Australia’s first national environmental law watchdog puts polluters on notice

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Australia’s first national, not for profit legal watchdog for the environment launches today with a mandate to ensure environmental laws are observed and properly enforced.

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PRESS RELEASE

Australia’s first national, not for profit legal watchdog for the environment launches today with a mandate to ensure environmental laws are observed and properly enforced.
“The environmental problems that Australia faces aren’t bound by state or territory lines,” said David Morris, CEO of the Environmental Defenders Office.  
“The Murray-Darling crisis spans four jurisdictions. Our iconic koalas are dying right up and down the east coast. Climate change doesn’t stop at any border. Now more than ever, national leadership is required to protect Australia’s natural and cultural heritage, so we have formed a new national organisation of lawyers for the environment.

“Right across Australia, our environmental laws are routinely broken with little or no repercussions. The new national Environmental Defenders Office will deliver accessible protection for nature before the courts to people around Australia and our neighbours in the Pacific.
“We will make it possible for people to use the law to protect their communities, the climate, and our natural environment against mismanagement and unlawful activities.
“Where proposed development impacts Australians, they have a right to be heard and participate in decisions that impact their welfare and the future of their communities.  They have the right to information and the right to redress in the face of unlawful actions. The national EDO will ensure Australians are able to exercise these rights, regardless of their background or financial capacity.
“We help everyday Australians who need to turn to the law to protect the places they love and run game-changing cases on behalf of clients across the country. We work with farmers, conservation groups, Traditional Owners, and people from all walks of life and all manner of places, from the heart of the outback to the centres of our biggest cities.
“We are currently acting on behalf of the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians to defend their sacred sites that would be destroyed by the Shenhua Watermark Coal Mine. In Queensland, we are working with of the farming community at Acland whose precious groundwater is under threat from open-cut mining.
“Australia’s environment is in decline.  We live in one of the most naturally beautiful and biologically diverse places on Earth, but there are more than 1,700 threatened species in Australia, we have lost more animals to extinction than any other country in the world.

“Australians expect robust accountability and oversight when it comes to environmental protection yet trust in government processes and institutions has eroded to an all-time low.
“Regulations are regularly not enacted or enforced. Governments have cut resources to departments that are supposed to monitor breaches of environment law.  Companies routinely and intentionally breach state and federal environment laws. The problem is systemic and widespread because there is no clear legal deterrent. 
“As a merged, national organisation we can share expertise, more closely scrutinise projects and address the widespread culture of non-compliance with environment laws.

“The national EDO will take high-impact enforcement cases to the courts to make sure the public interest is upheld and our communities are properly protected by our environmental laws. We will also take on crucial law reform work to ensure our environmental legislation has the strength the community expects.

“Bringing together the eight EDOs will bring better outcomes for all Australians, and delivers on the recommendations of the Productivity Commission that community legal centres pool resources to drive cost-efficiencies and greater impact.

“This new national body will help provide legal services to thousands of Australians every year and bring more capacity to deliver frontline community legal services in remote areas,” said Mr Morris.
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