Australian news, and some related international items

Australian government cracking down on environmental activists

Charity crackdown would be a ‘torpedo’ to environmental groups, Bob Brown says, ABC, 7.30 , By Liz Hobday and Gus Goswell , 31 August 17, The Federal Government has denied it is trying to silence environmental activists, as prominent voices in the environment and charities sectors speak out against a series of regulatory changes.

Key points:

  • Federal government is proposing changes to regulations dealing with charities
  • Some environmental groups could face the loss of their tax-deductible charity status
  • Charities concerned about appointment of coal seam gas company boss
  • Government will not re-appoint charities commissioner

As Treasury canvasses a proposal to limit tax concessions for green groups, there have been changes at the top of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), including the appointment of Peter Hogan, chairman of coal seam gas company, Carbon Energy, to the regulator’s advisory board.

That has raised the ire of environment groups, many of which are registered charities.

“We’ve got the Turnbull Government arranging to put the fox in charge of the chicken coop,” former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown told 7.30……..

former ACNC advisory board member, and now head of the Community Council for Australia, David Crosbie says the sector is under attack.

“It feels, right now, there is a campaign to try and restrict the voice of charities,” he told 7.30.

“And there are a number of elements to that.”

Tax deductibility status at risk

Among the changes is a push to make environmental groups curb their activism or risk losing their charity taxation status.

That status means donors to these groups can claim their donations as tax deductions.

A recent Treasury paper canvassed a Parliamentary committee proposal, that environmental groups should spend at least a quarter, and up to half, of their money on non-activist work, such as revegetation, or else lose their tax deductible status.

The Federal Environment Department has already written to some green groups, demanding a detailed breakdown of their spending.

The Treasury paper also sought views on fresh sanctions on environmental groups if they break the law.

“It’s an attempt to end environmental activism in Australia,” Bob Brown said.

“[It’s] a direct torpedo into the environment movement.”

The activist group Lock The Gate, which has campaigned against coal and gas projects across Australia, is one of the environment groups that qualifies as a charity.

“We rely on donations from people around Australia who support our work, which is essentially about supporting people who are experiencing the impacts of coal and gas mining,” Lock The Gate’s NSW coordinator Georgina Woods told 7.30.

“We believe in the principle that those donations people are making is for the public good.

“We are acting in the public interest.”

She also denies any allegations that Lock the Gate has engaged in unlawful activities.

“Lock the Gate Alliance, we don’t break the law,” she said.

“Obviously there are communities that feel powerless when the mining industry comes to town backed by the government.

“And the law really is not sufficient to protect people’s health and protect the environment.”

Changes at the regulator

Under the leadership of Charities Commissioner Susan Pascoe, the ACNC has deregistered 19,000 charities — some dodgy, many merely dormant — since it was established in 2012.

“Ours is not to ask the charities to self censor or to curtail their advocacy, its more to make it clear to them the ways in which they can legitimately advocate and not put their charitable purpose or their reputation at risk,” she told 7.30.

She’s already deregistered dozens of charities for various reasons, including not having their financial records in order.

“There are 47 that we have withdrawn after we’ve done investigations into their conduct and we’ve found they have made serious breaches of the Government’s standards, and under the requirements of the Act, in which case we revoke their charitable status.”

Commissioner Pascoe has won a public service award for her work, as well as the widespread support of the charities sector.

But Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, who has had oversight of the commission since January, has declined to renew the commissioner’s five-year contract………

World Vision’s Tim Costello said Susan Pascoe has been a great commissioner.

“Her not being asked to be reappointed was a great shock to us,” he said.

The leaders of more than 100 charities have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, demanding Ms Pascoe’s contract be extended…..


September 1, 2017 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics

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