Category Archives: Government Policy

ARCS needs your help to maintain tax-deductible gift status

We previously reported on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment Inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations. The inquiry was set up under the government led by Tony Abbott. Our Springbrook Rescue project was one of the few sites visited by the Committee.

The Committee recommended that deductible gift recipients spend at least 25 per cent of their gift income on environmental remediation. Whereas ARCS is heavily involved in such remediation, we depend on donations to our gift fund to help cover basic administrative costs. Both Federal and State governments have withdrawn grant programs for administrative costs and it is very difficult to get granting bodies to provide such funding.

At the time it was unknown what a Turnbull Coalition government would do with the Committee’s recommendations. Now, it appears that the government intends to proceed with implementation of the recommendations.

Federal Treasury has produced a Discussion Paper on Tax Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities. Comments on the Paper are due by 14 July.

The Discussion paper can be downloaded from the Treasury web site by clicking here

Comments can be submitted by email to DGR@treasury.gov.au.

Of particular concern is the proposal to require environmental Deductible Gift Recipients (DGRs) to direct 25 per cent, or possibly 50 per cent, of the donations they receive to on-ground environmental work (“remediation”).

In 2015-16, ARCS spent $46,460 on rainforest restoration, but none of the funding for that work came from donations. The restoration work, including the wages of our one employee, is funded from the two non-profit accommodation businesses ARCS runs at Springbrook.

The tax-deductible donations are essential in helping to cover ongoing operational expenses including electricity, rates, telephone and internet, insurance, etc. (no salaries involved). If we can’t keep the Society functioning, we can’t do the restoration work.

You can help by providing comments to Treasury. Some points for you to consider follow.

  • there is no logical reason to require all environmental DGRs to be involved in on-ground activities;
  • the negative impacts of diminishing advocacy, lobbying and public campaigning would outweigh the benefits of remediation work (planting 1 hectare of cleared land can cost $20,000 or more);
  • for some organisations, donations are critically important for covering basic administrative costs and it would be a significant burden to be required to direct any of those funds to remediation; this is particularly the case as the government discontinued the GVESHO program which was specifically for administration costs.

Our full submission to Treasury is included below.

With gratitude for your support,

Aila Keto signature
Dr Aila Keto AO
President

***

ARCS response to Discussion Paper

Comment on Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities

Background to Australian Rainforest Conservation Society Inc

Australian Rainforest Conservation Society Inc (ARCS) was established in 1982. It was one of the eight organisations first listed on the Register of Environmental Organisations on 12 March 1993. Since its inception, ARCS has been involved in a wide range of environmental activities including advocacy, lobbying, public campaigning including political campaigning, delivering co-operative agreements between seemingly disparate parties leading to greatly expanded protected areas and “on the ground” rainforest restoration. Our ongoing 20-year Springbrook Rescue Rainforest Restoration Project has been included as one of 12 international case studies by IUCN WCPA in Ecological Restoration for Protected Areas — Principles, Guidelines and Best Practices.

This submission deals with Consultation questions 4 to 6 and 12.

Consultation questions 4 to 6

Government members and agencies demonstrate an inordinate concern about advocacy. It would not be unreasonable to conclude that the purpose is to stifle dissent.

The ACNC Guidelines state that it is not OK for a charity to have a purpose to promote or oppose a political party or a candidate for political office. The Commission fails to make a clear distinction in this regard between a purpose and an activity. An environmental DGR may have no intrinsic purpose with respect to a political party but may wish to engage in an activity that opposes a party because that will further its environmental purpose.

Consider the case where a political party proposes oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef — as did the Bjelke Petersen-led Queensland National Party. If an environmental DGR had a purpose of protecting the Reef, it would be completely consistent with its environmental purpose for it to engage in activities that opposed that political party. Their members, donors and the general public would expect them to do so.

ARCS does not support any further reporting requirements regarding advocacy.

We also note that the ACNC is not altogether clear about determining advocacy. The Guidelines state “In determining whether a charity has a disqualifying political purpose, the ACNC will consider all the relevant circumstances of the charity, including its governing rules and its activities. Assessment of these matters will be a question of fact and degree.”

Consultation question 12

The recommendation by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment to require environmental DGRs to commit no less than 25 per cent of the annual expenditure from their public fund to environmental remediation was clearly politically motivated. It is unfortunate that the Discussion Paper not only considers that proposal but also raises the possibility of doubling the requirement.

Despite statements by various politicians to the contrary, there has been no requirement for environmental DGRs to be involved in environmental remediation work.

In his letter to the Committee requesting the inquiry, the then Minister for Environment, Greg Hunt, wrote “The Register of Environmental Organisations plays an important role in Australia’s actions to improve the environment, supporting local communities to undertake on-ground environmental works.”

Committee Chair, Alex Hawke, Liberal Party Member for Mitchell, said on ABC 7.30 Report “the environment register is for groups to do actual practical environmental work or some education and other purposes”.

Member of the Committee, George Christensen, National Party Member for the Queensland electorate of Dawson, states on his web site “Environmental groups should focus on practical environmental programs and stay out of politics if they want taxpayer subsidies.”

All of these statements are misleading. The REO is established by the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997. The Act requires organisations listed on the Register to have as their ‘principal purpose’

  • the protection and enhancement of the natural environment or of a significant aspect of the natural environment; or
  • the provision of information or education, or the carrying on of research, about the natural environment or a significant aspect of the natural environment.

There is no mention of on-ground activities.

Further, neither the Committee nor Treasury has provided any evidence to suggest that donors to environmental DGRs expect them to be carrying out on-ground activities. When a member of the public makes a donation to an environmental DGR, they are presumably doing so because they support what the DGR is doing. It would be reasonable to assume that a taxpayer making a donation to a DGR that is currently working to protect the Great Barrier Reef expects their donation to be used for advocacy and, consistent with the requirements of the REO, “the provision of information and education”. It is not for the government to dictate how the donation will be spent as long as the expenditure is consistent with the DGR’s environmental purpose.

The implication that only organisations carrying out on-ground works are worthy of support flies in the face of the history of protection of the natural environment in Australia. Many of the most significant gains in protection of Australia’s natural environment have been the result of intense and protracted public and political campaigns, including —

  • preventing oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef,
  • saving the Franklin River from being dammed,
  • stopping logging of tropical rainforests in North Queensland and achieving their protection and World Heritage Listing,
  • protecting Fraser Island, now a World Heritage Area, from sand mining and logging,
  • stopping large-scale land clearing in Queensland, and
  • protecting the Great Barrier Reef from dredge spoil dumping.

There are numerous environmental organisations that are not involved in on-ground environmental remediation but have made and continue to make essential contributions to protection of the natural environment and unquestionably deliver outcomes for the public good.

Further, neither the Committee nor Treasury make any attempt to justify involvement of all environmental DGRs in on-ground remediation nor provide any quantification of the expected benefits. It is virtually certain that the benefits would pale into insignificance compared the historical achievements resulting from advocacy, lobbying and public campaigning.

Specific implications for ARCS

In 2015–16, ARCS made an appeal to members and supporters to make donations to our public fund to allow ARCS to purchase and protect an area of rainforest in the Gold Coast Hinterland. An amount of $244,480 was raised.

Putting that aside for the moment, other donations to our public fund amounted to $6165. None of those funds were allocated to on-ground environmental remediation. However, through funding from other sources, ARCS spent $46,460 on on-ground rainforest restoration.

Clearly, ARCS would meet the proposed criteria of being involved in environmental remediation. But that activity does not receive any moneys from our public fund.

It is critically important that the public fund be available to cover administrative costs. This is particularly the case since the Abbott Government withdrew the GVESHO program which specifically provided funding for administration.

Returning to the money donated through our public fund to allow the purchase and protection of rainforest land, it would be a complete betrayal of our donors’ trust were we to allocate 25 per cent (or 50 per cent!) of their donations to restoration work. This emphasises the point made earlier in this submission that donors know what they are doing when they make a donation to support any particular campaign. It is not the role of government to intervene in how their donation is used.

In summary, ARCS does not support any mandatory requirement to allocate expenditure from the public fund to environmental remediation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Government Policy

Australia’s land clearing rate is again among the highest in the world

Today, more than 400 scientists and four scientific organisations have issued yet another dire warning to Australian governments regarding the impact of land clearing. The major focus is on Queensland and New South Wales.

Yellow-footed antechinus

Yellow-footed Antechinus (Photo: Christine Hosking)

Thirteen years ago, scientists from across the world expressed their grave concern about ongoing high rates of forest and woodland destruction in Queensland. In 2004, the Queensland Government lead by Peter Beattie introduced laws to stop broad scale clearing in the state. As a result, the rate of clearing was greatly reduced. However, the Liberal National Party government, which came to power in 2012, greatly weakened controls on land clearing. As a result, clearing doubled with 300,000 hectares of land now cleared each year.

In March 2016, the Queensland Government (Labor) introduced legislation to reinstate land clearing controls. The legislation has passed through an extensive consultation process and is due to go to parliament in the near future.

The proposed changes to land-clearing laws, while strongly supported by today’s statement from eminent scientists, has sparked a campaign led by lobby group, AgForce. Chief executive Charles Burke claims the status quo is sustainable saying “We want to talk about the science, we want to make sure we stick to the facts and make sure it’s not caught up in, sometimes, the conservation rhetoric.”

In New South Wales, the government has proposed scrapping existing legislation including the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act and replacing that legislation with new legislation that will to a significant extent put vegetation management in the hands of landholders. Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries, said: “Our farmers are our frontline environmental custodians and it makes sense to give them the flexibility to manage and protect the land…”. The new legislation depends heavily on offsets where areas of land are protected to supposedly compensate for the loss of currently protected vegetation.

Today’s declaration by eminent scientists notes that “between 1998 and 2005 an estimated 100 million native birds, reptiles and mammals were killed because of destruction of their habitat in NSW”  and “in Queensland, the estimate was 100 million native animals dying each year between 1997 and 1999.”

In 2014, the Federal Government launched the 20 Million Trees Programme to be completed by 2020. But the scientists’ statement points out that 20 million trees are cleared every year in Queensland alone.

Clearing_image_Laurance

Photo: William Laurance

The future of the proposed legislative changes in Queensland is difficult to predict. The Labor government does not have a majority in the parliament. The proposed changes are opposed by the two Katter Party members and the government will be dependent on the votes of independents Rob Pyne and Billy Gordon who will be heavily lobbied by AgForce and the LNP.

Today’s declaration by scientists can be found on the web site of Society for Conservation Biology Oceania.

For more information on the Queensland legislation amendments, go to Environmental Defenders Office.

You can help

In Queensland, email the following asking them to support the legislation changes:

Rob Pyne:  Cairns@parliament.qld.gov.au

Billy Gordon:  Cook@parliament.qld.gov.au

Peter Wellington:  speaker@parliament.qld.gov.au

In New South Wales, sign the petition at Stand Up for Nature.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Biodiversity, Forests, Government Policy

Stopping logging native forests could save millions in carbon credits

As indicated in the blog article “Native forests for burning”, burning native forest “residues” as a source of renewable energy is expected to help the declining native forest timber industry, especially in Tasmania and Victoria. It has been revived by the Abbott Government based, at least in part, on the notion that burning wood waste for electricity generation will reduce the need to burn coal.

But recent research suggests that far greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved by stopping native forest logging altogether.

For decades, ARCS has been arguing that native forest logging should be phased out and hardwood production moved to plantations. Our position has been based on biodiversity conservation but it now appears there are additional benefits including major economic benefits. The following text is an extract from a paper by Professor David Lindenmayer, ANU, and Professor Brendan Mackey, Griffith University.


Analysis done using the Australian government’s public native forest model suggests that stopping all harvesting in the public native forest estate would generate in the order of 38 million tonnes of potential credits (that is, the equivalent of 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions avoided) each year in the short to medium term.

While this is the technical capacity, the Kyoto Protocol’s rules cap credits from forest management at 3.5% of base-year emissions, or around 15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. So if Australia ratifies the second commitment period of the Protocol, which runs from 2013 to 2020, the cap would limit forest management credits to 120 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the commitment period.

The Australian government’s latest emissions projections estimate that, in order to meet its 5% emissions-reduction target in 2020, Australia has to reduce its emissions by 236 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the second commitment period. This means stopping harvesting in public native forests could provide 51% of the abatement task to 2020.

Native forest logging results in significant greenhouse gas emissions because typically less than 5% of the biomass carbon of logged forests ends up as long-term timber products like furniture. The majority of the biomass carbon is made into short-lived products such as paper, which simply delays emissions for around three years.

Meanwhile, up to 60% of the remaining biomass in Victorian Mountain Ash forests is logging slash – tree heads, lateral branches, understorey trees, bark and other unwanted forest residues. Most of the carbon stored in this slash is emitted to the atmosphere, either in high-intensity stand-regeneration fires or through accelerated decomposition.

Research shows that the logging of several thousand hectares of Victoria’s Mountain Ash forest each year produces emissions equivalent to about one-third of the annual greenhouse emissions of Yallourn Power Station.

Carbon book-keeping
Since the start of 2013, Australia has been required to account for carbon emissions from forest management in the national greenhouse gas accounts. This includes emissions (and carbon sequestration) due to the management of public native forests (usually known as “state forests”), plantations established before 1990, and private forests that have been harvested since 1990.

The accounting is based on a “baseline-and-credit” system. The Australian government was required to make a projection of net emissions (emissions minus sequestration) from its forest management lands over the period 2013 to 2020. If Australia’s actual net emissions from forest management are below this reference level, it receives credits that it can use to offset emissions from other sectors. If its net emissions are above the reference level, it receives debits.

Phasing out native forestry
The Kyoto cap on forestry credits means that any plan to stop harvesting would be best done in a staged manner, with logging areas progressively being shut down. This would also minimise the transitional issues for workers, while still maximising the claimable carbon credits for Australia. If done well, stopping harvesting in native forests could move workers into more profitable and sustainable plantation-based industries, while providing an ongoing and low-cost source of carbon abatement that can be used to meet current and future emissions targets.

The Australian government could do this using its Emissions Reduction Fund. It could effectively pay states like Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania for the substantial carbon abatement derived from not logging their native forests. The states in turn could use the money to transition workers out of the native forest sector.

An added benefit of this strategy is that it would remove the major competitive disadvantage faced by the plantation sector, which has to compete against a heavily subsidised and major loss-making native forest logging sector. The impact on wood production would be limited given that plantations are already the source of more than 80% by volume of all wood products.

Don’t burn it
The current policy is almost exactly opposite of what is needed, with wood from native forests (including sawlogs from Victorian forests) set to be burned to generate electricity as part of the Renewable Energy Target (RET). Indeed, the federal forestry minister Richard Colbeck recently admitted that the native forest sector is not viable without burning forests for energy.

However, when it receives renewable energy credits, burning native forest biomass cannot reduce emissions from electricity generation by coal-fired power stations. The way the RET works means that when biomass is burned it merely displaces forms of renewable electricity generation (like solar and wind), rather than coal as the forest industry consistently maintains.

This means that including native forest biomass in the RET will not reduce emissions from electricity generated by coal-fired power stations. But it could very well significantly increase emissions from forest management, thereby making it harder for Australia to reach its emissions target.
Of course, there would be significant other benefits of not logging native forests, including securing the water supply of cities like Melbourne, and better conserving critically endangered species like Leadbeater’s Possum.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biodiversity, Forests, Government Policy

Native forests for burning

The Abbott Government recently succeeded in having burning of so-called ‘wood waste’ from native forests included as a source of renewable energy for electricity generation.

Hazelwood

Australia’s dirtiest coal-burning power station, Hazelwood, in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, is considering switching from coal to native forest ‘waste’ from East Gippsland.

In 2001, the Howard Government set a mandatory Renewable Energy Target requiring electricity suppliers to source an additional two per cent, or 9500 GWh, of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010. In 2009, the Rudd Government increased the target to 45,000 GWh by 2020. The target has two components, 41,000 GWh from large-scale sources such as wind and large-scale solar and 4000 GWh from small-scale sources such as roof-top solar.

The target had to be reviewed every two years by the Climate Change Authority. But last year Prime Minister Tony Abbott set up a separate review headed by businessman and climate sceptic Dick Warburton. Not surprisingly, the recommendations of the Warburton review were not well supported.

What followed were protracted negotiations between the government and the Labor opposition to try to reach agreement on a revised target. The parties eventually agreed on a reduction from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh by 2020.

A controversial issue has been the question of whether wood waste from native forests should be counted as renewable energy. The Howard Government included native forest wood waste in the RET. But in 2011 a parliamentary Multi-Party Climate Change Committee agreed to remove it.

In March 2012, when the House of Representatives had passed the clean energy future legislation, Independent MP Rob Oakeshott introduced a motion to include native forest wood waste. The vote on his motion was tied and the Speaker, Peter Slipper, used his casting vote to defeat the motion.

Late December 2012, the Climate Change Authority recommended including burning native forest residues in the RET. They naively accepted the argument that if residues from harvesting operations are going to be burnt or left to rot, it would be better to burn them for electricity generation.

In June this year, the House of Representatives passed the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 to change the RET from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh. The Bill also included an amendment allowing burning of biomass from native forest.

When the Bill went to the Senate, Labor moved an amendment to remove the native forest clause. The amendment was supported by the Greens and Senator Glenn Lazarus but failed because all the other cross-bench senators voted with the government.

Tony Abbott had done a deal with the cross-bench senators to get their support. The deal involves measures aimed at reducing the use of wind energy in favour of large-scale solar. Whereas this move was led by Senator David Leyonhjelm, it clearly had the support of Tony Abbott who believes wind turbines are “visually awful” and noisy.
The Government has agreed to appoint a national wind farm commissioner to “handle complaints from concerned residents about the operations of wind turbine facilities”. They will also appoint a scientific committee to investigate the health impacts of wind turbines despite numerous reviews by medical authorities that have found no evidence for health impacts.

A leader in the push for burning native forest “residues” was Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture. The Tasmanian timber industry has been in trouble since the decline in wood chip exports. When the wood chip industry was starting up, supporters argued that no trees would be cut for chipping if they could be used for sawlogs. In other words, wood chips were just a by-product of the sawlog industry. Clearly, that was farcical and the fear is that the same will happen with electricity generation from native forests.

forestwaste

There is the potential to address the problem at the state level. You can help by telling the Queensland Government not to approve electricity generation from native forest ‘waste’. Email the following Ministers:
Hon Dr Steven Miles MP, Minister for Environment & Heritage Protection, environment@ministerial.qld.gov.au
Hon Leanne Donaldson MP, Minister for Agriculture & Fisheries, agriculture@ministerial.qld.gov.au

For more on this issue, have a look at “Burning Question” on ABC Background Briefing. Click here for the story.

Keith Scott

Leave a comment

September 10, 2015 · 4:44 pm

Queensland to restrict community rights to object to mining applications

The Newman-Seeney government is proposing to restrict the right to object to mining applications to people directly affected such as the owner of the land. Community groups including environment organisations will not be able to object to the majority of mining applications.
coal-mining
Currently, any person or group can object and that can lead to the matter being heard by the Land Court. According to Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney, that is “frustrating” for the government.

The Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Andrew Cripps, has released a discussion paper for public comment. Submissions close on Friday 28 March. The discussion paper can be downloaded at http://mines.industry.qld.gov.au/mining/mining-lease-notification-initiative.htm

On releasing the discussion paper, Mr Cripps said “The proposed reforms will allow us to hear from those who are directly impacted by the development rather than extreme green groups in Melbourne or California whose life goal is to create a road block for economic development. These individuals or groups have little or no interest in our state and submit vexatious objections to tie up economically beneficial projects.”

Jeff Seeney told the ABC, “It’s obvious that the current process allows individuals or groups who are fundamentally opposed to the coal industry – for whatever reason – to use the objection process to frustrate and delay those projects,”
“The people of Queensland have elected us as a government based on developing our coal industry to supply the world markets and our processes need to allow us to do that.”

The Environmental Defenders Office Queensland has identified the issues and produced a summary of the discussion paper as well as a sample submission. They can be found at the EDO Queensland web site.

Leave a comment

Filed under Government Policy, Uncategorized