Tax breaks enjoyed by anti-mining groups are likely to undergo greater scrutiny after receiving significant attention at the Minerals Council of Australia conference in Canberra.
Whitehaven Coal CEO Paul Flynn spoke to MCA members in Canberra on Wednesday about the various threats activism posed to their business, including the Moylan Hoax and the rise of illegal protest activities which obstructed production and wasted police resources.
With the company facing ongoing protests at Maules Creek, Flynn raised the issue of funds raised by green activist groups being used for illegal activities.
“We need to continue to push to challenge the way these people are funded,” Flynn said.
“We’ve seen the Greenpeace programs, the whale wars and so on, fighting down in the Southern Oceans, and that’s a fantastic fundraising event, but they are actually spending a lot on illegal activities as well.
“They’re paying people appearance fees to turn up, and paying extra if you get locked on, and if you get fined they’ll pay for that as well.”
Flynn said the average fine for a protester arrested at Maules Creek was between $400 and $700.
“I don’t have any issue with people protesting, and everyone is entitled to their view, and they can voice that in any which way they like, as long as they do it safely and legally, and that’s not what we’ve seen in our area,” he said.
“In fact these people, we know, have been funded by what are essentially charitable organisations, and the extent to which you are raising money under the guise of a charitable endeavour and using tit to pay for and promote illegal acts, I think there is an issue there that needs to be explored…I think there is an abuse of the system.”
John Roskam, executive director of the free-market thinktank Institute of Public Affairs, said the tax deductibility of donations to environmental activist groups should not apply to activities that do not directly apply to research.
“The Institute of Public Affairs received tax deductible donations for our research: I completely support the right of WWF or Greenpeace to receive tax deductible donations for research, but the support of litigation is not research,” he said.
“The IPA, when we engage in anything that could be construed as political, make it clear that donations for those purposes are not tax deductible.
“I think on the one hand we want to encourage as broad a civil society discussion as possible, with lots of tax deductibility for lots of research…but tax deductible donations for things that are not research highlights the broader problem that Paul identified, which is that rules are applied to some groups disproportionately and have a different impact to other groups.
“When it comes to environmental activist groups, sometimes the rules don’t apply to them at all.”
This morning Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche called for greater transparency and stricter legislation to cover the activities of taxpayer-supported environmental activists.
Speaking to a group of environment industry professionals in Brisbane today, Roche said a three-year long campaign to blame the coal and gas industries for the declining health of the Great Barrier Reef was a high-profile example of activists working outside the rules of the Deductible Gift Recipient status granted by the Australian Tax Office.
“The problem we have with groups like Greenpeace is that courtesy of a deceitful global campaign, they have convinced tens of thousands of people that Australian resource companies are drilling and dredging the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.
“The problem Australians should have with Greenpeace is that taxpayers are co-funding this deception.”
Roche said a House of Representatives Environment Committee Inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations was long overdue.
“We believe both communities and governments have the right to expect that an environmental group’s primary objective would be to protect and enhance the environment through on-ground work or through the provision of scientifically valid public education.
“That does not include potentially dangerous and costly protests such as the August 2009 Greenpeace stunt that shut down the Hay Point coal terminal for 36 hours or the boarding at sea in April 2013 of a coal ship off Mackay.”
Roche said that resource companies often went beyond compliance when it came to maintaining social licence to operate, or in the adherence to law and regulations governing operations.
“I don’t think we’re asking too much of NGOs opposed to the resources sector to at least meet their legislative obligations,” he said.