Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

Small Donations and 'Sugar Daddies' out to Save Reef

Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

Small Donations and 'Sugar Daddies' out to Save Reef

Article excerpt

ALMOST $50 million went into three environmental groups behind the Fight for the Reef campaign in the past 18 months.

Large 'sugar daddy' contributions from private foundations bolstered thousands of smaller donations.

WWF Australia, Greenpeace Australia-Pacific and the Australian Marine Conservation Society funds were documented in each group's filings with the national charities regulator, covering the past 18 months.

They reveal WWF received the lion's share of funding in the 2013-14 fiscal year, at $29million. Greenpeace raised more than $19million and the AMCS received $1.3million in calendar 2014.

Each group cited Sunshine Coast-based conservation group The Thomas Foundation as a key source of funds, but none would comment on other significant backers.

University of Queensland political expert Graeme Orr called such groups the "sugar daddies" of the green movement. While general donations also went to other campaigns and on-ground programs, from shark conservation and marine park programs to plastic bag campaigns, much went on education, PR campaigns and advocacy.

Professor Orr said that while business groups often used "heavy duty lobbying" to influence government policy, environmental groups largely relied on a combination of thousands of small donations from the public and a few sugar daddies, such as The Thomas Foundation.

He said the rise of third-party issues campaigns was more like a "leapfrogging race" than an arms race, but that once one side did it, the other side was "almost expected" to follow with similar tactics.

Despite being the only one of the three green groups to file a third party return of political expenditure with the Australian Electoral Commission, WWF Australia chief Dermot O'Gorman denied the group was involved in "political advocacy".

"We don't undertake any political activity -- we undertake campaigns on issues which we are very passionate about and we maintain very transparent operations," he said.

Mr O'Gorman confirmed the group received more than $1.3 million that had to be declared on the form, but that only a "proportion" of those funds went to the Fight for the Reef campaigns. …

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