Environmental Charities Engaged in Bitter Stand-Off with Mining Lobby Over Advocacy
Monday, 4th September 2017 at 4:40 pm
Environmental charities and the mining lobby are engaged in a bitter stand-off over political advocacy, with the mining sector’s attempt to curtail environmental advocacy undermined by a new report accusing foreign mining companies of lobbying against Australian interests.
The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has made a submission to the Treasury’s Tax Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities inquiry, in which it recommended limiting environmental charities from using more than 10 per cent of their expenditure on advocacy.
In its submission, MCA outlined the importance of ensuring all organisations engaged in political advocacy were subject to the same rules of transparency.
“While political parties are obliged to disclose the source of donations greater than $13,200, environmental groups can spend millions of dollars every year without having to disclose the identities or locations of their donors,” the submission said.
“This lack of transparency constitutes a potential threat to Austalia’s [sic] sovereignty, by allowing foreign interests to exert political influence by covertly funding domestic environmental groups.”
This comes as the Australia Institute released a discussion paper last Friday, which examined the mining industry’s own tax-deductible advocacy and found it to be controlled by foreign interests.
“The mining industry is 86 per cent foreign owned and has spent over $541 million in the last 10 years on lobbying Australian governments through its peak lobby groups, which are dominated by foreign interests,” the paper said.
“The MCA lobbies to maintain subsidies and tax concessions for mining companies which costs Australian taxpayers billions every year.”
The Australia Institute found that the decision-making bodies of industry lobby groups were dominated by representatives from foreign owned companies, which were having an undue effect on government policy.
“By influencing Australian government decision-making through spending hundreds of millions of dollars on political donations and lobbying, foreign mining companies are attempting to have their corporate interests prioritised over the interests of Australian communities, environments and industries. This level of influence can distort sound economic policy making,” the paper said.
But a spokesperson from MCA told Pro Bono News the paper contained erroneous information, and overlooked the mining industry’s significant contribution to Australia.
“The Australia Institute makes several inaccurate claims about the Australian mining industry,” the spokesperson said.
“Far from being subsidised, the Australian minerals industry paid $177 billion in company tax and royalties alone over the decade to 2015-16.
“Through these tax collections, the Australian mining industry makes a significant contribution to the ability of governments to fund public services ranging from education and healthcare to transport and social services.”
Paul Sinclair, the campaign director at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), told Pro Bono News the Australia Institute report revealed the damaging effect of the mining lobby’s political advocacy.
“Donors don’t give money to political parties for no reason, many of them expect a policy outcome,” Sinclair said.
“The Australia Institute report shows there is a clear correlation between donations being made by mining companies and policy outcomes like destroying the price on pollution that was pushing down Australia’s pollution levels.”
He said the mining lobby’s push to limit the advocacy activities of environmental groups would have a disastrous effect on these organisations.
“If the ACF was banned from using more than 10 per cent of our expenditure on advocacy, we would cease to be the organisation that Australians have supported for over 50 years,” Sinclair said.
“The mining industry have no place in what we do or don’t do. It’s quite an outrageous set of demands that the MCA have put forward. They’re running a two-track strategy.
“On one hand they’re seeking to weaken and damage organisations that are trying to reduce the amount of pollution that comes from things like coal, and on the other hand they’re trying to maintain their influence over the democratic system through a dodgy political donations regime that is not transparent.”
MCA’s inquiry submission also criticised the ACF for taking part in partisan political campaigning, which is not allowed for charities engaging in advocacy.
“[The ACF] hired a truck to drive through minister Josh Frydenberg’s electorate during the 2016 election campaign, which displayed a banner criticising the minister for refusing to sign the ACF’s environment pledge,” the submission said.
But Sinclair rubbished these suggestions and said the ACF did not “engage in partisan political activity”.
“Sadly for the MCA they are not the legal judge in these matters. The ACF is held to account through Australia’s legal processes and we’re tested about whether we’re breaking the law or not and we work hard to ensure we work within the law,” he said.
“Our aim is to give our supporters the opportunity to make good decisions about what they do with their vote. So we asked all candidates in the seat of Kooyong whether they supported clean energy, cutting pollution and protecting our rivers, forests and wildlife.
“All candidates besides minister Frydenberg signed our pledge. So we drove a truck around, showing who had signed the pledge and who hadn’t. It was completely minister Frydenberg’s decision whether he wanted to sign the pledge or not.”
He added that it was vital organisations like the ACF were able to advocate on behalf of important public causes.
“The ACF is passionate about the need for Australia to reinvigorate our democracy and have strong organisations that are able to advocate on things like human rights or the environment is absolutely fundamental to the health of our democracy,” he said.
“This way, everyday Australians can have confidence in the institutions that govern our lives, and know they’re governing for the interests of all Australians and not just for the commercial interests of big polluters.”
Pro Bono Australia is currently conducting a survey to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing not-for-profit organisations that contribute to advocacy and public policy debate. Not for profits wishing to complete the Civil Voices survey can take part here.