The JUICE Media Podcast

We need to talk about these floods | with Sue Higginson

Episode Summary

Ep 29: In which I talk with Lismore local, farmer, mother/grandmother, and kickass environmental lawyer Sue Higginson about the incredible community response to these devstating floods; the acts of heroism that saved hundreds of lives; Morrison's shitty visit to Lismore and the woeful governmenmt response; as well as the Sharma v Sussan Ley federal court case, and more.

Episode Notes

This is the podcast companion to our latest Honest Government Ad | The Floods

You can also view the video version of this interview on our YouTube channel.

👉 DEPT. OF THOUGHTS & PRAYERS MERCH
🔹 All profits go to flood relief

👉 Fundraisers to help communities recover from the floods:
🔹 Bundjalung Community Flood Relief
🔹 Help Northern Rivers NSW Recover from the 2022 Floods
🔹 Givit: Storms & Flooding support for Qld & NSW

👉 You can follow Sue Higginson here
👉 Sue’s website is here
👉 Learn more about the Environmental Defenders Office here

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👉 Editor: Ellen Burbidge
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Episode Transcription

Transcript by Jesse Dowse

Hey everyone, this is Giordano from The Juice Media. Welcome back to The Juice Media podcast, a companion to the Honest Government Ad series. This episode of the podcast is recorded on Wurundjeri land and it is the companion to our latest Honest Government Ad about the floods.

Excerpt from Honest Government Ad

Hello, I'm from the Australien government. We know these devastating floods have been hard for you, but they've been hard for us too. They've happened on the eve of an election. And since we've abandoned, betrayed, burned, drowned or pissed off just about every living thing on this continent, we can't even resort to handshakes, cosplay and photo ops anymore. Top Gun!

Giordano 

This Honest Government Ad acts as a segway, unfortunately, to the last one we made in 2020 about the fires, which was the last major climate disaster to hit Australia. In so many ways the situation has not changed. This government still doesn't listen to the experts or heat warnings, it still fails to prepare, and then when the shit hits the fan, it goes missing in action and looks for others to blame. The one thing that has changed, thankfully, is that this disaster has happened just before the next federal election, which means the nation will get to decide in the next few weeks whether this is the government we want to have in charge as we head deeper into the climate crisis.

In this podcast we'll be talking about all that, but I also want to use this time to hear from the communities that were hit by the floods to get a sense of the loss and grief, as well as the stories of bravery and heroism, which ensured hundreds of lives were saved.

Which is why I'm stoked to have as my guest today, a local resident from Lismore, the epicentre of the floods. Sue Higginson. Sue is a farmer, a mother and grandmother, an activist, and also a kick-ass public interest environmental lawyer. As the former principal solicitor of the Environmental Defenders Office, Australia's leading environmental law institution, Sue has led some of the highest profile environmental litigation in the country, taking on mining giants Adani, Whitehaven, BHP, Rio Tinto in the courts and winning. I hope you enjoy our chat, and I'll catch you on the other side.

Giordano

Welcome to The Juice Media podcast, Sue Higginson. It's really great to have you here.

Sue

Thank you, it's great to be here.

Giordano

Look, for those who might not know you, perhaps you could briefly introduce yourself? Where you live, your connection to the areas affected by the floods, and your professional work?

Sue

Yeah, thanks. So I'm a public interest environmental lawyer, and I've been working in that field for a couple of decades now. I'm the former CEO and principal solicitor of the Environmental Defenders Office in New South Wales, which is one of our leading public environmental law institutions. I'm a Lismore local. I've been here all my adult life- Well, I got here when I was a teenager. It's where I've had my children, and where my grandchildren have now been born, and here is where I farm with my partner. So we are farmers as well, we are dry land rice farmers, so we've engaged in this kind of farming because we have tried to embrace innovative modern ways of farming that are sustainable and enhance the environment or work with the environment. So yeah, that's who I am and what I do.

Giordano

Well it's really great to have you here, because as you know our latest Honest Government Ad spoke about the floods, the tragic floods that have hit your area, and you know, we've spoken to climate scientists in our recent podcasts but I really wanted to speak with someone from the area who can, you know, talk about the actual experience on the ground, and you know, obviously the video that we've made focuses on the government's abject failure to prepare and respond to this disaster, and I want to talk with you about that too, but first, before we get on to the shitfuckery, I think it's important to acknowledge and give priority to the stories of bravery and heroism in the communities that have been hit by the floods, which have prevented this disaster from claiming so many more lives. Can you paint a picture for us of how the community there has responded to this disaster, so people listening can get a sense of what happened and how it unfolded?

Sue

Yeah look, I mean really it's been nothing short of absolutely heroic. We're really used to floods in Lismore and the northern rivers. We're one of the wetter areas in the country. This rain event built up with novel components to it. The rain just kept pelting down and pelting down. We knew we were getting flood warnings, and in fact really the day before, on the Saturday, the flood warnings were pretty good. We were getting those- We went from moderate- Minor to moderate to major flood warnings. You just gotta picture if you're from Lismore, or you come to Lismore, everywhere you go, on every power pole or building, there's a little sign and it says, “The ‘74 flood.” This is imprinted culturally in us of the most- The highest. Or you know, the ‘54 flood was a little bit higher than that, perhaps, but that's the marker. And I kid you not, that marker, you look in the sky and you see it above every- Above where you are.

So we were preparing, and everybody moved their stuff up to their roofs, up to their flood level, and everybody enacted their flood plans. We were told to prepare for a flood that would go over our levy bank, over 10 metres. And so that was the preparation work, but around about 10 p.m that Sunday night, a lot of the social media feeds and the conversations happening late were, “Guys, if you can move and you can evacuate, do it now.” The SES had already given a bit of an evacuation warning to people in the lower areas, but as I say, we're used to floods. Floods in the lower areas mean the water comes over, the water comes up. Friends jump in tinnies. They go from veranda to veranda where people are sitting on their verandas who have been through floods. They're on their verandas with their chooks, their dogs, their kids, perhaps a goat, maybe a sheep. It's the way floods are done. Friends check on friends in tinnies, they make sure they've got enough supplies for the few days until the flood goes down, that sort of thing.

It just became patently obvious by midnight that this was not that flood. This was not a flood that we've ever seen before. The prediction was the levee would break around 5 a.m. The levee broke much earlier than that, so by 5 a.m. as the sun rose, those people who would ordinarily be jumping in their tinnies to go and greet their friends were actually jumping in their tinnies risking their lives, and then going to save their friends and save their lives, save them from on top of their roofs, save them from inside their roofs, and we know being inside a roof is an incredibly dangerous thing to do, but people were in their roofs because they couldn't get onto their roofs, and they had nowhere else to go. And then started the horror. The horror of the morning, and friends messaging friends who were in tinnies trying to say, “you need to go to this person's house quick!” “Can you try and get to this person's house?” And then those friends risking their lives, reporting back, “We can't get over there. The flood water is too fast this time. We can't go the normal routes we would go.” And the whole time, just the fear of thinking, “The person I'm talking to right now could lose their life any moment now.” It was- The catastrophe just unfolded, but it didn't stop these people.

These people were heroic, and, you know, let's remember at this point, there really was only two SES boats in the immediate vicinity. And at that point, the SES headquarters was actually at risk of flood as well. So you had the official responders in grave peril themselves, with incredibly limited resources. So whilst that side of things were mobilising and organising, lives were being saved. There was once one chap in South Lismore who literally was- Knew that the people he was getting from roofs and out of buildings, he had so many people to get out that he wouldn't be able to take them to the nearest land, safe land spot. He located the highest roof he could, thinking, “I've got- These people will be safe for about another forty, fifty, an hour on this roof. If I can get these 30 people onto that roof, and then they- By that time they'll be back up.”

Giordano

Right.

Sue

The community response was absolutely- Not just heroic, it was so strategic and intelligent, and tactfully correct that we- So many lives were saved. Unfortunately some lives were lost, and it was four too many lives. But so many were saved.

Giordano

Can I just say, also for our international audience, a lot of people tuning in from out of Australia, what a tinny is, if I haven't- Because I'm not Australian myself so I've just kind of put two and two together, but it's a tin- It's a small tin dinghy or a boat with a little motor on the back, correct?

Sue

Absolutely correct. And look, what's really interesting picking up on the tinny, is: so, you have to remember that this is not just a tinny on a river, or a tinny on a lake, or a tinny out in the bay, this is a tinny out in raging flood waters in some areas, and of course, you don't know what's underneath the water. There might be a truck or a van or- And there's power lines that you have to navigate round, and all sorts of infrastructure and in front of the tinnies eyes, buildings were moving from their foundations. Houses were picked up and moving as were, you know, livestock. There were some places, of course, the tinnies couldn't go to and you needed the flat bottomed boat. The SES rescue boats, so again, we now know that really, in any future event, there's a preferred type of boat for this response.

Giordano

It's so important for people to hear these stories, because I think especially with one of the things that happened is that these floods happened at the same time as another humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine, and a lot of people's atten- I mean, so many people during this time were literally like, “I can't take this.” You know, even just being as someone who is just seeing the news, it's like, “Oh my god, there's too many things competing for my terror, and empathy,” and in some ways I feel really sorry that it happened at this time, because I feel like even more, there would have been even more attention dedicated to the floods. What's the community response been nationally to the floods? Do you feel supported in Lismore? Do residents, they feel like the nation knows what's been happening?

Sue

Look, it's really hard to gauge that, you know, being in the community, certainly there has been an incredibly sympathetic and an empathetic response. Absolutely, and we can see that, but we ourselves, you know, we understand what's happening outside of where we are, that compounds the very problem for the trauma being experienced here. You know, the conversation has taken a whole new tone and narrative and the lyrics are all different now. “Oh, at least we're not getting bombed and shelled.” Hang on a minute, but I've lost everything as if I have been bombed and shelled, but I'm still alive. So we're engaging with a whole new conversation about how we cope, how we respond. The community here is just absolutely traumatised. The amount of displaced people, there are thousands and thousands of buildings that were once full of life, and children, and home, and art, and culture, and just gone and we're not sure.

We're not sure how to respond, you know, this is a catastrophic climate induced event that has taken place. We don't really have the tools to properly respond to this. The community is doing a remarkable job, but in so many ways I feel like they're pi- We're pioneering. It's very new territory, and yeah, in some ways it's different to the fires, even though being here feels incredibly similar to that event. I mean, what do we do? Do we start measuring what disaster is worse than the other? How do we do this?

Giordano

No, that’s right. I mean, so many- It feels like we're in an era now of overlapping spiralling catastrophes. Social, humanitarian, environmental, but it just struck me that when the fires took place in 2019 the world watched, and everyone was, you know, the whole world was like, “Help Australia! Send help from all over the place,” and this time it's just, “Sorry guys, but there's a shitshow happening on this side of the world now,” and that's just the new reality that we're dealing with, is that it is going to become more and more overlapping. Now that this has happened, what do you recommend to other communities who might be going  “Shit, are we next?” How do communities prepare for this level of climate destruction?

Sue

There's just no doubt that we have not been doing the work we should be doing. We need a local, regional, state, and national response, in terms of the preparedness and being prepared. Preparedness has to come from the community experience, but also fitted to the particular landscape that we're in, so we're not going to be able to engineer our way out of climate change, and we're not going to be able to engineer our way out of disasters, and catastrophic extreme weather events. We're going to have to learn how to live with them, and prepare ourselves, and build the resilience within the landscape to cope and accommodate with them. So in our case, we need to be looking at how to slow the flood waters down coming from the catchment, and how to get communities out of the inundation area quickly, and then what are the appropriate buildings and structures to have in there, and what green infrastructure do we need to protect ourselves? That's what we believe adaptation and being prepared would look like. We're not being offered that right now, quite the contrary. So that's been quite alarming for us and I would advise any communities elsewhere, be really cognizant and aware of political announcements and solutions that actually won't provide the response that we really need.

Giordano

Well, Sue, that takes us into the role of government in all this, and you know, let's talk about the mob that did not respond adequately to this catastrophe. What was the expectation from state and government, and how- Where were the failures that are apparent in that response?

Sue

So the immediate response is, naturally, you've got thousands of people who are displaced. So providing some form of shelter, protection and safety for those people was fundamental. Our immediate evacuation centre was, unfortunately, nothing short of grim. There was not- There was no dignity in those shelters at all. There was barely a place to rest your bones and lie down. There were not the facilities to rest on. There was really- The evacuation centre was completely unprepared for the scale of the damage, harm, and the need, so having a functioning evacuation centre, or at least the capacity to pop up a functioning evacuation centre early is really important. We didn't have that. Our people did it so rough in the first few nights it's almost unforgivable, and the trauma, the compounded trauma that people experienced in that centre is a story that will unfold in the coming weeks. It's already started to unfold. Suffice to say an emergency secondary evacuation centre was mobilised through community again, so you know, that's the immediate response, being-

Everybody, people have lost everything. Their clothes, their toothbrush, like everything that it requires to be a human being that can face the sunshine the next day, so these sort of things are really important, but then, going to the mid-stage or the second stage of- Still in the the rescue phase, people need to know that they can- That they're going to be assisted in finding some short-term or temporary accommodation. That's been really difficult for an area, say, like Lismore, and you know, let's face it. We know that the evidence is that the more vulnerable, the poorer people in our communities and societies will be impacted by climate change more so than the wealthier. We know this. Why? Lismore's a classic example. The South and Lismore- North Lismore communities that have been most impacted are the people who have the least amount of wealth in this community, and so these are the poorer areas where land is cheaper and housing was cheaper.

We already have a bit of a housing crisis. There is very little social housing. There's very- There is no community housing in this region. The absence of investment by state and federal governments over the last 20 years means our housing stock for social housing is zero. The waiting list has been enormous for years. There's been the announcement of some 285 million dollars, basically for housing response. The problem is, we don't have any houses. There are none. So even by providing 16 weeks worth of rent relief for people, there are no houses to rent out, and of course there's no regulation of the renting market, so, you know, perhaps the alternative would have been to construct a sort of tent city or a mobile home city of some sort. More broadly speaking, we don't have the infrastructure that is ready to accommodate the more vulnerable and the poorer people in our communities that are subject to these extreme weather events. So yeah, the problem is very broad.

Giordano

You also had a visit from the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. He arrived in Lismore, which was in many ways the epicentre of the disaster. Can you just briefly talk about what that experience was? What was the reception that the Prime Minister received?

Sue

Yeah, look, it was more than shocking. It was so woeful. It was appalling. And I say that hand on heart. So, the Prime Minister was arriving. The community found out the day before. People mobilised. People wanted to see him. They wanted to tell their story to him. There were some very angry people, they wanted to shout at him. They wanted to wave signs saying, “Hey, this is a climate emergency. What are you doing? You're still approving coal mines, what are you doing?” You know, so without a doubt, there were- But there were people that just wanted to see him and talk to him. It was very hard to know what his agenda was, in so far as his timetable. People thought and expected there would be an opportunity for him to stand in front of the community like other political leaders had. We had the New South Wales Premier walk up and down the main street, which is actually the centre of the apocalypse. It's just carnage and destruction everywhere. The New South Wales Premier walked up and down the street. So did other people, and people could come and meet. He was hugging people. There were people there that- There were people that perhaps shouted at him. Scott Morrison, nobody knew where he was.

There was a network saying, “Have you seen him?” Through social media and other channels. Apparently he briefed the media and said there will be no media access to me, the Prime Minister, except when I say in one closed room in the Lismore council chambers. So people found out. They gathered at the Lismore council chambers, which was public community space. When they arrived, I think it was in the order of about 80 armed police officers, and then they were told it was two o'clock or two-thirty, and about an hour later a car drove through, a lined wall of police officers, not- Obviously not from our community, some local police officers, but many from a long distance away. He drove in, locked the doors, and then drove out after the event. And so, I was there. I was at that space. I witnessed it. I saw women with their babies, still in their gum boots, they put down their scrubbing brushes, and their gurneys, and they were genuinely there to tell him their story. They wanted him to hear what they were going through.

And when one woman standing next to me realised what was happening, she broke down. She actually broke down into tears and then shouted, “And just when- I just can't believe this. I hate him.” And the emotion was incredibly raw. This was literally a woman with her young child, and she just wanted to tell her prime minister. And she actually thought he was coming to listen. And, so that's when, I think, the few hundred people that were there realised, really really realised that he was not there for- He was not coming for them, that's for sure.

Giordano

This is the guy who came up with the “Where the bloody hell are you?” Advertising tourism ad campaign, so he's- At least no one can say he isn't- He doesn't live out his own stupid marketing slogans in real life as a political leader. That is so infuriating, I mean, I'm used to being infuriated by this government, but just listening to you relate that story, it’s making my blood pressure rise. You know, and this brings us to the next question, which, you know, is the election, which we now have an opportunity to really make, as a nation to, you know, to vote on this performance. Perhaps this is the only disaster that this government really cares about is an electoral disaster. And I almost feel like if there's one positive thing about these floods is the timing of them. They've happened just before an election, as opposed to the bushfires which happened just after the 2019 election, which was excruciating.What is the feeling that those affected will take to the poll, to the voting booths in just a few weeks?

Sue

Look, it's always really hard to gauge, you know, how this translates to the electorate, and electoral politics in that sense. I absolutely think that there is a serious connection that people are making. People who are otherwise not necessarily engaged in the narrative of climate change. I think there is a resounding awareness that may not have been there before this event, that this is a climate change induced event. It doesn't matter how long you've been on the planet. That would- That was the first time, and it was the very definition of an extreme weather event. There's just no two ways about it. And everybody here, up and down this catchment, to the flood- all the way down the floodplain realises that this is the thing that people have been talking about. However they heard that in their conversations, even if it was from Barnaby Joyce laughing at it, I think that people- The penny has really dropped, sadly and tragically.

I walk through what was once my town and it's very hard to get from one side to the other without crying, and understanding the scale of the loss. This was a regional city, and it's virtually been wiped off the map. There may be parts- There will be parts that rebuild, but this is absolutely the centre of the apocalypse, it’s catastrophic. I think that has to translate into the understanding of: what is the first thing that you can do right now to address climate inaction and climate change, and try to make this less harmful for future generations? The first thing we can do is change this government in May.

10 years ago we had- We were kind of leading the way. We had the climate commission, which was full of incredible minds and scientists that were talking to us about what are the likely impacts? These are the lead authors in our Australian- In the chapters of the IPCC, and they were housed here in our public institutions. We were leading the way in terms of adaptation and resilience and what that looked like, but in 2013 when Tony Abbott came to power, he took a swipe at all of it. He defunded these organisations and commissions. The ones that were charged with the responsibility of making us future more safe. We've had 10 whole years now that we've lost, in terms of what we needed to do to take climate action and to address this climate crisis. I do think that people in this region realise now, that there's a job to do, and the guys in there are the same ones that have been laughing at that job, ignoring it, taking lumps of coal into parliament and laughing, thinking that was a joke, Well, this is not a joke. This is a crisis.

Giordano

Well look, as we say at the end of the video, you know, “Australien Government. We’ll literally get you all killed if you re-elect us in May.” You know, people will say, “Oh, that's a funny video,” and I'm like, “Yeah, that wasn't a joke.” Sue, your professional field of expertise is environmental law, so it would be remiss of me not to ask you to comment on a major development which has just came out in the past few days, the Sharma court case, a court case that was brought by a group of eight brave children against the Federal Environment Minister to protect young people from the future harm caused by the change, the impacts of climate change. Can you talk about this case and what has the latest development been?

Sue

Yeah. Look, it was an incredibly- A really clever case that was brought by the eight children and the Sister, Sister Arthur, I think she’s in her 80s, and it was basically a class action arguing that the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, has a duty of care when she's making decisions to approve things like coal mines, or if you consider whether a coal mine should go ahead, or a, you know, a greenhouse gas emission type of project, when she's making those decisions, she needs to consider the impacts that they will have on children. So the first case was really incredible, and it brought evidence from public health medical experts and others to show how these sort of developments, particularly coal mine developments, are going to exacerbate climate change. Then the health experts were able to show that the impacts of a changing climate and what that means to the health of future generations, so anybody, you know, 18 years and younger at this point in time, that the impacts on them, we're talking about serious injury, and death. They were the- That is the evidence of these medical experts looking at all of the science, all of the predictions, which we know is the world consensus of science, these predictions, the medical experts then translate that into what it means in terms of public health outcomes, and they have actually clearly stated in evidence in court, that we are talking about catastrophic health impacts to our young people. Whether it be through, you know, air pollution, etc, increasing temperatures, or death from catastrophic events. We are talking about serious injury and death to those young people.

So, the court naturally found, well yes, a commonwealth minister does have a duty of care if she's making decisions that are going to exacerbate all those impacts on young people, and it was incredible success. Those young people found hope in the decision and were mobilised into believing that they had taken some control over their future. They were going to and they wanted to engage in conversations with the Minister, and ask her to exercise that duty of care in a manner that meant not approving these brand new coal mines. And then we've just heard- So firstly, the real affront that happened straight after that, is that the Minister, so the current Commonwealth Government appealed that decision. They literally briefed their lawyers to go and argue, “I don't have a duty of care to prevent harm and death.”

Giordano

So the first part was the judge actually ruled in favour of the children and said, “yes, the government - Well, specifically the minister - Has a duty of care towards these children.” The government then said, “No, we're going to appeal that.” Is that?

Sue

Yes, that's absolutely right. The joy when that decision came down! I mean, the Australian networks of, you know, people who care, and the Twitter, and all of the social media- It was just jubilation. It was like, “Oh wow, finally justice has come to the discussion and justice is going to intervene!” Remembering we have seen so little climate action politically for so long, it was almost like, wow, this is the end of that absurdity. Now we can have the real discussion about how we- If we want to put it in the terms of the litigation, how we can protect our children from harm and death from climate change, you know, and then, yeah, the government chose to appeal that responsibility. I mean, it's unfathomable in the first place to consider that you would object to having that duty when you are the responsible minister and the responsible government in a country. How do we explain that to our children? Well I explained it to my adult children and they're pretty furious, and they certainly won't be voting for this government, I know. And so then, she appealed, and yeah, the full bench of the federal court said, “Oh, yeah, no, I think the judge probably went a bit too far. We can't find duties of care on ministers. They have other responsibilities, and we don’t want this coming into this justice narrative right now, it won't work for all these other reasons, so we're going to overrule that,” And there you go. And, you know, Sussan Ley, the current Commonwealth Environment Minister, knew that she would find- Have a good basis to appeal that judgement. And the way we could have avoided that, is if she and her legal team did just sit back and say, “Well that is the new law. That is the new law, and we're going to follow it, and let's in fact, let's in fact, make our written parliamentary made law up to date with how that single judge suggested the law. That's what a proper responsible government would do and that's not this government.

Giordano

Now it's your turn to be optimistic, Sue. That's, I would love if that had been the response from Sussan Ley, but just very briefly, is this the end of the road? I mean, I saw the scenes of the kids getting the news outside the court case. Some of them were in tears. It was heartbreaking, but good on them for being such little, you know, warriors from, you know, from the get-go. I mean in so many ways children don't have a choice, which is really heartbreaking in itself, but is that the end of the road for this case or is there another stage of appeal for them?

Sue

Yeah look, there is one more stage of appeal and that's to the Australian High Court. You know, whether or not those young people and the current legal team choose to do that, that's something we'll see. They've got a- I think another week or so to consider whether they'll file that appeal. I'm not going to say either way whether they will or won't. The difficulty of appealing is, you know, the full bench of the federal court did produce a very comprehensive judgement that follows the traditional path of the law, so any appeal will be difficult, and I'm not suggesting that it won't be taken up. We'll see how that plays out in the coming days.

Giordano

I mean, what this suggests is that, you know, we have electoral options, we have legal options, and we're trying to approach this problem, like, this human induced problem of climate change from so many different directions, we don't know which ones are going to work, so people are just trying everything, and most of them aren't going to work, but it's this combination of everything, sort of multi-vectorial approach from different angles that is really, it's now unmistakable. We're seeing it everywhere.

But just to bring us back to that political aspect of that fight, I just wanted to ask you one last question, Sue, and you know, thank you so much again for joining us and taking the time out of your day. I know, you know, you've been through a lot, so thank you very much for taking the time to share this experience with us, but I wanted to ask you, to conclude, to wrap up, about your turn to politics. You've been a successful and highly respected environmental lawyer. You've taken on mining giants and governments and won, and now you've decided to move away from that into politics. You've just been selected to fill a seat in the New South Wales State Parliament. Congratulations! Can you talk about your transition from the law to politics, and what do you see your role as being in the future?

Sue

Yeah, absolutely. So you know, look, I've probably always been- I'm a progressive political person in the sense, so when I started in law, it was with the mission to protect the environment through law. I'm an environmental lawyer. That's what I do, and I did that, and and I did that earnestly, hand on heart, and worked with our legal system and the politically made laws, to how I thought they were meant to work. To protect the environment. To be sensible. To look at the science and the evidence about what is important. To keep people safe, and to look after things that can't speak for themselves: native wildlife, our pristine environments, our water quality, our wellbeing, and I commenced this work, as I say, in earnest. And yes, I won cases. I won cases against- With communities, obviously, I don't- You don't do this stuff on your own, that's for sure. We won cases in the courts. We beat Rio Tinto in the court from building a massive new coal mine. And then, I re- It was exposed to really an unfathomable happening, so we won case- One particular case with Rio Tinto, and then- And it was all over the front of the papers, and- “Oh, gosh! How can a community win against a mining company in a court? What's happened here? Sovereign risk! We can't have this! This is just not what happens!” Two days later the CEO of Rio Tinto had flown from London, was sitting in the New South Wales Premier's office talking about how they had to do something to override this court decision. You couldn't do this. And sure enough, politicians then are standing in parliament rewriting the rules that we've won by. So, this exposed me to something I, you know, was slightly aware of but didn't realise how much this is happening in our system. State capture of these fossil fuel corporations is rife. It's not even really happening behind closed doors.

It was then I realised, “Hang on, our laws are not our laws. Our laws have been perverted, and our laws are manipulated, and how can I win at the other end in courts when our lawmakers, i.e. our parliaments, and that institution of democracy is so over captured and influenced by vested interest, and that's when I started really looking into how the system is working, where it's broken, and I realised I can stand in these courts and I can win, and really where I want to be, is I want to be at the front end. I want to be where laws are made, and so, we can try and make better laws, because as you said, how do we address climate change? And we're all trying it from this multi-pronged approach, which we need to do, no doubt, that the one thing that is getting in everyone's way right now is our parliamentary made laws that are prohibiting, they're preventing, they're putting up barriers, and it's just not doing the work we need to do: having good laws and good policy that support communities, business and everyone that is trying to make this future safer for everybody, and address climate change. And if we're all in it together and we're supported by that fundamental institution of democracy, we could do it looking at the eyes of our own children and grandchildren and say, “We're doing it. We're doing it together,” and I want to be a part of that, so I'm going to get into the New South Wales upper house at some point in the coming months, and you know, in some ways, yeah, this event that has just unfolded, I found out on a Wednesday night that I was going into parliament. This happened on the early hours of Monday morning. This event will be in all of my advocacy forevermore, whether it's direct or indirect, whether it's visible or invisible. This is now in me forever, having lived and seen what's happened. This will go into the New South Wales parliament every day I'm in there.

Giordano

It's such a great thing that you're getting into that space, and we want to wish you all the best with your- This next chapter of your work, and to thank you for all the work that you've done at the EDO as an environmental lawyer, and also that you're doing on the ground in your community in Lismore. So all the best.

Sue

And thank you so much for all the work you do and calling out the shitfuckery everywhere you do it. Thank you.

Giordano (outro)

Well, that brings us to the end of this episode of The Juice Media Podcast. Before we part ways, a reminder that we've released our new Department for Thoughts and Prayers merch, and all the profits from the sales will go towards supporting communities affected by the floods in New South Wales and Queensland. You can grab some swag from our store at shop.thejuicemedia.com

Of course, if you'd prefer to donate directly, you can do that too, and we've suggested three fundraisers which we’ll include links to in the show notes or in the video description if you're watching this podcast on YouTube, which is a good time to remind you that this podcast is available on your favourite podcast app, but then we also publish a video version on our YouTube channel. Thanks to Ellen for helping to produce and edit The Juice Media Podcast, and as always, thank you to our patrons, who make the podcast and the Honest Government Ads possible, especially these legends who support us by the highest patron tier of $100 a month. Thank you. If you value our work, please support us on Patreon at patreon.com/thejuice media

You've been listening to The Juice Media Podcast with me, Giordano. I'll catch you very soon for our next Honest Government Ad. Until then, take care.

Transcript by Jesse Dowse