News & Blog Posts · Access to Justice

A special thanks to National Parks Association Queensland (NPAQ)

20 December, 2013

We would like to send our thanks and appreciation to National Parks Association Queensland (NPAQ) who sent the following letter to Attorney-General George Brandis yesterday.

19th December 2013

Dear Senator Brandis

Re: Loss of Funding to Environmental Defenders Offices

The decision to withdraw funding for environmental legal offices across Australia shows the Federal Government's disdain for the protection of the environment, communities and human rights.

Public interest environmental legal proceedings - proceedings by private individuals to protect the environment and their communities - is an important component of modern environmental legal systems.  It contributes to the achievement of sustainable development, increases the enforcement of environmental laws, promotes good decision-making, develops important legal and administrative principles, provides a focus for public debate and highlights issues for law reform.

Public interest law is often the only form of protest available to citizens - landholders, individuals and communities - in challenging the powerful interests of government and the private sector.  Public interest law represents the promotion of the democratic principles of free speech and assembly, and access to justice.

Integral to public interest environmental law is ability - the ability to access knowledge and experience of the subject matter, the substantive and procedural law, and the ability to access adequate human and financial resources.  Despite some erroneous beliefs prevalent in certain sectors, public interest environmental litigation is not easy or lightly embarked upon.  By its nature, public interest environmental law justifies engaging the assistance, advice and advocacy of leading lawyers.  Consequently, there is a need to facilitate access to such lawyers.

As a democratic nation, Australia has benefited from the well established and successful branches of Environmental Defenders Offices (EDOs) in each state and territory.  These centres provide legal advice, assistance and advocacy for citizens and citizen groups.

Legal resources and knowledge are crucial for effective public interest law to protect the environment.  To the uninitiated, the legal system is complex, convoluted and composed of multiple layers.  EDOs have significantly redressed the imbalance between businesses who can readily afford expert legal advice and representation, and technical experts, and disadvantaged citizens who lack both knowledge and resources.  Additionally, EDOs provide worthwhile public education programs and materials.  The widespread use made by the public of EDOs, highlights the valid and substantial role that they play.

The loss of Commonwealth funding greatly hinders the ability of the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office to help landholders, individuals and community groups understand and act on their legal rights to protect the natural environment and their communities.

The National Parks Association Queensland (NPAQ) is highly concerned that the loss of funding to the EDOs is not being implemented in order to reduce expenditure or to improve environmental administration, but to favour development over the environment, affected communities and concerned citizens.

Yours sincerely

Michelle Prior

President

National Parks Association Queensland (NPAQ)