Thursday, September 9, 2010

Will we ever see a National Charities Commission in Australia?

Another Federal Government Inquiry has called for the setting up of a National Charities Commission to regulate the charitable and not-for-profit sector, particularly those charities and church groups that enjoy tax free status.  A link to the Senate Inquiry report is here.

The Senate Inquiry Report recommends that such a Commission would have the power to remove the tax free status of any organization found to be in breach of the rules, or not acting in the public interest (by applying a public benefit test).

This Senate Inquiry was instigated by Independent Nick Xenophon as a result of serious concerns about churches such as the Church of Scientology and Hillsong Church, who benefit significantly from their tax free status. 

The Senate Inquiry found that no agency- not the Productivity Commission, not the Taxation Office, not Treasury- could identify the value of tax concessions to charities and churches, although a conservative estimate is between $1-$8 billion.

This is the fourth Senate inquiry into the not for profit sector in a decade that has recommended greater scrutiny of churches and not- for- profits with charitable status.  The recent Productivity Commission Inquiry and the Henry Taxation Review also called for a similar Charities Commission. 

However, there has been no action on any of those Inquiries, although the Labor Party has committed to establish such a Commission.

In a previous post on this issue (here) I noted the double standard inherent in the current situation where politically active groups like AIDWATCH can have their tax free status removed by the Australian Government because they criticize Australian Government policies, whilst breaches of the code and rules by Churches are ignored

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