About the Rights of the Reef Campaign

The bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is an unprecedented environmental crisis in Australia, and the world. This environmental crisis demands a response that will transform Australia’s governance of the Reef and be a catalyst for broader transformation of Australia’s legal system. The Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA) is leading a campaign to create public support for legal recognition of the rights of the Great Barrier Reef.

Your Invitation

AELA is inviting individuals and organisations around Australia and around the world, to support a campaign advocating for the Great Barrier Reef to have its legal rights recognised in law. This campaign will lead to direct benefits for the Reef and Reef communities, as well as providing a well needed injection of innovation and transformation into Australia’s environmental laws.

Individuals who would like to support the campaign are invited to:

Organisations who would like to support the campaign are invited to:

  • Be listed as a supporter on the petition seeking public support, and on AELA’s website
  • Promote the campaign to your members and supporters. This will involve promoting the petition to your membership and promotion on social media. See the Campaign Media page for images, suggested text and ready-made Tweets to share!
  • Promote ‘key moments’ in the campaign via social media, including the delivery of draft legislation to the State Government, to Federal Government, and other key highlights
  • Email AELA to express interest and find out more

Why advocate for legal recognition of the rights of the Reef?

Our legal system has failed to protect the natural world, and has failed the Great Barrier Reef. This is not surprising, as Australia’s current laws support an economic system driven by unsustainable growth, endless resource extraction, and the idea that nature is merely human property. Our laws do not recognise the rights of local communities to stop unwanted developments, and they do not recognise the inherent rights of the non-human world to live and flourish.

AELA is working to create new conversations in Australia about the legal status of the natural world. This involves advocating for legal recognition of the rights of nature and local communities, so ordinary people can defend the rights of the natural world to exist, thrive and evolve, challenge corporate and government destruction of the natural world, and demand a healthy future built on a living economy.

Around the world, other communities, legislatures and courts are losing faith in traditional environmental law to protect the natural world. There are a growing number of jurisdictions shifting the legal status of nature from human property, to subjects of the law. This means that natural systems have their own inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve, recognised in law, and legal actions can be taken on behalf of the ecosystems.

Examples include: the constitution of Ecuador, national legislation in Bolivia, local ordinances in the USA and recent court decisions in India which recognise the legal rights of nature; developments in New Zealand under the Treaty of Waitangi, which have seen several ecosystems granted legal personhood and in Australia, the creation of ‘environmental water managers’ in domestic law has seen legal rights allocated to environmental water flows.

A successful example of the implementation of rights of nature is the Vilcabamba River case in Ecuador. Under this case, ordinary citizens used the provisions in the Ecuadorian Constitution to speak for the river, and launch a case against a municipal government, for violating the rights of the river to exist and maintain its vital cycles. The court found in favour of the river and recognised the river’s life giving capacity and inherent right to exist. The court ordered the municipal government to restore the river flow, which it had disrupted with waste from major roadworks.

For an overview of why rights of nature laws are different from the current paradigm and how they can play a part in transforming cultural world views and the legal system, please see this page on AELA’s website:

What does success look like?

The Great Barrier Reef campaign has short term and long term goals. In the short term, the campaign will add to the public debate about climate change and the Reef, and give people a new language and communication framework, for challenging coal mines and other destructive developments. In the medium to longer term, this campaign will catalyse a transformation of the legal system, by enabling people who care for the Great Barrier Reef to advocate for the recognition of its own legal rights

With your help, campaign milestones will include:

  • Petition launch in August 2018, to secure signatures from people around Australia and the world, supporting the recognition of legal rights of the Great Barrier Reef
  • A minimum of five thousand signatures on the petition by the end of October 2018
  • Submission to the World Heritage Commission, arguing that the situation with the Great Barrier Reef is so dire and that Australia’s laws have failed so completely to protect the Reef, that the Australian community is demanding a new legal approach
  • Media event in conjunction with the Rights of Nature Australia (RONA) Peoples Tribunal, 27 October 2018, presenting proposed legislation to the Queensland State Government
  • Meetings and conversations with politicians around Australia, about legal rights of the Great Barrier Reef
  • Regular updates to everyone engaged in the campaign
  • Continue to collect signatures for 2-3 years and continue the campaign indefinitely, until law reform at the local, State and Federal level is successful
  • Ultimate success would be the passing of a law acknowledging the rights of the Great Barrier Reef, new democratic processes for communities and concerned citizens to engage in Reef Restoration activities, together with effective climate change policies to reduce carbon emissions that are killing the Reef