Minerals Council ‘Backflips’ on Environmental Advocacy Position
28 November 2017 at 5:16 pm
The Minerals Council of Australia have said in a letter they do not support legislation which curtails the advocacy of environmental charities, but critics say this is a “backflip” on previous calls to silence the sector.
In August this year, the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) made a submission to the Treasury’s Tax Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities inquiry, which said the government “should consider adopting” legislation limiting environmental charities from using more than 10 per cent of their expenditure on advocacy.
This led BHP to come out and state earlier this month it would not back the MCA’s bid to restrict environmental groups to a 10 per cent advocacy limit.
But now in a letter to Transparency International Australia, the MCA said they did not support a proposal to limit the advocacy efforts of environmental charities.
“The MCA does not support the government’s proposal to require environmental deductible gift recipients to commit no less than 25 per cent and up to 50 per cent of their annual expenditure to environmental remediation,” the letter said.
“The MCA has not proposed amending or expanding the existing definition of political activity for charities and has advanced the Canadian approach as one possible way of improving compliance to the Australian Charities Act.
“Nothing in the MCA’s proposals would stop, or in any way restrict, charities from campaigning on public policy issues consistent with the existing provisions of the act.”
However research director at The Australia Institute, Rod Campbell, told Pro Bono News this was a clear backflip from the MCA to appease the discontent expressed by their member organisations like BHP.
“What’s happened with this backflip, is finally some of their other members have started to see that their interests aren’t being furthered by ideological fights with civil society over coal,” Campbell said.
“In particular, you see the big, image conscious public companies like Rio Tinto and BHP starting to have their shareholders and major environmental groups saying ‘what the hell are you doing with these troglodyte coal lobbyists? Leave them or pull them into line’.
“What I think is happening is the Minerals Council and the government’s obsession with coal is starting to be pulled back into line, by the more reasonable non-coal companies who are the [MCA’s] members. It’s about time frankly.”
Campbell said by recommending advocacy limitations as worth considering, but also stating it would not support it, the MCA was trying to “walk both sides of the street”.
“They’re absolutely trying to have it both ways. When they make submissions ‘recommending considerations’ of the Canadian model, but then say they recommended it but don’t support it, that’s just too cute by half,” he said.
“It’s trying to walk both sides of the street by saying they support hardliners in limiting environmental advocacy or at least recommending a consideration of it, but they’re actually soft teddy bears themselves and we would never do such a thing.”
Campbell added that this backflip will “hopefully kill off any chance” of advocacy limits being introduced, which he said would severely affect the ability for environmental charities to function.
“It would have a huge effect. The function of the environment sector in Australia is to advocate for better environmental policies and for better environmental outcomes across a range of topics,” he said.
“The idea that you can only be a ‘real environmental group’ if you’re planting trees is just ludicrous and completely interprets the role of the environmental sector.”
MCA however, have denied they have changed their position on environmental advocacy. Their interim CEO David Byers said The Australia Institute’s claims were wrong.
“We have not supported the proposal to require environmental deductible gift recipients to commit no less than 25 per cent and up to 50 per cent of their expenditure to environmental remediation. Instead we have advanced alternative proposals to ensure DGRs and registered charities comply with existing law on campaigning for or against political parties or candidates,” Byers said.
“Nothing in the MCA’s proposals would prevent charities or environmental deductible gift recipients from advocating on policy issues.
“Rather, the MCA’s position is that charities should comply with the Charities Act’s existing provisions requiring them not to promote or oppose political parties and not to engage in unlawful activities.”
Campbell added that while MCA had backed down from trying to curtail environmental advocacy, some state-based mining lobby groups continued to pose a threat.
“It’s interesting to note that while the MCA has backed down, the NSW Minerals Council – the poor little brother of MCA – have shown no such signs of backing down,” he said.
“Their members are largely the same, and it’s this group – along with the Queensland Resource Council (QRC) – that I would argue are more influential in what mines go ahead and what don’t [since it’s] state governments which approve or reject new mining projects.
“So I think it’s concerning that the QRC, along with the NSW Minerals Council, seem to be given largely a free pass to troll civil society while the MCA is finally forced to clean up its act.”