The Guardian 27 April, 2005

Muzzling environmental campaigners

Peter Mac

Not so long ago the Tasmanian government signalled its support for Gunns Industries, the “rip, tear and bust” logging firm which is suing environmental protesters for interfering with their sacred right to maximise profits.

Now it’s the Howard government’s turn. They’re removing grants in the form of tax deductible status from any organisation that campaigns on environmental issues.

The new policy primarily affects a scheme known as the Grants for Voluntary Environment and Heritage Organisations (GVHEO).

The government intends to provide funding capped at $10,000, for “the conservation of the natural environment, and not for any other purpose, such as political activity”. The government’s definition of “conservation of the natural environment” includes tree planting, weed control and creek restoration.

The Minister for the Environment, Senator Campbell, declared proudly “We’re spending far too much on bureaucracy and administration, and we need to make sure more of it gets to the pointy end. … There are hundreds of groups who apply for funds who don’t get it, and we thought that if we had a cap on it we’d be able to give far more support to small, local volunteer groups”.

Short shrift

In short, if you want to plant some trees as a contribution to improving air quality, the government might consider supporting your application, but if you want to campaign about industrial air pollution, global warming, unfettered logging, mining in protected areas, etc you will receive short shrift from the government.

As the NCC points out, planting trees and restoring creeks are very important, but they can’t stop the building of a new coal-fired power station or halt broad scale land clearing, nor can they create new national parks, marine parks or stronger environmental laws.


Cate Faehrmann, Director of the NCC, says it has lost some 20 percent of its annual budget through this new policy. Ms Faehrmann described the move bitterly as “the ongoing silencing of any voice of dissent.”

Some recent NCC (Nature Conservation Council of NSW) campaigns include legally challenging the state government’s water sharing plans, saving endangered species, halting land broad scale clearing and protecting old growth forests and wetlands. Such activities are now to be financially proscribed by the federal government.

Past support

For its part, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s director Don Henry commenting on past support for Voluntary Environment and Heritage Organisations says:

“This program has survived reviews by the Fraser, Hawke and Howard governments across three decades. It has had the support of both sides of politics in recognition of the importance of state and regional groups in voicing community concern for the environment.

“I urge the minister to reconsider this decision and reinstate funding to groups for the 2004/2005 financial years.”

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