LEADING philanthropist Martin Copley believes environmental causes receive a low level of private support in Western Australia because of a perception that conservation is the domain of government.
“It is a travesty really,” Mr Copley told WA Business News.
“WA is probably per capita the wealthiest state in Australia, yet probably gives the least to the environment per capita.”
“Everybody has this concept that it is the government’s responsibility, but the government can’t do it, there is too much to be done.”
Mr Copley spoke to WA Business News ahead of an Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network event in Perth last week, where its Giving Green guide to environmental grant-making was launched.
While data on the number of philanthropists who support environmental causes is difficult to collate, research obtained by the AEGN suggests that only 7 per cent of Australia’s philanthropic pool is going to environment causes.
In WA, only three of 76 registered private ancillary funds – charitable endowment funds commonly set up by individuals and families – list the environment as one of their key focus areas or causes they support.
With that in mind, the AEGN’s push for cultural change led to the development of the Giving Green guide.
The network aims to bring discipline to philanthropic giving to environmental causes, and educate philanthropists how to give practical support to appropriate causes and programs.
The network was established in Melbourne nearly five years ago by philanthropists and groups including: The Pratt Foundation; The Myer Foundation; the Ian Potter Foundation; and Mr Copley, who started the Australian Wildlife Conservancy after running a successful insurance underwriting business in the UK.
The environmental work Mr Copley is best known for started in 1991 when he bought a large area of bushland near Chidlow and established a wildlife sanctuary. A decade later, that and other land was used to establish AWC as an official charity. It now owns 23 properties that cover 3 million hectares, on which 1,200 native animal species are protected through land management, feral animal control, fire management and threatened species translocations.
“People don’t appreciate the big difference between advocacy and on-ground environmental work,” Mr Copley said.
“We are the pre-eminent organisation that does on-ground environmental work. We stay out of all the policy of advocacy, controversial projects like James Price Point. We are far too engaged in what we are doing to get involved in that sort of thing.
“We understand that mining supports the economy here and that we can’t in any way damage it, so we are very sensitive to mining issues and we try to work around them.”
Ahead of the Giving Green event, AEGN chief executive Amanda Martin said WA had an opportunity to learn from other states’ mistakes in degrading vegetation for the sake of development and losing animal species as a result.
“WA has this fantastic opportunity to develop and progress and do it in a way that is sustainable. Scientists know how to do that now, it is not one or the other,” she said.
Tom Hatton, who chaired the federal government’s 2011 State of the Environment report, was another to speak at the Giving Green launch. He said the focus in WA needed to turn to two sets of issues – legacy and potential environmental issues.
“Decisions that we have taken on how to manage our water and coast and land in the past, we are still paying for,” Dr Hatton said.
He pointed to widespread clearing in the Wheatbelt as one example of legacy decisions, and said current decisions were adding pressure to specific environments.
“If there was one bit of geography that stood out in the State of the Environment 2011 in WA in terms of ecosystems that are under great pressure and trending downward, it is the coastal estuaries in the South West, the Swan, Peel-Harvey and the coastal estuaries right around to Albany,” Dr Hatton said.