Today, Malcolm Turnbull unveiled plans to ban foreign donations to political parties and MPs as part of the government’s crackdown on foreign interference into Australian domestic issues.
While on the surface this appears to be a move to protect Australian interests, there’s a potentially catastrophic side effect that could greatly set back the environmental work organisations like WWF-Australia are trying to do.
What is the ban?
The new laws will be discussed in Parliament this week. They include bans on organisations being funded by international philanthropy, which will seriously impede advocacy on issues that are important to Australians.
“The government has announced it will introduce legislation to ban foreign donations to political parties and MPs, but also advocacy work by charities,” explains Paul Toni, WWF-Australia’s Conservation Director, Sustainable Futures. “Australian charities are already strictly regulated by various Federal and state charities and fundraising Acts, Commonwealth and state electoral Acts, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and state agencies. Additional red tape is not necessary.”
How will this affect our conservation goals?
In short, this could be devastating to some of the environmental protection goals we have for the coming years and beyond.
“A lot of the world’s environmental problems are now international problems - Antarctica, whaling, climate change, international wildlife, the timber trade and migratory birds to name a few,” says Paul.
“In order to solve these problems, we need international action. Australia often helps charities overseas to do this, why shouldn’t we be allowed to accept help in return?”
The need for foreign funding
In fact, some of our greatest successes in recent years have been the direct result of international funding for advocacy work.
In October 2016, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) agreed to create the world’s largest Marine Protected Area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea stretching over 1,550,000 km2 – the size of France, Germany and Spain combined. WWF advocated for this for many years, and WWF-Australia could not have afforded to do so without the financial support of WWF offices throughout the world. There is no way the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area would have been created without the support of other countries and without the financial help of foreign charities.
One of WWF’s biggest aims is to protect 20% of the Southern Ocean by 2021. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are the only way we can secure a future for the amazing wildlife and marine biodiversity of East Antarctica, including Adélie and emperor penguins. The work spans many countries including Argentina, Chile, UK, Germany, NL, Australia, NZ, Russia, Norway and potentially China, and will require advocacy in Australia and throughout the world. Without foreign philanthropic funding, achieving our 2021 goal is all but impossible.
What is WWF doing to stop the ban?
WWF has joined forces with other charities whose work could be affected including by working as a team to lobby the Australian Parliament about the issue.
“We have formed a group called Hands Off Our Charities and will be meeting with political leaders on all sides and telling them there’s a fundamental difference between political parties and charities. We don’t have the resources of political parties and we have an existing comprehensive regulatory structure. It’s just unnecessary bureaucracy to add a new level of requirement.”
“We’ve commissioned some polling which showed that the overwhelming majority of voters on both sides of politics believe that charities that receive funding from overseas should be allowed to publicly advocate.”
What can you do to help?
If you agree with us that charities should not be included in this proposed ban and want to ensure our global conservation targets are not affected, you can add your voice.
“What we would urge is for people to contact their local MP,” says Paul. “Let them know you’re concerned about this issue and that you don’t think charities should have additional restrictions put on them.”
“We can’t make the world a better place without the rest of the world’s support. Global problems need a global solution, which is why we are determined to make sure our politicians don’t cut us off at the knees,” says Paul.