The Environmental Defenders Office is seeking urgent clarification of a newly-announced LNP proposal to defund the community legal centre, putting frontline legal services at risk for regional Australians.
The proposed cut, announced at the Rural Press Club by LNP leader Deb Frecklington on Monday 21 September, could leave hundreds of Queenslanders every year without legal representation on environmental and planning matters and lead to costly delays in the state’s court system.
EDO Brisbane managing lawyer Revel Pointon said:
“We are seeking urgent clarification on this proposal from the Leader of the Opposition as well as Shadow Attorney-General David Janetzki.
“We receive modest but vital funding from the state government to provide free or low-cost legal advice and services to the Queensland community around environmental and planning issues.
“Many of our clients are farmers and regional Queenslanders who need legal advice around issues relating to their communities, their livelihoods, their land and their groundwater.
“In the past year we have provided free or low cost legal advice to regional Queenslanders on matters including local developments, rights around coal seam gas, inappropriately-placed renewable energy projects and mining initiatives which may impact the water and prime agricultural land of Queensland’s farmers.
“It is not clear who would provide legal services to these Queenslanders if this modest but crucial funding is cut.
“Regional Queenslanders may have no choice but to turn to costly private representation for even the simplest matters – a prospect which is out of reach for many in the community.
“Regional Queenslanders may be forced to self-represent in the state’s courts, causing costly delays and tying up projects for longer than necessary.
“Community legal centres have long been recognised as the most efficient and cost-effective way to ensure professional legal services are available to everyone in the community, and to ensure the smooth running of our court system.
“We invite the leader of the opposition to meet with us to discuss how community legal centres operate and how regional Queenslanders would receive adequate access to legal advice on environment and planning matters under her proposal.
EDO Cairns managing lawyer Kirstiana Ward said:
“This proposal could have a devastating impact on the ability of far north Queenslanders to get free or low cost legal services relating to planning, development and environmental issues.
“North Queenslanders are at particular risk from cuts like this because of the relative lack of access to legal services around planning and environment issues.
“We provide legal advice and services to a range of north Queenslanders, including farmers, landholders, community groups and First Nations organisations.
“Many of our clients are vulnerable Queenslanders – financially, socially, economically and environmentally.
“It is not clear under this proposal who would be responsible for providing legal services on these matters to north Queenslanders, and we are seeking urgent clarification on this from the state opposition.”