Mining lobby calls for silencing environmental charities

Contributed from Queensland

The Minerals Council of Australia is pushing for environmental charities to be stopped from using more than 10 percent of their funds on political advocacy.

If successful, this would set a precedent that could apply to all not for profit organisations that have charitable status. It is a major restriction.

However, the mining companies’ representative body is accused of exempting itself from its own argument, by spending millions of dollars on its own political advocacy campaign.

Nevertheless, the long-running campaign to limit advocacy expenditure has the support of the Coalition and Murdoch media, and a Treasury inquiry into the matter is taking place. It is considering recommendations made by parliamentary inquiries set up by the government, including proposals to force environmental organisations to devote 50 percent of their expenditure towards “remediation” and for tighter monitoring of the advocacy activity of all charities.

Opponents brand this as a crude attempt to silence criticism.

The Minerals Council of Australia released its submission to the inquiry this week. A further demand of the body is the revealing of the identity of donors to charity that carry out advocacy work, arguing that it poses a threat to Australia’s sovereignty. In another submission to the government, the banning of foreign donations to groups that spend money on advocacy has been put forward.

The Australia institute has hit back by releasing its own paper, which reveals the extent of the use of foreign based advocacy groups used by the Mining Council, which itself is registered as a charitable body, enjoying tax deductibility.

The paper says that the Australian mining industry is 86 percent foreign-owned and had spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying Australian governments over the past decade – most of which would have been a tax deduction for the companies, resulting in forgone tax revenue of about $162 million.

The Australia Institute paper lays out ways in which the foreign-funded mining lobby has exerted political influence, most of which has aimed at reducing the tax revenue collected from those miners.

It notes :

  • Lobbying by Rio Tinto (83 percent foreign owned) and BHP Billiton (76 percent foreign owned) has prevented an inquiry into the $75bn-a-year iron ore industry.
  • The Minerals Council lobbies to maintain subsidies and tax concessions for mining companies that cost Australian taxpayers billions every year. In 2013, taxpayers paid $4.5bn in subsidies and concessions to the mining industry.
  • The mining industry spent at least $100m from 2010-12 lobbying for the repeal of the minerals resource rent tax, or “mining tax”, which budget papers estimate has reduced tax revenue by $5.3bn.

The industry is on the back foot in terms of the public perception of its contribution to environmental damage and climate warming and therefore has a clear incentive to silence criticism and change this perception.



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