Lobbyists face off over tax deductible donations

The push to revoke Deductible Gift Recipient status from organisations involved in anti-mining protests has drawn attention to tax benefits for mining lobbyists.

Industry lobby groups such as the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) have called for the abolishment of the tax deductibility of donations to groups on the Commonwealth Register of Environmental Organisations.

In their submission to the Federal lower house inquiry into the register of environmental organisations, the MCA said there was evidence that environmental organisations “may not be using tax deductible donations for their identified purpose”, purposes which include the funding of “practical actions to conserve and enhance the natural environment”.

At the Minerals Week conference in Canberra earlier this month, MCA member companies discussed the view that opposition to mining was being driven by ideological agendas.

The MCA claimed environmental groups were using donated funds for illegal protests, as well as paying personal court fines incurred as part of protest activities.

Other practices regarded as questionable by the MCA were paying for overseas trips to learn about protest strategy, and “establishing and promoting activities that return a profit”.

Lock the Gate Alliance national co-ordinator Phil Laird said claims that they had paid fined for individuals were untrue.

"Lock the Gate does not, and has not, paid fines for individuals who protest, and encourages all landowners to pay court fines in accordance with the law,” he said.

"The Lock the Gate Alliance operates with a peaceful code of conduct and our main purpose is to protect farmland, environmentally sensitive areas and water resources, and to advocate for people whose properties, livelihoods or health are at risk from unsafe mining operations.

"Lock the Gate are proud of the support we provide to farmers, land holders and local communities so their voices can be heard in the debate about mining – a debate which is otherwise heavily weighted towards the interests of powerful multinational mining companies.

"We are a registered environmental charity organisation and operate within the laws that govern that status.”

In response to questions raised by the MCA and other lobby groups and mining companies, the Australia Institute (TAI) has made a submission to the inquiry claiming the mining industry has spent $484 million on lobby groups over the past decade, $200 million of which went to the MCA.

“This expenditure is tax deductible and has reduced company tax by $145 million,” the report claimed.

“On average over the last five years, company tax revenue has been reduced by $20 million per year.

“This expenditure represents the tip of the lobbying iceberg, however, as the mining industry also spends millions on third-party lobbying firms and in-house lobbyists.”

The report entitled ‘Powers of Deduction’ said that the DGR status of environmental lobby groups had a small impact on government tax revenue, and contributed a valuable counterpoint to the hundreds of millions spent by mining companies on lobbying, as well as scrutiny of government processes.

A spokesperson for MCA said the TAI had a track record of making false claims, and that their claim about the tax status of the MCA is somehow analogous to that of registered environmental organisations is also wrong. 

The TAI report said that while the activities of environmental lobby groups delivered “clear public benefit”, tax deductible lobbying by mining groups worked “against the public interest”.

At the MCA Minerals Week 2015 panel discussion on anti-mining activism, NyunggaBlack managing director Warren Mundine said it was important for the mining industry to communicate with the public about the social benefits that come with mining.

“We have a stake in the future: we’re not evil people, the mining and energy people do good things,” he said.

“That’s the sort of message we need to be talking to people about and trying to get across, that we’re not some kind of evil empire that’s out there to destroy the globe and send us to hell, we’re actually doing these things because we want to do good.”

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