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Environment defender could close after cuts

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The South Australian Environmental Defenders Office is in danger of closing after the Federal Government cut its funding.

The EDO is part of a national network that essentially acts as a legal aid service for environmental law. In South Australia it has led challenges to Olympic Dam’s environmental approval and to shale gas developments in the State’s south east.

As part of the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook Treasurer Joe Hockey announced the centres’ $100,000-each annual funding – which has been offered for 20 years – would end.

Fresh from a crisis meeting at the EDO’s King William St office, chairperson Christine Trenorden told InDaily there was a real possibility the centre would have to close.

“All of those on the management committee believe strongly in the value of the work, so we will be working very hard to keep it going, but closure is a real threat,” she said.

“We are providing a valuable service to the Government. They mightn’t see it that way, but we are.”

The office’s principle solicitor, Melissa Ballantyne, said the centre was about more than supporting environmental challenges – it also worked to educate the community on environmental issues.

“What we do is to explain what the law says about approving these projects, what challenges there might be about decision making around these projects … and what the community might be able to do in terms of having a say about how decisions are made,” Ballantyne said.

“They are often decisions which have huge impacts across the community and the environment. We need to have our decision makers accountable for those decisions.

“Governments provide funding for community and public interest matters, and that is a key role that we play in terms of keeping government accountable for their decision making.”

The former Labor Government had pledged around $1.2 million in additional funding for the South Australian centre over the next four years – which has also been cut. Trenorden said additional staff had been hired with the expectation the new money was about to start flowing.

In addition to federal funding, the EDO also receives annual support from the State Government.

That funding has not been renewed past the end of the year, but State Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Ian Hunter this morning hinted that it was likely to be rolled over.

“Unlike the federal Liberal Government, the State Government has no intention of gagging community organisations by withdrawing funding,” he said.

“Liberal Governments around the country have shown time and time again that they will not accept opposition to their policies. First they silenced the scientists, and now they are targeting community organisations.”

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