The Environmental Defenders Office has a proud history of providing access to environmental justice. The first EDO was founded in 1985, and as an accredited Community Legal Centre our public interest environmental lawyers have served people and communities across Australia for nearly 40 years.
Our clients are grandparents concerned for younger generations, environmental charities acting for nature, community groups defending their local patch, First Nations peoples protecting their cultural connection to Country, bushfire survivors, farmers defending their land and water, and people at risk from pollution.
They have stood up to powerful interests, challenged damaging decisions and helped design better laws in the interest of all Australians and future generations, thanks to the specialist legal support of EDO.
Federal government funding
After the shock withdrawal of Federal government funding in 2013, state-based EDOs continued to stand with communities to protect our shared environment and defend the places we love, thanks to overwhelming public support.
However, faced with the twin crises of climate breakdown and extinction, eight EDO’s merged in 2019 to become a new national legal entity dedicated to providing access to justice across Australia.
In 2022, EDO welcomed the Federal Government’s commitment to reinstate Commonwealth funding to environmental legal centres to advance public interest environmental law.
This funding recognises the important role in society of access to justice to protect our precious natural environment and unique species and places and underpins our frontline legal services.
People need access to the justice system to uphold our environmental laws, to participate in public processes and have their say on developments that threaten our environment and exercise their rights to legal redress to challenge unlawful decisions. Without our help, few would have the resources or knowledge to take action or effectively participate in decisions to protect our environment. Our specialist expertise has helped many intervene early to prevent bad decisions, improve the law, or secure better conditions on developments.
And while it’s our public interest litigation you’ll see in the headlines, our lawyers work with communities every day providing expert advice and informing people about their legal rights and opportunities under the law to protect the environment.
Without Federal funding, our ability to provide this core service would be compromised.
The amount of government funding we receive is but a small fraction of our total funding, and a drop in the ocean compared with the scale of the threats to the environment, and the consequential demand for our services. Nor does it match the complexity of the web of environmental laws, nor the environmental impact assessment and approvals process or resources of other parties. Whether it is pollution caused by a mine, or a State significant approvals processes – to engage with environmental laws is truly a David v Goliath proposition for the vast majority.
We rely heavily on donations from everyday people, charitable trusts and foundations. Last financial year, 75% of our income came from charitable donations. Grants from State Governments made up less than 10% of our funding.
From 2023-24, EDO’s Federal Government funding will support three key pillars of our work:
Giving everyday people access to justice
Our National Intake Service gives everyday people at the frontline of environmental harms a place to go to seek access to the legal system, through accessible legal information, free short legal advice and referrals.
Our dedicated Intake team provided over 1,000 legal services last financial year, often for overburdened communities who face additional barriers to accessing legal services.
Our online Legal Help Gateway connects people seeking environmental justice with the information, advice and tools they need to engage with our environmental and planning laws, councils and regulators, to better protect their local environment and build stronger communities.
In the last financial year (2023), our online legal fact sheets and legal information resources were accessed nearly 400,000 times.
With Federal funding, we can continue our frontline and one of a kind national advice and information service.
Protecting Country and cultural heritage
EDO is committed to respectfully partnering with First Nations peoples to protect Country and culture.
In recognition that EDO is not an Indigenous organisation, EDO has established a First Nations led Program within it. EDO is committed to providing a culturally safe place for First Nations team members and First Nations clients and tailoring our services to First Nations peoples seeking legal support.
Our teams work alongside First Nations peoples seeking legal support to protect their cultural heritage and Country. With federal funding, we continue to provide legal support to First Nations clients and communities to exercise their power and agency when engaging with environmental laws, for instance, with government in environmental assessment and law reform processes affecting culture and Country.
Protecting threatened species and ecosystems
Amid the ongoing extinction crisis, our public interest environmental lawyers work with communities to defend nature and advocate to decision makers to protect our threatened species and ecosystems.
We provide Australia’s unique wildlife with a legal voice, providing specialist legal support to people and communities acting on behalf of nature against destruction and damage to threatened species and ecosystems. Whether it is the koala in the eastern States, the quokka in Western Australia, or species without borders like the Far Eastern curlew, we advise clients and communities seeking to protect threatened species and their habitats across Australia.
With federal funding, we can continue our work to support communities to take effective action to prevent extinctions and protect ecosystems.