Peter Dutton commits to strip funding from Environmental Defenders Office if he wins next election

Environmental lawyers accused of presenting distorted evidence in a major legal battle are at risk of having their federal funding slashed.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton committed to stripping the Environmental Defenders Office of all Commonwealth funding should he win the next election in a major address in Perth on Tuesday.

“We will not allow activists to hold sway over our industries and our economy,” he told the Chamber of Minerals and Energy.

The EDO last year took Santos to court on behalf of the elders from the Tiwi Islands over fears the $5.8bn Barossa project could endanger cultural heritage sites.

But Justice Natalie Charlesworth rejected the case to halt the pipeline and accused the lawyers of distorting and misrepresenting evidence and coaching witnesses.

Mr Dutton said the EDO’s conduct in the case discredited the non-government organisation (NGO) and it should be defunded as a result.

Camera IconMr Dutton said the EDO should be defunded. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

“The government has had nothing to say about it,” Mr Dutton said.

“The same activists are now seeking to use the courts to thwart Woodside’s $16.5bn Scarborough offshore gas field project here in WA.

“It does stymie existing projects and it does stop new endeavours from taking off.”

The EDO is set to receive $8.2m in federal funding over the next four years from the government.

In a statement, chief executive David Moss said he was disappointed by Mr Dutton’s announcement.

“We provide a vital community service. Our clients are grandparents concerned for younger generations, environmental charities acting for nature, community groups defending their local patch and First Nations people,” he said.

“Without our services, these people would be denied access the legal system and to environmental justice.”

The NGO last had its federal funding cut in 2013 by then prime minister Tony Abbott.

Labor pledged to reinstate funding ahead of the 2022 federal election. About 75 per cent of the organisation’s funding is charitable donations.

Mr Dutton is not the only political figure taking a closer look at NGO funding after the Santos judgment.

On Monday, Northern Territory chief minister Eva Lawler confirmed she’d tasked her environment minister with taking a closer look at its $100,00-a-year contract with the EDO.

The Liberal oppositions in Queensland and Western Australia have also vowed to cut funding should they be elected.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek was contacted for comment.

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