Whether the advancement of religion should be considered a charitable purpose is coming under scrutiny in Victoria.
Victorian Upper House MP, Fiona Patten read a bill in the Victorian Parliament on Thursday to amend the Charities Act 1978 to exclude the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose.
According to Patten the bill is the first step toward parliamentary debate around the country to allow religious institutions in Australia to be taxed, although the charity sector has voiced concerns that each state and territory would be operating with a separate definition of charity.
Patten told Pro Bono News her motivation “first and foremost” was to provide greater transparency of these organisations.
“Currently many large organisations do not have to provide any financial accountability around the funds that they raise and those funds, whether raised through commercial purposes and in competition with other commercial enterprises, they are very often exempt from many state and federal taxes, so my bill intends to rectify that to a degree, in regards to some of the state taxes, the land tax, payroll tax, some of the duties that are regulated by state government,” Patten said.
Under The Charities Act 2013 there are 12 charitable purposes that define what the organisation was set up to achieve.
According to the Australian Charities Report 2016, “advancing religion” was the most common charitable purpose, reported by 32 per cent of charities.
The most common main activity was religious activities reported by 30.8 per cent of charities.
Patten, who formed the Australian Sex Party in 2009, said her amendment would ensure that tax exemptions for charities in Victoria only applied to those organisations engaging in “objectively charitable works”.
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