SAVAGE funding cuts to a not-for-profit community legal centre could leave Kingston vulnerable to overdevelopment, according to community groups that have used its services.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s federal government decided to abruptly withdraw $10 million in funding to the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) in December last year and its Victorian office based in Carlton regularly provides legal advice to Kingston opponents of residential and commercial projects.
The EDO is an independent community legal service, specialising in public interest environmental law. They give legal help to individuals, community groups and conservation organisations seeking to protect the environment and advocate for better environmental laws.
The EDO’s lawyers also help community groups tackle complex green wedge issues, such as those faced in the City of Kingston.
Defenders of the South East Green Wedge secretary Barry Ross said the EDO plays a vital role in protecting the environment.
“It’s a terrible shame that their funding has been cut since we rely on the EDO for help in fighting developers and people who have a lot of money and can afford expensive lawyers,” Mr Ross said.
“We regularly find ourselves facing some very slick operators and the legal advice provided by the EDO can be invaluable.”
EDO Victoria CEO and lawyer Brendan Sydes told The News the federal funding cuts mean an immediate $350,000 deficit in the office’s annual budget with more fiscal pain to follow from 1 July in the 2013-14 financial year.
“It will leave a big hole in our budget for day-to-day operations and it will be a challenge to replace that funding,” Mr Sydes said.
However, he said the sudden withdrawal of federal government support would not stop the legal centre’s ongoing commitment to standing up against “powerful vested interests”, despite the financial shortfall.
“We are extremely disappointed that the federal government is terminating a four-year funding agreement only six months into the term,” Mr Sydes said.
“It is outrageous that the federal government seeks to silence the voice of communities. Our clients are communities trying to stand up for their environment, from shutting down toxic waste dumps to ensuring threatened wildlife get the action plans they need to survive.”
Kingston councillor Rosemary West, a Green Wedges Coalition joint coordinator, said the defunding of the EDO was “appalling”.
“Groups who want to save Kingston’s green wedge for future generations to enjoy regularly use their services,” Cr West said.
The EDO also provided legal advice to The Friends of Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands in their ultimately unsuccessful battle to stop a contentious housing development at 44 First Avenue in Chelsea last year.
The EDO has a network of offices based in states and territories throughout Australia.
The Abbott government said it was committed to making efficiencies and budget savings across all portfolios when it announced the cut to EDO funding in December.