National Environmental Defenders Office launches

By Jerome Doraisamy|21 November 2019

The eight state and territory EDOs have joined forces to create a new, national not-for-profit legal watchdog for the Australian environment.

The new EDO will have offices in Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Hobart, Perth and Sydney, with all state and territory EDOs finalising their merger process over the coming months.

Launched yesterday, the national Environmental Defenders Office will “take high-impact enforcement cases to the courts to make sure the public interest is upheld, and our communities are properly protected by our environmental laws”, it said in a statement.

In explaining why the former environmental legal centres were now coming together under one roof, EDO CEO David Morris said that the environmental problems facing Australia are not bound by our state and territory borders.

“The Murray-Darling crisis spans four jurisdictions. Our iconic koalas are dying right up and down the east coast. Climate change doesn’t stop at any border,” he said.

“Now more than ever, national leadership is required to protect Australia’s natural and cultural heritage. That’s where the new national EDO steps in.”

Moreover, the merger will see us the new EDO become the "largest public interest environmental law centre in the Australia-Pacific region", Mr Morris told Lawyers Weekly.

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"With that additional scale comes opportunities to play a bigger role empowering communities and protecting places. We see big opportunities to increase our presence in the Pacific and to better serve local communities in remote parts of Australia, including northern Australia," he said.

"Increasingly communities across northern Australia are seeking legal assistance in respect of gas developments and we intend to ensure that our expert lawyers are available to assist them."

Merging also allows the EDO, Mr Morris added, to address the “problems of scale” identified by the Productivity Commission in its Access to Justice Arrangements report. 

"That is, we’re able to centralise much of the offices’ administrative, financial and communications work freeing up our legal staff to provide better services to the community. The opportunity is that as a much bigger organisation we can play a bigger role at a national level on national issues, but at the same we’re committed to maintaining and strengthening connections to grass roots communities," he said. 

"Another challenge and opportunity I expect will be big issues for us in the next twelve months will be coming to grips with what it means to be a distributed national team across a large area and multiple time-zones and multiple jurisdictions. We’ve got some tools and we’ve got some resourcing to improve our legal technology, rolling that out and implementing it will be crucial to the merger’s success."

Australia is one of the “most naturally beautiful and biologically diverse places on Earth”, EDO’s statement continued, “but our environment is in decline”.

“There are more than 1,700 threatened species in Australia, we have lost more animals to extinction than any other country in the world. And while the Australian community expects robust accountability and oversight when it comes to environmental protection, trust in government processes and institutions has eroded to an all-time low.

Mr Morris said: “Regulations are regularly not enacted or enforced. Governments have cut resources to departments that are supposed to monitor breaches of environment law.”

“Companies routinely and intentionally breach state and federal environment laws. The problem is systemic and widespread because there is no clear legal deterrent.

“As a merged, national organisation we can share expertise, more closely scrutinise projects and address the widespread culture of non-compliance with environment laws.”

National Environmental Defenders Office launches
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