Treasurer Joe Hockey’s promised slash-and-burn of federal funding has already impacted on the Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO), often the last legal line of defence against projects that have the potential to damage the environment.
Last year, the then Labor federal government promised the national EDO network $10 million in forward funding over four years, around $300,000 of which was earmarked for EDO NSW next year.
The payments have ceased immediately, according to EDO NSW executive director Jeff Smith, effectively cutting 20 per cent from its budget.
EDO will have to look for a new funding source before June 30 or make cuts to its already small structure.
It is a further hit to the office, which had its major funding from the Public Purpose Fund reduced by 25 per cent earlier this year after pressure from the coalition state government, reducing its income by $400,000.
EDO has been instrumental in providing information and legal support for environmental activists and opponents of coal and CSG.
In a high-profile case, the residents of the Hunter Valley village of Bulga, represented by EDO NSW, won a court challenge, earlier this year, to the expansion of a coal mine operated by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, because of significant dust and noise pollution and the destruction of habitat for endangered plant and animal species. The case is currently on appeal.
‘This is an extremely disappointing decision for hundreds of grassroots community organisations. Their local EDO is the only place they can afford to go for expert legal advice when they feel threatened by some major development,’ said Mr Smith.
He told Echonetdaily yesterday that he was still ‘working through the implications’ and ‘no date has been set for any announcement’ but the team were ‘in the process of looking at the budgets’.
Mr Smith said the EDO’s Lismore office, which employs three solicitors and an administrator, could not escape the effects of any cutbacks but that there were no plans to close the office.
‘It will impact on both the Sydney and northern rivers offices. There has been a lot of work outside Sydney in the last decade, which is why we set up the northern rivers office, so we can’t just shut it down,’ Mr Smith said.
He said the EDO had been ‘actively fundraising for some time and will continue to do so’.