Thursday, August 12, 2010

Churches, political activity and the need for an Independent charity regulator in Australia

The power of the churches in Australia to circumvent charity and taxation law to serve their own purposes is amply demonstrated by Cardinal George Pell's intervention in the Federal Election campaign.

Cardinal Pell described the Greens as "anti-christian and encouraged Catholic voters not to support the Greens in the Federal election, in defiance of rulings that churches and not-for-profits who have charitable status should avoid engaging in party political activities or encouraging the public to vote against a political party.

As not-for-profit legal specialist Derek Mortimer points out in this article, in which he discusses the legal implications of Pell's statement, it is interesting to compare the inaction against the Catholic Church with the Australian Government's relentless pursuit of the small advocacy group AID Watch. The Australian Government (through the ATO) has used the court system to uphold a decision to remove the charitable status of AID Watch because it was deemed to be a political organization.

The Pell intervention reinforces the need for the introduction of an Independent charity regulator in Australia, along the lines of the UK Charity Commission, as recommended by the recent Productivity Commission Inquiry into the Not-for- Profit sector.

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