OPINION: Why are they paid to protest?

June 05, 2015

This opinion piece originally featured in the Daily Telegraph on Friday 6th June 2015

Taxpayers rightly expect that the hard-earned dollars they pay to government are used for the benefit of society.
 
We hate seeing our tax dollars abused. But right now, we are being taxed so that professional activists can trespass onto worksites and chain themselves to trees, fences and construction equipment across NSW.
 
Sounds ridiculous but it’s true. Extreme activist groups like Lock the Gate enjoy deductible gift recipient status, which means that every donation they receive of more than $2 can be claimed as a tax deduction.
 
This means activist groups such as Lock the Gate are being subsidised by the taxpayer to engage in illegal forms of protest, and to train others to do so.
 
It also means that activist groups such as Lock the Gate are given the same tax treatment as the legitimate charities like the Salvos or Mission Australia. However, Lock the Gate is not a charity.
 
It’s sole purpose is to run political campaigns against job-creating mining projects, including the use of ‘‘direct action’’ — training and encouraging their followers to break the law through actions such as trespassing, chaining themselves to machinery, blockading roads and barricading gates.
 
This has prompted a parliamentary inquiry into the granting of deductible gift recipient status to political protest groups dressed up as ‘‘environmental charities’’.
 
The inquiry will examine whether or not these groups actually provide any on-ground benefit to the environment. On that front, Lock the Gate fails dismally.
 
For example, Lock the Gate recently held a training day in the Upper Hunter.
 
The training provided wasn’t on how to plant native trees or mitigate erosion with the use of retaining walls, it was a ‘‘direct action workshop’’, that trained would-be activists on how to illegally trespass and interfere with heavy vehicles and private property. As well as the significant safety risks involved, it’s pretty clear that taxpayers should not be subsidising the training of industrial vandals.
 
There are some who think that it’s right and fair that professional activist groups like Lock the Gate receive special tax treatment, including some who also benefit from it.
 
For example, the Australia Institute has been quick to defend the tax subsidies paid to activists, not surprising considering that The Australia Institute also enjoys deductible gift recipient status. The Australia Institute pretends to be an independent ‘‘think tank’’.
 
It publishes antimining campaign material dressed up as ‘‘research’’, and it regularly makes submissions against mining projects and mining jobs in regional NSW.
 
Previously it has publicly apologised for making incorrect economic claims about mining in several of its anti-jobs submissions.
 
The Australia Institute claims that scrutiny of the tax breaks provided to activists is an attack on free speech. This misses the point.
 
No one is questioning anyone’s right to protest.
 
Activists can gather around candles and curse light bulbs until they’re blue in the face.
 
But taxpayers should not have to subsidise people to break the law or train others to do so.
 
The Australia Institute’s defence of tax subsidies for activists is also hypocritical.
 
Their CEO Richard Denniss previously claimed during an appearance on ABC TV that, ‘‘I am not anti-mining, I am anti-subsidy’’.
 
Apparently, however, this antisubsidy platform doesn’t extend to subsidies for professional activists using unlawful forms of protest to make political points.
 
Unlike Lock the Gate and the Australia Institute, there are some great environmental charities that receive deductible gift recipient status — groups such as Greening Australia, who are involved in various revegetation, restoration and conservation activities.
 
Taxpayers have a right to expect that environmental organisations receiving special tax treatment are providing practical benefits to local ecosystems.
 
But our tax dollars should not be used to subsidise illegal protests.

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