MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Sex Party President Fiona Patten is calling on her country’s government to overhaul tax concessions provided to churches and religious organizations — groups that often fight against personal liberties.
Patten said churches own billions of dollars worth of real estate and successful businesses and are getting a free ride. These groups also often battle progressive issues like same sex marriage and abortion rights.
The party leader also pointed out that Australia is one of the few countries in the world that still allows these tax breaks.
“At a time when the latest figures are showing that less than 8 percent of Australians are regular church-goers it would come as a shock to many Australians that churches are managing to avoid taxes by some billions of dollars,” Patten said.
She added, “A conservative estimate is that income tax exemptions alone to churches and religious organizations cost taxpayers nearly $20 billion a year. 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.”
The Sex Party noted that Sanitarium, owned by the Seventh Day Adventists, is said to have nearly 25 percent of the cereal market valued at over $300 million dollars, is not subject to company tax, and has gained an unfair advantage over its competitors.
Patten added that the exact figure on the amount of taxes not paid by churches is unknown because they report to no one. “After years of lobbying against a charities commission, 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,” Patten said.
Despite the claim that they do “good works,” Patten said that the charitable works should be transparent and accounted for (and receive a tax deduction) just as a regular company would do.
Under Australian Tax Office (ATO) rules, to qualify as a charity an organization will qualify even if its sole purpose is for “the advancement of religion.”Patten pointed out that this means the taxpayers 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, abortion drugs, and voluntary euthanasia.
“I will campaign to remove the ‘advancement of religion’ clause from the ATO definition of charity,” Patten said. “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.”