After nearly 30 years of helping the people of NSW to protect their environment and heritage under the law, EDO NSW (formerly known as the Environmental Defender’s Office) faces an unprecedented threat to its survival and they are calling on the public help to ensure they can continue to assist in public-interest environmental matters.
The NSW energy minister, Chris Hartcher, has attacked EDO NSW’s involvement in a recent community conference in Gloucester. The conference provided an opportunity for community members to obtain information on developments across NSW and was attended by farmers, elected representatives and the broader community. This latest comment follows months of repeated attacks in The Australian newspaper, the National Civic Council and in NSW Parliament, mainly by Shooters and Fishers Party MPs. EDO insists the attacks on its work as lawyers for the environment are unjustified.
The NSW government is now being urged to stop EDO NSW funding under a review of legal assistance services. At the same time, the major source of the group’s annual funding – which comes from the Public Purpose Fund of the Law Society of NSW (PPF) – has been cut. EDO has been receiving PPF funding since 1996, normally under three-year grant agreements, and its work has been actively supported by the Trustees. The first cut was to six months (July–December 2012); and as of this month has been reduced to only three months (January–March 2013), with the dollar value cut by a quarter. As a result, EDO believes both PPF funding and NSW government funding are at risk.
This damaging uncertainty makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a strong, independent EDO that can offer ongoing help to clients, and serve the wider community, while operating free of the politics of the day. If PPF funding is not restored and public funding affirmed then EDO NSW will be crippled if not destroyed in the new year.
The uncertainty can be solved by the NSW government making clear its strong and unambiguous support for ongoing PPF and public funding of EDO NSW, ideally with cross-party agreement in the parliament. In this way, community participation and public confidence in the planning and environment system can be maintained.
How to help
- Contact your local member of parliament to call for their support to save EDO NSW, and to express your support. You can find contacts for your local MP at: http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/members.nsf/V3Home.
• the premier ([email protected] / ph 02 9487 8588)
• the attorney-general the Hon Greg Smith ([email protected] / ph 02 9228 5246) and
• the minister for planning & infrastructure the Hon Brad Hazzard MP ([email protected] / ph 02 9228 5258)
- Speak to your local media, such as calling in to radio talkback.
- Make donations to EDO NSW.
What is at stake
If the current situation goes unchanged, it means we will have to lay off most of our valuable, highly professional and tireless staff early in the new year, and begin dramatically scaling back or shutting down our popular key community services including:
- free legal-advice telephone line – we took nearly 1500 calls last year
- community workshops – 95 across NSW in the past three years, with about 95 per cent in rural and regional areas
- rural and regional work – a major focus for the past 10 years, with a regional office in Lismore, and support to communities on key issues like native vegetation, water plans, coal-seam gas, mining, private conservation and local planning
- Indigenous program – unique support to the Aboriginal community on culture and heritage
- education and publishing – major guides/handbooks, and 40 much-used fact sheets, and a major new guide on mining set to be published
- policy and law reform – including extensive input to the current major reform of the NSW planning laws, with 2400 hits on our online guide to the Green Paper during the submission period
- court cases and mediation – ensuring high-quality cases get heard and those with poor prospects are filtered out, which has led to many important environment cases on behalf of communities from the cities to the bush,