robyn May 14, 2015
(Another) attack on environment groups
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 Ministerâ€™s Register (see below).
- The push by Minister Richard Colbeck for a secondary boycott ban to apply to environmental groups.
- The recently released â€˜Re:think, Better Tax system Better Australiaâ€™ discussion paper which calls for a review of the Not for Profit sectorâ€™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 â€˜itâ€™s not a witch huntâ€™, it is hard to see this as anything but another part of theideological attack on the environment movement being waged by the Abbott government.
The Committee says â€œover 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.â€
[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 â€˜appropriateâ€™ 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:
â€œTo 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 timeâ€
Donâ€™t let them get away with a witch hunt
1/ 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 email@example.com
If you’re short of time, you can make an on-line submission here. This is set up for organisations, but you can modify it before sending.
If you’re writing a submission as an individual, you can edit this one (adding your details) and email to:
House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment
PO Box 6021
Canberra ACT 2600
Sign the petition: Protect Tax-deductible Donations for Environment Groups
This has been put together by a concerned individual.
2/ get your friends active
We need to show the government that any attack on the environment movement is an attack on democracy. If you are a member of any organisation, see if they will write a submission. We need a broad cross section of the community to get active on this issue.
3/ tell Alex youâ€™re watching him
Conservative MP Alex Hawke is the chair of the committee running the Inquiry. Please tell him you donâ€™t want a witch hunt against the green movement:
No witch hunt against the environment. Democracy needs strong voices, donâ€™t attack the defenders @AlexHawkeMP
4/ get vocal
Make it clear you don’t support attacks on environmental organisations.
Speak out with letters to the editor, facebook, twitter and other social media.
Please use the hashtag #FriendofFoE
[Image: Trev and Di from Seaspray in Victoria].
5/ stay in touch
6/ provide a donation to support our work.
7/ Find out about the government’s agenda.
[More recent articles at the top]
Limiting environmental philanthropy would leave our democracy poorer
By Greens Senator Larissa Waters. ABC Environment.
Silencing NFP Environmental Groups No Surprise
From ProBono News, by Senator Rachel Siewert.
Tax exempt status of Environment NGOs targeted.
By John Englart.
Government inquiry takes aim at green charities that â€˜get politicalâ€™
From The Conversation, by Peter Burdon.
Government MP steps up campaign against eco-charity tax concessions
From ABC 7.30 Program, journalist Conor Duffy.
Environmental groups face tax deductibility loss in Government push
ABC 7.30 Report, journalist Conor Duffy.
Brandis ties NGO funding to non-advocacy
The Abbott government is using money and law to close down criticism and gag the communityâ€™s most trusted voices.
From The Saturday paper, by Mike Seccombe.
Step by step, conservative forces move to silence NGOs’Â voices
From The Conversation, by Joan Staples.