Individuals and community groups may be unlikely to afford to take legal action against environmentally damaging developments such as open cut coal mines and coal seam gas projects after the Federal Government refused to restore funding to Environmental Defenders Offices around Australia.
Federal Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, today announced the restoration of $25.5 million in funding to Legal Aid Commissions, Community Legal Centres and Aboriginal Legal Centres Services, but excluded EDOs from his decision.
The Attorney-General’s original decision to cut funding to community legal centres, including $10 million over four years to EDOs, was announced the week before Christmas 2013. While most cuts announced were deferred until 1 July 2015, cuts to EDOs took effect immediately.
“Two months before the announcement of the end of federal funding to EDOs, the Attorney General received a letter from NSW Minerals Council calling on him to do just that,” said the EDO ACT Principal Solicitor, Camilla Taylor.
“We are very happy that the Attorney-General has decided to restore funding to community legal centres, and congratulate the National Association of Community Legal Centres for its efforts to achieve this. However, we are stunned that the Attorney-General has made an exception for funding to EDOs,” said Ms Taylor.
“There is no basis to distinguish between EDOs and other community legal services delivering access to justice. In fact, the Attorney-General’s decision contradicts recent recommendations of the Productivity Commission to restore EDO funding, in light of our critical role in protecting public health and matters of national environmental significance.”
The funding cuts have greatly reduced environmental legal services to communities across Australia, with offices in the Northern Territory, ACT, South Australia, Tasmania and North Queensland particularly affected, some facing closure.
“The ongoing threats to our services come at a time when a number of contentious projects are proposed across Australia, affecting farmland, rural communities and highly sensitive areas such as the Great Barrier Reef, Arnhem Land and Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area,” said Ms Taylor.
“Without the expert legal services provided by EDOs, many Australians cannot afford to get advice about their legal rights or legitimately challenge major development projects which threaten the environment, endangered species, productive farmland, clean air and water supplies, public health, indigenous traditional lands and other cultural heritage.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Camilla Taylor EDO ACT 62433460