Rent-a-mob rules take us taxpayers for a ride

December 17, 2017

How many times have you watched activists trespass onto a public monument or corporate building to unfurl a banner calling for the end of whatever it is they’re upset about, and thought ‘whatever...Just ignore them and they’ll go away’.  Well guess what?  You’re probably helping to pay for their illegal actions.

In May this year, fifteen Greenpeace activists illegally accessed a ten storey high coal stockpile at the Port of Newcastle to protest against coal.  They put themselves and police rescuers in danger and were arrested.

In the same month, Greenpeace activists scaled Commonwealth Bank’s headquarters in Sydney to protest against something the bank was apparently doing that Greenpeace didn’t like.  Police were called and the protesters were arrested.
Greenpeace boasted about these unlawful exploits online, even running a live broadcast of their activity.

What’s most concerning about these illegal protests is that the activists usually put themselves and others in danger.  People trying to get on with their daily lives are also often caught up in the protest. Emergency services personnel are taken away from more important duties to remove protesters who have deliberately put themselves in danger, requiring assistance to make themselves safe again.

And you, the long-suffering taxpayer, helped pay for these protests.

Under the current tax system, some activist groups engaging in unlawful activity receive special tax treatment to raise money for their causes.

Groups like Greenpeace currently enjoy Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status. This means every donation made to them is tax deductible. This foregone tax revenue is supposed to encourage philanthropy by assisting legitimate not-for-profit organisations attract donations.  

It also helps activist groups do the same. Professional protest groups with DGR status are better able to attract donations that can then be used to fund their ‘direct action’ campaigns. In effect, DGR status for these activist groups is a taxpayer subsidy to help pay for breaking the law.

The federal body responsible for managing registered charities, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), has done very little in response to the repeated unlawful actions of groups like Greenpeace.

The Federal Government should be applauded for its recent legislation to crack down on political groups posing as charities, however, it’s been 18 months since the Government held an official review into environmental charities and there has been little action since then.

The review recommended that administrative sanctions, including loss of DGR status, be introduced for environmental deductible gift recipients that engage in, encourage, support, promote, or endorse illegal or unlawful activity.
To date, no official changes have been forthcoming.

The cruel irony is that just recently, a charity that advocated on concerns surrounding wind farms - the ‘Waubra Foundation’ - had its DGR status revoked for not meeting the appropriate criteria.

So while the ACNC removes the DGR status of a group that legally advocates on issues to do with wind farms, Greenpeace and other activist groups still enjoy special tax treatment while breaking the law with impunity.

It’s a situation that doesn’t pass the pub test.  In our democratic society, everyone has the right to protest.  At the same time, taxpayers have a right to expect that any special tax concessions aren’t provided to help activist groups break the law.

Stephen Galilee
CEO, NSW Minerals Council


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