March 27, 2023

Time to do time for a fairer future?

Time for the generations to fight together for a fairer future

How old should I be when I get arrested for climate protesting? I’ll tell you why this is on my mind, with the alarm bell of the final IPCC report clanging in my ears.

I have been contemplating the charges laid on 1 February against nine Queenslanders with an age range of 20 to 81 years old who smuggled anti-coal banners and a camera into Queensland parliament. In November 2022, the group unfurled their banners over the railing overlooking the chamber during Question Time and chanted “stop coal, stop gas’ for three minutes before being removed by security.

I was shocked that this group has been charged with disturbing the legislature under section 56 of the Queensland Criminal Code 1899 which carries a maximum three-year jail sentence.

One of the group charged, Lee Coaldrake stated:

Were there other ways this group could have achieved the urgent sustainable change they were seeking? Is getting arrested the only meaningful way to achieve intergenerational justice?

There is no jurisdiction in Australia that secures the rights and wellbeing of future generations in law or policy, or requires the ethical stewardship of resources over time. Into this vacuum, school students are marching, nannas are knitting to save the Pilliga, parents are creating climate action platforms, First Nations elders are taking mines to court.  

Globally there are movements like Fridays for the Future or the Third Act group for ‘experienced Americans’ over 60 trying to provoke urgent change.  Climate impacts throw this gap of long-term planning and decision-making into stark relief but there are many other policy domains, youth policy, urban planning, education, or closing the gap for First Nations Australians, which have an innately intergenerational impact. 

Should we all start saving up for bail or are there other measures we can take?  I am part of a diverse coalition of experts who have surveyed global practice and settled on the Welsh Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015 as a great model for Australia.  The Well-being of Future Generations Act has real teeth as it requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change. Wales has created the role of Future Generations Commissioner and the role is already making a visible difference after the first seven years.

What’s the Act do?

The Welsh Act creates a Well-being Duty that all public bodies will be expected to carry out by law. Each public body must carry out sustainable development.

The sustainable development principle means that the government must act in a manner which seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Just let that sink in.

The action a public body takes in carrying out sustainable development must include: 

a. setting and publishing well-being objectives that are designed to maximise its contribution to achieving each of the well-being goals, and 

b. taking all reasonable steps in exercising its functions to meet those objectives.

This means that each public body listed in the Act must work to improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. Not just now, or in a few months, but with a much longer time horizon than the next election.

What happens if we don’t act?

I don’t want to get arrested, I am a lawyer and a law-abiding soul. But the urgency is building and I am also scared for my children and my children’s children. We need a Future Generations Act in the next term of government and the time is now to pressure our representatives and create different futures.

Professor Susan Harris Rimmer is the Director of the Policy Innovation Hub at Griffith University, and leads the Climate Justice theme of the Griffith Climate Action Beacon. The EveryGen project from Griffith University are co-sponsoring a visit of the former Welsh Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howes to Australia from 17-27 April with the Centre for Policy Development