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Bans, Gags, Funding Cuts: Desperate Measures from a Desperate Government

A week can hardly go by lately without a new attack on environmental justice in Australia. The latest threat comes from Andrew Nikolic, Federal Member for the Tasmanian seat of Bass.

The Liberal MP has moved to strip charity status from environmental groups, who he perceives as a threat to Tasmanian prosperity i.e. the Tasmanian logging industry.  The motion was unanimously endorsed by his party at their Federal Council meeting.

Some 13 groups would be impacted by the motion, no longer eligible to receive tax deductible donations.  This includes prominent organisations like the Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation and all state EDOs.

Nikolic has described these environmental groups as engaging in political activism and illegal activities, and doesn’t believe that taxpayers should be subsidising their green agenda, which he believes is damaging the Tasmanian economy.

“I moved the motion because I think the activities of these groups has been enormously damaging on our state of Tasmania, I think we’ve seen for far too long these groups undertaking activities like boot camps and engaging in political activism, illegal activism.

This is the latest in a string of desperate attempts by Tasmanian Liberal politicians to rein in the power of conservation groups in the state.

Last week, anti-protest laws were passed in Tasmania’s Lower House, aimed at stopping forestry activists through large fines and jail time.  And you might remember Senator Richard Colbeck’s tried-and-failed-and-tried-again attempts to introduce legislation banning secondary boycotts, a powerful protest measure which so successfully brought the mighty Gunns pulp mill to its knees.

The battle for the Tassie wilderness has been long fought, most recently with Abbott’s unprecedented attempts to delist 74,000 hectares of Tasmania’s heritage listed forests.  The self-proclaimed ‘conservationist’ (don’t you mean conservative, Tony?) stated,

“We have quite enough national parks. We have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest.”  

It took UNESCO a mere 10 minutes to reject this ludicrous proposal, calling the bid ‘feeble’.

In light of UNESCO’s recent decision, the conservative lobby is growing increasingly concerned.  And it’s not just the Tasmanian Liberal Party who are worried.

The growth of the grassroots environmental movement in Australia has ushered in a new era of environmental protest.  Online campaigning has made large, crowd-funded legal actions possible, while social media has engaged and mobilised people to take part in blockades and protests.

Recent victories against the destructive resources sector have resonated among Australians with the defeat of CSG at Bentley, a coal export facility at Keppel Bay and an open-cut mine in Leard State Forest.  Two crowd funded legal actions against the government over their plans to industrialise the Great Barrier Reef has drawn international attention, and criticism.

In moves some have called fascist, the government is trying to silence its critics by cutting their funding and attempting to discredit our scientific institutions.  But gagging environmental groups serves only to galvanise the communities who live on the front line, who see first hand the destruction caused to their land, their water, their future.

Communities across Australia are responding to the call to action, putting their time, money and bodies on the line – and winning.

You can follow Kate on Twitter @kateokate

Also by Kate O’Callaghan:

Pokie-Tourism: Campbell Newman’s Dream for our Tropical North

Abbott’s International Tour de Farce


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  1. Eric Gee

    Yes, OK, let them remove tax free status from ALL environmental groups.
    And while they are at it, they can also remove this status from all political parties and religious organisations.

    If you want to support a group, do so by putting your OWN money where your mouth and heart is.
    No reason to get a tax deduction for it.

    Tax deductibility should be reserved for bona fide charitable organisations who help the disadvantaged.

  2. Bighead1883

    Thanks Kate for the Tasmanian update of what the LNP Fascists are doing there.
    Their greatest thing is saying “illegal” this or that.
    Now I`m no lawyer but political activism and illegal activism illegal according to Nicolic is going to Newman`s length.
    I mean this is Joh Bjelkie 17%sen era speak.
    We have a confected budget emergency,confected economic emergency and confected border emergency on top of the RWNJ`s on Auspol Twitter trying to start a race.religious war with Muslims/Islamists.
    We have China`s best friend sticking their noses in Sino/Japanese border disputes.
    We have language change infuriating the Middle East with using the word “occupied” and we can`t use the word “refugee” is has to be “illegal”
    This is Fascism
    This is Dictatorial
    This is the Corporate State mixed with the Religious State mixed with extreme Right Winged Political State.
    Does anyone recognize this Australia?

  3. Eric Gee

    If “Illegal Activities” are to be the yardstick for refusal of Tax deductibility, then Religious organisations and Political parties would be at the head of the queue – way ahead of any environmental groups.

  4. Roswell

    Good post Kate.

  5. Bighead1883

    Eric Gee your statement is 100% correct.
    The whole thing with Fascism dressed as the Liberal Tea Party dressed as Conservatism is that it wants to stifle everything they speak against.
    Free speech is for them only and so is being a bigot.
    Hypocrisy is now the new norm where “look some people may have thought they heard this or they may have understood it differently to how it was said,but in saying that people may not understand that what is being said is not what`s meant and that things should not be taken out of context.
    WOW even trying to write like a Conservatard Eric is brain numbing.

  6. john o'callaghan

    This bloke wants to strip charity status from enviromental groups but is quite happy for the IPA to receive tax payer consessions and rebates,WTF, i know which organisation is fighting for the best interese of Australia and Australians.

  7. Robyn T

    Kate, you are wrong about this. Removing charity status won’t strip them of the ability to get tax deductible donations – well, that would follow. But tax-deductibility of donations requires ‘deductible gift recipient status’ – something that not all charities are permitted to have. There have been attempts by LNP govts to remove that from environment groups before – many would have lost it already.

    Removing ‘charity status’ means that they would have to pay tax on their income – that’s a different matter entirely.

    The good news is that, historically people have given to environment groups when they are angry. That’s the main trigger – I know this from having been a consultant to several of them. So attacks on environment groups by the govt, given all that they are doing to destroy the environment in Tasmania, should be very good indeed for the environment groups.

    And it will probably mean more funds for The Greens as well. So bring it on, you ignorant conservative swine! There are growing numbers of people out there who are not like you.

  8. Robyn T

    Btw – the Tasmanian Govt does not have the power to do this – it is a federal issue.

  9. Kat

    They’re sure trying it on hard to weasle their way around pushing their agenda.

    Their greed and self-interests renders them all short sighted. If they had their way, there’d be no forests, resources and life left on this planet.

    Who are these kind of living things?

  10. SirJohn Ward

    They, the LNP, have already sold our Gold reserves and all our Airports, Medibank will be sold to US owners. The HECS debts are about to be sold to Debt collecting agencies. The CSIRO is going soon; and yet they will still give some $ 10 billion in subsidies to miners like Fat Gina by not collecting excise on Diesel fuel, same for truckers and farmers.
    The H R Nicholls Society members sitting in the Cabinet have the numbers to now control the LNP government.
    The H R Nicholls Society supports the deregulation of the Australian Industrial Relations System, including the abolition of the award system, the widespread use of individual employment contracts and the lowering of minimum wages. The Society only believes in limited labour market regulation, as it believes that excessive minimum wages and job security lead to higher unemployment and lower productivity.

  11. Peter F

    SJW, I am always surprised at how much the determination to reduce wages is supported by the business community; last night I was in discussion with a small builder who complained about the increase in wages of the lowest paid labourer. It took a while to get him to see that one of the biggest drivers in wages, over the past decade or so, has been the massive relative increase in the cost of housing. When JWH boasted that he was proud of making so many Australians into millionaires through the value of their home he showed either ignorance or lack of honesty. I prefer to believe the latter.

  12. Mike Wilkinson

    They are no longer a government. They are the board of directors of Australia Corp. and Abbott is chairman. Australia Corp is a subsidiary of Hancock propecting, NewsCorp and a few others.

  13. CMMC

    I.P.A., Lowy Institute, Centre for Independent Studies, Grattan, H.R.Nicholls, ….

    This is Civil Society now, this termite mound of shitkicker suburbanite Young Lib alumni.

  14. Ruth Lipscombe

    Despicable moves like this must be great for the pharmaceutical companies which make blood pressure drugs!

  15. corvus boreus

    Damn, my haiku got spammed. That’s poetic discrimination and oppression!

  16. corvus boreus

    Open for bizness!
    Tony sez it’s got to go!
    Straya’s up for sale!

  17. Steven

    Good piece, Kate, but what’s with “In moves some have called fascist”? Let’s leave that kind of thing to the Murdoch rags. Who has called these moves fascist? …Or are you making the claim? You could always use something like “In moves which could be considered fascist”.

  18. Kaye Lee

    “Leading scientists have blasted the Abbott government’s decision to scrap key bodies overseeing water reforms amid plunging reservoir levels, a looming El Nino and the longer-range threat posed by climate change.

    The government said in the federal budget it would scrap the previously bipartisan-backed National Water Commission set up by the Howard government, and last year cut COAG’s Standing Council on Environment and Water.”

    CSIRO workers predict the public will be aghast at the programs that will be lost as a result of the cuts, including research into neuroscience and colorectal cancer, water safety and advanced manufacturing.

    Michael Borgas says the biggest surprise is a plan to close the CSIRO’s Griffith laboratory which specialises in water and irrigation research.

    The facility’s website says the laboratory is older than the CSIRO itself, and exists to improve productivity and profitability for farmers and rural communities.

    The cut to radio astronomy more broadly is somewhat mind boggling given that of course, it was radio astronomy research that led to the discovery of Wi-Fi, something’s that benefited not just basically all Australians but indeed the whole world and something which brought in $200 million in terms of royalties into the Australian coffers.

    “We’ve got a minister for sport, for god’s sake, but we don’t have a minister for science.”

  19. Carol Taylor

    And as far as coming down hard on disabled pensioners aka The Rorters (as per the Murdoch media), has it ever crossed the minds of those on that they are also inferring that physicians and medical specialists must be *on the take* in order for The Rorters to have been assessed as disabled? After all one does not get on the DSP without at least an inch-thick folder of medical, specialist and other reports and assessments…

    …”the Coalition has not been able to explain how ”permanent” disability would be classified.”..nor what “capable of some work” might mean.

    And the sole purpose of this little exercise is for one reason and one reason only and that is so the government can save themselves a few lousy dollars by placing people *already assessed as having a permanent disability* on a lower payment.

  20. Kaye Lee

    What will they do about people who have episodic illness? What job can they get that will understand when they need 2 months off to deal with depression or to have yet another surgical procedure? How does the 6 months thing work with them? How much money will be paid out to administer this scheme and who will do it as we have no public servants left?

    And who is going to administer all the co-payments to doctors and chemists? How will it work?

  21. Lee

    ” I am always surprised at how much the determination to reduce wages is supported by the business community; last night I was in discussion with a small builder who complained about the increase in wages of the lowest paid labourer. ”

    Now business owners are whining at the LNP because people aren’t spending and their businesses are hurting. They should have thought of that before the election. Now their greed is coming back to bite them.

  22. Carol Taylor

    Kaye Lee, then clearly to this government those with episodic illness will be able to work in an episodic manner. 🙁

    I am reminded of a friend with an adult son (Downs Syndrome) who was obliged to answer the question, Does he still have this disability? (I won’t repeat what her answer was…). The biggest concern of course is going to be what the government (as compared with medical professionals) deems as ‘capable of working’..the partially blind, those with cancer, those suffering from ms, Parkinsons? Already one has to jump through hoops to get on the DSP and this government is going to whack people even harder..supposedly to Stop the Rorters while they themselves happily claim Travel Expenses to attend weddings and sporting events. Double standards? Australia had seen nothing until this bunch of crooks lobbed into Canberra.

  23. Steven

    Thanks for the reply, Kate.
    Indeed, you do have a reference there, which I admit I missed. Perhaps it would be better to link “some have called fascist”, rather than just “fascist”.
    I retract my Murdoch slur 🙂

  24. Kate O'Callaghan

    Robyn T – I understand that the removal of charity status would have a number of impacts, as you outlined – thank you. In this case, it’s the tax deductible donations that Andrew Nikolic has issues with. He says:

    “There are some 583 environmental groups who are approved by the Department of Environment, and 13 listed in the tax act who receive deductable donations, often those donations are not used for the sort of activities that the donors intended but for illegal activities and I don’t think that’s right.”

    I’m also aware that Nikolic’s motion is a long way from being policy, as any changes would indeed affect both state and federal legislation.

  25. Kaye Lee

    The rorting for social events is miniscule compared to the “pay to meet the treasurer” rorts. I nearly choke as I watch Tony Abbott spend hundreds of millions on two Royal Commissions designed purely to slur political opponents while taking money away from the Royal Commission into institutional child sexual abuse.

    Is the Union RC looking at standover tactics by bikie gangs or kickbacks by developers? No…it is spending tens of millions trying to find out if Julia Gillard got a $5000 fence built for free. Is the HIC RC looking at workplace health and safety laws and industry regulation and oversight? No, they want to know who said what when in Cabinet meetings.

    And let’s talk about the rort that is private consulting. We sack our experienced public servants and hire our mates (who happen to be part of our fundraising effort) to do “reviews” into things that other bodies have already reviewed or are in the process of so doing. eg Gonski, Henry tax review, Sussan Ley commissioning endless reports into childcare even though the productivity commission are doing one, Renewable Energy even though we had several expert advisory that we disbanded to pay the deniers instead. And then we don’t even wait for the reviews or cost-benefit analyses to make decisions, and we don’t release their findings when they do come.

    The Coalition very firmly see the common wealth as theirs for the term of their office and they are having a fat old time paying back their donors.

  26. Diannaart

    In moves some have called fascist, the government is trying to silence its critics by cutting their funding and attempting to discredit our scientific institutions. But gagging environmental groups serves only to galvanise the communities who live on the front line, who see first hand the destruction caused to their land, their water, their future.

    Communities across Australia are responding to the call to action, putting their time, money and bodies on the line – and winning.

    The Abbott government has declared war on Australia. I do not believe in violence, however, I do believe self-defence is justified.

  27. Kaye Lee

    “Recently, strong irrefutable evidence has come into the public arena which proves beyond any reasonable doubt that since the introduction of a price on carbon, combined with a strong renewable energy target, Australia’s emissions from electricity generation have fallen by 10.3 per cent.

    Concurrently Australia’s economy has grown (1.1 per cent in the last quarter, stronger than expected), in spite of the price on carbon.

    The world did not stop spinning and Australia’s economy has not collapsed into the abyss. Rather it has started the process of restructuring to clean energy production.”

  28. Kaye Lee

    “In 1987 the IPA restructured itself as a company limited by guarantee, which means that its directors are not liable for any debts it might incur. The restructure enabled it to apply to become an Approved Research Institute (ARI) and thus be eligible for endorsement as a deductible gift recipient (DGR). In other words, donors to the Institute would be able to claim a tax deduction for their donations. DGR status is the most valuable asset of an organisation like the IPA because without it virtually no-one would donate.

    In order for the IPA to become a DGR it had to apply to the Secretary of what is now the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research giving various undertakings.

    Most importantly, it had to undertake to use all tax-deductible donations exclusively for scientific research, more particularly, “scientific research which is, or may prove to be, of value to Australia”. In this context, the authorities have ruled that “scientific research” includes social scientific research.

    The IPA also had to undertake to create a separate bank account into which all tax-deductible gifts must be deposited. The Institute’s financial statements show that it keeps some of its cash in an account called “NAB Research Account”. On June 30, 2010 it held $385,647.

    It must also ensure that all disbursements from this research account are evaluated and approved by “a suitably qualified research committee” of at least five members, the majority of whom are appropriately qualified in the field of research that is to be undertaken or have appropriate experience in reviewing research, and who should be nominated on the basis of their “proven ability to direct a research program”. As far as I can tell, the IPA has not made public the membership of its research committee.

    The rules state explicitly that tax-deductible funds may not be used for “the organisation of conferences, congresses and symposia and the publication of information (other than the results of the ARI’s own research work, undertaken through this program).”

    All of this raises the question of whether donations to the IPA for which the donor has claimed a tax deduction are being used in compliance with the law.

    The IPA has devoted considerable resources to staging public meetings to campaign against the Federal Government’s carbon tax. In the year to June 30, 2010 it hosted 40 events around the country. This is clearly a political campaign; in no sense could these activities be called scientific research. So were the public meetings funded from tax deductible gifts? Did the Institute’s research committee approve spending on these events? It may well be that they were funded from other sources, but we can’t tell because of the IPA’s lack of disclosure.

    Similar questions can be asked about the series of seminars the IPA is conducting in northern Australia to build support for a special economic zone. It would be hard to defend these activities as “scientific research”. The funds, it would seem, are being spent on “the organisation of conferences, congresses and symposia” on which tax-deductible gifts may not be spent.

    Last year the IPA paid for two full-page advertisements in the Australian attacking the Government’s climate change policy. The cost would have been in the order of $100,000. Who paid for them? Were they paid for with tax deductible gifts?”

    No wonder they campaigned (successfully) for the removal of the ACNC,4658

  29. Robyn T

    Thanks for the clarification Kate – but re his comment “often those donations are not used for the sort of activities that the donors intended but for illegal activities and I don’t think that’s right” … I wonder if he realises that charities are fully audited every year. He’ll need to have very good evidence to back up a statement as outrageous as that, especially given that most direct action is done without any funding – people volunteer!

  30. Robyn T

    Thanks for that clarification Kate.

    Re his comment “often those donations are not used for the sort of activities that the donors intended but for illegal activities and I don’t think that’s right” … I wonder if he realises that charities are fully audited every year. He’ll need to have very good evidence to back up a statement as outrageous as that, especially given that most direct action is done without any funding – people volunteer!

  31. Diannaart

    Be ironic if Abbott’s neutering of the ACNC would result in problems for the increasingly dubious IPA.

    Need to set up a list of areas where we REALLY need a Royal Commission. I’d put the IPA at the top.

  32. Ian

    Carol (8.03am) the whole problem with ‘capable of work’ is that it puts the onus back onto the individual. I’d like to see ‘likely to be offered employment’ as a better criterion for measuring work readiness. If a person with disability is capable of working ten hours with significant workplace modification (that can be paid by the government in some circumstances) then they are deemed to be capable of working ten hours. There is no consideration given to the fact that not only is a sympathetic employer needed, but one that is prepared to go through the administrative process of obtaining the necessary workplace modifications.

    This is just one example of the injustices faced by people with disability in employment.

  33. Ian

    And please everyone, it’s Down Syndrome, not Downs.

  34. Carol Taylor

    Ian, as a former disability advocate I always found it to be something which must be handling with sensitivity giving due regard to individual circumstances. However this government seems hell-bent on having a One Size Fits All approach. The warning bell (or one of them) which is going off for me with this government is the ongoing theme of *crime and punishment* and on this occasion the crime being a slacker who is only pretending to have a disability. You cop that one lots especially when you have an invisible disability such as being hearing impaired or don’t look disabled to the average person in the street.

    People with disabilities even now cannot obtain work even those who are fully capable and eager to participate. Imagine some employer hiring a person who has been on the DSP for the past decade? No work history, no references..nothing…

  35. CMMC

    A more correct analogy, as I have written before, would be the Green Zone in Baghdad.

    Initially the centre where diplomats would oversee a democratic renewal of Iraq, it soon became a bazaar for engineering and construction behemoths, grasping for contracts that gave them control of all the Nation’s assets.

  36. Winifred Jeavons

    “Some call fascist ” is right . I call it fascist and it would only need 1 other to make it some. I would be surprised if there were not many more than 1 other. Promoting hate and divisiveness , demonising disabled, refugees , unemployed looks very like Hitler’s style to me.

  37. Pingback: A year in Abbott’s war on the environment » Precarious Climate

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