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Greens should plant trees or lose tax benefits


Environmentalists have reacted angrily to a report that recommends green groups lose their tax-deductibility status for public donations, unless at least a quarter is spent on remediation work, such as tree planting or weeding. Source: ABC News

The federal parliamentary inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations was set up by Environment Minister Greg Hunt in 2015.

It came after the Liberal federal council voted in favour of a motion from Tasmanian MP Andrew Nikolic that green groups be stripped of their charitable tax status in 2014.

In its report, the parliamentary committee recommended environmental groups use at least 25% of their public funds for environmental remediation work in order to qualify as a tax-deductible charity.

Committee chair and Liberal MP John Cobb said remediation could include cleaning up waterways or dealing with weeds.

“It’s actually physically trying to help land or other environmental issues to make them sustainable,” he said.

Jess Feehley from the Tasmanian Environmental Defenders Office said the idea was unworkable.

“That would certainly restrict access to tax benefits for a range of organisations who do advocacy, education and law reform work,” she said.

The Wilderness Society’s national director Lyndon Schnieders agreed.

“This [is a] very odd idea that in fact every environmental group has to go out and do some tree planting as part of its core business,” he said.

The committee also called for stricter reporting and compliance requirements.

Mr Cobb said that was only reasonable.

“Once you apply for and accept public money, you have to accept some level of auditing or bookwork,” he said.

Mr Schneifers said green groups would be buried in red tape.

“This report involves creating layers upon layers upon layers of bureaucracy and paperwork and regulation,” he said.

Another recommendation was for “administrative sanctions” to be introduced for environmental organisations that encouraged unlawful activity, such as trespassing.