The Abbott Government has announced funding cuts of $10 million over four years to the nine State and Territory EDO offices. These cuts threaten to shut down legal services for local communities who wish to protect their environment, State and Territory Environmental Defenders Offices (EDOs) warned today.
Calling on the Federal government to immediately restore the funding, Fergus Power, Principal Solicitor for the Northern Queensland EDO, said: “Defending the environment, community amenity and cultural heritage could become unaffordable for many Australians. This would open the way for developers to make major impacts on the environment without anyone to defend its rights.”
Environmental Defenders Offices provide thousands of individuals and community groups across Australia with free legal advice on environmental and planning laws relating to new developments, mining operations, marine protected areas, water issues, pollution, indigenous and heritage issues. “The vast majority of Australians, who care about protecting their environment, should be alarmed about losing the EDOs,” said Mr Power.
“Northern Queensland is home to the Great Barrier Reef, which is increasingly at risk of being listed as ‘in Danger’ by UNESCO, and to Cape York, which is facing ever increasing threats in the form of Government-sanctioned mining and agribusiness activity. Just look at what the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area have done for the economy of Northern Queensland,” Mr Power said. "The EDOs have played a major role in providing legal services to iprotectors."
The EDOs have also 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.
Mr Power pointed out that should EDOs cease to be able to continue to offer their services, both individuals and community groups will face significant cost in their efforts to gain access to well-deserved justice. The cost of accessing the legal system to defend their environmental rights will be too high and result in this important cog in the checks and balances on our Governments being lost.
Mr Power said that in late November the Queensland Law Society reported a dismal statistic with respect to Queensland society’s access to justice, with the overall scorecard for Queensland resulting in a mere 5.4 out of 10. “In any developed Western society, governments should be striving for 9.9 and above”, said Mr Power.
“This decision will further reduce this rating by removing free community access to specialized advice on environmental and planning law. The mining industry lobby has been actively calling for governments to stop funding the EDOs and will no doubt be breaking out the champagne over this decision.”
It’s time for the community to draw a line in the sand, and send a clear message to the Abbott Government, you were elected to represent the whole Australian population not one sector, so – ‘Hands off our EDOs” – they are there to keep the Government and industry accountable, and provide a community voice on major projects which have serious potential impacts on our environment.
“It’s your Great Barrier Reef and your beautiful Northern Queensland environment, but you are going to have to fight for it,” Mr Power told Northern Queenslanders.
Tax deductible donations to EDO NQ can be made via their Facebook page - www.facebook.com/environmentaldefendersofficeofnorthernqueensland
Environmental Defenders Office of Northern Queensland (EDO-NQ)
The Environmental Defenders Office of Northern Queensland is part of the Australian Network of Environmental Defenders Offices Inc which consists of nine independently constituted and managed community environmental law centres located in each State and Territory of Australia.
Each EDO is dedicated to protecting the environment in the public interest.
We provide legal representation and advice, take an active role in environmental law reform and policy formulation, and offer a significant education program designed to facilitate public participation in environmental decision making.
P: +61 7 4031 4766
M: +61 427 689 356