Tax Status of Donations to Environment Groups
The Australian Government is reviewing the tax deductibility status of donations to environment organisations. Those members of parliament who initiated the inquiry evidently have no problem with groups that do ‘on the ground’ activities such as planting trees but apparently they hate the idea that there are some groups that criticise government policies. Isn’t this what democracy is all about?
Industry is able to fund lobby groups that promote their vested interests and they have deep pockets when it comes to their advocacy and advertising. The humble environment organisation usually depends on tax deductible donations from individuals to sustain their work.
These organisations employs people with expertise to facilitate constructive reviews of government policies. They also provide a vital role in informing the public about decisions that may not be generally publicised. Usually environmental protection measures are introduced in response to community pressure.
Ultimately the objective of green groups is to promote public welfare by trying to prevent actions that will harm current and future generations.
Plan to Limit Challenges to Government Decisions under the EPBC Act
The Australian Government is already in the process of handing over to the states most powers for decision making in matters of national environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. In the meantime the decision of the Federal Court to set aside the Carmichael coal mine approval has generated a hysterical reaction from the Attorney General George Brandis who called the challenge ‘vigilante litigation’ and said ‘the people who challenged this are determined to wipe out Queensland’s biggest industry.’
The decision was simply that the government did not do its job properly in omitting to consider the impact on threatened species, the yakka skink and ornamental snake. Sadly this does not mean that the decision is final but in the meantime it looks likely that other forces such as the decline in the coal price will stymie the project.
However the government acted swiftly in trying to severely limit access to the courts to challenge approvals given under the EPBC Act. Existing rights to challenge EPBC Act approvals are already strictly limited so that only 27 out of a total of 5500 projects referred for federal approval have been challenged. The government has submitted a bill into parliament that will restrict the right to challenge to those ‘whose interests are adversely affected by the decision’. The common law has taken this to require a ‘special interest’. The bill is now being considered by a Senate Committee.