Human rights lawyers have raised concerns that a parliamentary committee has sought to silence organisations that advocate to protect the environment.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said that the House of Representatives Environment Committee’s findings unfairly attack the legitimacy and importance of advocacy by environmental groups.
The Committee delivered its report into the Register of Environmental Organisations last week.
The Committee recommended that environmental groups only receive deductible gift recipient status (DGR status) if their activities comprise of at least 25% “remediation work”, such as land management or wildlife rehabilitation.
The HRLC said that this requirement would effectively remove vital tax concessions from groups legitimately focused solely on advocacy, education, research or legal cases.
“Tax concessions such as allowing deductible gifts from private donors can make a big difference to the financial viability of not-for-profit organisations. Attacking the tax status of environmental advocacy organisations is clearly going to have a huge financial impact,” said Ms Howie.
“Advocacy by environmental organisations helps to prevent environmental harm. It might be uncomfortable and inconvenient for governments, but it is an important contribution to Australia’s democratic system and is clearly legitimate under Australian charity and tax law,” said Ms Howie. “If implemented, the committee’s recommendations would not only create unnecessary administrative burdens, but would penalise organisations that hold governments to account for their damage to the health of the environment.”
The Committee also recommended that the Australian Tax Office impose sanctions on organisations that support, promote or endorse illegal or unlawful activities such as blocking access, trespass, destruction of property and acts of civil disobedience. The HRLC said the sanctions were unnecessary as many of those activities are already regulated by state-based laws, and it was important not to unduly stifle legitimate, peaceful protest.
“It’s not appropriate to use tax laws to deter peaceful assembly and protest,” said Ms Howie. “As government MP Jason Wood said in his separate report, history has shown that it was due to environmentalists’ activities, including blockades, that major environmental disasters have been prevented, such as the damming of the Franklin River. We must continue to protect the ability of people to join together and speak up about issues they care deeply about.”
For more information contact Emily Howie, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0421 370 997.