Yesterday the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s department notified each Environmental Defenders’ Office across the country that their funding has been cut, effective immediately. The decision will put real pressure on most of the offices currently operating in each state and territory and could result in some smaller offices, including the EDO (ACT), closing.These cuts are an attempt by the Federal Government to silence the voice of communities who wish to stand up for their local environment. Many Australians who care about protecting the environment cannot afford private legal advice. The cuts have been made with no claims on the private profession to step up for the environment, and pre-empting the Productivity Commission’s report on access to justice.
This decision by the Federal Government demonstrates the hostility that this Government has for the many Australian communities who choose to use the law to stand up for the places they love. It is devastating that they are terminating a four-year funding agreement only six months into the term.
Across Australia EDOs provide thousands of clients, made up of individuals and community groups, with free legal advice on environmental laws relating to matters such as town planning and development, mining operations, marine protected areas, water law, pollution and heritage issues. Access for to justice for people who wish to use the law to stand up for and protect their environment will be effectively lost if the EDOs have to close. Defending the environment, community amenity and cultural heritage will become unaffordable for many Australians as the local EDO is the only place many people can afford to go for expert legal advice on public interest environmental law matters when they feel threatened or effected by a development.
This comes at a time when climate action in Australia is being dismantled, coal-seam gas developments are being opposed by threatened rural communities, when the Tarkine is at real risk, the Great Barrier Reef faces unprecedented threats and when the Federal Government is intent on handing back environmental powers to the states and territories. The EDOs have run a number of landmark court cases for community groups across Australia including high profile cases against new coal mines, pollution of rivers by power stations, over development in residential areas and the potential impacts of coal seam gas developments on local water resources. For example, in the ACT the EDO and the Conservation Council won significant concessions from the ACT Government resulting in better protection for threatened species put at risk by a Molonglo Valley development.
For more information and how you can help please contact the EDO (ACT): w. 6243 3460 or visit their website: http://www.edo.org.au/edoact/