EDO Qld CEO and Solicitor Jo-Anne Bragg has been awarded a pin recognising 25 years of service from Queensland Law Society.
Jo, who also happens to be the longest serving Environmental Defender in Australia, accepted the award at a special event last month.
Here’s what she had to say about the honor...
How does it feel to have reached the 25 year milestone for practising law in Queensland?
Practising environmental law in Queensland is challenging as we have so many wonderful natural resources, like the Great Barrier Reef, that need respect and protection against short-term unsustainable development. I have worked with so many dedicated colleagues and community groups over 25 years. When I started practising environmental law all the copies of legislation were in paper form, not electronic.
What are some of the standout moments from the past 25 years working at the Environmental Defenders Office in Queensland?
I’ll pick a few standout moments around reforming and enforcing nature conservation legislation. My first month on the job was great back in 1992! I worked hard on a submission on why there should be legal standing rights given to the community under the new Nature Conservation Act 1992, so the community could protect nature if government failed to stop illegal behaviour.
Now that reform submission did not succeed then. But leap forward to December 2003 when, finally, those community legal standing rights came into effect when amendments to the Nature Conservation Act 1992 commenced after a great deal of joint work with Dr Carol Booth. Those rights enabled Dr Booth, with help from EDO Qld and Barrister Dr Chris McGrath and others, to halt much illegal electrocution of flying fox through a number of hard fought Court victories in the years that followed. It was very satisfying to effectively use rights we had helped to bring into effect.
A list of other successes - and there are quite a few, such as the landmark 2017 Land Court recommendation against the New Acland Coal expansion after 99 days in Court - or the launch of our wonderful SwimfortheReef event in 2016, are to be found on the EDO Queensland website.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career?
Gathering sufficient resources to help community groups get excellent representation. By contrast, big business has immense tax deductible resources to spend arguing their case for development.
What do you hope to see change in environmental law in the next 25 years?
I’d like to see both legislation and culture that genuinely helps deliver ecological sustainability for Queenslanders and the natural environment. Our current legislation gives decision-makers too much discretion and its usually used to favour unsustainable development.
What inspired you to practice in environmental law?
I was a keen bushwalker. Mum and Dad took us kids on plenty of long glorious holidays in National Parks including a memorable holiday in North Queensland when I was 16. And as a young law student I was gravely concerned about logging destroying habitat of native wildlife in the South East Forests, round Eden New South Wales. After three years in Company and Commercial law in Sydney, in 1992 it was time for me to head to Queensland and to change my area of practice.
Do you have any advice for lawyers who want to get involved in environmental law?
Volunteering and getting some practical experience is terribly important. Many of the staff here at EDO Qld started off as volunteer students then worked for government or private industry before joining our team. But even if you don’t work in environmental law you can contribute to your local community group to protect your local bush or you can contribute by donating to your local group or to EDO Qld.