The days of activist groups masquerading as environmental organisations in order to claim tax benefits may be numbered, with the Federal Government seeking feedback on key aspects of the Register of Environmental Organisations.
As we’ve previously reported (here, here, and here), the Register was the subject of a Senate inquiry in 2015 following concerns that activist groups with no tangible links to on the ground environmental work were using their inclusion on the Register to claim Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status that they’re not entitled to.
Of course, any examination of the somewhat opaque financial arrangements of anti-fossil fuel activists is bound to raise the hackles of those under scrutiny, and so it was that a number of enviro-activists rushed to claim a conspiracy to ‘silence’ them, when in fact the Committee was looking to bolster the integrity of the Register – ensuring that genuine environmental groups, who do actual environmental work as opposed to protesting, continue to receive a benefit.
The Senate Committee made a number of recommendations including governance changes for the Register, including a requirement that value of each environmental deductible gift recipient’s annual expenditure on environmental remediation work be no less than 25 per cent of the organisation’s annual expenditure.
This might be a problem for many enviro-activists whose only experience with a shovel would be walking past one in their local hardware store.
But the recommendation that went largely unreported at the time, and which goes to the heart of the integrity of the Register is this one:
“The Committee recommends that administrative sanctions be introduced for environmental deductible gift recipients that encourage, support, promote, or endorse illegal or unlawful activity undertaken by employees, members, or volunteers of the organisation or by others without formal connections to the organisation.”
By definition alone that would invalidate a number of the more well-known activist groups who take great delight in chaining themselves to gates, equipment and sundry infrastructure, or who deliberately interfere with legitimate, approved projects.
Now, a new consultation paper has been released, seeking views on a number of measures which the Government says are designed to:
“…strengthen the DGR governance arrangements, reduce administrative complexity and ensure that an organisation’s eligibility for DGR status is up to date.”
The discussion paper doesn’t pull any punches in describing some of the concerns that led to the initial review:
“There are also concerns that some charities and DGRs undertake advocacy activity that may be out of step with the expectations of the broader community, particularly by environmental DGRs which must have a principal purpose of protecting the environment.”
It would be difficult for organisations to claim that blocking roads, footpaths and office entrances, interfering with machinery and trespassing on private property could be regarded as “providing a public benefit”.
The discussion paper is open for comment until 14 July.
Stand by for a flood of impassioned pleas explaining why it should be OK to claim a tax benefit for waving a sign while chained to a fence – but don’t forget that for every group of professional protesters, there are genuine, hardworking volunteer groups undertaking genuine environmental works, and that’s who the Register is meant to benefit.