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Environment Minister probes Environmental Defenders Office following Tiwi pipeline fallout

Jarred Cross -

The Environmental Defenders Office are being scrutinised by Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek following critical assessments of the body's conduct in the Santos pipeline development dispute in the Tiwi Islands.

Senate Leader for the Government, Penny Wong, told the Senate on Thursday that she understands Minister Plibersek has written to the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) chief executive after being pressed on the matter by Tasmanian Liberal Senator, Jonathon Duniam.

Last month, Justice Natalie Charlesworth described Indigenous heritage evidence presented by an expert witness as "so lacking in integrity that no weight can be placed (on it)" during a Federal Court case where the EDO was representing Tiwi Traditional Owners to contest plans for a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline project.

The case against Santos was dismissed.

In response, queries have been raised over the Commonwealth's four-year $8.2 million funding allocated in 2022.

The Northern Territory Government had announced a review of their funding arrangements with the EDO with Chief Minister Eva Lawler saying in late January "there does need to be some consequences for anybody who's lied".

Senator Duniam asked Senator Wong if the government would "concede" the allocation "was a terrible, terrible waste of taxpayers' money?"

"I understand that the minister has written to the CEO of the EDO, making clear that the expectation is that the office act ethically and professionally, and that the minister has asked her department to ensure that the EDO's conduct is in accordance with their grant agreement," Senator Wong responded.

Senator Wong has also said "I don't think anybody, regardless of their political persuasion, can suggest that some of the actions which were commented on by the judge are appropriate".

"What we have now is a judgement with some substantial criticism of the EDO by Justice Charlesworth, and, as I've informed the Senate, the minister has asked her department to provide advice about whether or not the EDO's conduct is in accordance with the grant agreement," she later added.


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