Philanthropy Warning on Changes to Enviro Charities
9 June 2015 at 11:13 am
Donor peak body, Philanthropy Australia has warned in a submission to a Parliamentary inquiry that any new restrictions on environmental charities could impose more red tape on philanthropy.
The submission to the the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment said Philanthropy Australia is keen to ensure that the Register of Australian Environmental Organisations, administered by the Department of Environment, and associated regulatory framework is structured in a manner which encourages rather than discourages philanthropy.
The inquiry has received over 600 submissions from community and philanthropic organisations including Reichstein Foundation, Australian Communities Foundation/Sydney Community Foundation, and the McKinnon Foundation.
Environmental organisations have described the national inquiry into their ability to receive tax deductible donations as an attack on their efforts to protect the environment.
“Philanthropic funds, like Government funds, are scarce. Philanthropy Australia believes that it is important to ensure that philanthropy and the charities it supports have at their disposal a wide variety of practical approaches which they can adopt in order to protect and enhance our natural environment,” the submission said.
“These should include undertaking ‘on-ground environmental works’, the provision of information or education, carrying out research, and undertaking advocacy.
“If there were a narrowing of the definition of ‘environmental organisation’ under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997, including under Subdivision 30-E, or the introduction of new restrictions which inhibit the ability of environmental charities on the Register to undertake advocacy, this would increase the ‘red tape’ imposed on philanthropy."
Philanthropy Australia said narrowing the definition of ‘environmental organisation’ would introduce a new barrier to giving by reducing the number of environmental charities which its members can support, particularly private or public ancillary funds.
“If new restrictions were introduced which inhibit the ability of environmental organisations on the Register to undertake advocacy, they would introduce a new barrier to how giving can protect and enhance our natural environment.
“This would take away flexibility and choice from philanthropy and the charities it supports, and instead use legislation to specify in unreasonable and the prescriptive detail what philanthropy and the charities it supports can and can’t do."
Philanthropy Australia said linked with the importance of advocacy as a charitable purpose, is the growth of ‘systems change philanthropy’ around the world.
“Systems change philanthropy involves addressing the causes and not just the symptoms of social and environmental challenges. This can involve funding research, supporting evidence building and facilitating advocacy and lobbying of policy makers and political representatives.
Philanthropy Australia cites the example of a factory emitting pollutants into a river as a situation where a 'systems change philanthropy' approach involving advocacy would be beneficial.
“The recent 2015 BNP Paribas Individual Philanthropy Index1 found that ‘systems-change philanthropy’ was seen as the fourth most promising trend by philanthropists worldwide. But in order for Australia to benefit from this trend, philanthropy and the charities it supports need to be able to adopt different practical approaches to address social and environmental challenges.”
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment, chaired by Liberal MP Alex Hawke, announced in April that it would be scrutinising tax-deductible donations made to environmental groups and their Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status.
Hawke said the inquiry would officially look into the administration, transparency and effectiveness of the Register of Environmental Organisations in supporting practical action to improve the environment.
“Over 600 environmental groups are currently Deductible Gift Recipients. This allows them to access tax-deductible donations to fund important, practical work to improve the natural environment,” Hawke said.
“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.”
The Submissions can be accessed HERE