Monday, 12 February 2024

Senator the Hon Jonno Duniam
Shadow Minister for the Environment, Fisheries and Forestry
Senator for Tasmania

Senator Susan McDonald
Shadow Minister for Resources
Shadow Minister for Northern Australia
Senator for Queensland

Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians
Senator for the Northern Territory

Calls for the Departmental review into the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) to be expanded into a comprehensive investigation and for the next multi-million dollar payment to be cut have been turbocharged by Coalition Senators after more revelations over the mishandling of the $8.3 million grant were exposed at Senate Estimates.

Further, concerns that the EDO violated their grant guidelines by receiving taxpayer funds were aired following evidence of social media recruiting for the EDO to coach people on how to participate as a ‘Relevant Person’ to challenge new gas projects in the courts.

Other revelations from Senate Estimates include:

  • That the Government failed to undertake any due diligence of the organisation before making the grant, especially in regard to foreign donations.
  • That the Government has no plans to apologise to Traditional Owners for the hurt incurred from the conduct of the EDO, especially in the Munkara vs Santos case.
  • The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is now open to widening its review of the funding arrangement with the EDO.

Shadow Environment Minister Jonno Duniam questioned why the Government hasn’t already ceased funding:

“The Government’s next pay milestone is in late April and they currently have a narrow review underway to see whether the EDO’s conduct was appropriate. I don’t think anyone sees an organisation that has confected evidence and coached witnesses fit to receive taxpayers’ money.”

“The Departmental review needs to include the views of Traditional Owners and parties that have been affected by the EDO’s conduct. We can’t leave it up to Government to decide the scope of the review which could see the EDO get away with a slap on the wrist. The Minister needs to go further and commit to defunding the EDO and instigating a wider review into the full extent of its misconduct.”

“The Government even failed to check with Home Affairs if any foreign interference implications associated with the EDO exist and needs to do so immediately.”

“We know that large international organisations such as Oceans 5; Waverley Street Foundation; KR Foundation; Earthjustice; the Swiss Oak Foundation; the Dropbox Foundation; the Patagonia Fund; the European Climate Foundation; and the Rainforest Foundation of Norway have donated to the EDO. We also know that the EDO has used environmental lawfare to subvert government approvals processes. This needs to be urgently investigated by the Government and I am stunned that they did not foresee any of the range of missteps now being revealed before handing $8.3 million to the EDO that it didn’t even need.”

Shadow Minister for Resources Susan McDonald intensified calls for an expanded probe:

“This investigation should not only broaden its examination to include all evidence of whether the EDO violated the terms of its grant funding agreement, but also whether it has violated any of its obligations under its DGR or charitable status,” she said.

“Inciting people to exploit the system and launch legal action against projects already approved by the Government is not the actions of a responsible charity and we can add this to Labor’s long list of embarrassing failures that are holding Australia back,” she said.

Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Jacinta Nampijinpa Price called out the Government’s duplicity:

“Since its election, the Albanese Government has lectured Australians on the importance of listening to Indigenous voices and apologising for past wrongdoings, yet today in Estimates we discovered that they’re all talk. In reality, this government has no intention of apologising nor listening to the Traditional Owners in the Tiwi Islands who were taken advantage of.”

“Instead, pursuing their own shallow political agenda, they have actually funded the Environmental Defenders Office’s efforts to exploit Indigenous Australians.”