6 July 2024

Topics: disastrous effect of environmental activist groups on regions, jobs and the economy; the charity status of these organisations

E&OE

Senator Duniam:

It’s great to be here with Luke Martin from Salmon Tasmania. Well, we know that Australians are doing it tough. We’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis and our economy is faltering, inflation is on the up and the information that was made available through this week around how much money is flowing to environmental organisations being used to conduct green lawfare is absolutely astounding.

Make no mistake, every one of those dollars flowing to those organisations is being used to hold up job creating entities that create projects, that sustain employment and economic activity right across our country. The salmon industry here in Tasmania is just one example and we know that they’ve been under attack from the Bob Brown Foundation, the Australia Institute and of course the Environmental Defenders Office; all three of those organisations found their way into the top 25 organisations receiving millions of dollars every year from donors across the world, perhaps. And in the last eight years, that funding has more than doubled. In the last two years, green lawfare across the country has cost in excess of $17 billion of economic activity and jeopardised more than 30,000 jobs. So it’s time now for these organisations to be transparent about where this money is coming from. What is the source of revenue that has enabled organisations like the Environmental Defenders Office who, in 2015, were receiving just over $3 million, now in receipt of over $13 million? Where is this money coming from? I don’t think it’s donations on the ground here in Tasmania or across Australia. Organisations that have gone from $4 million to in excess of $15 million in the same period of time or the Sunshine Project which is now receiving in excess of $73 million when they were receiving less than $10 million back in 2015.

In Australia, if you want to buy a business and you come from overseas, you’ve got to comply with our Foreign Investment Review Board obligations. If you come from overseas, you can’t donate to a political party, but apparently you can donate to these organisations if you come from overseas which waged this green lawfare, which is jeopardising jobs.

So I think it’s incumbent upon government, our Federal Government, the Albanese Labor Government, a ‘friend of the worker’, to look at these laws and see how we can stop this funding flowing into Australia and jeopardising these jobs. It’s also incumbent upon this government to take away the $2.3 million they give to the Environmental Defenders Office every year in perpetuity, despite the Federal Court of Australia having so scathingly judged against their conduct and activities. Why do they need to give taxpayers money to this organisation when, over the last eight years, they’ve been able to net an extra $10 million annually? They don’t need taxpayers money – taxpayers money would be better spent elsewhere than shutting down the economy. We might hear from Luke and then take questions.

Luke Martin:

Thanks Senator. Look, Tasmania’s environmental activist groups are part of life here and part of doing business in Tasmania, and they have an important role to play because ultimately, they care deeply and are driven by keeping Tasmania’s extraordinary environment protected and conserved. But they need to play by the same rules as everyone else and what we saw this week which are not fudged numbers, they’re not spun up numbers by someone with an agenda, they are literally lifted out of annual reports that these organisations, is an extraordinary amount of money that’s been channeled into Tasmania. We have organisations that are professionally run, well resourced and effectively on a daily basis nearly, attacking and try coming up with ways to put enormous pressure on not just our industry, but our mining industry, our forestry industry and our renewable energy industry.

And we’re not just seeing it through activism. We’re not just seeing it through full page ads that are frankly full of lies often, not based on science, but is just based on emotionalism. We don’t just see it through I guess some of the media releases and media events that they put on, but we’re also seeing it through lawfare. And that’s about effectively having lawyers who are sitting on a daily basis finding ways to play Australia’s weak environmental laws and I say weak environmental laws because they are. They are tired and weak. They are ultimately not just designed to stall my investment but also really frustrate all proponents or participants through the process. So again, when you see the sort of numbers we saw this week released, the Bob Brown Foundation who have gone from a $450,000 charity just eight years ago to effectively around a $5 million budget now. This number of staff they’ve got going through that organisation, this is not Tasmanians donating money to support Bob Brown and his aspirations for Tasmania’s environment. It’s clearly money being channeled in to the state potentially (from) overseas. And, you know, we want to see the same sort of level of transparency that we’re expected to meet and I guess all organisations engaged in terms of Tasmania’s public debate are expected to meet. We’ve got really robust donation laws around how much funding corporations invest in Australian political life. It’s very clear about what the expectations for us about where that money is coming from, where the money’s made to our political parties. We want to see the same level of transparency for these environmental organisations. When they are posting enormous amounts of revenue and enormous amounts of donation revenue, who is that funding? Who are these people donating money to effectively attack and destroy Tasmanian livelihoods and jobs?

Journalist:

Given that Tasmania has made certain companies, now owned by multinational corporations, is quite the David versus Goliath battle is being painted as?

Luke Martin:

Oh look, well I mean the difference is everyone knows exactly where our funding is coming from. Tasmanian businesses based in Tasmania and foreign owned, the three salmon companies, but gotta remember the salmon aquaculture industry is not just those three companies. It’s a host of businesses that are Tasmanian owned and Tasmanian run, involved in supply chain right across the state. So I think one of the first misnomers about this in our industry is that it is just the three salmon farmers. It’s a lot bigger than that. But also, we play by pretty clear rules. You can see, know exactly where my funding is coming from and see exactly the sort of money that we’re investing in our activity, because it’s very clear and very transparent about our reports. I tell you, I don’t have $25 million to spend every year countering the efforts of the Environmental Defenders Office, the Australia Institute, the Bob Brown Foundation, that is what their bind budgets are this year and they’re the three organisations that have effectively triggered this incredibly intense, incredibly uncertain legal process it’s running about Macquarie Harbour. So I think if it is a David Goliath, I don’t necessarily think we’re the big partner in that debate.

Journalist:

Should all the groups that are working in the activism, in the lobbying or representation space be required to list their donations the same way political parties are?

Luke Martin:

I guess that’s effectively what we’re calling for. So you know, when you’re seeing donations, you can clearly see the scale of it. But I think it’s fair and it’s transparent to be very clear about who are those donors? Are they individuals? Are they local Tasmanians? Are they from interstate from the leafy suburbs of Melbourne City or indeed, are they from organisations who have a much bigger agenda? And you know, again, when you’re talking about the scale of funding, when you’re talking about the amount of money that’s washing into significantly influence legal processes or indeed public debate, I think everyone needs to play by the same rules. And I think that’s only fair that we understand exactly who are those donors.

Journalist:

Are you wanting to defund them or cut funding entirely from the federal government?

Luke Martin:

Well, I look, I think there’s two issues around these organisations. One is they are charities. And I think I mean, most Tasmanians I think would find that a bit galling. They have activist groups that are able to be claiming charity status. And again, that is probably a loophole that needs to be explored. But secondly, again, they have a role to play in Tasmanian life. They’re not going anywhere. And I think when you look at Tasmania’s environmental activist groups over a longtime, they played a pretty critical, important role about making sure that we get the balance right in the state as much as we can between the need for economic activity and need to be able to create jobs and obviously conserve what is an extraordinary natural environment.

So by no means suggesting these organisations shouldn’t receive donations. But we need to be clear and transparent about who those donors are and what their motivations are. I think the second issue that Senator Duniam’s picked on is, is absolutely right, as well. When you’ve got taxpayer funding going into the Environmental Defenders Office, I think when the Environmental Defenders Office is effectively using that money to then turn around to absolutely attack and undermine workers, and through that really aggressive legal actions that they do take, well funded, buoyed up on activism, you’ve really got to ask the question about is that the best use of taxpayers dollars.

Journalist:

Given how well organised these groups are, should they be left to stand on their own two feet?

Luke Martin:

Yeah well as I say, certainly I think there’s a question about taxpayers funding, and when you look at those numbers to the Environmental Defenders Office, $11 million a year, I’m not sure they’re really crying for the need to have Anthony Albanese to write out checks to them as well. So I think there is a legitimate question about public funding for some of these organisations. Ultimately, if you want to support the environment, and there’s taxpayers funds invested into supporting the environment, let’s put it actually into real conservation activities on the ground. And again, rather than paying for lawyers in offices in Hobart, or Sydney or Canberra, to effectively play the game of trying to obstruct projects that are going through Australia’s environmental laws.

Journalist:

People that use the EDO, so like farmers, indigenous communities and ordinary citizens don’t have as deep pockets as corporations that they might be up against in court. Do you feel that this, you’re calling for the defunding, might not allow them proper access to the law?

Luke Martin:

I think you could run that argument on that basis if the EDO was showing that they didn’t have the resources coming through. But I think when you look at the scale of funding that they are having coming through, there is there is a legitimate case to say that how much can they stand on their own two feet as an organisation. So again, I understand the point about we’ve got small proponents trying trying to go through a legal process. It’s costly, expensive, but I guess when you look at the scale of these numbers and some of the actions that the Environmental Defenders Office is taking, I’m not sure that’s necessarily in the interests of small farmers, indigenous communities, that seems to be far more about activism to disrupt industries they have an agenda against.

Journalist:

So you’re more concerned about the the $10 million of funding from the federal government or from unknown donations?

Luke Martin:

A valid point, the first point I think is we just need to be very clear about who they are. So we certainly know the EDO that taxpayers funding is the largest chunk of their budget. But that’s not the case of the Australia Institute, or the Bob Brown foundation or the Wilderness Society. All we see is a very large donation amount. And I think there’s a fair argument around seeing transparency, much like our political donations work about knowing who those funders are, who those donors are, and understanding what is the scale of some of those donations that have been injected into these organisations. Exactly the same scrutiny as what we expect on all other public organisations engaged in public affairs across Australia, and whether it’s political parties that receive corporate donations, or indeed, our governments themselves directing their funding towards those services. So I think it’s two issues, I say, one’s about the transparency of who those donors are. And again, there’s also