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World’s Biggest Mining Company Sides with Enviro Groups in Advocacy Standoff

9 November 2017 at 12:55 pm
Wendy Williams
Environmental groups have welcomed an announcement by the world's biggest mining company that it will not support a push to strip environmental groups of their right to advocate.

Wendy Williams | 9 November 2017 at 12:55 pm


World’s Biggest Mining Company Sides with Enviro Groups in Advocacy Standoff
9 November 2017 at 12:55 pm

Environmental groups have welcomed an announcement by the world’s biggest mining company that it will not support a push to strip environmental groups of their right to advocate.

BHP has told a number of organisations it will not back the Minerals Council of Australia’s (MCA) bid to restrict environmental groups to using only 10 per cent of funding for advocacy.

The move comes amid reports the miner is also reviewing its membership of industry groups including the MCA.

Kelly O’Shanassy chief executive officer of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), one of the organisations who met with BHP, told Pro Bono News it was a positive step.

“It is good BHP has recognised that environmental advocacy is an important part of a well-functioning democracy,” O’Shanassy said.

“It is a shame this is not also recognised by the federal government and the Minerals Council of Australia, who are both still trying to silence conservation groups from advocating on behalf of our clean air, clean water and a safe climate.

“While this is a positive step from BHP, we note that the company is still a member of the Minerals Council. Given the council’s continuing attacks on advocacy and strong action to cut climate pollution, BHP should reconsider its membership.”

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) also raised concerns that “BHP’s millions for MCA speak louder than words”.

ACCR executive director Brynn O’Brien said BHP remained the MCA’s biggest funder.

“While this is the case, it should expect to be held to account by shareholders for using their money to bankroll the MCA’s advocacy efforts, including their obstructive and misleading public policy positions on climate change and energy, and their attacks on civil society,” O’Brien said.

“MCA has been a toxic drag on Australian public debate and democracy. They have played a leading role in this country’s last decade of climate policy failure.

“Proper scrutiny of corporate payments to coal lobbyists would advance both local and global progress on climate and energy policy. BHP shareholders have an opportunity to get this work underway at BHP’s AGM by voting in favour of ACCR’s resolution.”

The ACCR BHP shareholder resolution, which will be heard at BHP’s Australian AGM on 16 November, calls for the termination of paid membership of industry bodies like the MCA that “have demonstrated a pattern of advocacy on policy issues at odds with the company’s positions over the period 2012 to the present day”.

While the BHP has made moves to reduce its carbon emissions, MCA has doubled down on its support for coal and taken a hardline position against any form of credible action on climate change.

The MCA has also argued that environmental charities should be forced to commit 90 per cent of their resources to on-the-ground environmental remediation, education and research, leaving only 10 per cent for political advocacy.

In a submission made to the Treasury’s Tax Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities inquiry in August, 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 Australia’s sovereignty, by allowing foreign interests to exert political influence by covertly funding domestic environmental groups.”

The move has been strongly opposed by the charity sector.

The Australia Institute subsequently released a discussion paper, 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.”

Greenpeace program director, Dominique Rowe told Pro Bono News it was a “fantastic thing” that BHP was moving to distance itself “not only from MCA’s stance on climate change and fossil fuels but also from their attacks on charities and environmental organisations”.

“What the MCA are trying to do is turn charities into a cleanup crew for the fossil fuel industry,” Rowe said.

“Fossil fuel companies currently benefit from generous government subsidies and dodge paying billions of dollars in tax, but the MCA want to force charities to spend more than half their time cleaning up damage caused by these companies rather than trying to prevent the destruction in the first place.”

Rowe confirmed Greenpeace had met with BHP to discuss their involvement in MCA and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility’s $5 billion loan fund.

She said the BHP decision was sending a clear message to MCA.

“This decision by BHP to distance themselves from the MCA’s attacks comes closely after their September public statements outlining their differences on climate change – and shows how out of touch the MCA are with their own members, the rest of the country, and the world,” she said.

“The MCA is being given the very clear message that their climate change denial and environmental vandalism will not be tolerated any more.”

She said it was important that charities retained their right to advocate.

“Not for profits such as Greenpeace have a long history of successful advocacy for people and our planet, and of tackling the root causes of environmental destruction rather than just treating the symptoms,” Rowe said.

“Stripping charities of that ability is a calculated effort by the MCA to turn not for profits into a clean up crew for the polluting fossil fuel companies the MCA represents.”

The MCA declined to comment.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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