WWF-Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation say charities who hold the Australian Government to account on its environmental record, could be charged under proposed foreign interference and espionage laws.
Both groups say changes recommended by a bipartisan committee, to address “overreach” concerns with the Bill, don’t go far enough.
“We could still be charged with espionage just for doing our job, which is a ridiculous situation,” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman.
Charities such as WWF-Australia and ACF are often sought out by international bodies to provide independent analysis and a scientific assessment on the Australian Government’s environmental performance.
If either organisation briefed the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on failings to address threats to endangered species they could be charged with espionage.
Or if they gave evidence to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on shortfalls in Australia’s record on the environment they could face espionage charges.
“Providing independent analysis is core business for environmental organisations trying to save Australia’s forests and threatened species,” Mr O’Gorman said.
“Would the 2050 Plan to save the Great Barrier Reef have happened without attention from UNESCO?”
ACF Acting Chief Executive Officer, Dr Paul Sinclair said: “Protests and advocacy may make some politicians uncomfortable, but they are essential ingredients of a vibrant democracy and healthy environment.
“Our security is of course important. But restricting civil society advocacy in its name is dangerous and would limit the community’s ability to hold the powerful to account for any damage they cause to our clean air, clean water and safe climate.
“All parties must work to rewrite this bill to strengthen protections for the public oversight, free expression and peaceful protest that makes our democracy strong.”