Grantmaker concerns over environmental NGO inquiry

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Environmental grantmakers across Australia are concerned about the potential for new rules and red tape to be imposed on environment NGOs, reducing their ability to attract grants and donations. Philanthropists including Paddy Pallin, Rob Purves and Peter Sainsbury have outlined their concerns to The Age.

These concerns have been raised in response to the Federal Government’s announcement in late March 2015 that a House of Representatives committee will conduct an Inquiry into the Administration and Transparency of the Register of Environmental Organisations.

The terms of reference for the Inquiry imply that significant revisions to the operation and purpose of the Register of Environmental Organisations and organisations’ deductible gift recipient (DGR) status may be considered.

My 40 year journey as a grantmaker has taught me that there is no neat distinction between advocacy and on-the-ground environmental repair and conservation work. The two activities often complement and inform each other. Some of our best grants – the ones which have realised the greatest environmental outcomes – have been achieved through careful advocacy and fieldwork. The work of Barmah-Millewa Collective at Friends of the Earth to achieve national park protection of river red gum habitat is a case in point. This work was carried out alongside the Yorta Yorta peoples of the Murray River, who gained joint management of the park (pictured).

As a trustee of the Reichstein Foundation, I know first-hand the high levels of accountability and transparency to which the environmental NGOs amongst our grant recipients adhere. We receive detailed reporting on all our grants, enabling us to be sure that the activities and outcomes are appropriate, and that our philanthropic funds are well allocated.

The Inquiry comes amidst some recent changes that could weaken Australia’s democratic culture and its safeguards. It would be of concern if attempts were made to discourage advocacy by NGOs and human rights institutions, which is a feature of our democratic system. That’s why we’ve made a submission to the environmental NGO Inquiry, and we support the submissions made by the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) and Philanthropy Australia.

See our submission here: Reichstein Foundation House of Reps Enviro Reg Submission May 2015

Jill Reichstein OAM

Chair, Reichstein Foundation