In the current disclosure regime, there is little distinction between charities and religious non-charities. This lack of distinction affects both the current regulatory regime and the tax regime.

The regulatory shortcomings historically arise principally as a result of the continuation of an archaic feature of Australia’s tax regime. The origins of this lie in the Preamble to Statute of Elizabeth, or the Statute of Charitable Uses (1601), following which all religious activities came to be deemed as charitable.

As a result in Australia today, all the operations of religious organisations are deemed charitable and are thus unregulated and tax exempt. Due to the persistence of this medieval doctrine, Australia is one of only three countries in the world where these exemptions extend even to the commercial operations of religious organisations.

We submit that a rational reform of the disclosure regime for charities, is necessary to improve transparency and accountability in this sector. It is also an essential first step in addressing the anomalous situation whereby tax exemptions are extended to religious organisations for activities that are not bona fide charitable activities.

Read the full Secular Party submission

Aug 28, 2008