The ‘duty of care’ bill is a chance for the government to show it cares about young people

Student Anjali Sharma lost a court attempt to force duty of care consideration.(Supplied: Anjali Sharma)

By Anjali Sharma in Womens Agenda 6 Aug 2023

Anjali Sharma

On Monday, I stood beside Senator David Pocock as together, we launched a campaign to legislate a duty of care owed by the government to young people, to ensure our health and wellbeing is taken into consideration when decisions that could cause climate harm are made.

In the mural hall at parliament house, I was facing cameras and journalists, knowing I should’ve been frantically going over my words to make sure I got them right when I stepped up to the microphones..

But my mind was wandering.

I was thinking about how just over a year ago, I’d been sitting on the floor of the Federal Court in Sydney with my amazing young climate activist friends, as our hearts collectively broke as the court overturned this duty of care on appeal from the government. I was remembering how we’d squeezed each other’s hands tight, took deep and shuddering breaths together. And how we’d cried together after, at the collective disappointment that one of the country’s highest legal institutions had looked young people in the eye and refused to hand down a judgement for the safety of their futures.

I was thinking about how a month ago, I had the privilege of visiting communities just recently devastated by twin cyclones in Vanuatu. I was thinking about the young girls and boys I’d met there, who took me around their villages and into their homes, played soccer with me and braided my hair, who told me stories about their lives and their dreams. We shared laughs, interspersed with stories about the cyclone, and it was clear to me how intertwined with their lives the issue of climate change really is. Before I left, these young children made a promise to me that they would stay safe when the next cyclone hit. They wrote their names on a piece of paper that I still carry with me in my phone case today.

I was thinking about young children I’ve seen grow up in my home community of India, and I was thinking about my friends who stood on the other side of the camera watching and smiling as I stepped up to the cameras, ready to speak about why our futures need to be taken specifically into consideration when decisions about climate change are made.

Recent years have been characterised by climate disaster at an unprecedented rate. Records that should never be touched are being broken. Just in the past few months, heatwaves have subsumed Europe and South America, while India suffers through floods, amidst news that the gulf stream could collapse as early as 2025. Twenty-one of the 30 hottest days on record have taken place during the last month.

Standing there, my mind recounting all these young people I’d had the privilege to meet, learn from and call my friends, it was more clear to me than ever that the burden of climate change is not one distributed equitably. As climate impacts increase in severity, and natural disasters become more and more frequent, it’s the lives of young people that will be most impacted.

“the burden of climate change is not one distributed equitably… it’s the lives of young people that will be most impacted”

Anjali Sharma. Image: supplied.

Despite the overwhelming and distressing climate news that seems to be everywhere at the moment, it continues to be young people leading the charge for greater climate action. Instead of falling victim to doomism and becoming apathetic, young people are continuing to find new and creative ways to hold their governments and big polluters accountable to climate harm.

This bill, for a duty of care owed by the government to young people, is just another example of young people stepping up to the mark.

Now, it’s time for our governments to come to the table and negotiate in good faith with those who have long advocated for a safe and liveable future for young people.

In the media and in parliament, the Labor party has continued to pat themselves on the back for ending the climate wars and increasing Australia’s climate ambition. Yet, their actions are in clear contrast to their words, having used their time in government to approve new fossil fuel projects, approve expansions and new exploration areas, and funnel taxpayer money towards these operations. Their rhetoric has not been matched by satisfactory action.

“rhetoric has not been matched by satisfactory action … This bill offers the government a chance to change that”

This bill offers the government a chance to change that. A chance to demonstrate their commitment to handing my generation, and those that will come after, a future not earmarked by natural disasters of terrifying frequency and severity, a future that fulfils the principle of intergenerational equity.

It’s a humble ask, one that should have to go unsaid. Years of climate denial and millions of dollars in fossil fuel donations have brought us to this point, but this bill is a chance to change that. All that’s left is for Plibersek, Bowen and Albanese to come to the table.


You can support Anjali Sharma’s campaign by signing this petition.

Independent senator David Pocock to propose climate change impacts ‘duty of care’ bill


A Whole New Ballgame | David Pocock
David Pocock says the Commonwealth should consider the long-term climate impacts of projects before approving them.()

An independent senator hopes to convince the federal parliament to consider giving the federal government a duty of care to protect young people from climate change when assessing fossil fuel projects.

David Pocock will give notice on Monday that he will introduce a private senator’s bill on Tuesday proposing the government must consider whether new developments will increase global heating, fire and flood disasters before approving them or providing funds.

It is a proposal supported by Darwin father Oliver, who says he is increasingly worried about his two children’s future as the Top End gets hotter and hotter.

“My concern about climate change has increased manyfold since having children,” he said.

“I think about it every day, I think about it every night because I’m really concerned that my children will not survive the perils of climate change.”

a dad drawing with his daughter

Oliver is worried about what impact the continual heating of the Top End will have on his daughter.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

Oliver said he was particularly worried the federal government was pressing ahead with supporting new NT fossil fuel projects.

The federal government has committed $1.5 billion for the planned gas export, petrochemicals and hydrogen hub on Darwin Harbour’s Middle Arm, which is to be supplied by the Beetaloo Basin gas fieldcurrently being explored.

“I’m particularly worried about the gas expansion in the Northern Territory,” Oliver said.

“The UN is saying 2023 is the year we have to see absolute reductions in emissions and we are more than halfway through the year and we’re not seeing anything close to that.”

ACT senator David Pocock said he was worried the federal government’s support for new fossil fuel projects was not wavering, and he hoped his private member’s bill would change that.

“My bill would legislate a duty of care to young people and future generations so it would force politicians and policymakers to consider the impact of climate harm on young people and future generations,” he said.

“Middle Arm is a great example of the kind of projects we should be looking at.

“Turn on the news, look what’s happening in Europe, and it’s only going to get worse unless we see the kind of leadership and decision-making that acts in the interests of all of us.”

An image of a small carpark next to a Middle Arm boat ramp.

The new development precinct will be based south of Darwin.(ABC News: Michael Donnelly)

Senator Pocock said if the bill was passed it would “insert a duty of care into the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation ) Act, our big environmental laws, the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility, Export Finance Australia, Infrastructure Australia — all these bodies that deal with big projects”.

The idea for the bill was suggested by 19-year-old Canberra student Anjali Sharma.

She failed to convince the Federal Court last year that federal government approval of fossil fuel projects should have to pass a duty of care test.

a young woman with dark hair at a press conference

Student Anjali Sharma lost a court attempt to force duty of care consideration.(Supplied: Anjali Sharma)

She said she hoped the government did not reject the bill outright.

“The Labor Party has acknowledged the issue of climate change, but unfortunately what we see is they still play into the hands of fossil fuel companies with the fossil fuel subsidies that are allocated in the budget,” she said.

Like the Commonwealth government, the NT Industry Minister Nicole Manison has maintained emissions can be reduced while projects that will be essential to the economy are opened up.

Nicole Manison

Nicole Manison says an on-shore gas industry will boost the NT’s economy.(ABC News: Kaiden Reid)

“The development of the Beetaloo delivers some exciting opportunities,” she said.

“It’s about the different industries it opens up, and when you look at the jobs it creates as well with the amount of gas that is available there in the Beetaloo, it’s not just about the Northern Territory, it’s also about the needs of Australia as they transition to renewable energy as well.”

Senator Pocock has acknowledged his bill will struggle to get up because coal and gas are Australia’s second and third-most valuable export earners after iron ore.

But he said he hoped the parliament may agree to refer it to the Environment Committee for further interrogation.

“We need more imagination when it comes to our future,” he said.

“We need more imagination when it comes to our future,” he said.

“There are huge opportunities when it comes to things like green steel, green aluminium, green hydrogen, and we are so well positioned to be developing those industries here and exporting.”

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