May 31 2016 – 7:11PM
The Greens have called on the ACT government to provide emergency funding to prevent the closure of a community legal service helping protect Canberra’s environment.
The federal government cut funding from the Environmental Defenders Office in 2014, threatening its ability to advocate and provide legal advice on the environment to the Canberra community.
The EDO was forced to rely on temporary donations and grants to stay afloat, but has now warned it is in an unsustainable position and will close within months if new funding is not provided.
The office has turned to the ACT Government for help ahead of next week’s budget, saying it only needs a minimum of $130,000 a year to continue operating.
Attorney-General Simon Corbell has warned the territory cannot afford to plug every funding gap left by federal government cuts.
But his cabinet colleague, Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury, is lobbying for the territory to step in.
Mr Rattenbury has written to Mr Corbell and raised the issue with his Labor counterparts repeatedly, arguing the office provides an “invaluable” service to the ACT.
“It is clear that the EDO is in desperate straits, and we need to act urgently,” he said on Tuesday.
“The EDO is an advocate for important environmental matters in our region, and it provides advice and assistance to the community on a range of issues including planning and the protection of endangered species.”
The Abbott government cut funding from the network of EDOs across the country in 2014, a decision that was at odds with a Productivity Commission report recommending support continue.
Should the ACT office close, it will be the first of any state or territory.
Greens Senate candidate Christina Hobbs described the potential loss of the EDO as “deeply concerning”, calling on the federal government to reverse the cuts.
Ms Hobbs said the need for the service would only increase as Canberra continued to grow.
“As we expand, particularly into areas like Gungahlin and Molonglo, it’s really important that there’s an independent legal body that can review planning decisions and ensure that our city remains naturally beautiful,” she said.
“The EDO has done a fantastic job of protecting our natural environment, protecting endangered species, but also it plays an important role on day-to-day issues like resolving disputes between neighbours over trees.”
Mr Corbell has said the ACT will continue to fight for the federal government to reverse his cuts.
But he has not committed the ACT government to plugging the funding gap.
Source : The Canberra Times