A recent report from The Australia Institute has found that the mining industry has spent almost half a billion dollars on its major lobby groups over the last ten years. This is in addition to the countless millions spent on third-party lobbyists and in-house PR. Combined, this represents a massive investment by the mining industry in shaping the political and regulatory environment in which they operate.
Of a total of $484 million spent on lobby groups between 2004 and 2014, The Minerals Council of Australia was by far the largest recipient of funds with over $200 million in revenue. The remainder was spread between APPEA ($84 million), the Queensland Resources Council ($63 million), NSW Minerals Council ($58 million) and the now defunct Australian Coal Association ($36 million).
It is a lot of money so the obvious question is: What does the mining industry receive as a result of this investment?
The most spectacular “return on investment” for mining industry lobbying was the advertising campaign against the Minerals Resource Rent Tax. An investment of roughly $20 million resulted in the scrapping of the tax and an estimated reduction of tax revenue of $5.3 billion over the forward estimates. Not a bad result.
More recently, lobbying by Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton has prevented an inquiry into the $75 billion per year iron ore industry while ongoing industry lobbying maintains a complex web of subsidies such as the diesel fuel rebate – costing Australian taxpayers over $4.5 billion per year.
It is against this backdrop that the mining industry has been complaining about funding for community environmental organisations which are working tirelessly and valiantly to protect the environment – with only a small fraction of the resources.
Foreign owned mining companies use their massive financial power to change the law to suit their own commercial interests, and then cry foul when largely volunteer run environmental groups raise funds to try to ensure that mining companies comply with existing laws.
The current lobbying blitz by the mining industry to try to remove the charitable status of environmental groups is yet another example of the arrogance of an industry that has been writing its own rules for far too long. If we had strong environmental laws and Governments with the willingness and capacity to enforce them, Australia wouldn’t need a strong environment movement. We don’t. So we do.