Greenpeace must be subject to rule of law

Barnaby Joyce
Barnaby Joyce

QLD Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has rightly questioned Greenpeace's fundraising rights, saying environmental groups that destroy public property should not be entitled to receive taxpayer concessions.

He was commenting after ACT Police announced that summonses would be issued for two Sydney women to face the ACT Magistrates Court on charges relating to destruction of government-approved CSIRO genetically-modified wheat field trials in Canberra last month.

Police executed a search warrant on Greenpeace headquarters in Sydney shortly after the mid-July incident, during which the Australian Federal Police seized evidence.

Sen Joyce has made a valid point: why should Greenpeace benefit from a government ruling that allows the organisation to receive tax deductible donations under the Register of Environmental Organisations program.

"I find it a bit of a paradox that an organisation can get a tax deduction, in the same way that St Vincent de Paul or the Red Cross does, when it has been implicated in charges relating to the destruction of taxpayer property," he said.

"If Greenpeace is found to be implicated in the destruction of scientific research, then it should no longer receive the benefit of a tax deduction from the Australian people."

Sen Joyce says Greenpeace has actively promoted and endorsed the destruction of public property.

He cited the organisation's media statement issued on July 14, following the incident.

In it, Greenpeace anti-GM campaigner Laura Kelly said: "GM has never been proven safe to eat and once released in open experiments, it will contaminate. This is about the protection of our health, the protection of our environment and the protection of our daily bread."

But surely the rejection of scientific research - whether GM technology or climate change - does not give any organisation the right to break the law.

"I think it is very important to understand that the rule of law be maintained in regards to the respect of public property if you want to maintain a civilised society," Sen Joyce said.

"The endorsement of destruction leads to anarchy."

Greenpeace spokesman James Lorenz said it was disappointing that Sen Joyce's first priority was persecution, rather than protection.

"Today, international biotech corporations have the right to sue Australian farmers for patent infringement even if their crops have been contaminated," he said.

The Greenpeace activists used whipper snippers to set back the government-approved research by at least a year while causing about $300,000 in damages

Mr Lorenz said Greenpeace was completely transparent and independent of all government and corporate funding.

The police investigation is continuing and further people, who may have been involved or assisted in the commission of the offences under investigation, are likely to be charged with a number of offences - including trespass and damaging Commonwealth property.

But notwithstanding Greenpeace's 'noble' ideas, the Gene Technology Act 2000 - under which the trials are conducted - sets out a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment for anyone found guilty of damaging or interfering with approved GM trials and associated facilities.

Greens leader, Bob Brown declined to comment while the matter was in police hands, saying "peaceful protest is part of our democratic rights".

"The public has a very big concern in this issue, but I'll leave it to the proceedings in the courts beyond that," Mr Brown said.

The Environmental Organisations register is maintained by the Environment Department, allowing groups like Greenpeace eligibility to receive tax deductible donations, under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.

Environmental organisations are added or removed from the register through directions form the Environment Minister and Treasurer.

An Environment Department spokesperson said it was not appropriate to comment on ongoing criminal investigations.

However, the spokesperson said it was not appropriate for entities with deductible gift recipient status, or charity status, to be engaging in or supporting illegal activities.

Greenpeace is endorsed by the Commissioner of Taxation as a charitable institution and can access an income tax exemption and GST and FBT concessions. It is also listed on the Register of Environmental Organisations, meaning donations to Greenpeace are tax deductible.

Scientists and farm groups in Australia and abroad have expressed concerns that activists are deliberately spreading anti-GM fears to the general public, to assist fundraising efforts.

The Western Australian-based Pastoralists and Graziers' Association says it fully endorses Sen Joyce's questioning of Greenpeace's "privileged tax exemption".

PGA Western Graingrowers chairman John Snooke said grain producers were tax payers unlike Greenpeace.

"It is ironic and disappointing that important public research being conducted by CSIRO and funded by tax payers was destroyed because Greenpeace has a gripe against a proven safe, internationally-respected breeding technique," he said.

"What expertise does Greenpeace have in plant breeding?

In a nutshell, the wider community - with a diverse range of political views - must decide whether it accepts unlawful sabotage and destruction of public property over the rule of law that applies to everyone.

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READER COMMENTS

admo
14/09/2011 6:36:46 AM

Some would argue that genetically modified anything is a violation of public land and interests. But there is nothing public about pushing genetically modified crops on the world.... that's mostly private interests. And since large corporations seem to run agriculture now days, and most of the world's governments, they seem to have become the laws. And they get huge tax breaks as well. Your article is biased. Your understanding of what constitutes civility is a perversion of the nature.
Evan
14/09/2011 5:22:21 PM

CSIRO's work is not public science but private product development - not in the interest of Australians but of the Monsantos of the world. There is a well established legal precedent for breaking the law to prevent a greater harm - that's exactly what Greenpeace has done - and exactly what the farmers are doing in their lock the gate campaign - good on em both.
Canberra CommentFairfax Agricultural Media Canberra correspondent Colin Bettles tackles the big national rural and agricultural issues which will impact regional and rural Australians.

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