‘Rights of river’ set to be explored

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Dr Michelle Maloney is an Earth laws expert visiting the region this week.
Camera IconDr Michelle Maloney is an Earth laws expert visiting the region this week.

Conservationists pursuing plans to protect the Margaret River say moves to investigate “the rights of the river” are still in motion.

An international expert in Earth-centred laws will be in town visit Margaret River this week ahead of a series of workshops for conservationists and interested residents.

Dr Michelle Maloney, a lawyer involved in the Rights of Nature movement, will address workshop attendees here and in Bunbury.

The Margaret River visit coincides with World Rivers Day celebrations, for which she will provide more detail about the Rights of Nature movement, and how other countries around the world are “recognising the special rights of rivers and other ecosystems to give them greater protection”.

“Rights of Nature laws change the legal status of the living world from being just human property to being seen by the law as a rights-bearing entity,” Dr Maloney told the Times.

“Many communities around the world are working to change their laws so that nature can be afforded the highest protection possible.

“The Australian Earth Laws Alliance is interested in exploring how Rights of Nature laws might work in Australia.

“We’re working with indigenous groups around Australia to explore how their legal systems and ancient laws might work together with Rights of Nature laws to challenge destructive developments here in Australia.”

The issue came to a head early last year amid concerns about the health of the Margaret River, seen as among the most robust in the South West, and yet still experiencing reduced flows as well as challenges to the river environment.

About 200 people rallied last year to support the movement.

Dr Maloney said one of her workshops would look at “new approaches to designing economic and environmental management systems for living within our ecological limits”.

A separate, invitation-only workshop for strategic partners will be held at the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River offices on Tuesday, titled Rethinking Economics, Ecology and Local Governance In The 21st Century. Margaret River Regional Environment Centre spokeswoman Peta Goodwin said Dr Maloney’s visit would benefit local campaigners.

“It is wonderful that the opportunity to have Dr Maloney speak while she is here has been taken up by three different organisations, including the Shire, on three somewhat different topics,” Ms Goodwin said.

“This is a chance to hear an entertaining speaker who has some very practical ideas about how we can adapt our economy, our agricultural practices, and our governance to a changing climate.”

Conservationists were in for a stimulating event sparking debate and creative thinking, she said.

“MRREC and Friends of the Margaret River are very pleased to be working with the Undalup Association towards a Rights of Nature law for our river to give it stronger protection by changing its legal status,” Ms Goodwin said.

Nature Conservation Margaret River’s chief executive Caroline Hughes said community leaders were “exploring possible governance models to improve the way we protect and manage our environment”.

Ms Hughes said Dr Maloney’s visit would help residents “rethink the way we value the natural world and how we can address the significant environmental challenges we face into the future”.

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