Public Rejects Environmental Tax Inquiry
29 September 2015 at 11:26 am
A Federal Government inquiry into the register of environmental organisations that could see those that participate in advocacy lose their tax-deductibility status does not have the support of the general public, according to new polling.
While hearings are ongoing in the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment inquiry, a survey commissioned by the Australia Institute found that 68 per cent of Australians support tax-deductible donations for organisations that conduct advocacy to change environmental policy.
A further 68 per cent of those surveyed also said they support tax-exempt status for organisations that participate in campaigning.
Only 27 per cent said environmental groups had too much influence in public debates, while 34 per cent said they had not enough influence.
By contrast, 58 per cent of the 1,408 people surveyed said they thought mining companies had too much influence.
“Most Australians support tax-deductible donations to environmental advocacy. BHP and Rio Tinto should take note,” Executive Director of The Australia Institute, Ben Oquist, said.
“Advocacy, whether on behalf vulnerable children, indigenous communities, veterans or the environment is an essential part of our democracy. This was a key part of a 2010 High Court decision on [Not for Profit] advocacy. Our report finds the Australian public support tax deductions for a broad range of activities beyond any narrow definition of on ground activities.”
The inquiry into the register of environmental organisations has attracted controversy since the day it was requested by Environment Minister Greg Hunt.
More than 680 submissions, the majority of them scathing against the Government, were made to the inquiry.
CEO of the Jane Goodall Institute Australia, Nancy Moloney, said in her submission that she was worried about the possible side effects of the inquiry.
“To achieve our goals and raise funds we run specific campaigns such as mobile phone recycling, palm oil awareness and Chimp Guardianship. We also directly raise funds from partners and individuals. We encourage our members and supporters to advocate for the protection of wildlife in Australia and all over the world,” Moloney said.
“We believe that environmental advocacy has benefited the protection of wildlife as well as human communities and made Australia a much better place over many decades.
“JGIA raises approximately $200,000 a year. Without the tax deduction the organisation would find it harder to raise money to fund our work.
“JGIA would be very concerned if the Committee proposes making the administration of the Register more complex, or limiting or changing our ability to maintain and administer tax deductibility.”
Chairman and Liberal MP, Alex Hawke, said in launching the inquiry that the public deserved to know if organisations receiving tax-free status were working in the best interest of the community.
“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. 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,” Hawke said.
A submission by the Public Law and Policy Research Unit at the University of Adelaide urged for the definition of environmental organisation not to be tightened.
“We also contend that activities for environmental organisations should not be limited to ‘on ground’ work,” the submission said.
“As a society we ought to strive for the broadest possible political debate, rather than attempting to narrow it. If that means that taxpayers subsidise perspectives with which they don’t necessarily agree, it is a small price to pay for a robust public sphere.”
Pro Bono Australia’s annual State of the Not for Profit Sector Survey will be released on 28 October and will also cover issues around advocacy.