Shrubhuggers seem to make us green around the gills. Why?
Yours truly doesn’t normally glance at Reader’s Digest – even when it’s
got Jackie Kennedy on the cover, just like the latest issue.
Yours truly doesn’t know anyone who does. Not even yours truly’s
grandmother (she was once a stringer for the Truth, by the way).

That means yours truly was quite surprised when a subscriber said that the Bunker needed a copy of the June edition.

Yours truly went down to the newsagents on Camberwell Road, gingerly
picked a copy off the shelves, wrapped a copy of Soldier of Fortune
magazine around it to avoid embarrassment, paid for the purchase and
snuck back off home – where yours truly discovered something very
interesting: the Reader’s Digest Trust Poll.

Here’s the gist of it. Reader’s Digest surveyed 1,500
customers: “We asked respondents how important trust is to them
as consumers, and invited them to rate charities, brands, government
services and occupations. Our lists were by no means exhaustive;
we chose subjects that would be well known to most Australians, and
represented a fair cross-section of the marketplace today”. The
results “were later weighted” against Australian Bureau of Statistics
data “to represent the general population”.

The top five most trusted charities are all household names – the Royal
Flying Doctor Service, the St John’s Ambulance, the Salvos, the Pink
Ribbon breast cancer campaign and the Cancer Councils proper.

And the bottom five will all be familiar to the Crikey community, too –
Greenpeace, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Amnesty
International, World Vision and the Wilderness Society.

The five least trusted charities are all essentially political in
nature – and three of them deal with matters environmental.
Interestingly, while more detailed lists were not published in the mag,
the sixth least-trusted charity was yet another green group, Planet
Ark. CARE Australia – the group that Malcolm Fraser has been so
enamoured with but was audited by the Commonwealth Government back in
Keating days when questions arose over its financial management –
another political, humanitarian charity, came in at number seven.

Indeed, according to this survey, Ronald McDonald House is twice as
trusted as Amnesty International and more than twice as trusted as the
Australian Conservation Foundation – where Labor has just found their
star recruit, Peter Garrett – and Greenpeace.

As they say in the classics, why is it so?

Well, Reader’s Digest did point to the Care audit as a possible reason
why the environmental and humanitarian charities might have some
problems. Trust, it appears, matters even when we are giving our
money away as opposed to making a purchase. “A whopping 94 per
cent of respondents in our survey said that trust is very important to
them when choosing a charity to support”, Reader’s Digest reported.

But what else is there?

As the mag observes, “the five most trusted charities… are all either
Australia-based or largely devoted to helping Australians”.

And Reader’s Digest being Reader’s Digest, it went for the bleeding
obvious and wheeled out pollster, columnist and bore Hugh Mackay to
explain what might be behind all this.

“Hugh Mackay is not surprised by our parochial, slightly selfish
nominations in the charities category. ‘They are a reflection of
a shifting national mood,’ he says. ‘We’re in a period of retreat
and disengagement where the focus has turned inwards. We’re much
more interested in our backyards than in current affairs.’ “

Yawn. What was more interesting was the explanation from Mark
Lyons, Professor of Social Economy at the University of Technology,
Sydney, who pointed out that the showing by the second most trusted
charity, St John’s Ambulance, might be partially explained by longevity.

Then, Reader’s Digest got controversial – or controversial by Reader’s
Digest standards – and looked at the groups that came in at the bottom
of the list.

“Why isn’t it easy being green?” the mag asked. It quoted Dr Tino
Fenech, Senior Lecturing in Marketing at Griffith University.
“These organizations started with a great deal of compassion,” the Doc
said, “and at some time they became political, aligning with issues
with which we may not agree… Some also take radical action –
like putting nails in trees, causing split axes and injuries.
That turns people off.” Ooh-er.

Actually, that last bit was probably unfair. Only the crustiest –
and maddest – ferals and Trots do that sort of thing. But Fenech
landed a punch on the shrubhuggers as hard as any blow that that other
Fenech, Jeff, delivered in his prime: “These organizations
started with a great deal of compassion and at some time they became
political.”

Hubba hubba! Crikey readers will know that there’s a great debate
going on at the moment on just this very issue – even though they don’t
hear much about it.

The Greenpeaces and ACFs are very good at manipulating the media and
setting its agendas. However, it seems that people don’t actually
think all that much of them. Funny. We don’t see that
reported. But could it be that punters think they use dodgy – or
at least shifty – arguments to back up their claims about the state of
the environment?

If they do, then surely that makes them lobbyists, not charities – and
certainly not charities in the sense that the groups which topped the
poll are. They are political groups out to raise funds to further their
agendas by scare campaigns. No wonder they rank so low on the
list of credibility.

The fundraising campaigns these groups conduct run contrary to the
spirit of the laws relating to charities. The big name green
groups run very few actual on the ground programs. The funds they
get go towards campaigning and lobbying. Yet several of these
same groups – like Greenpeace and the Wilderness Society – enjoy
tax-exempt status.

Indeed, it could easily be argued that this behaviour threatens the
future tax-deductible status of bon fide charities that occasionally
lobby governments.

Tax laws specifically bar lobby groups from having donations to them
made tax deductible, but this hasn’t stopped Greenpeace and the
Wilderness Society from getting registered as charities.

There are moves being made to close this loophole – but the rorters
have been able to use their media savvy to manufacture a “free speech”
debate and scare the genuine charities into claiming that the
Government is trying to silence them.

Their behaviour is contemptible. Add it all up and is there any surprise we don’t trust them?

Further details on the trust poll are available on the Reader’s Digest website here: Australia’s Most Trusted

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected] hotmail.com

Peter Fray

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