AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL FOR THE DEFENCE OF GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS
PRESS RELEASE 379
4 MAY 2010
TAX AND DISCRIMINATION LAWS: RELIGIOUS REXEMPTIONS ENTRENCH INEQUALITIES
RUDD GOVERNMENT LOSES SUPPORT AS
HARD DECISIONS DENIED
The Rudd government has not only drawn back from the ‘moral issue of the century’, - the ETS. It has also drawn back from
§ Limiting exemptions for religious institutions recommended by the Henry Tax Review and
§ Ending Discrimination on the basis of religion
Henry Tax Review
The Herald Sun of May 4, 2010 reports that the government has ruled out removing certain tax concessions that are helpful to non-profit organisations and charities as recommended by the Henry Tax Review.
The ALP and Rudd’s polls are now behind that of the Coalition on a two party preferred basis. This is just another of Rudd’s risk-averse policies that are starting to bite in the minds of those who voted him in at the last election.
Citizens and taxpayers in Australia have long been restive about the exemptions enjoyed by religious groups whose bank balances are bursting with taxpayer dollars, whose commercial enterprises are thriving at the expense of local business, as their church pews empty of those seeking spiritual guidance.
Max Wallace, the director of the Australian National Secular Association and author of The Purple Economy: Supernatural Charities, Tax and the State provides the following historical summary of the ongoing battle against the enormous raft of taxation exemptions enjoyed by religious institutions. Sectarian schools in this country enjoy a whole raft of taxation exemptions. Name the tax: they don’t pay it. These taxation expenditures amounting to more than $80 billion dollars are unlikely to be even mentioned by Gillard’s Funding Review. For the information of our readers however, DOGS quote from Max Wallace’s article Render unto Caesar published in the Australian of August 8, 2008.
‘ THE Treasury review of tax concessions offered to the $80billion non-profit sector marks a policy turning point that has been a long time coming. One of the most contentious concessions has been the tax-exempt status of commercial businesses run by religious organisations. This privilege is not conceded in many other comparable liberal democracies.
The questioning of this
privilege has occurred sporadically in the past century. In 1905 the Catholic
Church was running a commercial laundry at its convent in
In 1930, Anne Lennon railed against the tax privileges of the churches on her soapbox in the Sydney Domain behind the NSW Parliament House. She was arrested, as the free speech laws we enjoy now were not so liberal then. The Rationalist Association of Australia appealed her case and lost.
On May 20, 1936, when the first federal Income Tax Assessments Act was being debated, the question of religious organisations running tax-exempt commercial businesses arose. Senator James Arkins said: “If there is anything in the allegation that such bodies are using the cloak of Christianity to make profits without paying taxation, it is about time that legislation was framed to check them.” Nothing was done.
The issue went quiet for almost a half century before senator David Hamer asked on May 1, 1984, whether it would be practicable "to separate, for tax concession purposes, the charitable activities of a religious body from its other activities". Senator Peter Walsh replied, "I believe there would be considerable practical difficulty in separating the charitable activities of a religious body from other activities. Legally, the advancement of religion is a charitable activity."
This needs some explanation. The Statute of Elizabeth (I) of 1601 created four heads of charity: the relief of poverty; advancement of education; advancement of religion; other purposes beneficial to the community. Historically, monarchs and churches had usually been tax-exempt.
This statute opened up the field. Its reach, in terms of religion, was tested in the 1891 Privy Council Pemsel case in which the United Brethren sought to have tax exemption for its activities among heathen nations.
In a split decision, the council found the extension of Christianity to other cultures was a form of charity.
The question of the tax-exempt commercial income of religions arose again in the parliament on December15, 1992, when senator Bob McMullan said the Labor government was not too happy about the Seventh-Day Adventists' Sanitarium being tax-exempt, "but the attempt to disentangle that would be too difficult".
On September 23, 1997, federal Liberal member for Cook Stephen Mutch raised the case of the Little Pebble, a cult leader subsequently jailed for a sexual offence against a 15-year-old girl. This "chip off the block of St Peter" was well aware of his tax-exempt status and was using it to fund his activities.
All religious organisations
that satisfy the legal definition of religion in
This opens the door for any religious organisation to tithe its members, parlay the donations into a considerable sum, then invest it in a commercial business or investment whose profits will be tax-exempt. All things being equal, with tax-exempt status, a business can grow quickly. There is no requirement for any of these profits to be applied to the relief of poverty or any of the many other charitable causes because the advancement of religion, that 17th-century idea, is deemed to be charitable in itself. It does not matter what kind of religion it is, so long as it has a supernatural belief.
In 2000, the Howard
government set up the charities definitions inquiry. One of its recommendations
was the creation of a charities commission to begin some oversight of this
growing sector of the economy. The government refused to respond to its own
inquiry's recommendation that a commission be established. Last year,
The Rudd Government is
asking Treasury to question why disentangling the revenues of the commercial
activities of religious organisations from their other revenues is too
difficult. If other countries don't have that difficulty, then why does
Discrimination on the Basis of Religion
The Rudd Government has said it would review the four federal anti-discrimination laws with a view to merge them into a single act.
In an article in the Age May 3, 2010 entitled ‘Rejig of discrimination laws should enshrine equality for all,’ Dr. Dominique Allen of the Australian Catholic University claimed that at present the government merely deals with discrimination on a ‘case by case’ basis and there is no institution that ‘can make sure that people are given a fair go at work’.
She appears to be most interested in questions of employment and discrimination on the basis of ‘sex’ in this country. But the discrimination leading to widening of social and economic inequalities in education relates to the ability of institutions like those that run her university being able to avoid discrimination and taxation laws altogether. She makes no mention of discrimination on the basis of religion, marital status, sexual preference, or a combination of all three.
Teachers, pupils and parents meet up with discrimination when they adhere to a belief system contrary to a religious school or institution in which they wish to earn a living or acquire an education. They can also be deprived of a living or education on the basis of marital status or sexual preference. How many men and women currently employed by religious schools substantially funded by the taxpayer are in fear of losing their job because they are ‘living in sin’?
What will happen to such teachers, parents and pupils when the public education system, which is open to all regardless of class, creed, colour, culture, is swallowed up in the private sector?
Citizens and taxpayers in
Is freedom of and from religion, freedom of conscience, a personal matter for a man and his God, or a system of taxation and employment laws imposed by those seeking power over people’s minds and opportunity to make a living?
DEFEND PUBLIC EDUCATION AND STOP STATE AID TO PRIVATE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS.
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