BY RYAN QUINN
Over 400 environmentalists crowded the corner of Goulburn and Castlereagh streets on Tuesday November 17 to rally against an inquiry into taxing the donations made to environmental organisations.
The gathering at Sydney Masonic Centre was in response to green groups being called in front of the Federal Government Inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific was at the centre of the rally, with CEO David Ritter first to face the hearing committee earlier in the day.
Mr Ritter told City Hub that the protest was voicing concern about potential tax hikes for those who donate.
“Hundreds of Sydneysiders have come out today because they’re concerned about any suggestion that supporters of nature groups will be hit with an extra tax slug because they’re dipping into their pockets to support nature groups.”
Currently, there are over 600 environmental organisations on the Register which “allows them to access tax-deductible donations to fund important, practical work to improve the natural environment”, according to a statement from Federal MP Alex Hawke.
Greenpeace Campaigns Director Dom Rowe was cheered on by Tuesday’s protest crowd when she called the idea of taxing donations “outrageous”.
Attendee Janine Kitson asked, “How do you get people to campaign for these things unless you have proper funds?”
Mr Ritter said he feared that taxing donations would mean people would feel discouraged from donating because they would have to give more.
The Facebook page for the protest claimed that “if the government get their way, it’ll cost ordinary people more to support the campaigns they love, and pull the rug out from under the organisations who protect our environment.”
The event page called on people from all walks of life to attend, with some showing up in their lunch breaks in work clothes, and others donning environmental organisation logos.
Attendees held placards explaining what they were and why they were there, which was to show that ordinary people would be just as affected by any tax increase, not just environmental groups.
One placard read “I am an Australian who is very concerned about our country and our children’s future.”
Another read “I am a lawyer for Great Barrier Reef.”
From the stage, Ms Rowe congratulated the diversity of the crowded footpath.
“I’m seeing some of your signs around at the moment, so I’d like to congratulate the ‘humans’ that are here, the ‘trade unionists’, the ‘surfers’, the ‘fathers’, the ‘citizens’, the ‘students’, and even the ‘lawyers’ that are here,” she announced to the crowd.
A large screen on the back of a truck was set up across the road from the crowd to show attendees videos and display speakers on stage.
Many of the protestors, such as Ian Rose, felt that the inquiry contradicted the funds the mining industry receives from the Federal Government.
“Our government gives a bit over $1700 dollars per person to the mining industry, in $41 billion dollars in annual funds,” Mr Rose said.
“So not only are they spending our tax dollars in ways that we don’t want them to spend our money, but they’re telling us that we’re not allowed to spend our tax dollars in ways that we would prefer them to be spent.”
He said that if the tax deduction were removed, it would further “tip the scale” in favour of mining, and he would rather see more money put toward saving forests than mining it.
Tuesday’s public hearing was part of a collection of hearings held in Australian major cities, which began in June this year.
Each session has heard from many environmental organisations and served to look into the “administration, transparency and effectiveness” of the Register, according to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment.
Mr Hawke said in that statement that tax deductible donations, “which are a generous concession from the taxpayer” were used for the proper and expected purpose.
Tuesday’s hearing was held in front of the standing committee, and was chaired by Federal MP John Cobb.
At the hearing, Mr Ritter was pressed by Mr Cobb on issues regarding the illegal activities of Greenpeace Australia Pacific members, citing a 2011 incident where Greenpeace protestors destroyed a secured wheat crop which was part of a CSIRO trial.
Mr Ritter told City Hub that acts of civil disobedience are key in the protection and advancement of nature, which is the goal of environmental organisations.
“It’s part of why our country is the wonderful place that it so often is, because of those advances that have been achieved with selfless acts of civil obedience from individuals who have taken a stand of conscience,” he said.
Ms Kitson said that removing tax deductions would take away donators’ civil rights.
The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) also appeared before the inquiry, as well as joining 350.org Sydney and Friends of the Earth Australia in the rally.