Greens To Support Environmental Advocacy
8 June 2016 at 12:08 pm
The Australian Greens Party has launched its environment policy announcing a $2.6 billion plan to include a new independent watchdog and a commitment to stop any future government attacks on tax deductibility for environmental groups.
The Greens plan, launched Tuesday, included the establishment of a new National Environment Protection Authority (NEPA), with $130 million in annual funding “to enforce environmental rules, advise on projects requiring federal approval, improve monitoring and enforcement, conduct inquiries and produce national environmental accounts”.
It’s the first policy indication that the Greens will campaign to ensure community organisations have the right to advocate to protect their local areas and to protect the tax-deductibility of donations (DGR status) to environment groups.
The policy comes just one month after the federal government’s controversial inquiry into the tax status of environmental organisations recommended limiting the amount of advocacy work organisations can do, along with the introduction of sanctions and fines for engaging in any “illegal” activities.
The report recommended that administrative sanctions be introduced for environmental deductible gift recipients (DGR) that “encourage, support, promote, or endorse illegal or unlawful activity undertaken by employees, members, or volunteers of the organisation or by others without formal connections to the organisation”. It recommended fines for those found in breach of the legislation.
The report also recommended limiting the amount of time environmental groups can carry out advocacy work and included an arbitrary requirement to spend a quarter of donor funds on “environmental remediation” work.
The inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee into the register of environmental organisations has attracted controversy since it was requested by federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt in 2015. There were more than 680 submissions made to the inquiry, the majority of them objecting to the government’s plans.
Australian Greens deputy leader and environment spokesperson, Queensland Senator Larissa Waters, said the Greens would establish a new Environment Act.
“We will also protect the voices that speak for nature, with ‘open standing’ to challenge decisions in court,” Senator Waters said.
“We would stop the attacks on tax deductibility for environment groups by ensuring the ‘right to advocate’ for community organisations and much greater access to reliable environmental information.”
“Organisations are currently ‘gagged’ by conditions in federal funding agreements,” the Greens policy said.
“Greater opportunities for genuine community consultation on major projects and reasons [to be] published for all major regulatory decisions under the new Environment Act.”
At the time the parliamentary report was released, the CEOs of WWF, The Australian Conservation Society, The Wilderness Society, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Friends of the Earth and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW issued a statement saying: “The report contains a number of deeply flawed and dangerous recommendations, including an arbitrary requirement to spend a quarter of donor funds on ‘environmental remediation’ and a draconian attempt to clamp down on the type of work organisations conduct.
“This flawed inquiry, initiated by the Abbott government and driven by a small handful of conservative MPs with the support of the mining industry, failed to uncover any evidence to justify removing the charitable status of any environment group.
“We welcome the dissenting statements made by Liberal MP and committee member Jason Wood, raising significant concerns about the two most dangerous recommendations.”
Greens leader, Senator Richard Di Natale said Australia needed an independent statutory National Environment Protection Authority, which enforced the country’s environmental laws, free from the influence of politicians and the big business lobby.
“We already have independent expert bodies, like the Productivity Commission, to advise on economic matters. We need to extend this principle to the environment that sustains our economy,” Senator Di Natale said.