When the NSW Land and Environment Court handed down a decision in February refusing approval for a new thermal coal mine in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley, it became the first case in Australia to accept expert evidence about the global carbon budget. The greenfield open-cut Rocky Hill coal mine was rejected because of the “dire consequences” of climate change, as well as its significant and unacceptable planning, visual, and social impacts.
The controversial judgment introduced a new foundational question – or “the wrong time” test – to influence the decision to either reject or accept applications for similar fossil fuel projects. It has been described by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) of NSW, representing a residents’ group named Groundswell Gloucester, as “a seminal moment in the development of climate litigation in Australia”.
The solicitor in charge of the matter, 31-year-old Matthew Floro, has always had sustainability front of mind. Having worked for state government and private law firms in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, Floro made the switch to the CLC sector last year. He was looking for work that more closely aligned with his own purpose and values. EDO NSW was a perfect fit, and the landmark Gloucester Resources Limited v Minister for Planning was his first case.
Floro finds his new job more intellectually challenging than the hours whiled away in commercial practice and plans to combine his public interest work with academic pursuits. He currently works as a teaching fellow at UNSW law school and is completing a Master of Public Administration through Griffith University.
Community is at the heart of Floro’s motivations, and he searches for causes that help people, especially those who are disadvantaged or marginalised. In 2010, he was president of the Australian Law Students’ Association and has gone on to assume key roles with Out for Australia and the Asian Australian Lawyers Association. This is a window into the life of a very busy man on a mission to make the world a better place.
“The main reason I joined the EDO was because I wanted to work in the public interest. [The Gloucester] case was clearly in the public interest for many reasons. It really justified my decision to join the EDO, and I think it will be one of the highlights of my time here.
In terms of climate change, this case was a landmark case. In terms of the impact the mine would have had socially on the community, that would have been quite significant and adverse. In terms of the visual impact on the Gloucester Valley, it would have destroyed the landscape for many years. And in terms of planning law, it was clearly something that conflicted with land-use patterns in the area.
I have really enjoyed my time at the EDO because I think what I do now aligns with my purpose and values. It is a great time to be practising law in NSW and for the EDO, because there is a combination of urban and regional work in Sydney, and that makes it so exciting.