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Environment groups face fight for their lives

  • 01 July 2016


By the time polls close Saturday, tens of thousands of voters in marginal seats will have received 'election scorecards' from environment groups.

Almost all will rate the Liberal Party worse than Labor or the Greens on a range of issues, from protecting the Great Barrier Reef to encouraging investment in clean energy.

Privately, some Liberal candidates will be seething — and, if the Coalition wins, they'll have the means for brutal revenge.

In March 2015, the Abbott government launched an Inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations (REO), which lists about 600 environment groups eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. The inquiry's report, tabled in May this year, makes recommendations that would hobble the campaigning activities of these groups — especially any that oppose large coal or gas projects.

One recommendation limits political advocacy by requiring environment organisations to spend 25 per cent of their money on 'remediation' work like planting trees. Another suggests 'sanctions', such as the loss of tax-deductible status, if a group encourages, supports or even endorses protest blockades and other acts of civil disobedience.

Taken together, the message is clear: environment organisations should focus on cleaning up after destructive projects, not on stopping them happening in the first place. Instead of standing in the way of a bulldozer, they should obediently step aside and plant trees in its wake.

For groups that rely on tax-deductible donations for the bulk of their funding, the effect would be chilling: either abandon successful and proven tactics, or lose vital income.

So what's behind these suggested changes? They're mainly driven by hard-right conservative MPs in seats where environment organisations have protested against coal mining or logging.

  "Far from being tamed at the threat to their funding, environment organisations have been more brazen than ever this election."


Liberal MP Andrew Nikolic is furious at the downfall of the forestry industry in his home state of Tasmania, while Nationals MP George Christensen and Senator Matthew Canavan are fuming over the strategic delay of mega-mines in Queensland.

Nikolic and Canavan wrote lengthy submissions to the inquiry, which was originally chaired by Liberal MP Alex Hawke. Christensen, who has called green activists 'the greatest terrorism threat in North Queensland', was on the inquiry committee. Early in the public hearings he tweeted: 'evidence points to them losing their tax deductibility status'. And as dissenting Labor committee members noted, the inquiry report's controversial recommendations relied heavily on the submission of Senator Matthew Canavan 'in preference to expert