EDO’s role is ‘more relevant than ever’ service says

WORK GOES ON: EDO solicitor Sue Higginson said the service would continue to provide free advice and education.
WORK GOES ON: EDO solicitor Sue Higginson said the service would continue to provide free advice and education.

DESPITE sustained political attacks and lobbying by the mining industry, the Environmental Defender's Office has announced it has secured funding until at least July 2014 and will maintain its Lismore office.

Senior solicitor Sue Higginson said one position would be lost in Lismore (cutting it from 3.5 to 2.5), with funding being cut by 27%.

"This will put us back to the 2007 funding level, and we have had to cut back one staff position, which will mean our outreach capacity is reduced, but we will be working harder than ever to maintain the best service we can," she said.

The EDO provides free advice and education to the community on a variety of issues relating to environmental law.

But last November it came under attack from Energy Minister Chris Hartcher, who accused the publicly funded service of being aligned with "radical socialists" and having "a leftist agenda to destroy the economy".

The government then announced in December it had pulled the plug on the EDO's funding.

It redirected money to Legal Aid and forbade state funding for agencies "providing legal advice to activists and lobby groups," which is essentially the EDO's core business.

It was revealed by the Sydney Morning Herald that Premier Barry O'Farrell had been lobbied by the NSW Minerals Council and the Australian Coal Association in October to "cease funding the EDO as a matter of urgency".

WORK GOES ON: EDO solicitor Sue Higginson said the service would continue to provide free advice and education.
WORK GOES ON: EDO solicitor Sue Higginson said the service would continue to provide free advice and education.

The EDO's future was uncertain and it was feared that services including the Lismore office (which services regions as far afield as Port Macquarie and Armidale) would have to be cut.

But EDO executive director Jeff Smith announced this week that their main source of income, the Public Purpose Fund (PPF) of the Law Society of NSW, had been secured for the 2013-14 financial year.

"EDO NSW is delighted that the PPF... has continued to support our public interest environmental law service for the people of NSW, from the cities to the regions and remote rural areas. At one stage it appeared that our entire funding was under serious threat, such was the intensity of the attacks on the EDO, but for now at least the worst has been averted," he said.

Sue Higginson said EDO Northern Rivers had been involved in advising the Lock the Gate alliance and individual landowners of their rights regarding CSG, as well as high-profile cases including Splendour in the Grass and Champions Quarry, but much of their work is around advising "mums and dads" about planning laws.

"There are major reforms coming for the NSW planning system... The government has released their green paper (a preliminary discussion paper) and are planning the most significant changes to the Planning Act since 1970. So our role will be more relevant than ever," she said.

Topics:  csg eda environment politics

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