Liberty Victoria – Youth Verdict Co-Directors win Young Voltaire Award

Liberty Victoria – Youth Verdict Co-Directors win Young Voltaire Award

Liberty Victoria is pleased to announce that Youth Verdict co-directors, Murrawah Johnson and Monique Jeffs, are the 2023 Liberty Victoria Young Voltaire Human Rights Award recipients.

The Young Voltaire Human Rights Award honours a person or group of people no older than 30 at the date of their nomination for an outstanding contribution to or action on free speech, human rights and/or civil liberties, with particular emphasis on progressing freedom, respect, equality and dignity. It celebrates those who speak out, write, campaign, whistle-blow, take action, or a stand against authoritarianism.

Murrawah Johnson is a Wirdi woman hailing from the broader Birragubba peoples of Central and North Queensland. She comes from Wangan and Jagalingou country. Murrawah is a spokesperson, community organiser, campaigner and co-director of Youth Verdict.

Monique Jeffs is a fifth generation white non-binary person who grew up in the Lockyer Valley in south east Queensland on Jagera, Turrubul and Ugarapul Country. They are a community organiser who has lived in Meanjin (Brisbane) for five years and is now based in Gimuy (Cairns). They are the co-founder and secretary of Youth Verdict.

Last year, Youth Verdict won a historic case against Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal Mine. The landmark decision was the first in Australia to recognise the human rights impacts of climate change, and to recommend refusal of an application to mine on that basis. The trial ran for 7-weeks, during which the Queensland Land Court travelled to Gimuy (Cairns), and Erub and Poruma Islands of the Torres Strait to hear evidence on-Country.

Youth Verdict played a key role in ensuring that First Nations witnesses were able to tell the court about the devastating impacts of climate change on their lands, waters and cultures in a culturally appropriate way. Alongside other objectors, Youth Verdict ultimately successfully argued that the human rights consequences of burning coal — particularly for First Nations peoples and children — meant that the mining application should be refused.

The case, Waratah Coal Pty Ltd v Youth Verdict & Anor, was run alongside The Bimblebox Alliance. Both parties were represented by the Environmental Defender’s Office, whose legal team included two young lawyers themselves under 30: Briana Collins and Anna Reynolds.

Quote from Liberty Victoria President Michael Stanton:

“The human rights consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly obvious and urgent. Youth Verdict’s role in this case is an inspiring example of young people leading the charge on climate change action. The role that the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) played in the case highlights the potential of a National Charter of Human Rights”.

Quote from Murrawah Johnson:

“I’m honoured that our work, led in evidence by First Nations cultural knowledge holders and committed to First Nations climate justice, has been recognised for its contribution to climate action and human rights.

We made a decision to be led by First Nations’ first-hand expertise of Country and the environment, and that was why our case was so strong. The reality of climate change is that First Nations cultures and ways of life are threatened by loss of place; loss of Country. The systems that maintain our connection to the land since time immemorial face uncertainty; and with that uncertainty of being able to pass on connection, our human rights to culture are diminished.

Our use of the Queensland Human Rights Act and our land court decision exemplify that an unhealthy allegiance to fossil fuels over a safe climate future for my generation and every generation after us, can no longer stand in the face of serious human rights considerations”.

Quote from Monique Jeffs:

“I know that as a young person I don't have all the answers. If we want to solve the complex crises we face right now we have to listen to elders with strong cultural knowledge passed down through thousands of generations and act in line with that knowledge. And as Murrawah has said that's what we did in our case against Waratah Coal. What made our case so strong was that First Nations peoples who are on the frontlines of climate change and deeply connected to their Country, and cultural knowledge, led our arguments and spoke for all of our human rights. As young people who are settlers on this land we also have a responsibility to acknowledge the genocidal history of so-called Australia and reckon with the continued dehumanisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and act in a way that challenges the institutional norms”.

The Voltaire Human Rights Awards Dinner will be held at the Sofitel Melbourne on Friday 10 November 2023. Tickets are available here, with early bird pricing ending this Friday 6 October 2023: