The North Coast Environment Council says Lismore’s EDO could pay the ultimate price for its own success.
There are fears the region’s Environmental Defenders Office will close due to funding cuts.
The EDO’s state-wide funding for the first three months of 2013 has been cut by a quarter, as the government reviews where money from the Public Purpose Fund is allocated.
Environment council spokesman Dailan Pugh says he won’t be surprised if the Lismore office shuts, because of the role it plays in the coal seam gas debate.
“I think the main reason they want to get rid of it now is it’s providing independent legal advice to the community about coal seam gas,” he said.
“Unfortunately for other issues, it spends most of its time providing advice to community groups on what their legal rights are regarding locking the gate, those issues.
“And this government seems intent on stopping the community taking any action on that,” Mr Pugh said.
The state’s Attorney-General says any suggestion the Environmental Defenders Office has been given less money because it challenges planning laws is simply not true.
Greg Smith says demands on the $136 million Public Purpose Fund are increasing.
He says he won’t speculate on how the EDO will operate into the future.
“They seem to have support from other organisations and private enterprise, I’m sure, is available to give them some funding,” he said.
“But look, they’re just one group of many groups that are struggling because of the reduction in the amount of money available and, unfortunately, we all have to pull our belts in at this time.
“We’re concerned again that monies paid out of the Public Purpose Fund, and government generally, have to be in accordance with the guidelines that are going to be issued and should have the priority of going to disabled, single parents, the unemployed and people living in remote and regional areas,” Mr Smith said.
Sue Higginson, who works as a lawyer at Lismore’s EDO, says it would be outrageous if the region was to lose the office.
“At the end of the day, where will people go for this service?” she said.
“We know up until we opened the office in 2006, the service was being provided out of the Sydney office, and so much of the work was coming out of this Northern Rivers region.
“We have some areas of the highest bio-diversity in Australia.
“So I think without the ability of community to be able to pick up the phone and inform themselves about what the law is and what happens next and what they can do, I think it will be a travesty.”
Source: ABC News