The EDO, formerly the Environmental Defenders Office, has been thrown a last minute lifeline in the form of funding from the Public Purpose Fund (PPF) of the NSW Law Society.
Although the $1.2 million grant is about 27 per cent less than its previous funding arrangements, the money will at least allow the group to continue operating.
The EDO’s Lismore branch will now be retained but one staff member will still have to be made redundant. Had the PPF funding not been returned, the EDO would have had to wind up at the end of this month.
The EDO’s operations fell under the spotlight of the conservative state government when it began providing the anti coal and CSG free movements with free legal advice as part of its environmental brief.
It was subsequently revealed in Fairfax newspapers that the mining industry urged premier Barry O’Farrell to scrap funding to the EDO and, several months later, the state government announced the move.
The documents, obtained through a freedom of information request, show the NSW Minerals Council and the Australian Coal Association lobbied Mr O’Farrell to cancel the EDO’s $2.5 million annual public subsidy.
In a letter addressed to the premier last October, the council’s chief executive Stephen Galilee expressed concern about the EDO’s links with the anti coal movement and its support for what it said was a ‘deliberate campaign of economic sabotage’.
‘It is difficult to understand the logic behind NSW taxpayer funds being provided to an organisation intent on using those funds to lodge legal challenges against decisions taken on behalf of taxpayers by the NSW government,’ Mr Galilee wrote.
‘It is even more absurd for these funds to be used to support a deliberate campaign of economic sabotage against an industry providing our most valuable export commodity as well as 50,000 direct jobs… We hope your government will therefore cease funding the EDO as a matter of urgency.’
The Newcastle Herald reported that Australian Coal Association chief executive Dr Nikki Williams also complained about the EDO’s activities early in 2011.
In its letter to Mr O’Farrell, the Coal Association chief described as ‘perverse’ the way in which the EDO was using taxpayer funds to represent three anti coal community groups in the Hunter Valley, as well as its alleged link to the anti coal movement.