Govt Threat to NFP Advocacy Resurfaces
17 November 2016 at 4:06 pm
Any move by the federal coalition to revisit the tax deductibility of charities and exclude advocacy groups would face a strong backlash from the not-for-profit sector, according to the community peak body Community Council for Australia (CCA).
CCA CEO David Crosbie said the coalition’s federal executive had already adopted a policy of not allowing tax deductibility for environmental groups.
However he said: “If there is a renewed push to exclude advocacy based charity groups from obtaining or maintaining charitable status and tax deductibility, the coalition will pay a high political price.”
His comments come as the Australian Greens warned that the Turnbull government’s proposed legislative “witch-hunt” against environmental groups was reportedly being expanded to include health, ethnic, housing, and other not-for-profit groups.
“There will certainly be a strong charity sector backlash,” Crosbie told Pro Bono Australia News.
“I am not sure anyone would endorse the hypocrisy of a government claiming to be champions of free speech while seeking to restrict or close down charities that advocate for their communities and their purpose.
“It is interesting to note the recent Essential Polling on this issue shows the Australian public overwhelmingly supports environmental groups and charities being able to advocate on issues of concern.
“I would have thought the lessons on this issue have been well and truly understood given the history of Australian governments that have tried to silence or restrict the voices of civil society,” he said.
Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens deputy leader and spokesperson on the environment said: “Stripping environment and civil society groups of charity status for raising legitimate criticism is a dangerous attempt to silence dissent and a threat to democracy.
“By pretending that the only real environmentalism is planting trees or cleaning up litter, the government allows its big polluter mates to continue their destruction unchallenged.
“Local, on-the-ground efforts are vital, but we cannot simply ignore systemic issues. The environment movement’s job is not just to clean up after destruction — it’s to help the community raise its voice to stop destruction in the first place.
“Without voices for the environment in the courts and without legitimate peaceful protest, we would have sand mining on Fraser Island and the Great Barrier Reef would be pocked with oil rigs.”
In June 2016 the Australian Greens Party launched its environment policy which included a new independent watchdog and a commitment to stop any future government attacks on tax deductibility for environmental groups.
The Greens move came 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.