On Australia Day, the Environmental Defenders Office of Northern Queensland (EDO NQ) announced that it is seeking ‘500 Heroes of the North’ to ensure continuity of specialist public interest environmental law advice and education for the people of Northern Queensland.
EDO NQ is a non-profit, non-government community legal centre specialising in public interest environmental law. They provide free or low cost environmental law advice and advocacy to members of the public about public interest environmental law issues such as the decline in the health of the Great Barrier Reef, mining, coal seam gas, coastal development, protection of protected areas such as the Wet Tropics, and sustainable management of unique wilderness areas and ecosystems such as Cape York.
However, in a move worthy of Scrooge, the Australian Government announced, without warning, and just a few days before Christmas, that it was defunding all nine Environmental Defenders Offices Australia-wide.
This action - labelled by commentators as 'an act of environmental barbarism', has followed on from the Queensland government’s defunding of the two Queensland EDOs in July 2012.
Fergus Power, Principal Solicitor of EDO NQ, commented, “Federal defunding is a direct attack on access to justice for the community, and on the specialist environmental legal services which EDO NQ provides to the community of Northern Queensland. Many members of our community can’t afford usual commercial law rates and as a result don’t have otherwise have access to justice. They remain voiceless in the absence of a community advocate like EDO NQ.
"It is inexplicable that both the Federal and State Governments would go to great lengths to neutralise the Environmental Defenders Office at a time that all Australians (and the world) are becoming increasingly concerned about the industrialisation of the Great Barrier Reef, dredge spoil dumping, coal seam gas fracking, mega-coal mine development, massive proposed increases in bulk vessel transits within the Marine Park with the attendant risks of a major oil spill disaster, and the ‘open for business’ approach to Cape York – parts of which are also under consideration for World Heritage listing.
“While State and Federal governments often refer to the need for so-called ‘green tape reduction’ (‘green tape’ being a spin term used by the State and Federal Governments to refer to sound environmental management) this seemingly innocuous phrase is shorthand for increased limitation on public consultation and access to avenues of appeal against unlawful, corrupt or erroneous decisions, increased court fees (both appeal lodgement with the Planning & Environment court, and enormously expensive court transcript fees), the legislative removal of appeal rights (including judicial review), and the dismantling of policy, legislation and supporting regulations built up over decades to protect Australia’s iconic World Heritage Areas, national parks and other precious places."
The Federal Government’s surprise decision to defund EDOs not only sent shock waves throughout the environment and conservation movement, but also amongst those in the general community who rely on the free or low-cost environmental legal advice provided by EDO NQ to protect the places they love and their health and well being; a service that EDO NQ has been providing for the past 18 years.
Since 1996, EDO NQ has provided assistance to those in the Northern Queensland community who are working to protect the environment. EDO NQ does this through providing legal advice and case work assistance, providing community legal education (through the Community Litigants Handbook, Factsheets, Bulletins and Newsletters, Alerts, Facebook and community legal education seminars and workshops) and engaging with all tiers of Australian government in law reform and legal policy review projects and consultations.
For 18 years community groups and members of the public have made use of this specialist Community Legal Centre's free or low-cost environmental law legal service. As well as making submissions on over 300 law reform and policy changes and presenting 200 legal education projects, EDO NQ has assisted over 1,300 clients with 9,000 information advices; 4,170 legal advices and nearly 600 cases. This service assists conservation groups, members of the public and landholders to protect the places they love, their health, and the wider natural environment.
In 2013 EDO NQ was also approved as a Juris Doctor (advanced law student) internship training site by the University of Melbourne (the only EDO in Australia to be admitted into this programme). In fact, in 2013 alone, EDO NQ helped train no less than 37 young environmental lawyers – a staggering number – drawn from all over Australia (but dominantly from James Cook University) which is (unsurprisingly) keen to develop a stronger relationship with EDO NQ.
But EDO NQ is not quite ready just yet to pack its bags and go away as a result of its loss of government funding.
EDO NQ is looking for ‘500 Heroes of the North’ who value EDO NQ’s advocacy to help protect an environment that is so crucial for sustainable tourism and for that special Northern Queensland way of life. Heroes from the Northern Queensland community (Sarina and north), Australia and the rest of the world who believe that the Great Barrier Reef, Wet Tropics and Cape York truly deserve to be protected from environmental harm for the appreciation of future generations to come.
If there is a Hero in you – then EDO NQ wants you to step up and join their 500 Heroes of the North campaign. A Hero is someone (an individual, a business, a school or community group) prepared to donate $1,000 to support the on-going environmental legal advocacy work of EDO NQ (which is also a registered Deductible Gift Recipient for tax purposes). Anyone interested in becoming one of the 500 Heroes can obtain more information from EDO NQ’s website www.edonq.org.au or by phoning the office on (07) 4031 4766.
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