Wednesday, 17 June 2015


The Standing Committee on the Environment in the Australian House of Representatives (which is dominated by Coalition MPs) recently established an inquiry into the tax deductible status of environmental organisations.

This is being widely seen as an attempt by the Federal Coalition Government to limit the ability of conservation groups ( particularly the larger ones such as Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the Wilderness Society and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW) to campaign against developments which threaten the health of the natural environment.

The inquiry was set up in response to lobbying from the mining industry and various mining lobby groups such as the Minerals Council.  These groups  are concerned about the effective campaigns environment groups are running against unsustainable developments such as the Galilee Basin coal proposals, the Abbot Point development adjacent to the Barrier Reef and coal seam gas mining in NSW and elsewhere. These mining interests and various Coalition MPs claim that environment groups should only have tax deductible status if they are engaging in on-the-ground environmental activities such as tree planting and bush regeneration. 

There are almost 600 environmental organisations on the Register of Environmental Organisations under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.

Apparently the inquiry has been deluged with submissions supporting the retention of the tax deductible status of environmental organisations.

 The Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition's submission to this inquiry is copied below.

Submission to the
Inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations
Under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997

The Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition Inc  (CVCC) believes that the environment groups who are deductible gift recipients (DGRs) should continue to have this status because of the valuable work they perform in protecting the natural environment whether it be through land-care type activities or lobbying  (political or otherwise) or education or a combination of these.

1. Introduction
The CVCC is a community group based in Grafton in the Clarence Valley in the NSW Northern Rivers.  It was formed in 1988 and has been involved with environmental issues – both locally and further afield – since that time.  Like many other small environment groups it does not have tax-deductible status and obtains funding for its activities through membership subscriptions and donations.  Much of its work is done by members volunteering their time and expertise.

2. Environment Groups with DGR Status
However, many environment groups, particularly the larger ones, do have tax-deductibility which assists them to fund their operations in education and lobbying activities as well as hands-on landcare-style activities.  These funds are obviously used for a variety of purposes such as employing staff or commissioning reports, purchasing equipment and stationery and reimbursing travel expenses.

3. Importance of Environmental Protection
These DGR  environmental groups perform a very valuable community service – a service of protecting  the natural environment.  Maintaining a healthy natural environment is vital to humanity as well as to all other species.  

As Kevin Evans, National Parks Association of NSW Executive Officer, pointed out in March this year:  “Healthy ecosystems provide billions of dollars of goods and services essential for the wellbeing of local communities and businesses.  A safe, healthy and sustainable future can only be achieved if we conserve the natural places and ecosystems that provide us with clean air and water and other benefits.”

There are many threats to the maintenance of healthy ecosystems.  These include rising carbon pollution, extensive land clearing, illegal and unsustainable logging, overfishing, water pollution, inappropriate and environmentally damaging development and issues associated with the expansion of coal seam gas and coal mining.  Many of these threats to the natural environment also directly threaten human health or have negative impacts on local communities.

4. Governments and Environmental Protection
If our community could rely on governments and their agencies and legislation to protect them and the natural ecosystems from environmental threats, there would be no need for environment groups such as the CVCC and those who have DGR status to engage in political activities including lobbying of politicians, issuing media releases, writing letters to the media and so on.

Political activity is necessary to raise awareness and to ensure that the needs of the natural environment (which obviously does not have a voice) are placed in the public domain.  It is quite unreasonable to expect that those concerned with environmental protection should button their lips and just meekly do tree-planting and other on-ground activities and ignore threats which will ultimately abrogate their tree-planting efforts.

5. Environment Groups Aid Transparency
Another important function of environment groups is their role in bringing a level of transparency into the public domain about the impacts of major developments that are promoted by industry and often supported by governments which do not always acknowledge (or even recognise) the deleterious impacts these proposed developments may have on the environment or on local communities. The larger environment groups - those with DGR status - obviously have a greater capacity for doing this. Sadly, governments do not always welcome transparency – but, in a democracy, transparency is vital to ensure that government is working in the community interest.

6. The Right to Engage in Political Activity
Any change to the tax deductibility status of DGR environment groups because of their engagement in political activity would go against the High Court decision Aid/Watch incorporate v Commissioner of Taxation 2010.  This case confirmed the right of DGR listed groups to engage in political debate and advocacy.

The  CVCC hopes that this Inquiry will recognise that environment groups perform an invaluable service for the community – and future generations – and acknowledge that those groups which have DGR status should continue to have that status.