Charity Defends DGR Status as a Champion for Environment and Democracy
Monday, 17th July 2017 at 5:13 pm
An environmental organisation has defended itself against a call from a major NSW mining lobby to see the charity stripped of its Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status.
A submission made on Thursday by NSW Minerals Council on the government’s paper to reform DGR Status claimed environmental organisations such as Greenpeace and Lock the Gate Alliance were primarily engaged in “political activities” and should not receive the tax status reserved for charitable organisations.
A spokesperson for NSW Minerals Council told Pro Bono News groups like Lock the Gate and Greenpeace were “not environmental organisations but rather professional activist groups whose objective is to disrupt and hamper the resources sector in NSW”.
“The DGR status of these groups and groups like them should be rescinded, or regulations amended to make them ineligible for Deductible Gift Recipient status,” the spokesperson said.
“They receive the same special tax treatment as groups like the Salvos and Mission Australia, where donations made to them are tax deductible.”
The NSW Minerals Council called for an overhaul of the current DGR system and for environmental groups to commit up to 50 per cent of their annual expenditure from their public fund to environmental remediation to qualify for DGR status.
“NSW Minerals Council believes that while advocacy activities are fine for environmental charities to be involved in, these activities should be conducted within the bounds of the law and that at least 50 per cent of an organisation’s annual expenditure should be dedicated to actual on-ground environmental works,” they said.
“We believe that groups like Lock the Gate and Greenpeace do not meet this criteria and are not environmental charities, but rather professional anti-mining activists.”
Despite both Lock the Gate Alliance and Greenpeace being registered as charities under the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission, the NSW Minerals Council said reform was necessary to ensure “tax deductible donations should be used for the purpose intended and expected by the community by environmental charities listed on the Australian Charities Register.”
The council claimed the activities of these organisations failed to comply with state and federal law and the charities were directly involved in political activism.
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods told Pro Bono News the organisation refuted the claim that the organisation engaged in any illegal activity.
She said Lock the Gate played a vital role in standing up for public interest against a strong “self-interested” mining industry.
“The reason we are compelled to undertake advocacy is that it is an unfortunate reality in Australia that decisions are not always made objectively, they come under the influence of the mining industry,” Woods said.
“That is what our organisation is set up for, to protect communities and the environment from the impact of mining.”
Woods said Lock the Gate played an important role in a “robust democracy” by balancing public discourse about mining and the environment and offering an alternative view.
“There is an imbalance between the public interest and the overwhelming political might of the mining industry,” she said.
Woods said supporters of Lock the Gate were aware part of their donations were going towards advocacy efforts.
“The reason why DGR exists is on understanding that the public discourse is nourished and expanded by the ability of not-for-profit organisations to engage in discourse,” she said.
“That is what we are there for, we are there to advocate for public interest matters and if we are diminished than the matters we advocate for in the public interest lose their champions.”
Woods said Lock the Gate would be making a submission on the government’s DGR discussion paper by mid-August.
It comes as Baptist Care Australia called on the government to “reject” any reforms that would undermine a charity’s right to advocate on behalf of the communities they serve.
Baptist Care Australia executive director Marcia Balzer said proposals to regulate how charities “raise their voices for change in a democratic society should be rejected out of hand.”
“Baptist Care Australia is very concerned about the government trying to restrict how charities advocate for the causes their donors support,” Balzer said.
“If you’re trying to build a better Australia, you need to be able to address the root cause of a problem, as well as deal with the results of that problem. That takes advocacy – in all its forms – and it’s an absolutely essential part of a charity’s work.”
Balzer said while she welcomed proposed reform that would streamline the administration of the tax deductible donation system, further regulation was “unnecessary”.
“While no doubt there’s always room for improvement, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) is fulfilling its regulatory role very well, ensuring that charities are transparent and accountable to the community,” Balzer said.
“The Australian Taxation Office and the ACNC already have the powers they need to de-register and otherwise regulate charities that don’t meet their obligations.”