Legitimate Environmental Concerns Should be Protected

In a more unenlightened time than the one we live in today people used to think there was a white man's burden. That was a phrase coined by Rudyard Kipling. There was a burden placed on countries that were rich and prosperous to tell poor, unenlightened, savage like people how to live their lives. 

We have gone away from that concept. We have learnt and realised that that was a prehistoric way of thinking about the world and we should let other countries, particularly those that are not as lucky and fortunate to have the wealth we do, to take care of their own lives and to take charge of themselves and not be subject to some imperial overlord.

We have departed from that concept but we have a new form of imperialism in our country today. It is not a white man's burden, although it is the case that most environmental lawyers and green activists I have met are white; it is a rich man's burden. Some in our population think they need to tell other areas of our country and other people who live in our country how to live their lives and what to do in their part of the country. I say it is a rich man's burden because we know that many of these green activist groups are very well funded. These organisations have a very detailed strategy to object to mining approvals and they are funded through donations.

Because these donations attract a tax deduction, we have very good data on who makes these donations. When you look at the last ATO statistics available for 2012-13, you can see that around $500 million of the gifts and donations that received tax deductible status came from people with taxable incomes of more than $250,000. From people who earn more than $250,000 year $500 million went to charitable organisations. That was a full 22 per cent, or nearly a quarter, of the total donations made in 2012-13. People who earn more than $250,000 a year are in the top one per cent of our population, so one per cent of our population provided nearly a quarter of the donations to these groups. It is even worse when you go up higher. People who earn more than $1 million a year account for less than 0.7 per cent of our population yet they contributed 10 per cent of the donations. The average amount claimed by that fortunate group who earn more than $1 million was $25,000.

I do not begrudge people funding whatever they want to. If you are lucky enough to have $1 million a year, good luck to you. If you want to fund Greenpeace or the Environmental Defenders Office of New South Wales, go for your life. If that is what makes your hair go back, I am all for it. Go for it. But I do not think that if you are on more than $1 million a year you should expect to get a tax deduction from other people, who most certainly are poorer people because 99 per cent of people are poorer than you, to pay for that luxury good. Funding green activism is a luxury good in this country. It is a luxury good we are fortunate enough to be able to afford because we have enough money to play with these kinds of things.

When people are allowed to do this and rich people take it upon themselves to tell the poor people of Central Queensland and the poor people of Western Queensland what is best for them, people's lives are affected. They are affected when that money goes towards funding a campaign that is definitively targeted at stopping job creation and mining projects, not about protecting the environment. These groups are not about environmental protection; they have a clear and defined strategy to stop coalmines. Indeed, last night on Lateline Tony Jones interviewed somebody from the New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office, the organisation that has taken the action against the Galilee coalmine in Central Queensland. They were asked if they were involved in developing the strategy document called Stopping the Australian Export Boom and they admitted they were. They were there in 2011 at a retreat in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, to develop a strategy to stop Australian coal exports. Good luck to them. I wish I could afford a retreat in the Blue Mountains more often. But if I did go there, I do not think that I would spend the time trying to stop coal exports; I would probably find something better to do. But that is what they wanted to do; they wanted to stop coal exports. They specifically state in that document that their first strategy is to fund legal action to frustrate and delay the development of coal projects.

The New South Wales EDO is also in a story today in The Australian where Executive Director, Jeff Smith, said his organisation did not use public money for the challenge but rather it used community funds and donations. The EDO was a member of the Register of Environmental Organisations, but being on that register means that donations to it are tax-deductible. So people making these donations, including those who are lucky enough to have more than $1 million a year in taxable income, get a tax deduction for making a donation. I reckon that might be classified as taxpayer funded. If you are getting a particular status, a particular special privilege—and not all organisations get that—to be able to accept tax-deductible donations, I reckon you might just have a little bit to do with the taxpayer in your organisations.

On The Australian website, below this article, someone called Jason made a comment and I will quote him because he summed it up brilliantly. He said:

It is a bit of a bloody technical argument, isn't it? They did not use taxpayer funds for this but by using other funds, they freed up taxpayer funds for other brands of mischief. Seriously, things like this can only happen in a country that has bucket loads more money than brains.

Certainly I think if we do have brains about this particular threat to our future prosperity and future job creation in this country, we should do something about it to put a stop to people in this country that want to abuse our legal process to stop the creation of jobs and stop the investment in new projects in our country.

Our legal system should be there to protect the legitimate interests of people that are harmed, to protect legitimate environmental concerns under our act. But, clearly, the application of this particular strategy that has been dreamed up by environmental groups here is being done in a coordinated way not to protect the environment, not try and save the ornamental snake or the Yakka skink in Central Queensland. It is precisely aimed at stopping coal. That is why they are doing it and that is an abuse of our legal process which should be stopped. I applaud the government for proposing to clamp down on this particular legal loophole that is being abused by environmental organisations in this country.

I also note that the government has established a House of Representatives inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations to look into whether that particular register is being abused. I certainly think from the analysis I have done, it is. I have spoken elsewhere in this chamber about the organisations on this register. There are around 600 on the register. I did a relatively intensive look at just over 100, 108, of these organisations and I found that more than 80 per cent of them participated in protest. Half of the organisations supported divestments in coal and other fossil fuels and around half were taking legal action. So around half of those 108 organisations that I sampled out of the 600, 40 or 50 odd, were taking legal action. They were using their donations to take legal action against developments that had been approved simply to disrupt and delay them. Around a shocking 12 per cent of those organisations were involved in unlawful activities of some kind—they had been arrested or convicted usually during protest activities.

Again, I do not see any reason why organisations that engage in unlawful acts should be receiving the benefit of tax-deductible status. I hope this inquiry that is ongoing in the House of Representatives will conclude that the requirements of the register can be tightened so that we can better focus tax-deductible status to those organisations doing practical environmental work, helping the environment, not running a political campaign to try and stop jobs being created in this country. I want to reiterate, if you do want to run a political campaign, if you do want to stop coal and that is your driving interest in life, go for your life; you are free to do that in our democracy. You are just not free to ask for government funding.

I certainly hope also that the inquiry may look at whether or not access to these deductions should be tightened for individuals that are lucky enough in our country to have taxable income of more than $1 million or more than $250,000. I think if those people want to get their kicks from stopping development in our nation then they should fund that themselves. They should not ask for the taxes that are paid by other ordinary working Australians that rely on these jobs being created to fund those flights of fancy for them. I applaud the government's efforts and I hope the Senate will seek to put jobs ahead of Greens and frogs.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.



get updates