Commission Recommends Restoration of EDO Funding

The Productivity Commission recommended the Federal Government reverse last year’s decision to remove all funding to the Environmental Defenders Offices (EDOs), a national network of community legal centres specialising in public interest environmental law.

3 December 2014

The Commission report on Access to Justice Arrangements (p711-13), released today said: “The Commission considers that there are strong grounds for the legal assistance sector to receive funding to undertake strategic advocacy, law reform and public interest litigation including in relation to environmental matters.

“Irrespective of the Australian Government’s ultimate position on whether strategic advocacy and law reform should attract government funding, the Commission considers that some restoration of funding is appropriate.”

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis announced the end of all federal funding to EDOs on 17 December last year, without warning or prior consultation. This amounts to $10 million over four years for EDOs in all States and Territories.

 “The Commission’s findings echo the arguments we would have put to the Federal Attorney if we had been given the opportunity to do so. It beggars belief that the Attorney didn’t wait for the results of this inquiry or consult with us before deciding to cut all funding to EDOs,” said EDO NSW Executive Director Jeff Smith.

“Without EDOs the majority of Australians would be unable to afford to take legal action to protect the environment, clean air and water.

 “We urge the Attorney-General to now follow the Commission’s recommendations and restore Federal funding to EDOs.”

As the Commmission noted: “The rationales for government support for environmental matters are well recognised. The impact of activities or actions that cause environmental harm typically extend beyond a single individual to the broader community. For example, inappropriate developments by governments or the private sector that reduce air quality, water quality or the amenity of an area can impose costs on all residents in that area. Costs might include poor health outcomes or decreased land values”.

EDOs provide legal advice to thousands of individuals and community groups each year. They have run landmark court cases against new coal mines, pollution of rivers by power stations and over development in residential areas. EDOs also do high level policy and law reform work at both the State and Federal level.

CONTACT:  EDO NSW Executive Director Jeff Smith 0428262010 jeff.smith@edonsw.org.au or EDO Tasmania Principal Solicitor Jess Feehely 0400 803262 Jess.Feehely@tas.edo.org.au