Proposed Changes to Rules Governing Environmental Organisations

The Coastwatchers Environment Fund is one of hundreds of environment funds which have been registered on the Commonwealth Government’s REO – the Register of Environmental Organisations. This registration process provides the legal basis for attracting tax-deductible donations.

A Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry is considering requiring 25-50% of all tax deductible revenue to be spent on remedial environmental work.

The NSW Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) has prepared the following comments.

“DGR STATUS: Should all Environmental Charities have to plant trees?

For decades, groups on the Register of Environmental Organisations (REO) have been eligible for tax-deductible donations – encouraging private funding for the public good.

But in 2016, half the members of a (Commonwealth) Parliamentary Inquiry proposed that in order to remain eligible, environmental groups, including EDOs, must spend at least 25% of their donations revenue of reactive ‘environment remediation work’ – activities like tree planting.

We (the EDO) believe proactive protection of the environment provides clear public benefits in many forms:

  • raising environmental awareness;
  • enforcing and strengthening environmental policy and laws;
  • and new research on species, ecosystems and environmental innovation.

Imposing a minimum spend on remediation would require many well established environmental charities to

either radically alter the way they operate;

inefficiently divert money to other groups at the Commonwealth Government’s direction;

or lose eligibility for taxdeductibility donations altogether.

Following the 2016 REO inquiry, a 2017 Commonwealth Treasury Consultation paper asked what stakeholders think about the ‘minimum spend’ proposal for environment groups. It even floated the option of increasing the minimum to 50% of donated funds.

During the consultation period, environmental Deductible Gift Recipients were for the first time required to report the percentage of their public donations expended on ‘onground environmental remediation’, ‘advocacy’ and other activities.

The proposal did not originate within the Commonwealth Treasury – it takes up arguments made by the mining and resources lobby, including the Queensland Resources Council and the gas-industry funded Energy Resources Information Centre.

It’s vital that the views of these lobbyists are not given more weight than those of the hundreds of environment groups, community members, donors and governance experts who made submissions to the REO Inquiry, pointing out the pitfalls artificially distinguishing ‘on-ground’ rehabilitation from other things environmental groups do to pursue their public purpose. Their evidence led to half the Commonwealth Parliamentary Committee rejecting the minimum 25% spending proposal.

It may suit some private interests for the Commonwealth Government to constrain environmental voices, restrict community access to legal services and place new administrative burdens on the charity sector.

But it’s not in the public interest, nor what the broader community expect of our charity and tax laws. That is why our current laws focus on charities’ purposes, rather than attempting to define their activities.

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