|Why should this Seventh Day Adventist 16 page tract attract an automatic tax free status as a charity?|
The bill has been tabled by a member of parliament from the Reason Party. Although it's unlikely to pass, it's being described as a first step in broaching the subject of taxing religions in a parliamentary forum, and may spark debate across Australia of the legitimacy of religions that automatically don't pay tax simply because they're a religion.
What comes screaming to my mind is the example of the Weetbix case, an Australian and New Zealand icon that makes bazillions here, not having to pay tax because they're owned by the Seventh Day Adventist church. It's therefore automatically classed as a charity because of the religion. So what charitable work does Weetbix actually do?
It says on their website that they partner with charities to address hunger, none of them listed were partnered before 2001, despite the company being in existence since 1898. Yes charitable work is all fine and good for a tax exemption, but do they spend 100% of what they earn on such charitable endeavours? If not where does the money then go, to the church? To proselytise? At taxpayer's expense?
Presently this is all fine and dandy as the legislation is OK with "advancement of religion" attracting tax free status. This is what the Reason Party MP wants to change.
Lot's of secular commercial companies take part in charitable work too. Working for a large company there was all sorts of things they used to do. A gold coin donation for a sausage sizzle at lunch time for example, the proceeds going to a charity.
On her website Patten has written that "religious organisations should be treated equally and be subject to the same laws as other organisations".I note the continuing resistance of the Catholic Church in Australia to mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse being related in the confessional, despite the horrifying findings of the Royal Commission into institutional child sex abuse and the huge over-representation of the Catholic Church in those findings.
"Religious institutions receive automatic tax exempt status. I believe that the 'advancement of religion' should be removed from the statutory definition of charity, so that religious organisations do not enjoy automatic tax exempt status.
"Most people understand charity to be the voluntary giving of help to those in need – it is that compassionate activity that should be tax exempt. I do not in any way oppose tax deductions for genuine charitable works by religious institutions which benefit the wider community, but I believe that only genuine charitable work should be tax exempt."
Patten has also criticised the fact that many faith-based institutions remain unincorporated associations in Victoria. "I believe that faith based institutions should have a corporate identity, so they may then sue and be sued, just like anyone else," she has written. "This is particularly relevant to victims of institutional child abuse."
She has also said commercial enterprises owned by religious institutions should be subject to the same legal and financial laws as other commercial entities.
The Victorian government has previously said it does not plan to change the current system. But the bill could have implications across Australia. Reason says it is "effectively the first step toward parliamentary debate around the country to allow religious institutions in Australia to be taxed". Since its introduction there have been calls for the category of basic religious charity to be removed from Australian legislation.
And former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard has said removing tax concessions for churches could push recalcitrant ones to take firmer action over child sexual abuse. Secularism UK