Industry calls for 'no tax breaks' for activists

THE New South Wales Minerals Council is attempting to de-fund activists by calling for anti-fossil fuel groups to be stripped of their lucrative tax breaks, prompting freedom of speech fears by the activists.
Industry calls for 'no tax breaks' for activists Industry calls for 'no tax breaks' for activists Industry calls for 'no tax breaks' for activists Industry calls for 'no tax breaks' for activists Industry calls for 'no tax breaks' for activists


Anthony Barich

Activists groups including Lock the Gate, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and The Sunrise Project all received GST concessions, income tax exemptions and fringe benefit tax rebates which are traditionally reserved for groups that “actually help people”, a council spokesman told ICN sister publication Energy News.

LTG raised more than $500,000 in 2013 from donations and grants, while the Nature Conservation Council racked up more than $2.88 million last year from donations and grants.

The NSW Minerals Council believes such groups, whose leaders chain themselves to mining equipment, break the law and get arrested, should not be rewarded with tax deductibility status.

“There are activist groups out there that campaign against the livelihood of mining workers and their families, who engage in illegal protests that put themselves and others in harms way and encourage others to break the law. These protest organisations should not receive special tax treatment,” NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said.

“The fact that these groups can ask the public for money, promoting donations as being ‘tax deductible’ is an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars.

“Giving groups like this Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status allows them to stand side-by-side with important organisations like The Salvos, Mission Australia and Oxfam – groups that actually help people,” Galilee said.

An analysis of organisations with tax deductible gift recipient status reveals a number of groups whose leadership have either been involved in illegal protest, advocated civil disobedience or campaigned against mining jobs.

Serial protester and spokeswomann for Lock the Gate, Georgina Woods, was arrested in 2009 along with other protesters, for shutting down the Tomago Aluminium Smelter. She also campaigned against Coalpac’s Lithgow mines in 2013 and has been a spokeswoman for the illegal protesters in the Leard State Forest near Boggabri.

“Lock the Gate enjoys DGR status,” the NSW Minerals Council said, pointing out that another regular at mining protests, Carmel Flint, is a director of activist outfit the Sunrise Project and regional coordinator for LTG. He was arrested at the Leard State Forest after attaching herself to a bulldozer. The Sunrise Project enjoys DGR status.

Nature Conservation Foundation CEO Kate Smolski was arrested at a protest in 2007 and has written a blog advocating the need for civil disobedience. The Nature Conservation Foundation also has DGR status.

“Taxpayers reasonably expect that only legitimate charitable organisations have the ability to offer tax deductibility for donations,” Galilee said.

“Groups that flout the law or encourage others to do so, should not receive special treatment by the Australian Tax Office.

“We are calling on the Australian government to review the DGR status of all these groups and withdraw it from those that are associated with illegal activity or campaign against the legitimate livelihood of hard working Australians,” Galilee said.

Smolski said the organisation had made an “overwhelming contribution to environmental protection in NSW”, adding that when governments failed to protect natural heritage, groups were forced to adopt “peaceful civil disobedience techniques”

LTG national coordinator Phil Laird said the NSW Minerals Council’s call for the activist group to be stripped of its tax deductibility status was “an outrageous attempt to shut down the right of farmers to speak out about their concerns on the impacts of coal seam gas mining”

"It's outrageous that the mining industry thinks it can shut down a charity which was created to provide basic support for farmers who are being booted off their land or having their water supplies ruined by multi-national mining companies,” Laird said this morning.

“This smacks of bullying – mining giants kicking communities while they are down, and trying to shut down the one organisation that is there to help them out.

“It also raises a serious question of why big overseas mining industries are trying to stop debate about the role of coal seam gas and mining in the lead-up to the NSW state election.”

He said LTG operated in accordance with a peaceful code of conduct, with its main purpose to protect farmland, environmentally sensitive areas and water resources, and to advocate for people whose properties, livelihoods or health are at risk from unsafe mining operations.

“The NSW Minerals Council is a lobby group with unfettered access to Premier Mike Baird, now it wants to make sure other voices are locked out of the public discussion on mining,” Laird said.

"It's inappropriate for the industry to try and silence community debate on the impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining on communities and the essentials for life, and to take away the basic right of people to have a charity who advocates on their behalf when they are up against some of the biggest mining companies in the world.

“It’s famers and community groups that are bringing forward evidence of environmental damage, water contamination and mining corruption. It’s no wonder the industry is doing whatever it can to shut down these voices and avoid effective scrutiny.”