The Right to Protest

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Protest at Tantawanglo 1989.  Photo: Narooma News

As ‘Understorey’ showed, the battle for the south-eastern forests was won, not through letter-writing and meetings with Ministers (although this was a large part of the early campaign), but ultimately by protestors who were not afraid to stand their ground against the bull-dozers. Many would argue that their activism is part of Australia’s heritage as much as the valuable land and biodiversity they preserved for the community and future generations.  It is disturbing to then note that the anti-protest laws passed last year in NSW, which target anti-coal seam gas protestors in particular, seem part of a growing trend to hobble environmental activism.

These laws have been followed by a Treasury-issued discussion paper on Tax Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities which proposes that environmental organisations must divert at least 25-50% of tax-deductible donations to ‘environmental remediation works’.  Even before the call for submissions closed, Treasury was asking environmental groups with tax deductibility status to break down their expenditure to show how much environmental remediation work they are carrying out.  The implication is that ‘environmental groups’ should only be able to receive tax deductible donations for planting trees and not for public advocacy.

Lenore Taylor, in a recent article in The Guardian, sees more benefit than cost in maintaining the current tax deductibility for environmental groups:

…if you believe Australia is a richer place for doing its part to address global warming, for limiting tree clearing, protecting endangered species or the Great Barrier Reef, or for insisting on proper remediation of mine sites, then it’s taxpayer money well spent. And, by definition, that’s a belief the hundreds of thousands of Australians who donate to environmental groups share.

Find out more about this issue by reading the submission made by the Environment Defenders Offices of Australia in response to the Government discussion paper.

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