Growing calls for activists to lose special status

February 19th, 2015

There are growing calls for activist groups who disrupt legitimate and approved resources projects to be stripped of charity status, with claims that the intent and actions of groups like Lock the Gate and the Sunrise Project mean they don’t qualify for the ability to receive tax deductible donations.

As this story from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reports, the granting of charitable status also entitles the groups to GST concessions, income tax exemption and fringe benefit tax rebates.

Former Federal Minister Gary Johns, who authored a book about charitable issues, told the ABC that:

“We have free speech in this country, but what we shouldn’t have is subsidised free speech”

“And I think they should not be charities, they shouldn’t have that status, and be controversial, because they’re using taxpayers’ money.”

In response, Lock the Gate’s national co-ordinator, Phil Laird, turned up the indignation meter to 10, claiming that his group was being bullied.

He told the ABC that he thinks Lock the Gate operates within the definition of a charity, which is to ‘do no harm’.

Just how supporting, promoting and defending protesters who illegally occupy mining and resources sites, locking onto machinery and gates, fits that definition is yet to be seen.

The ABC report also said:

“Mr Laird was unable to disclose how much Lock The Gate received in donations in the last year and if it received donations from overseas groups.”

Phil, we can help you out on both of those points:

  • For the 2012/13 financial year, Lock the Gate took over $230,000 in donations. We don’t have the figures yet for 2013/14, because, like last year, Lock the Gate has failed to meet the reporting deadline set by the charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission.
  • Yes, Lock the Gate does receive international donations, including more than $400,000 from The Tides Foundation, a US-based charitable organisation which describes its mission as:

“Tides actively promotes change toward a healthy society, one which is founded on principles of social justice, broadly    shared economic opportunity, a robust democratic process, and sustainable environmental practices. Tides believes healthy societies rely fundamentally on respect for human rights, the vitality of communities, and a celebration of diversity.”

The Tides Foundation is at the forefront of what has become known as donor-advised giving – a practice where they, in effect, makes grants of other funds money, making it difficult to see where the funding originated from.

You can read more about this practice, and the beneficiaries of the Tides Foundation in this piece from Activist Facts, and in this feature article from the Alberta Oil Magazine.

So, there are a couple of questions for Lock the Gate:

  1. As an organisation that constantly calls for transparency and openness from the resources industry, why have you failed, for the second year in a row, to lodge your Annual Information Statement with the key regulator for charities?
  2. For what purpose are you accepting grants from a US-based foundation, and have you made inquiries as to the source of those funds?

We look forward to the responses.

 

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