Bob Brown Foundation’s twelfth annual Environmentalist of the Year awards was held tonight in Hobart.
The 2023 award for Environmentalist of the Year was presented to Friends of the Earth’s Cam Walker, who has been instrumental in ending native forest logging in Victoria. Walker has also spent decades leading Friends of the Earth in Australia in national campaigns and lobbying efforts driving policy change. With his numerous years addressing a wide array of environmental and social justice issues, Cam stands as one of Australia’s most enduring environmental campaigners.
Co-winners of the Deni Greene award are barrister Jonathan Korman and Senior Lawyer with Environmental Justice Victoria, Danya Jacobs, for their integral role in carrying out the legal cases that forced the end to logging by VicForests.
Young Environmentalist of the Year was awarded to Takesa Frank, who is campaigning to protect native forests in NSW with treesitting and petitioning parliamentarians.
The Community Environment Award was awarded to Rising Tide, for their community-led grassroots climate action in Newcastle and ground-breaking nonviolent direct actions, blockading coals port and railways. Members of Rising Tide also took several of the earliest public interest legal challenges regarding the regulation of coal’s climate impacts.
Cam Walker has worked with environmental group Friends of the Earth for more than 30 years. While he is proud of the many campaign wins achieved over the years – especially the recent announcement to end native forest logging in eastern Victoria in early 2024 – the campaign to secure a permanent ban on fracking in Victoria is one that really stands out for him.
“Often the best campaign wins happen when people across the political spectrum can find common cause in opposing environmental destruction. The campaign to stop fracking saw 75 regional communities in Victoria build grassroots power by declaring themselves ‘gasfield free’. Conservative-voting farming communities joined with environmentalists and regional communities to build unstoppable power that saw all political parties back the ban and the first-ever permanent ban on fracking in Australia. When people set aside their differences to protect the places they love, they can do great things,” said Cam Walker.
Danya Jacobs and Jonathan Korman represented several Victorian environmental groups who took on the Victorian government logging agency, VicForests. Altogether, five community groups launched seven court challenges against the agency. After three years of legal battles, including two victories in the court of appeal, the Victorian Supreme Court found that VicForests had been unlawfully logging native forests in Victoria, failing to protect the endangered Tree Geebung, Greater Glider and Yellow-bellied Glider. The court imposed strict conditions on any future operations. As a direct result of these legal victories, admitting that it faced the inevitable prospect of continuing legal challenges, the Victorian government announced that it would cease logging in Victoria at the end of 2023.
“Defending the natural world that sustains life on our planet, in this era of extinction crisis, is one of the most important and lasting contributions we can make. Forests and wild places are critical to biodiversity, clean air and water, and our well-being – conserving them is invaluable,” said Danya Jacobs.
“I am a proud Aboriginal person who has lived surrounded by bushland on Yuin country my entire life. I campaign for the protection of country which has been looked after by First Nation people since the first sunrise and has seen so much destruction over the past 200 years.
There are lots of people in the campaign defending the forests, I’m just one of them and I’m really humbled by the award. It’s a really great opportunity to help continue the fight alongside the community and amazing organisations. I really believe we can end public native logging not only in NSW, but nationwide,” said Takesa Frank, Young Environmentalist of the Year.
“Over the weekend of November 25-26, thousands of community members will blockade coal ships at Newcastle, the world’s largest coal port, because Albo’s government is allowing new coal projects, rather than taxing our coal exports to fund a rapid transition. This is just the beginning of Rising Tide’s campaign to break the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold over our democracy by building a mass civil resistance movement of diverse, everyday people, and creating a landmark struggle – like the fight for the Franklin – at the world’s largest coal port. People power is the only path to a just future,” said Zack Schofield, Rising Tide organiser.