Environmental Defenders' cash threat

THE head of the NSW Minerals Council urged Barry O’Farrell to strip the Environmental Defenders Office of its funding because of its potential to interrupt  coal industry projects, newly disclosed letters to the premier have revealed.

In a letter addressed to Mr O’Farrell last October, the council’s chief executive,  Stephen Galilee, said he was concerned about the office’s association with the anti-coal movement.

‘‘It is difficult to understand the logic behind NSW taxpayers’ funds being provided to an organisation intent on using those funds to lodge legal challenges against decisions taken on behalf of taxpayers by the NSW government,’’ he wrote (see excerpt).

‘‘It is even more absurd for these funds to be used to support a deliberate campaign of economic sabotage against an industry providing our most valuable export commodity.’’

He concluded by requesting Mr O’Farrell cease funding the EDO as a ‘‘matter of urgency’’.

Australian Coal Association chief executive Nikki Williams also complained about the EDO’s activities earlier in the year.

Dr Williams suggested the EDO should not be allowed to use public funding to run merits appeal cases against decisions made by the Planning Assessment Commission.

A spokeswoman for Acting Attorney-General Brad Hazzard said in the 2009-10 financial year the EDO received a 45per cent increase in funding from the Public Purpose Fund compared to the funding received in the three previous financial years.

‘‘This level of funding was retained in the financial years 2010-11 and 2011-12 even in circumstances where the income of the fund had reduced,’’ she said.

‘‘The Public Purpose Fund has not yet finalised funding to the EDO beyond March 2013.’’

The EDO has run a number of high-profile cases on behalf of community organisations in the Hunter in recent years.

They include assisting residents fight against a decision by former Planning Minister Frank Sartor to allow high-density development at Catherine Hill Bay.

Other former clients have included Hunter environmental activist Jonathan Moylan, who issued a fake media release this week that temporarily wiped $314million off the value of Whitehaven Coal shares.

Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association president Sue Whyte said the EDO had been an invaluable service to non-political community groups seeking legal advice about the impact of development on their communities.

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