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Standing up for environmental advocacy

Last month the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment tabled its report on the Inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations. While not all of the recommendations of the Inquiry are controversial, it is clear that some will have a chilling effect on the work of environmental organisations.

If adopted, the recommendations would:

a) Restrict the level of tax deductible donations which could be used for advocacy and, accordingly, have undue influence on the way in which philanthropy supports environmental change work. Environmental organisations would be required to allocate at least 25% of their tax deductible donations on environmental remediation, which would force many organisations to work beyond their missions and be at odds with the expectations of their supporters.

b) Result in significant increases in red tape for environmental organisations and philanthropy. Environmental DGRs would be required to undertake annual self-assessment and annual public reporting, over and above charities’ current requirements. Plus they would need to document their compliance with the 25% environmental remediation rule and could put their DGR status in jeopardy if they were un-compliant.

c) Place an extraordinary level of legal responsibility on organisations for the actions of their members and people with a very nebulous relationship to them, if those people are involved in illegal activities.

So where to from here? It’s important to understand that Parliamentary Committees make many recommendations which are either not implemented or only partially implemented. Soon we will have a new government in place and it will need to respond to the Inquiry, accepting all, some or none of the recommendations. Even if the government adopts all the recommendations, it will need to pass legislation through both Houses of Parliament. So there are a number of ‘windows of opportunity’ to prevent bad recommendations from becoming bad laws.

The AEGN is writing to leaders of the major parties during the election campaign to ask what their position is. We will be sharing the results of our membership survey about the 25% environmental remediation recommendation. So far, the great majority of our members have expressed strong opposition to this recommendation and it is important that we make our representatives in Parliament aware of this.

Once the election is over and we have a new government in place, we will plan our next steps. The AEGN organises phone meetings with our members to discuss these plans and all members are most welcome to join in. If you would like more information, please contact Esther Abram esther@aegn.org.au