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Environmental Defenders Office Qld Patron’s Statement

15 November, 2017

I write to enlist your support for a vital community legal service, the Environmental Defenders Office Qld.

My first encounters with the EDO occurred when I began to sit in the Planning and Environment Court many years ago. Those dealings led to me to respect and, over time, come to admire the way the Office strove to provide high calibre legal representation to the community in a range of environmental matters with what were, plainly, very stretched resources.

The motto of the Environmental Defenders Office (Qld) is: ‘Using the law to protect our environment’. Its representation in P&E litigation was, in my experience, always principled and focussed – in other words, the motto was more than just verbiage or, as we lawyers like to say, puff.

The ‘environment’ is, of course, the biggest thing we have - and, as is becoming increasingly obvious, what the UK poet Gillian Clarke called its ‘delicate engineering’ is deteriorating in myriad ways. It seems self-evident that the environment should be constantly near the forefront of our attention.

Increasing interest in and activity around the preservation and protection of our environment often ends up in litigation, and citizens and groups swept up in that litigation will need professional legal help. That is the very assistance the EDO uniquely and, to my perception, effectively provides.

That said, EDO’s remit extends far beyond what we lawyers see in courtrooms. It also works to educate and inform the community through events and publications; to affect government policy on environmental matters of profound importance to Queenslanders, like protecting groundwater or the safety of the Great Barrier Reef; to investigate and ensure the propriety of our democratic processes, through arguing for transparency and accountability of government and industry; and, to facilitate access to justice for individuals, groups and organisations in our State who otherwise cannot afford legal assistance.

You may occasionally disagree with positions that some of the EDO’s clients take on environmental or planning matters but there is, I think, one critical question – how important is it that our community has an organisation dedicated to focussing in on, considering and, if appropriate and necessary, arguing the contrary case on important environmental matters in the jurisdiction? For myself, I think it is vital; an adversarial system like ours languishes and is weakened if it does not provide for the contrary argument, the dissenting but reasonable and well-intentioned voice, to be robustly mustered and advanced.

You will not be surprised to learn that our State EDO is not a wealthy organisation. Government funding has proved precarious and the organisation has only survived due to active support from the community and the legal profession. This funding enables modestly remunerated but highly professional staff and enables leveraging of substantial pro bono contributions by the legal profession. I emphasise the EDO provides a unique and entirely necessary contribution to environmental justice.

It is for these reasons – the importance of providing an independent ‘voice’ in environmental and planning cases, and the issues around them; and, the limited resources the EDO has to do this vital work – that I warmly encourage you to support the Office.

- The Hon Alan Wilson QC, retired Supreme Court judge and patron of Environmental Defenders Office Qld

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