Contributed by Glen Davis
Prime Minister Trumble has been prattling on about corporate tax cuts, even though it seems most of these corporations pay no or next to no, tax. But what about that other big group of wealthy rorters, the churches.
For example, the assets and cash holdings of the Catholic Church in Australia are estimated at around $30 billion. Its figures globally are hard to track, but the Vatican alone holds between $10 and $15 billion.
Church operations in Australia are tax-free — based on the escape clause of “advancing religion” — a statute dating back from Queen Elizabeth the First, and inherited from England when Australia was occupied. That’s a long time ago and a lot of money has been circulated.
The exemptions mean that they don’t pay income tax, GST, FBT, payroll tax, council rates, state government taxes, land and local government taxes.
Churches own private hospitals, schools, aged care centres and other commercial ventures that bring in lots of revenue. Sanitarium is the best known religious corporation in Australia— wholly owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It had a 2010 turnover of $550 million and a staff of more than 1500. Sanitarium paid no tax.
At the same time as the churches make lots of tax free money, it’s worth noting only 8 percent of Australians attend church regularly. In the 2016 census 52.1 percent identified as Christians. Overall 60.3 percent of Australians identified as having a religious faith. 30.1 percent of said no religion and 9.6 percent refused to answer the question. Fifty years prior 88% of Australians identified as Christians. The proportion of identifying as having a religious faith is rapidly falling.
Section 116 of the Australian Constitution precludes the Commonwealth of Australia (i.e., the federal parliament) from making laws for establishing any religion, imposing any religious observance, or prohibiting the free exercise of any religion. Section 116 also provides that no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. Would a court considered Section 116 only protects religious observance from government interference; it doesn’t allow a church(es) an exemption from paying their legal taxation requirements?
Even though religious observance in Australia is declining, is there a political party (politician) wiling to take up the fight to make the churches pay their way.