Will new PM stop attacks on environmental groups?
Environmentalists rally at Parliament House before hearings into tax-deductibility status of environment groups
Australian environmentalists have been mobilising in an effort to stop environmentally damaging projects, particularly coal mining. The Abbott government wanted to restrict the influence of the environment movement by using legislation. A recent example was their attempt to stop environmentalists mounting legal challenges to projects. This followed the successful challenge to the Carmichael coalmine by Mackay Conservation Group (including former CAM member Ellen Roberts). However, the legislation to restrict environmentalists’ legal challenges has not passed the Senate, and news reports suggest that the Turnbull government may no longer pursue this.
The Abbott government also wants to limit groups’ ability to raise funds, by limiting eligibility for tax-deductible donations. Currently a government inquiry is being held into what activities are being funded by these donations. The apparent intention was to allow tax-deductibility only for “on-ground environmental works”, like tree-planting and remove the tax-deductibility status from environmental groups involved in advocacy.
Interestingly, the High Court has already ruled that political advocacy is a legitimate activity for charities that have tax-deductible status.
The Victorian government has spoken in favour of environmental groups engaging in advocacy. However, some representatives of the mining industry have used the hearings to accuse groups of illegal activity. For example, at one hearing, a mining industry representative claimed that environmentalists had set a trap to kill a local drover. These accusations have been made under cover of parliamentary privilege, which protects submissions and witnesses from libel lawsuits. It is not surprising that some have labelled this inquiry a witch hunt.