The legal group most often turned to by activists seeking to end illegal environmental practices has confirmed it is set to close its only regional office, based in Lismore.
EDO (formerly the Environmental Defenders Office) says the decision was taken following the resignation of its North Coast solicitor Nina Lucas to undertake work overseas.
Ms Lucas was the last remaining solicitor working out of the office after Sue Higginson moved to Sydney to head up the EDO’s activities state-wide and subsequently resigned in November last year with plans to stand for the Greens in state parliament.
CEO David Morris told Echonetdaily ‘EDO has had an office in Lismore since 2006, and it was established to generate an on-the-ground presence with respect to numerous environmental issues in the Northern Rivers’.
But, he added, Ms Lucas’ resignation ‘meant the office would be vacant.
‘With scarce resources, like many charities, EDO NSW has to make careful decisions about the use of its funds.
‘It’s also important for me as the CEO to consider the welfare of staff and the challenges associated with being a sole solicitor in a regional office.
‘At this juncture, keeping the Lismore office simply isn’t a feasible one for us.
In 2013, at the height of the anti-CSG protests, EDO was entirely de-funded by the then Abbott federal government and the community held a fundraiser to help keep its Lismore office open. Mr Morris said that funding has never been restored.
He acknowledged ‘it’s a particularly challenging external funding space and that does place pressure on every aspect of your operation, including your ability to keep regional offices open’.
But he added, ‘while I understand there will be people in the community who will be disappointed with the decision, I’m very confident that EDO NSW will be able to continue its effective service provision – and the provision of public interest environmental law services – to the Northern Rivers region.
‘The majority of the work we do for the Northern Rivers is generated through our Sydney solicitors.
‘I’ll be travelling to Lismore tomorrow with our director of outreach to deliver a workshop on the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage bill, which is currently out for public comment – and we’ll continue to make those trips to ensure people have on-ground, personal face-to-face access with lawyers from the EDO.’
He added that people can also contact the EDO at any time via its hotline on 1800 626 239.