Victorian MP Fiona Patten Introduces Bill to Tax Religious Organisations

Victorian Upper House MP, Fiona Patten will today first read a Bill in the Victorian Parliament to amend the Charities Act 1978 to exclude the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose. This amendment will ensure that tax exemptions for charities in Victoria only apply to those organisations engaging in objectively charitable works.

Most people understand a charity to be ‘an organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need’. We want Victoria’s laws to reflect this. Genuine charitable work, including the charitable work performed by religious institutions, should be tax exempt. However, the current construction of ‘advancement of religion’
permits something else. The Bill will also see amendments to the Duties Act 2000, the Payroll Tax Act 2007 and the Land Tax Act 2005. The Bill is effectively the first step toward parliamentary debate around the country to allow religious institutions in Australia
to be taxed.

The Bill speaks to former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard’s prediction yesterday, that removing tax concessions for churches could push the more recalcitrant ones on child sexual abuse matters, to act more decently. Ms Patten said Commercial enterprises owned by religious institutions should be subject to the same legal and financial laws as other commercial entities, but they are not. “Taxing these types of businesses makes common sense” she said. “ And taxing them fairly does not inhibit their ability to generate profit for the church, it just ensures that the state benefits too. It also importantly provides much needed

Ms Patten has been a contributor to the debate around child sex abuse in religious orders for nearly two decades now. “In 2000 I published a dossier called Hypocrites (PDF copy attached), on the sexual abuse of children within religious institutions and named hundreds of convicted church clergy as evidence of the need for a Royal Commission,” detailed Fiona Patten MLC. “I listed what I thought the terms of reference should look like including an examination of the content and practice of training programs that clergy undergo and an examination of the effects if any, that celibacy and sexual repression have upon child sex abuse.”

The ground-breaking expose Hypocrites was delivered to every State and Federal member of parliament in Australia. Its controversial content made headlines, yet the reaction by those in a position to make the abusers accountable was as
extraordinary as the revelations.

“As a political figure at the time, representing Australia’s sex industry, I was ridiculed and threatened by members of parliament for making these claims. Some, like federal MP, Bruce Baird, even threatened me with eviction from the federal parliament if I ever stepped inside the building. I had a number of serious death threats as well which were investigated by the AFP and many MPs said they would take legal action against me if I ever sent something similar to them again,” explained Ms Patten.

After forming the Australian Sex Party in 2009, Ms Patten became the first leader of a political party to call for a Royal Commission into child sex abuse in the church and the first to promote a Royal Commission into such abuse as a formal policy. Four years later, Prime Minister, Julia Gillard announced the current enquiry. Ms Patten said it was a great irony that Australia’s churches and many of the same MPs who criticised her for calling for an enquiry into child sex abuse were now the ones calling for an enquiry into religious protections.

“Religious ‘protections’ have been one of the main causes of sexual abuse in the churches. They were protected not only by their own flock but by ignorant Members of Parliament, Police, Judges and legal professionals who denied the compelling evidence.


Fiona Patten: 0413 734 613

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  • Churches receive $billions of dollars tax free and free of legal status to be sued by victims. The churches have abused and lost their entitlement to tax free – whatever it was in the first place. Tens of thousands of us are approaching old age with our lives ruined by church abuses. We have struggled throughout life with the lifelong effects of the abuses and have been unable to achieve any financial stability for old age. The church should be required to pay tax to the costs of running independent/religious free services for victims and their families – car/transport, housing, in- home aged care not run by church organisations and free health care to enable some healing via comfort as health issues, frequently generated by the abuses, become chronically debilitating. The churches had their chance and do NOT deserve any more chances.
  • Please remove Free Car Rego from religious organisations. Free vehicle registration means every other road user is subsidising proselytising bigots on the road.
  • Sean, there is actually considerable evidence that the core functions of religion are not in society’s best interests. Statistically, higher concentrations of religious people coincide with greater numbers of murder, divorce, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, poverty, infant mortality, and much more. All these social ills are reduced in more secular societies.

    Please note that I’m not saying no good can come from individual religious people. I’m a great admirer of the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister, for instance, but the organisations are not forces for good at all. They are focal points for malaise.

    I’ll grant you that many wealthy corporations use tricks to avoid paying their taxes and can be morally bankrupt, but this doesn’t invalidate the idea that they should pay tax. It just means those laws should be properly enforced.

    Properly wielded, tax laws can be used to open up shady organisations. It was the only way Al Capone could be brought to justice. Many churches are corrupt. I’m not talking about a local Anglican church where a few elderly people meet on Sunday for tea and biccies. They won’t be affected any more than the local computer club, or the local flower society. The big problems are cult-like organisations like Jehovah’s Witnesses that maintain walls of secrecy and extract billions of dollars from their followers, and the Seventh Day Adventists that operate Sanitarium, a large corporation that runs tax-free, and Hillsong which has clear designs on establishing theocracy through controlling the highest stations of politics, and the Catholic church that bleeds billions of dollars from the poorest people in society and owns vast amounts of real estate and other assets, while maintaining a choke-hold on many of our politicians and has caused untold harm in its schools preaching against science and physically, sexually, and mentally abusing children.

    Stopping sexually abusive priests from being allowed to teach children is a valuable suggestion and you’re right, it should be adopted, but it wouldn’t address the plethora of problems in religious organisations.
  • “actually religious organisations’ genuine charitable activities are explicitly exempted in the above article.”
    What you mean is that a narrower view of what constitutes genuine charitable activity will apply. A religious member understands the overall aims of the religion to be in the public good. And even a non-believer may understand the community fostered by a religious congregation to be in the public good.

    The IPA, on the other hand, want to make sure that social and environmental activist organisations are no longer considered in the public good. Opposite sides of the same coin.

    Where the system is being exploited for personal gain, if it is to a significant extent, then that needs to be dealt with for what it is.
  • Because big business is so fantastic at paying taxation, and acts so morally because of it? And that’s without owning their own sovereign state to hide behind.

    IMO, the way to deal with the Catholic Church’s intransigence is simply to deny working with children checks to those whose vows conflict with the law. “Your priests have a policy of non-compliance; well then they cannot work with children.”

    Using the name Reason is not, in itself, divisive at all; I looked up the site expecting something positive. Doing so in a context when your front and centre policy is what it is, however, puts a very specific spin on the name.
  • Sean, actually religious organisations’ genuine charitable activities are explicitly exempted in the above article. Did you read it?

    Taxing would work. Can you suggest a better way to get churches to do the right thing? The recalcitrant and astonishingly greedy Catholic church, and others such as Hillsong who are deeply involved in infiltrating power structures in society, especially politics, have absolutely no interest in complying with moral requests. They’ve shown this over and over again. At the moment they are black holes. Money disappears into them without any accountability. Pedophile priests can be shuffled around and hidden. Con artists would be deterred from becoming preachers if it no longer gave them tax-free lifestyles. Levying taxes upon them would force churches to put their houses in order because they would have to be accountable. They would have to keep ledgers and open them to inspection.

    If a church runs a for-profit business then why shouldn’t it be taxed like every other business?

    I’m puzzled as to why you think founding a party under the name “Reason” is divisive.
  • Sean, members of parliament have been using their religious beliefs to divide our nation since the birth of our nation. Please look at Abbott and Christensen’s divisive and damaging submissions over the last term in the name of Christianity. This merely levels the playing field and allows for a secular voice. And on that note, churches should pay taxes. Tell me why they shouldn’t?
  • Miriam: When someone founds a party under the name “Reason” and the their front and centre key player policy is to take away charitable status from religious organisations’ core function, one that members of said organisations see as a public good, it cannot be anything other than divisive.

    Yes, the wrongdoing needs to be addressed, and very, very strongly. The Catholic Church’s policy of refusal to comply with mandatory reporting, for instance, is totally unacceptable. but we don’t use taxation of everyone as a means of addressing the wrongdoing of some.

    By all means suggest changes that deal with profiteering, whether by individuals or organisations. And changes that deal with, for example, the way certain organisations build firewalls between parts that own the money and parts that are liable for wrongdoing.
  • Excellent respinse, Miriam.
  • Anonymous, why do you see it as necessarily divisive? There are many religious people who are sick of religious organisations getting away with the kind of immoral and criminal things that taxing would cleanse from them. It would also eliminate many of the wealthy charlatans who prey upon people in order to live tax-free. If you can’t believe in your God when taxes are levied upon the often obscene wealth of the church then you really are not worshipping the right way.
    Read this short (just 4 printed pages) piece of fiction that illustrates what I mean:
  • Atheism and atheists have long been under represented in Australian Parliament. So perhaps, “Anonymous”, instead of pretending that there is any form of Christian persecution in this bill, you embrace the right of freedom FROM religion, as well as freedom OF religion?
  • Pretty much guarantees the Reason Party will actually be the committed anti-religionists party; yet another divisive movement rather than something that can bring a wide community together.

  • Excellent! Very well said.

    How can I find the “Hypocrites” document mentioned in the article?

    Everywhere in the world where religion is concentrated we find higher rates of immoral activity: murder, abortion, divorce, sexually transmitted disease, infant mortality, decreased adult lifespan. And everywhere that populations are more secular all those social ills are less. It is time we broke the spell religion casts and cut through the web of lies and immorality.

    Our government is constitutionally bound to separate religion from state, yet our it is infected with religious bigots doing all they can to steer this country toward a morally bankrupt theocracy.
  • Surely It’s only reasonable to request of those claiming tax exemption, based on their belief in the supernatural, to provide some credible evidence that their gods actually exist?