Jeff Smith from the EDO.
Jeff Smith from the EDO. Contributed

Legal defender jobs on the line

THREE lawyers and one administrative support staff member in Lismore are waiting to find out if their jobs at the EDO are safe next year.

The EDO (formerly known as the Environmental Defenders Office) provides free legal advice to community groups and farmers on environmental law and mounts legal challenges it considers to be in the public interest.

Funding for the EDO is currently under review by the Public Purpose Fund (PPF) at the request of the NSW Government.

PPF funding is 70% of the EDO's budget, with 8% coming from the State Government and the rest from Federal Government and othersources.

It will be the NSW Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Greg Smith who decides the matter.

EDO Executive Director Jeff Smith said he was trying to work out theproblem.

"We have met with the Attorney-General in the past and we have sought an urgent meeting with the PP Fund, but we have not heard back from them yet," he said.

"We are highly effective, incredibly professional and a well-respected organisation that punches well above its weight. We're trying to work out what the issues are.

"I think the government is conflicted on this issue.

"On the one hand, we had the recent comments from the Minister for Energy suggesting we were part of some left agenda. The idea that that's the case is nonsensical.

"On the other hand, we've received funding to assist the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure and the department in the planning reform system at the moment.

"We are seen by parts of government as incredibly valuable, respected and professional, and that's probably a more accurate picture than the idea some sort of conflict going on.

"It's astonishing that the government is considering reducing our funding at a time when they are going though the Planning Reform Process, which is based in the idea of restoring the community's confidence in planning in NSW."

Mr Smith said this week on Sydney radio no final decision has yet been made on whether to reduce long-term funding to the EDO.

He said any suggestion the Environmental Defenders Office might face financial insecurity because it challenges state government planning laws was not true.

Minister Smith confirmed the O'Farrell government had plans to change the funding guidelines for the Public Purpose Fund, which funds the EDO, with an announcement within two months.

SOME OF EDO's BIGGEST CASES

 2004: EDO NSW represented the Blue Mountains Conservation Society Inc and prevented filming of a war movie in the Grose Wilderness area of the Blue Mountains National Park.

 2008: Justice Allsop made a declaration that Kyodo was in breach of Australian law by whaling in the Australian Whale Sanctuary. EDO represented the humane Society International.

 2008: Justice Preston of the Land and Environment Court agreed that a proposal from EDO to develop 'Hub' regional waste facility on agricultural land near Molong was not sustainable, partly because it was likely to adversely affect the long term use, for sustained agricultural production, of the area and the adjoining prime crop and pasture land.

 2010-2011. EDO NSW acted for the Friends of Turramurra Inc with proceedings in the Land and Environment Court to challenge the decision of the Minister for Planning to gazette the Ku-ring-gai Local Environmental Plan (LEP) 2010. Justice Craig found that the LEP had been made contrary to the provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW) and was therefore of no legal force or effect.



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