Activity Introduction

Quick summary: Students consider how the courts interpret legislation, and how these decisions become common law. Students look at the case of then Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, student Anj Sharma, and Brigidine nun Sister Marie Brigid Arthur, and decide whether the minister was legally responsible for the physical harm climate change might cause young people.

Subjects: Civics and Citizenship

Year Level: Year 8.

Topics: Climate Change, Sustainability

Teaching Time: 60 minutes

This lesson is part of the wider unit of work Climate Change Solutions.


Cool would like to thank the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation for generously supporting the development of these lessons.


21st-century skills: 

Critical Thinking

Australian Curriculum Mapping

Content descriptions: Year 8 Civics and Citizenship:

  • How laws are made in Australia through parliaments (statutory law) and through the courts (common law) (ACHCK063).

General capabilities: Literacy, Critical and Creative Thinking.

Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability.

Relevant parts of Year 8 Civics and Citizenship achievement standards: Students explain interconnections within environments and between people and places and explain how they change places and environments. They compare alternative strategies to a geographical challenge, taking into account environmental, economic and social factors.

Level of teacher scaffolding: Medium – Facilitate class discussion, support students in independent work. 

Resources required:

  • Individual devices capable of accessing the internet (optional)
  • Student Worksheets – one copy per student.
  • Writing tools – pen and workbook/lined paper.

Related Professional Development: If you’re interested in learning more about how to approach challenging topics around climate change and sustainability in your classroom through a Hope and Optimism lens, consider our PD course.

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum.


Teacher Worksheet

Teacher Preparation

Learning intentions: Students will...

  • ... understand the difference between how laws are made in Australia through parliaments (statutory law) and through the courts (common law)
  • ... understand how and why the courts interpret legislation to hand down judgements.

Success criteria: Students can…

  • ... explain the case of Sharma by her litigation representative Sister Marie Brigid Arthur v Minister for the Environment [2021] FCA 560
  • ... accurately interpret the law in this case

Teacher content information:


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was created to:

  • provide policymakers (governments) with regular scientific updates about climate change;
  • highlight the impact climate change will have on the planet in the future; and,
  • offer some ideas about how to tackle the challenges of climate change's potential effects on the planet.


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Student Worksheet

The case of Sharma by her litigation representative Sister Marie Brigid Arthur v Minister for the Environment [2021] FCA 560

17-year-old Melbourne student Anj Sharma brought a case against Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley. 

Because Sharma was under 18 years old, she had to have an adult representative bring the case on her behalf. Sister Marie Brigid Arthur of the Brigittine nuns acted in this role for her.

The class action case was brought to try and stop Ley approving a proposal by Whitehaven Coal to expand the Vickery coal mine near Gunnedah in northern New South Wales. Sharma argued that the minister had a common law duty of care to protect younger people against future harm from climate change.

Evidence from the case included that the expansion of the mine could lead to an extra 100m tonnes of carbon dioxide – about 20% of Australia’s annual climate footprint – being released into the atmosphere as the extracted coal was shipped overseas and burned to make steel

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