AUSTRALIA—In her response to the government’s just-released budget and opposition leader Tony Abbott’s reply to it, Australian Sex Party President Fiona Patten has called on both sides of the political spectrum to immediately take action to relieve the tax burden on families by overhauling tax concessions provided to churches and religious organizations.
“At a time when the latest figures are showing that less than 8 percent of Australians are regular church-goers," she said, “it would come as a shock to many Australians that churches are managing to avoid taxes by some billions of dollars.
“A conservative estimate is that income tax exemptions alone to churches and religious organizations cost taxpayers nearly $ 20 billion a year,” she added. “Add to that GST concessions, exemptions from capital gains tax (on property and share trading) and the Fringe Benefits Tax Exemption and the cost to tax payers is staggering.”
Patten said churches own billions of dollars worth of real estate and companies turning over hundreds of millions of dollars a year and all were getting a free ride, care of the Australian tax payer. “We are one of the few remaining countries in the world which allow these sorts of tax breaks for churches,” she said.
Sanitarium, for instance, owned by the Seventh Day Adventists, is said to have nearly 25 percent of the cereal market valued at over $ 300 million dollars, but it is not subject to company tax, she said, adding that the market share that they have been able to achieve is testimony to the unfair advantage they have been given over their tax-paying competitors.
Patten said it is difficult to put an exact figure on the amount of tax lost because churches report to no one. “After years of lobbying against a charities commission,” she said, “the churches finally acquiesced, leading to the newly formed Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), but alas, buried deep in the legislation is an exemption for churches from the reporting requirements placed on other charities.
“The churches argue that the profits of these enterprises go back into their ‘good works,’” she continued. “This may be the case but the total lack of transparency is cold comfort. If all the profits are indeed going back into charitable works well they can be accounted for (and receive a tax deduction) just as a regular company would do.”
Under Australian Taxation Office (ATO) rules, to qualify as a charity an organization will qualify even if its sole purpose is for ‘the advancement of religion’. This means that we are effectively subsidizing everyone from the local priest right through to powerful groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby, who argue against many things that the bulk of Australians belief in, such as same sex marriage, ethics classes, adding RU486 to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and voluntary euthanasia.
“I will campaign to remove the ‘advancement of religion’ clause from the ATO definition of charity,” Patten concluded. “Furthermore, I am totally committed to abolishing tax concessions for all religions. If their profits are directed to truly charitable causes they should have no fear being accountable just like all other organizations”
The next federal election in Australia takes place Sept, 14, 2013. Liberal/National Coalition leader Abbott leads in three recent polls.
For more information about Australian Sex Party, go here.
Photo: Fiona Patten