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Each episode, Partners Timothy Stutt and Melanie Debenham are joined by an expert third wheel guest to explore the issues from their unique perspectives.

Mel is an expert on business-critical environment, planning, heritage and native title regulation in Australia. Tim specialises in ESG from a corporate governance perspective, including market disclosure, risk management and shareholder engagement/activism.

We wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands Mel and Tim are recording from, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation in Perth and the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation in Sydney. We wish to acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this country.

Latest episode

Episode 42 Climate reporting – the preparation starts now

Anna Coroneo and Isabella Kelly cast aside Third Wheel tradition to have a one-on-one discussion about some of the key aspects of Australia’s incoming climate reporting regime.  From directors’ declarations to modified liability and assurance, Anna and Isabella discuss the uplift required of organisations as they prepare for the new requirements. They highlight what can be done now – from gaps analysis to data gathering – to front end the work to get ready for the regime. They emphasise the importance of strong governance and oversight around forward-looking disclosures, and touch on how mandatory disclosure requirements in other jurisdictions are coming into play as multinational organisations seek to streamline their compliance efforts.

For more, check out Herbert Smith Freehills’ limited podcast series, Reporting for Duties, providing bite-sized insights on how companies are preparing to report under Australia’s future mandatory climate-related reporting regime.

Episode 41 – So you want to be a carbon farmer?

Lucy McCullagh, Alice Molan, Mark Hatfull and Naomi Hutchings delve into the multifaceted world of carbon offset projects working toward Australia’s net zero and nature positive goals, from regulatory considerations to project finance and structuring. Key concepts are outlined including the Carbon Farming Initiative Act, the Australian Carbon Credit Unit (ACCU) scheme and the need to comply with financial services laws. They anticipate continued growth in the offset market driven by domestic and international players, the rise of joint ventures and debt financing, whilst acknowledging integrity issues and the importance of significant collaboration and partnerships.

Episode 40 – Corporate Crossroads - ESG and Criminal Responsibility

Jacqueline Wootton, Christine Wong and Christopher Hicks discuss the intersection between corporate criminal responsibility and ESG in a Third Wheel X Investigate 360 collaboration episode exploring governance, social licence to operate and the regulation of ESG issues under criminal standards. The serious risks associated with criminal matters are underlined, from corporate penalties and investigations through to individual prosecution and reputational consequences as well as the patchwork of inconsistent standards and methods for determining when a company will be held criminally responsible. They discuss the ongoing road to reform, including a radical change in relation to foreign bribery and the potential introduction of Deferred Prosecution Agreements. Our team conclude with some of the steps companies can take to future proof their business to respond to criminal liability and risk.

Episode 39 – The ESG Crystal Ball for 2024

Isabella Kelly fires up the crystal ball and invites Tim Stutt and Mel Debenham to share their ESG predictions for 2024. Mel discusses the timing tightrope for decarbonisation projects, Commonwealth environmental legislative reform and a very different approach to regulation. Tim queries if there is an elastic start date for mandatory climate reporting, whilst the required corporate uplift crystallises. Shifting landscapes emerge for Australia’s Sustainable Finance Strategy, post-Voice referendum pathways, the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive and Australia’s Modern Slavery Act reform. They emphasise the important interrelationship between ESG spheres and close with some federal election musings around balancing energy policy and cost of living, social and biodiversity impacts.

For more, check out the AICD’s Climate Governance Study 2024, for which Herbert Smith Freehills conducted research into ASX 200 governance structures, and the jointly prepared guide Bringing together ESG: Board structures and sustainability.

Episode 38 – COP28 – the debrief with Silke Goldberg

Tim Stutt and Mel Debenham are joined by Silke Goldberg to debrief COP28 through the lens of four paradigm shifts – (1) climate finance, (2) fast tracking the energy transition and emissions reduction, (3) nature and people, and (4) the “just transition”. They close with reflections on the vital role of lawyers and the legal industry in bridging gaps and fostering agreement.

For more, check out our COP28 hub.

Episode 37 – Future of Work – New challenges, new norms

Olga Klimczak, Natalie Gaspar and Shiv Jhinku take the wheel to explore HSF’s latest Future of Work report. They unpack the key ESG related findings including cost of living, pay and benefit inequalities as a potential trigger for activism, as well as a significant rise in demand for workplace health and wellbeing support. With Australia on the cusp of profound legislative change, and a raft of new sustainability reporting standards increasing business scrutiny, we discuss the new opportunities this provides to proactively and meaningfully engage with employees, particularly in light of Generation Z’s entrance into the workforce.

For more, check out our report: Future of Work 2023.

Episode 36 – Australia releases its Sustainable Finance Strategy

Lucy McCullagh, Alice Molan and Anna Coroneo return to “the wheel” to discuss Australia’s Sustainable Finance Strategy, recently released by Treasury and including a range of measures to underpin sustainable finance markets as the country transitions to net zero. They unpack the strategy’s three core pillars, being improved transparency through credible and accurate information, financial system capabilities, government commitments and leadership on aligning to global frameworks.

Episode 35 – A COP of action?

Lewis McDonaldCarolyn Pugsley and Tim Stutt set the scene ahead of COP28 in Dubai with a stocktake of past COPs and sign-posts to the way forward, including new "regulatory technology" and continued investment to support innovation across the energy transition. They also discuss the ‘trilemma’ of energy security, affordability and sustainability.

Episode 34 – Global Bank Review – Balancing Acts

Jacqueline Wootton, Hannah Cassidy and Antony Crockett take the wheel to explore trust in banking, as the sector faces a number of stress tests, including carving out credible positions on social and climate issues, creating new carbon offset markets which operate with integrity and transparency and other challenges explored in HSF’s latest edition of the annual Global Bank Review. They discuss how embracing calls for greater diligence, disclosure, reporting and transparency around ESG issues across the wider business sector might just help banks to balance the competing demands - meeting shareholder expectations and leading on social imperatives. 

Episode 33 – Sustainable Finance 2023 – Australia’s time to lead

Lucy McCullagh, Alice Molan and Anna Coroneo take the wheel to debrief their key takeaways from the Australian Sustainable Finance Summit 2023, including Australia’s progress toward a financial system aligned with sustainability commitments, the creation of an Australian sustainable finance taxonomy, the development of disclosure and reporting standards and the importance of transition financing. They discuss recent innovations such as taking longer term approaches to natural capital and the environment, ongoing partnerships with First Nations communities for better outcomes and the provision of “Blended Finance” to bridge the execution gap between intent and bankable opportunities.

Episode 32 – A First Nations Voice in the Australian Constitution

Melanie Debenham is joined by Gemma McKinnon and Bianca Janovic from our Pro Bono and Responsible Business teams to take us through the Regional Dialogue process that led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and how it relates to the Voice referendum proposal. They discuss the proposed constitutional amendment and principles of the Voice to Parliament. They address some of the more “lawyerly” considerations and practicalities of implementing a Voice to Parliament – as well as its accountability to the community and recognition of 65,000 years of continued care for country by First Nations people.

We recognise that voters must make their own decision at the ballot box and hope to assist people to make their own informed decision.

For more information, we provide some further resources:

Episode 31 – Climate Governance Forum 2023 – a call to action

Melanie Debenham and Timothy Stutt wrap up their reflections on this year’s Climate Governance Forum, hosted by the AICD and the Climate Governance Initiative Australia. Kicking off with a keynote from Mike Cannon-Brookes and followed by sessions on mandatory reporting, transition planning, greenwashing risks and an address by Senator Jenny McAllister (Assistant Minister for Climate Change), the day was rounded out with discussions on understanding stakeholder expectations and the role for boards in addressing biodiversity and nature. Speakers underlined not only the urgency of the issues but in seizing the opportunities in making climate action core business strategy.

For more, read our latest legal briefing on Australia’s proposed mandatory climate reporting regime and short podcast series Reporting for Duties.

Episode 30– Is the Australian Modern Slavery Act moving into a new phase?

Tim Stutt and Aoife Xuereb are joined by Jacqueline Wootton and Olga Klimczak for a Talking Shop X The Third Wheel podcast collaboration episode. Following the statutory review of the Modern Slavery Act and its report being tabled in parliament, the Government is yet to confirm its position in relation to the reform recommendations, many of which seek to align with overseas regulatory trends for enhanced human rights due diligence, supply chain transparency and penalties to support corporate accountability. Our team discuss the importance of monitoring developments, applying a continuous improvement approach to supply chain risk identification and management (which can be particularly complex in the consumer sector) and working to ensure your business has in place robust payroll compliance governance processes. For more, read our recent legal briefing on the Modern Slavery Act review or visit our Business and Human Rights hub.

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Timothy Stutt

Partner, Sydney

Timothy Stutt
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Melanie Debenham

Partner, Perth

Melanie Debenham

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