Wednesday 17/12/2013 ABC News
A nationwide network of legal centres providing representation for environment-related cases deemed to be in the public interest have had their funding cut by the Federal Government.
The government cut $10 million in funding to Environmental Defenders Offices (EDO) in the budget measures outlined in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO).
It means the EDOs will not receive any federal funding after July 1 next year.
EDO lawyers have provided help on a raft of environmental cases, including advising the Lock the Gate campaign and fighting to protect Leadbetter's possum habitat from logging.
But they have been accused of conducting a campaign of economic sabotage by the Minerals Council, which represents the mining industry.
Brendan Sydes, chief executive of the Victorian branch of the EDO, says he was telephoned by the Commonwealth Attorney-General's department on Tuesday afternoon and told that funding would be terminated immediately.
The office was scheduled to receive $350,000 each year for the next two years, which was around half of its funding.
This news comes a week before Christmas, leaving staff and communities unsure of the path ahead. It's a major blow, he said.
We haven't received any explanation from the Attorney-General or the Government as to precisely why this funding has been cut. We have very strong suspicions we're being singled out here.
Australian Greens Senator Larissa Waters, a former EDO lawyer, described the cuts as outrageous.
The cuts could cripple many EDOs completely, which is exactly what the Abbott Government wants so that there's nothing to stand in the way of its mining magnate and big business buddies abusing our environment for private profit, she said.
Environmental groups have rushed to decry the saving, describing it as an attack on environmentalism.
This is not a matter of government budget savings, Kelly O'Shanassy, chief executive of Environment Victoria, said.
If the Federal Government can give $10 billion to wealthy mining corporations every year in fossil fuel subsidies, they can spare some change for the Environment Defenders Offices.
The EDOs act as nature's lawyers. They provide legal defence for the many Australians concerned about what's happening to our environment.
EDO lawyers have been involved in many high-profile environment cases, such as cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park and the expansion of the coal seam gas industry.
They also provide representation to individuals wanting to challenge local or state government planning decisions on environmental grounds.
Cuts are 'acts of barbarism'
Peter Burdon is a senior lecturer at the Adelaide University Law School and was until recently on the management committee of the EDO in South Australia.
In an opinion piece for ABC Environment, he described the cuts as acts of barbarism.
But he expressed a hope that the action will galvanise the public into supporting the EDO.
The Federal Government has sorely misjudged the depth of respect and passion that people feel towards the EDO, he wrote.
Mr Sydes agreed, nominating the recent re-incarnation of the Climate Commission as a crowd-funded organisation as an example of a potential revenue stream for the centre.
We enjoy really good strong public support… there will be a way through, he said.