Environmental Defender’s Offices lodge freedom of information request for any written representations by mining industry to Federal government over funding cuts - EDO NSW

EDOs lodge FOI request for any representations by mining industry to Federal govt over funding cuts

The Australian Network of Environmental Defender’s Offices (ANEDO) will today lodge a Freedom of Information (FOI) request with the Federal Attorney General and his department for any written representations from the mining industry in relation to the sudden cancelling of all Federal funding of the nine-office national network.

25 February 2014

In the Senate Estimates hearing yesterday of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Federal Attorney General, Senator George Brandis QC initially said he didn’t recall, when asked by Greens Senator Penny Wright whether he had received any written representations from the mining industry in relation to the cancellation of a four-year $10 million funding program on December 17. He later told the Committee that he or his department may have received a letter about EDO funding from the NSW Minerals Council.

All federal funding for EDOs is set to cease from June 30 this year.

ANEDO spokesperson Jo-Anne Bragg, from EDO Qld, following the Attorney General’s response, said EDO Qld would be lodging an FOI request, for any correspondence and other submissions from the mining industry, including the NSW Minerals Council, that relates in any way to federal funding for EDOs.

“This information request may clarify the government’s sudden decision, taken with no consultation with or warning to EDOs themselves,’ Ms Bragg said.

The funding cuts threaten the closure or drastic reduction in services for EDOs in each state and territory.

EDOs provide affordable legal and education services to thousands of individuals and community groups every year across Australia on planning and environment issues. They also undertake policy and law reform work.

In a letter to Senator Brandis calling for the Australian Government to restore EDO funding immediately, ANEDO has highlighted the role of mining industry lobbyists in attacking EDOs.

‘The way this removal of funding occurred, without warning, represents a denial of natural justice to well-respected legal organisations that exist to serve the community in protecting the environment and heritage,’ the ANEDO letter said.

‘The withdrawal of funding was preceded by public statements in October and November last year by the NSW Minerals Council calling for an end to government funding of EDOs.

‘Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee was quoted as saying: "We will be seeking to take up the issue of commonwealth funding of the NSW EDO with the new Attorney-General and the new government."

‘It is a matter of fact that the federal defunding of EDOs, specialists in environmental and planning laws, followed within two months,’ the ANEDO letter said.

‘This comes at a time when a number of contentious coal, coal seam gas and LNG and other projects are in the development pipeline. These projects are in highly sensitive areas such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Tarkine wilderness in Tasmania, Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory and on precious farmland in other regions, affecting many communities, including remote indigenous communities, as well as the environment.’

EDO Queensland is representing farmers and the Coast and Country Association of Queensland, who have launched a legal action against the approval of the Alpha coal mine project, part owned by Gina Rinehart’s company Hancock Prospecting. The association argued in court that the proposed mine -360km south-west of Mackay in the Galilee Basin - would contribute to climate change and have permanent and irreversible effects on ground water.

In August of 2012 the EDO NSW represented the residents of the Hunter Valley village of Bulga who won a landmark case in the Land and Environment Court against a coal mine expansion by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto. It is currently on appeal to the NSW Supreme Court with a judgment pending.

The ANEDO letter said: ‘EDOs are not lobbying organisations, they provide legal advice, litigation support and related services including community education and policy and law reform engagement.

‘Without the EDO legal services many Australians could not afford to get legal advice or mount a legitimate legal challenge against large companies or governments over major development projects which threaten the local environment, endangered species, productive farmland, clean air and water supplies, and indigenous and other cultural heritage.’

Senior ANEDO representatives sought a meeting with Senator Brandis immediately after the announcement of the funding removal on 17 December, 2013. The Attorney General has declined to meet.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Jo-Anne Bragg Principal Solicitor EDO Qld 07- 3211 4466, 0428 104 476.