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Australian Environmental Law Essay

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Updated: Mar 12th, 2022


The existence of all the forms of life on Earth is dependent on the conditions of the natural environment in which these forms exist, evolve, and go extinct. The activities of human beings have made the issue of environmental protection into a burning one. Such phenomena as global warming, the greenhouse effect, the destruction of the ozone layer, climate change, and many others, have made humanity start thinking of ways to stop the destruction and to take more care of the natural environment. Not surprisingly, the major regulatory role in the process of environmental protection has been attributed to laws, which serve as the basis of modern human society. In Australia, the situation is not different from the rest of the world as whole sets of laws are established in this country to ensure proper environmental protection. However, these laws have their numerous drawbacks, among which the anthropocentric character of the regulatory models and tools used in the Australian environmental laws is the major one.

Anthropocentric Australian Environmental Law

Personal Views

Thus, beginning the consideration of the anthropocentric character of the Australian environmental laws, It should be stated that the position of this paper’s author in this respect is rather clear and firm – the environmental laws in Australia are indeed anthropocentric. At the same time, it can be seen that the roots of this issue go much deeper than the legislative perspective and can be observed in the minds of both ordinary people and those individuals who possess the legislative and executive powers to create and enforce laws in Australia.

In more detail, the above expressed firm commitment to the above-expressed belief is based on the idea that it is common in modern society to argue about the environment and the need for its protection exclusively about the needs of, and potential threats to, the existence of human beings. Even when the issue is discussed in the plane of animal species extinction, it is usually related to the effects of this phenomenon upon the lives of human beings, their nutrition, surroundings, or comfort. Respectively, the regulatory models and tools used in the Australian environmental laws are also anthropocentric as far as they are developed by ordinary human beings. The latter’s attitudes towards the environment are based, in most cases although there certainly can be exceptions, on the so-called “environmental economics” as the position, from which the nature is viewed as another resource that mankind can use for its proper development and improvement of living conditions.

General Notions

The theoretical and historical backgrounds of the development of the Australian environmental laws seem to prove the latter’s anthropocentric nature as well. For example, considering the potential of the Australian environmental laws for change in the light of the societal development observed nowadays, scholars define four axes of this change, and each of them is obviously focused on the needs of human beings in the processes of environmental protection. These axes are regulatory evolution, participatory expansion, internationalization, and integration and complexity.

As one can see from the further discussion of those axes, they are all focused on needs and requirements of human beings. Moreover, they can be designed and enforced by the mankind, and their major idea is to launch the environmental protection ideas as seen from the human-related point of view. In other words, all the above-listed axes have their major aim in improving the lives of people through introducing modified environmental laws in Australia. Although the development of sciences and environmental philosophies seems to improve the situation to some extent, the influence of the Christian religious tradition and the modern environmental economics views on perceiving nature as another resource available to human beings, who are traditionally considered to be at the top of the evolutionary process, provides the background for the basic regulatory models and tools of the Australian environmental laws to be anthropocentric.

Regulatory Models

General Notions

Thus, starting the discussion of the environmental laws in Australia, it is necessary to state that they are based on two major pillars, i. e. the legal acts and the case law precedents observed in the country. The basic domestic legal act regulating the process of managing the environmental issues is the Environmental Protection Act, or to be more exact its various types adopted in different years in every state of Canada including Queensland, New South Wales, etc. The international legal acts applied in Australia include the World Heritage Convention (1972) and the Stockholm Declaration (1972).

The basic case law pieces applied to the peculiar points in the development of the environmental law in Australia include the cases like Bailey v Forestry Commission (1989) 67 LGRA 200, Phosphate Coop v EPA (1977)138 CLR 134, Mabo v Queensland No 2 (1992) 175 CLR 1, Commonwealth v Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 1, and Minister of Planning v Walker (2008) 161 LGERA 423. All the above legal acts and case law examples allow better understanding of the anthropocentrism that could, and still can be observed in the basic regulatory models that are applied in the Australian environmental laws and that have gone through a long way of modifications and developments in both legal and social aspects.

Theoretical Views and Specific Examples

The theoretical considerations that surround the evolution of the regulatory models applied in the Australian environmental laws are all focused on the need for the transition from the anthropocentric positions to the biocentric ones regarding the perception of the environment. Numerous scholars stand on the point that the Australian society, as well as the global community represented by the highly developed Western countries, perceives the environment as “an infinite resource for human exploitation”, and although these scholars claim the need for the drastic shift, the history of the regulatory evolution reveals little evidence of it coming.

In this respect, the three-fold scheme of the regulatory evolution in the environmental laws presents considerable interest as it defines the basic stages of the legislative development as follows:

  1. Pre-regulatory (Common law model);
  2. Command and control (Command and control model);
  3. “New Generation” regulation (New regulatory models).

The major idea that comes to mind when one sees these stages is that each of them is anthropocentric. Although there is a distinction between the strong and weak anthropocentrisms (the views that either only human values matter or only human beings can attribute values respectively), both of them still either ignore the needs of other living forms or consider them only in association with the potential use human beings can retrieve from them. The following scheme illustrates the regulatory models in more detail:

Models table

Basically, the above scheme is another illustration of the anthropocentric character of the Australian environmental laws and the regulatory models used in them. In simple terms, the anthropocentricity is manifested by the fact that the above-listed regulatory models are defined by human beings for the benefit of human beings, and enforcement of these models is also carried out and monitored by human beings.

One of the brightest examples of the above argument is the case law Mabo v Queensland No 2 (1992) 175 CLR 1. The result of the case was the recognition of the rights of indigenous people to participate in environmental protection activities as they saw them irrespective of their conformity to official governmental ideas. The case law decision served as one of the first steps towards the enforcement of the community participation regulatory model, but it was again anthropocentric. In the essence, Mabo v Queensland No 2 was another case that provided the rights of a certain group of humans to decide and regulate environmental protection, while the widely discussed and desired holistic or biocentric approaches to legislation were again left for further consideration.

Regulatory Tools

General Notions

Similar to the regulatory models, the anthropocentric character can be noticed in the regulatory tools, i. e. how the Australian government enforces the environmental laws in the country. Thus, the major regulatory tools that the Australian environmental law employs include both international and domestic legal acts and conventions as well as other policies. Particularly, the implemented regulatory tools include the Ecologically Sustainable Development initiative, the use of the Australian Constitution and the Commonwealth legislative powers, the powers of corporations, cooperative approaches to both direct and indirect governance.

Theoretical Views and Specific Examples

In more detail, since the 1970s, the Australian environmental law has been developing under the influence of the so-called ESD (Ecologically Sustainable Development) initiative that was derived after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The major underlying causes of the ESD development were the two environment-human controversial points:

  1. The world’s developing countries protested against the environmental limitations as they saw industrial activities that pollute the nature as the fastest way to prosperity;
  2. The controversy between economic development and environmental conservation, on the whole, was the point for dispute as the two were mutually excluding but eternally necessary for the functioning of humanity.

The very controversial points that conditioned the development of the ESD, as well as the essence of this regulatory tool, were anthropocentric. For instance, it is undoubtedly anthropocentric to confront the economic interests of human beings to the survival of all living forms on Earth. When people refuse to cut gas emissions because it would undermine their financial prosperity, such an approach cannot be called in any other way but an anthropocentric approach towards the environment and the issues of its protection.

Further on, the idea of ESD as such is also anthropocentric as this regulatory tool was designed by human beings to combine the environmental protection goals with the values of sustainable economic development. Given the fact that industrialization and economic development harm the environment, the attempts to combine both and modify the economic development for the sake of environmental protection seem to be impossible, and therefore profit-conditioned. In other words, the anthropocentric nature of the regulatory tools used to enforce the Australian environmental legislation is manifested in the fact that economic benefit is placed over the environmental values, while the latter is used to cover the major goal of the regulations applied.

At the same time, it is possible to view the regulatory tools used from the point of view of the so-called weak anthropocentrism. This approach allows assessing the regulation observed in the Australian environmental protection sector as merely inefficient and weak. For example, the Commonwealth powers for regulating the nationally important matters proved to be rather exaggerated the case law Victoria v Commonwealth and Hayden (1975) 134 CLR 338 shows. In detail, the mentioned case reveals that the Commonwealth powers are useful for carrying out Parliamentary and Governmental inquiries and investigations in environmental matters, rather than in actual control over environmental protection, use of natural resources, and conformity of various business and industrial companies with the enforced Australian legislation. Therefore, the regulatory tools used to protect the environment in Australia once again prove to be anthropocentric as they are effective only to satisfy the needs of human beings in control and legal character of various activities, while the actual biocentric purpose of these regulations is more claimed than observed.


So, the conclusion to the whole above presented discussion can be developed by stating the author’s complete agreement with the idea that the Australian environmental laws, as well as regulatory models and tools they employ, are anthropocentric at least at the current stage of their development. This paper has found support to such a position in the scholarly resources considering the environmental laws and the conditions of their development in Australia. Interestingly, the scholarly opinions tend to focus on the so-called weak anthropocentrism as the idea which is even useful for environmental protection. However, these opinions are considered to be focused on the desired direction of the Australian legislative development. It is also obvious that additional research is needed to study the anthropocentricity of Australian environmental laws and suggest ways to modify them.

Reference List

J Connelly, G Smith, Politics and the environment: from theory to practice, (2003), 13 – 40.

L Godden, J Peel, Environmental Law Scientific, Policy and Regulatory Dimensions (2010), 406.

P Govind, ‘The Role of the Public as a Regulatory Actor in the Context of Climate Change Regulation’ (2007) 4 Macquarie University Journal of International Comparative Environmental Law 61.

Y Jackson, ‘Evolutionary Spiral In The Development Of Environmental Ethics’ (2006) 3 Macquarie University Journal of International Comparative Environmental Law 119.

R Lyster et al., Environmental and Planning Law in New South Wales (2007), 1 – 25.

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