(Another) attack on environment groups

Submitted by Cam Walker on Tue, 21/04/2015 – 15:41

The Coalition government is trying to silence anyone who stands up for the environment.

Some of their actions include:

  • The new Standing Committee on the Environment review of tax deductibility for environment groups listed on the Minister’s Register (see below).
  • The push by Minister Richard Colbeck for a secondary boycott ban to apply to environmental groups.
  • The recently released ‘Re:think, Better Tax system Better Australia’ discussion paper which calls for a review of the Not for Profit sector’s tax deductibility.
  • The cuts to the Environment Defenders Office (EDOs).
  • The government has axed the Grants to Voluntary Environment, Sustainability and Heritage Organisations to 150 groups in the 2014 budget. This program had bipartisan support since it was set up in the 1970s.

Is the new Inquiry the government’s chance to take green groups tax status off them?

It has been announced that the House of Representatives Environment Committee will hold an inquiry into environmental groups who are eligible to receive Tax-deductible donations.

While the chair of the Committee has assured us ‘it’s not a witch hunt’, it is hard to see this as anything but another part of the ideological attack on the environment movement being waged by the Abbott government.

The Committee says “over 600 environmental groups are currently deductible gift recipients (DGRs). This allows them to access tax-deductible donations to fund important, practical work to improve the natural environment. We need to ensure that tax deductible donations, which are a generous concession from the taxpayer, are used for the purpose intended and expected by the community.”

[Above: the FoE International meeting in Sri Lanka, 2014. The environment needs strong voices.]

The terms of reference suggest that activities which involve on-ground environmental works constitute ‘appropriate’ activity. The subtext here is that advocacy and activism and, especially direct action, are not.

What the Committee seems to be ignoring is the High Court case of 2010 which confirmed the right of DGR listed groups to engage in political debate and advocacy.

In spite of the High Court precedent, the agenda is clear:

Queensland LNP senator Matthew Canavan says a preliminary audit (of the Register) shows “eco-charities were getting tax deductibility status to engage in political rather than environmental activity“.

We’ve got 100 to 150 groups that seem to have their purpose at stopping industrial development, not just mining, some of those developments include tourism developments or agricultural developments but engaging in what I would view as a political debate, not the environmental debate.”

Clearly, Mr Canavan and others want to see up to 150 groups struck off the Register. Loss of DGR status will be nothing short of disasterous for the majority of these groups. It is not hard to work out who these groups are: the key regional, state-based and national organisations with a strong advocacy and campaign focus, especially those working on climate change issues.

The Committee is composed of 6 Coalition and 4 ALP MPs.

The Chair is Alex Hawke, who says this about climate change:

“To say that climate change is human induced is to overblow and overstate our role in the scheme of the universe quite completely over a long period of time”

Don’t let them get away with a witch hunt

Please write a submission to the Inquiry. They are due by 21 May 2015. If you’d like some ideas on writing a submission, please email cam.walker@foe.org.au

If you’re short of time, you can make an on-line submission here.

Other actions you can take on the FoE Australia website.