More for greens who actually get their hands dirty
Since the 1980s, government funding of green groups has seriously distorted the environment movement. It has encouraged lobbying over getting-one's-hand dirty and looking to find practical solutions to the environmental problems. It has favoured big brand-name organisations over local community-based groups. And it has encouraged groups to cross the boundaries from the environment and stray into partisan politics.
The Federal Minister for Environment Ian Campbell's recent decision, reported in the Courier Mail, to change funding arrangements for environmental groups has at long last redressed this distortion.
Of course, the decision has led to the predictable cries of foul play from past beneficiaries of government funding.
But don't be fooled. There are probably many hundreds of community groups actively working to repair the environment who are delighted at this decision.
What the Minister has done is to change the Grants to Voluntary Environment and Heritage Organisations (GVEHO) scheme by capping the amount given at $10,000 per organisation. In the past funding under the scheme was allocated to primarily to limited number of predominantly large, advocacy focus with some receiving in the past in excess of $200,000 in a single year.
The Government decision will result in many hundreds of additional groups benefiting from the scheme. It will also focus funding on mobilising local communities to directly address environmental problems and favour those environmentalists working at the coalface rather than loitering in the corridors of power.
Yes, as some claim, "jobs will be lost" by this decision. This lament however exposes the problem. The program is "Grants to Voluntary Environment and Heritage Organisations" and not a job creation exercise professional activists. That is it meant for voluntary groups not businesses. Moreover for every job lost, the environment will gain many days of assistance.
Claims of poverty by the big enviro-lobby groups are really over the top. Last year, environment groups raised $72 million in Australia from the public excluding money from government. Moreover, the top three enviro-lobby groups - WWF, Greenpeace, and Australian Conservation Foundation, has a combined income of over $30 million and staff of over 250 people.
On the other hand, many small community based that tackle everyday environmental problems are crying out for just a bit of money. What the Minister has done is to allocate the money more to where the need is.
A second Campbell initiative has to put environmental groups on notice that tax deductible funds can not be used for expressly political purpose or for illegal activities.
Now for most of us, this is stating the obvious. Taxpayers do not want to fund illegal activity and they want to keep funding of political activity transparent and at arms-length from preserving the environment.
This is not happening. A number of green groups consistently abuse the prohibition on use of funds for overt political activities.
Just go to the Wilderness Society's website and look at their 2001 Queensland Election campaign run in conjunction with the Queensland Conservation Council which targeted five marginal seats, the object of which was to "move Liberal voters concerned with the environment to Labor." This was done with newspaper and television advertising, 40,000 letterbox "how-to-vote" cards, direct mail to 6,000 people, a mobile billboard and 150 members and volunteers helping Queensland Greens hand out how to vote cards.
Indeed, when one looks at all of its election campaigning activities in the states and federally, one has to ask whether the environment is the Wilderness Society's charitable purpose or marginal seat campaigning?
Moreover, some environmental groups regularly break the law. Indeed there is growing tendency for green activists to act as if they are above the law and as if the ends justify any means including the destruction of property and risking seriously injuring people.
The fact that some groups have complained about the clarification of these limits on the use of charitable funds is illustrative of just how out of control many green groups are.
In truth, environment groups owe Senator Campbell a debt of gratitude for giving them a much need financial help and reminding the sector that what really matters is finding workable solutions to environmental problems and not playing politics.