Australian Greens additional comments
The Abbott Government's Attacks on the Environment
Since coming to office, the Abbott Government has launched an
unprecedented attack on our natural environment, our national environment laws
and the voices of the environment.
The Australian Greens are disappointed that the scope of this inquiry
was substantially narrowed by a decision of the Committee to focus almost
exclusively on funding for community environment organisations, the
Environmental Defenders Offices, the abolition of the Biodiversity Fund and
cuts to Landcare and Caring for Our Country. This decision means that the final
report of the Committee omits substantive discussion of clean energy, our
national environment laws and World Heritage matters.
The Australian Greens would like to thank everyone who made a submission
to this inquiry including environmental organisations, unions, renewable energy
organisations, academics and over 1,000 members of the public whose submissions
were not published. Your time and passion for our precious places and species
and our safe climate are appreciated.
Attacks on the voices of the environment
The Abbott Government has launched an insidious attack on the voices of
the environment which threatens not only a safe, clean future for future
generations, but also the fabric of our democracy.
This is far from the first time the Abbott Government has tried to
silence independent voices standing up for the environment. The government
abolished the independent Climate Commission and for the first time in almost
20 years, totally axed federal support for Environmental Defenders Offices
around Australia. In total, these cuts amounted to $10 million over four
years. These were the only cuts specifically excluded when the Attorney-General
backed down on cuts to other legal assistance in March 2015.
This government has also cut grants of $5.4 million over four years
under the Grants to Voluntary Environment, Sustainability and Heritage
Organisations (GVESHO) program, which has provided core funding to
organisations such as conservation councils since 1973.
Using a House of Representatives inquiry, and with the support of the
Minister for the Environment, Coalition MPs are seeking to strip away
deductible gift recipient status from groups on the Register of Environmental
Organisations, under the premise that it is improper for environment groups to
engage in law reform or to criticise the Abbott Government for its appalling
environmental track record and agenda.
The Abbott Government is pushing forward with this attack despite the
fact the High Court has ruled that advocacy with tax-deductible status have the
right to advocate and engage in political debate and that this is
"indispensable" for "representative and responsible
Time and time again, everyday Australians have banded together to save
our world-renowned environmental assets from short-sighted, government-endorsed
destruction. Through protest, the community and the environment movement have
worked together to end whaling in Australia, stop sand mining on Fraser Island,
save the Great Barrier Reef from oil rigs and stop the Franklin River from
By pretending that the only worthy environmentalism is planting trees or
cleaning up litter, the Abbott Government allows big business and mining
magnates to continue their destruction unchallenged. Local, on-the-ground
efforts are vital, but systemic issues cannot simply be ignored. The
environment movement's job is not just to clean up after destruction — it is to
help the community raise its voice to stop it in the first place. Not content
with just ignoring, ridiculing and de-funding those voices, the Abbott
Government now wants them silenced.
Apart from being alarmingly undemocratic, the government's plan to strip
tax-deductibility from environmental organisations would set a blatant double
standard. There's no talk from the Coalition of removing tax deductibility for
donations to Tony Abbott's favourite think tank, the Institute of Public
Affairs. Instead, the government has ruthlessly pursued the IPA's wish list of
scrapping our effective price on carbon, scrapping federal environmental
protections by handing them to the states, repealing the mining tax, cutting
university funding and attacking Medicare.
The invaluable role of the Environmental Defenders Offices
For 30 years, the Environmental Defenders Offices (EDOs) have been providing
free legal advice to community members who want to use the law to protect the
environment in the public interest. It is an invaluable service, and is the
only means through which members of the public can be empowered to understand
and enforce environmental laws in the public interest without charge.
It is part of a functioning healthy democracy that citizens are able to
hold government to account and enforce the rule of law. Frequently government
enforcement of environmental laws is under-resourced and overlooked (as
countless reports attest, including recent reports by both the Queensland and
the federal Auditors General), so the role of the community in enforcing laws
is all the more important. Giving communities a voice as the EDOs do warrants government
support and it is outrageous that the Abbott Government has removed all federal
funding for EDOs for the first time in the 18 year history of federal funding.
Given the program of attacks on our natural environment by this government,
never has the EDO been more needed.
The Productivity Commission's recent report on Access to Justice Arrangements
found that community legal centres (CLCs), of which the EDOs are an example,
are vital. The report found that they save governments money in the long term
and deserve an additional $200 million in government funding. EDOs are expert
environmental lawyers and their law reform submissions are of impeccable
standard in using the lessons learned from practicing to identify systemic
reforms which would be more efficient and effective. CLCs, and EDOs, save
government money and help fix flaws and oversights in our laws.
They are a public good and should be overwhelmingly supported and funded
by governments of all political persuasions as a service and a crucial element
of a healthy democracy.
Disclosure: I was proud to work as a solicitor at the
EDO Qld for 9 years prior to commencing my term in the Senate, and I regularly
donate to EDO Qld in recognition of the outstanding work they provide to the
community and our natural environment.
The Abbott Government should abandon its ideological attack on
deductible gift recipient status of the voices of the environment.
The Abbott Government should restore funding to the Environmental
Defenders Offices to at least the level which existed in September 2013
(including both recurrent and supplementary funding) and should consider
increasing that funding based on the Productivity Commission's recommendations
for $200 million increase in funding for community legal centres.
The Abbott Government should remove the gag clauses in funding
agreements with non-government organisations which prevent them from advocating
for better protections for the environment and which prevent them from standing
with the community against extractive industries such as coal and
unconventional gas to protect our land, water and a safe climate.
The Abbott Government should restore core funding for the voices
of our environment under the Grants to Voluntary Environment, Sustainability
and Heritage Organisations (GVESHO) program.
Cuts to the Biodiversity Fund and other programs
The abolition of the Biodiversity Fund, starting under Labor with
cutting the Biodiversity Fund in half, and concluding under the Abbott Government
with the abolition of the remainder, was staggeringly short-sighted and
represents a huge loss to our environment and to future generations.
The Abbott Government's cuts in the 2014 Budget to the Landcare and
Caring for Our Country are also a disaster for our environment. Landcare
experienced a cut of $484 million in the 2014 Budget with the money redirected
to more questionable programs.
In the 2015 Budget, the Abbott Government made further $100 million in
cuts to environmental programs including Landcare and Green Army, to fund
commitments on the Great Barrier Reef. While those commitments are welcome
though do not go far enough and are not adequately funded, that money should
not have come at the expense of other environment programs. Expenditure on the
environment needs to be increased, rather than reducing and reshuffling the
deckchairs on the Titanic.
The Biodiversity Fund should be fully restored, up to a total
level of $946 million, inclusive of projects already funded under previous
Funding for the National Landcare Programme should be restored to
September 2013 levels.
Funding for welcome commitments on the Great Barrier Reef should
not come at the expense of other environment programs.
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