People and Places
Push to give our natural world the legal right to thrive
by Mornington Peninsula Magazine

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When recently elected Deputy Mayor Debra Mar was a Mornington Peninsula Shire councillor, she noticed a rising anxiety in people as she listened to her community, particularly around the impact of development and fragmentation of native bushland on private property and wildlife corridors.

“I started thinking, ‘What can I do about this?’,” Cr Mar says. “I had been working with Dr Michelle Maloney for over a year and had the idea to suggest applying the Rights of Nature principles to council plans, policies, and strategies.”

Dr Maloney is co-founder and convener of the Australian Earth Laws Centre, an initiative of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance. The AELA is a national not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to increase the understanding and practical implementation of Earth-centred governance in Australia, with a focus on law, economics, education, ethics, and the arts. The AELA is advocating for Rights of Nature laws in Australia.

Having Rights of Nature in law protects the rights of the natural world to exist, thrive and evolve. Rights of Nature laws create guidance for how humans relate to nature and the decisions they make in relation to nature. Rights of Nature principles see natural systems protected and not seen as the property of others. The ancient wisdom of First Nations peoples around the world is acknowledged and respected by the Rights of Nature movement and provides valuable teachings.

What do Rights of Nature laws mean for development? “This is not about ending development,” Cr Mar says. “It’s about a new paradigm of thinking and questioning what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

Mari Margil, the executive director at the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights in Washington, writes:Recognising Rights of Nature does not put an end to human activities; rather it places them in the context of a healthy relationship where our actions do not threaten the balance of the system upon which we depend. Further, these laws do not stop all development; they halt only those uses of land that interfere with the very existence and vitality of the ecosystems which depend upon them.”

Cr Mar took a Notice of Motion to the council last October and received support to organise a workshop for councillors and Shire officers in early 2023 to discuss how the Rights of Nature framework and principles could be introduced to conservation and climate change plans and strategies for a sustainable future.

“It is estimated that by 2036 the Mornington Peninsula will have a population of approximately 200,000 people,” she says. “We need to start thinking about new ways to do things because the relationship between human health and the condition of the environment is vital to our ecological health and the way we feel.”

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