innovative governance partnerships should be explored to augment, not replace, strong law reform to protect the environment and effectively deliver ecologically sustainable development.’
Thank you for sharing your story with us Rachel!