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Byron Shire
February 28, 2021

‘Fun raiser’ defends the environmental defender

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EDO principal solicitor Sue Higginson (left) and Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell (right) at Friday night’s EDO fundraiser, ably backed up by ‘Mr Cooper’ (centre). Photo Jenny Leunig
EDO principal solicitor Sue Higginson (left) and Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell (right) at Friday night’s EDO fundraiser, ably backed up by ‘Mr Cooper’ (centre). Photo Jenny Leunig

Chris Dobney

Despite repeated cuts by the Liberal/National federal and state governments to its funding, the EDO (Environmental Defender’s Office) continues to provide legal support for people opposing environmental destruction in whatever form it takes.

Last Friday night an array of talents held a fundraiser for the northern rivers EDO in Lismore.

Performers included Echonetdaily’s S Sorrenson, Jimmy Willing & the Real Gone Hick-Ups, Sara Tindley, Luke Vassella and Davey Bob Ramsey.

While the resulting $4,000 doesn’t make up for the funding the EDO has lost, it is an indication of how highly regarded it is in our region.

The EDO makes no secret of providing legal information and support to opponents of coal and coal seam gas mining, together with logging; indeed it sees it as part of its role as a public defender.

‘Our mission is to assist the community to protect the environment through the use of law,’ NSW EDO principal solicitor Sue Higginson told Echonetdaily ahead of the gig.

‘What we want is to continue the good work that the EDO has been doing for the last 30 years, serving the community and using the law in an informed way to protect the environment in circumstances where it’s really needed.

‘Not only do we bring proceedings in courts; we also educate the community about what the laws are, how they apply, what they mean and how people can engage with the laws to get better outcomes in relation to our environment.’

Supporters argue the EDO merely helps to redress the imbalance of massive corporate interests that feel they can call the shots merely by leaning on their allies in government.

Minerals Council lobbied for cuts

The first attack on the group saw a 27 per cent cut in funds by the O’Farrell state government in March last year.

A Freedom of Information request by Fairfax newspapers revealed that the mining industry via the Minerals Council had urged premier Barry O’Farrell to scrap funding to the EDO several months before the state government announced the move.

On that occasion the group was spared the full impact of the cut after a last-minute lifeline in the form of funding from the Public Purpose Fund (PPF) of the NSW Law Society.

But then, in December, it was the federal government’s turn to take the chainsaw to the EDO, announcing the cancellation of $10 million worth of advance funding nationwide.

The payments ceased immediately, according to EDO NSW executive director Jeff Smith, effectively cutting 20 per cent from its budget.

The EDO will still have to look for a new funding source before June 30 or make cuts to its already small structure.

Last weekend’s event was a great show of support but much more will be needed in coming months if it is to survive intact.

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