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Environmental Defenders’ Office (ACT)

The ACT Environmental Defenders' Office [EDO ACT] was established 22 years ago as an independent, not-for-profit, community legal centre. EDO ACT is dedicated to the development, promotion and application of ACT environmental laws in matters involving the public interest. These laws aim to ensure that the people of the ACT have access to:

  • clean air, water and soil
  • access to reliable and renewable energy
  • heritage and cultural protection
  • protection from noise and light pollution
  • a natural environment preserving a high level of biodiversity
  • opportunities to contribute to environmental and planning decision-making processes
  • opportunities to challenge activities or decisions that result in poor environmental outcomes
  • protection of ACT nature reserves, green spaces and outdoor recreation areas.

The EDO ACT offers a range of legal services that are unique in their public interest focus. They include:

Environmental law reform and policy advice to government and the community:

  • drawn from specialist knowledge and experience of public interest environmental lawyers and the community organisations we represent
  • incorporating and synthesising the knowledge of expert environmental scientists
  • informed by experience in other States (through membership of the Australian Network of EDO’s) and worldwide (through the Environmental Law Alliance)
  • providing an early warning advice mechanism for potential environmental issues
  • advising on effective scrutiny measures and opportunities for complex environmental issues.

Advice is provided to government through written and oral submissions, one-on-one meetings with politicians and departmental officials, and participation in a variety of government panels and stakeholder advisory groups.

EDO submissions are publically available on the EDO website. Examples include submissions on to the Nature Conservation Act 2014 and the draft ACT/Commonwealth Bilateral Approval Agreement.

Educational programs and resources to build community knowledge and capacity:

  • enabling members of the public to become informed participants in decision-making affecting the environment
  • promoting public awareness and knowledge of environmental issues and the options available to make a positive contribution and improve environmental outcomes
  • EDO resources, widely distributed and available to government agencies, legal practitioners, tribunal members, law students and interested individuals include:
    • the ACT Environmental Law Handbook (3rd ed. 2015), available in both hard copy and online
    • advice factsheets on environmental law matters of community importance, (eg noise pollution, biodiversity, heritage protection, tree protection etc.)
    • quarterly newsletters with recent developments in the environmental law
    • the EDO ACT website receives on average around 1700 unique visitors each month.
    • EDO ACT educational programs include:
      • environmental law themed seminars for the community and interested professions
      • seminars for the ACT Law Society which form part of its continuing (and compulsory) professional development series
      • a partnership with the ANU to provide an environmental law clinical program.

Legal advice to individuals, environmental organisations and community councils:

  • from an independent organisation with a reputation for quality specialist legal advice
  • available over the phone, in a legal clinic setting or by appointment
  • representation on matters of significant environmental and community interest
  • providing access to justice for individuals and community organisations according to strict casework and public interest criteria
  • enabling a clearer understanding of environmental law and facilitating time efficient and effective engagement in Government and Tribunal processes for both claimants and decision-makers
  • ensuring that activities or developments, with potential environmental impacts, are considered within a legal framework that takes into account human rights and the public interest.

The Productivity Commission, in its December 2014 Access to Justice Arrangements - Inquiry Report at pages 711-713, discussed the work of the Australian EDOs. It recommended “there are strong grounds for the legal assistance sector to receive funding to undertake strategic advocacy, law reform and public interest litigation ……in relation to environmental matters”.

ACT environmental law and policy is developed in response to the needs of the ACT environment, the community and related interests. ACT law is distinct and separate from other jurisdictions and requires a locally focused, public interest environmental law specialist agency to aid community understanding and application of its provisions. Legal practices operating in the ACT often represent client interests that are potentially in conflict with the public interest on environmental matters. As a result they are rarely in a position to offer pro bono legal services in the public interest. 

The work of the ACT EDO is supported by many volunteers and donations, however in a small jurisdiction access to donor funding is limited.

Annual recurrent funding of $140,000 is required to ensure the continuation of the work of the EDO ACT. The funding would allow for the ongoing employment of the EDO’s Principal solicitor/CEO together with part-time administrative support and volunteer co-ordination.

Towards the end of 2013, the Abbott Government withdrew its funding from EDOs across Australia. Since then most EDOs around Australia have secured alternative State Government support. EDO ACT has not yet been successful in attracting ongoing ACT Government funding.

The EDO ACT is calling on all parties standing for election to the ACT Legislative Assembly to commit to the protection of the ACT environment including access to justice in environmental and planning matters for all ACT citizens by providing the necessary funding to ensure the continuation of the EDO ACT.

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