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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  • [The second part.]

    Shane, atheism has little to do with the list of issues you mention, which you clearly think are deal-breaker paradoxes:

    — Nothing produces everything
    I’m atheist, but I doubt the universe ever had a beginning. On the other hand you’re religious and you think it was created from nothing. I don’t think you pondered your objection properly.

    — Non-life produces life
    Once upon a time, before people understood biochemistry, they believed in vitalism. They thought there was some elusive life force that made things alive. Now we understand biochemistry and know life is chemistry and physics. Life obviously gradually developed in many small steps from non-life.

    — Randomness produces fine-tuning
    You really do need learn about evolution. It is a very simple and easy-to-understand concept. You can download Darwin’s “Origin of Species” for free:
    or listen to it as an audiobook while walking, or gardening, or driving if you don’t have time to read:

    — Chaos produces information
    You misunderstand. Chaos IS information. Perhaps you meant as your objection “Chaos produces order”, but just look at how crystals grow from disordered mixtures. There are countless examples of order condensing out of chaos.

    — Unconsciousness produces consciousness
    The neurons in your brain are not conscious, but the actions of networks of them produce consciousness. So, yes. Unconsciousness does produce consciousness. Also, the pressure of evolution naturally develops consciousness out of unconscious predecessors because a conscious organism is better able to deal with the world around it and survive to pass on its genes. Where does consciousness begin? It is difficult to say. There’s pretty compelling evidence that insects and spiders have some level of consciousness. It is difficult to imagine a jellyfish or a sponge being conscious though.

    — Non-reason produces reason
    Humanity has grown slowly, painfully, through unreasoning to rationality. Lack of reason is gradually giving way to reason, as superstition and religion wither away.

    Shane, the Christian worldview that you state is not shared by all Christians. It is standard religious arrogance to think that your particular one of the thousand different versions is the only “true” Christianity. But for what it’s worth:

    A perfect god who has free will, makes humans who are broken, but it isn’t his fault that they are damaged goods, even though he knew the future and what the result would be. Could anybody think up a more ridiculous story? An all-knowing god would understand how to make people with free will so that they could choose wisely. But worse that that, this “loving” god tells us that he’ll torture us, not for an hour, or a day, or a week, or a year (any of which would be obscene) but forever, unless we discard our rational thinking mind and stop asking questions, accepting a contradictory book of bloodthirsty mythologies and superstitions that culminate in an appalling human sacrifice so that god can forgive us for our supposed ancestors’ transgression. Holding someone culpable for their ancestor’s crime is deeply immoral, but even so, if god wanted to forgive us, why wouldn’t he just forgive us like a moral person would? It is absurd. None of it makes any sense, but that’s very important, because religion uses this lack of sense to paralyse their followers’ critical thinking. This one of its most dangerous devices.
  • [Shane, I’ll reply to your comment in 2 parts. My longer response seems to have difficulty posting here.]

    Wow, Shane. I’m taken aback by how wrongly you paraphrase my statements. But then, I shouldn’t be surprised; sadly, many religious people have difficulty putting their case honestly.

    I notice you gloss over the fact that religion around the world is associated with higher rates of murder, disease, poverty, unhappiness, and many other social ills, whereas high concentrations of atheists are associated with more peaceful, healthier, happier societies. This is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect if there was a god.

    Richard Dawkins is very direct, but he is not evangelical. Religious people often hate what he says because they are accustomed to people tiptoeing around them and not directly calling them out. The odd thing is, Dawkins speaks more reasonably of religion than most religious people speak of atheists. But, as I say, religion’s lies have been protected by a veil for so long, that to speak the truth appears outrageously rude to religious people.

    I never said that atheism is the cause of all good, nor that religion is the cause of all evil. I’m almost inclined not to bother even arguing against such an absurd statement. Rationality is a tool and atheism is merely a conclusion reached by using that tool. In themselves they are value-free, but can be used to achieve great good. Dogma, on the other hand, is usually used for bad.

    Stalin trained as a priest in a seminary in Georgia and used its lessons to create a dogma that worked like a religion. He thought he could use the techniques of the church to usurp its power. He made his party sacred and himself the unquestionable supreme source of it, like a Pope. Was he actually atheist? I have no idea. If he was atheist, it had nothing to do with his unhinged personality. He certainly didn’t use rational thinking. His anti-science dogma in promoting Lysenkoism led to millions starving to death.

    Pol Pot was educated as a Buddhist monk and used religious dogma to work his followers up into a bloodthirsty frenzy. He was not rational, nor was he atheist.

    Hitler was fanatically Christian and raised in rabidly anti-semitic Christian schools. As leader of the Nazis he carried a Bible with him everywhere and often quoted from it. His speeches had frequent references to god, Jesus, and family values. In fact they could have come from any Christian fundamentalist preacher today. His private journal, intended for his own eyes only, also has frequent references to him doing god’s work and defending Jesus and Christian values. He only allowed devout Christians into his inner circle, and disliked distrusted and atheists.

    Using the “Tu quoque” fallacy in an attempt to deflect, by saying that atheists do bad things too, shows you have difficulty thinking clearly — sadly, a common problem with religious people. Unlike religion, atheism isn’t a motive to do bad things. It’s not a religion — there is no prescriptive rulebook for atheism. Religion, on the other hand, is the direct cause of a vast array of terrible things, because they spew forth from their holy books.

    I can’t remember off-hand the names of the very early atheist Abolitionists. I’ll find them later if you want. You mention William Wilberforce as an example of a Christian Abolitionist, but he didn’t get his anti-slavery morality from the Bible, which is depressingly pro-slavery. James Oglethorpe used Humanist Rationalist arguments of the Enlightenment against slavery, banning it from Georgia (in America). A small group of Christians who were influenced by him and his writings convinced Wilberforce to take up the abolitionist cause. The church opposed the Abolitionists pretty-much all the way (except for the Quakers), so in a religion-dominated society gaining powerful Christian advocates was important. Yes, Christians eventually came around to oppose slavery, but the movement against slavery began with atheists.

    You say that Jesus commanded people, “love your neighbor as yourself”. That’s excellent advice. Philosophers had been saying the same thing long before him. It’s a pity that religion almost never follows that advice. The keeping of slaves, the anti-semitic teachings of the church down the centuries, the racism, the misogyny, the homophobia — all this runs rabid in the church and among religious people generally. The whole terrible “vote” on whether loving gay couples should be allowed to marry, and the insane “Religious Freedom Review” attempting to enable and widen homophobic hatred, these are powered by “good” Christians. Interestingly, you’ll find the best examples of people being good to their neighbors in societies with high concentrations of atheists. Religious society gets its good morals from secular society, not the other way around. We’ve come a long way from the awful morality of the Bible.

    You can quote nice things from the Bible and I can quote the abhorrent things from the Bible that religious people use when they want to hate and hurt people. It’s all there. Please don’t pretend that the Bible is all sweetness and light.

    When you ask, “The brain was ‘designed’ by mindless unguided processes?” all you show is that you don’t understand how evolution works. It is so simple a child can understand it, yet part of the damage done by religion is causing its followers to shield their minds so effectively that most never understand the beautiful elegance of evolution. But even without understanding it, they scorn it. What a pity. In contrast, atheists tend to have actually read and understood the Bible, so that they know what they are arguing against. Puzzlingly, most Christians never actually read their Bibles, except for a few cherry-picked verses.

    While I don’t entirely agree with Stephen Hawkings’ ideas about the beginning of the universe, give the guy some credit. He was a very, very smart man. You seriously think he said something as simplistic as that? John Lennox, on the other hand, is being dishonest. He is mis-stating Hawkings’ argument. This is an annoyingly deceitful tactic used far too often by religious people. I’ve never understood what is the point of “lying for Jesus”. Surely a truthful stand would be far more effective. If god was real he wouldn’t need people like Lennox to lie for him.
  • Hi Miriam,
    Thankyou for your response. To try to summarize your points (but not being able to adequately address them in this post):

    ‘Atheism is not evangelical.’ Richard Dawkins seems fairly evangelical is his book, the God Delusion, comparing religion to smallpox virus but harder to eliminate.

    ‘Atheism is the cause of all good, Religion is the cause of all evil.’ Historically this is provable to be false just in the 20th century, given the regimes of Stalin, Pol Pot (Hitler’s worldview was also interesting).

    ‘Slavery was abolished by atheists.’ William Wilberforce.

    ‘Various groups rights all established by atheists.’ Jesus Christ summarized: ’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

    ‘Our brain was designed to deal with the natural world.’ The brain was ‘designed’ by mindless unguided processes?

    ‘Modern technology, based on science is superior to the The Bible was written by Bronze Age goat herders.’ Richard Dawkins probably covers this train of thought.?.
    Stephen Hawking affirmed there is no god:
    ‘Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing’.
    John Lennox has pointed out flaws in this statement:
    ‘Clearly, he assumes that gravity (or perhaps only the law of gravity?) exists. That is not nothing. So the universe is not created from nothing.
    Worse still, the statement “the universe can and will create itself from nothing” is self-contradictory. If I say, “X creates Y,” this presupposes the existence of X in the first place in order to bring Y into existence. If I say “X creates X,” I presuppose the existence of X in order to account for the existence of X. To presuppose the existence of the universe to account for its existence is logically incoherent.’

    The aim of my post is not to win an argument, nor offend, but rather to try provoke thought. Atheism is a worldview, just like other worldviews. The natural world cannot answer the question of ‘Why?’, it can only answer ‘What’. Some issues I have with atheism are:
    - Nothing produces everything
    - Non-life produces life
    - Randomness produces fine-tuning
    - Chaos produces information
    - Unconsciousness produces consciousness
    - Non-reason produces reason

    Lennox would suggest that the choice the New Atheists posit between Science and God is a false alternative in his debates with the New Atheists.

    The Christian worldview: Humanity, originally created in God’s image, is fallen, and commits atrocities against each other (motivated by their worldview), and each person decides for themselves based on evidence whether to accept the claims of Jesus Christ.

    I can’t comment on the Muslim faith/worldview, nor on the details of the extra-Biblical traditions of the Catholic faith (Jesus was scathing of the religious leaders of his day, and called them Hypocrites and whitened tombs full of dead mans bones).

    I notice on the rationalist website a new project called ‘The Reason Project’, and will be interested to see what is created. There is a site called ‘The Bible Project’ up and running which is worth a look as well.
    Have a great weekend.
    Kind regards
  • Shane, the parts you’ve quoted out of Hugh Harris’ article in the AIMN were intended as somewhat tongue in cheek, not prescriptive. If an atheist movement became evangelical I expect it would lose most of its people.

    You’re missing the point if you think rationalists are against god, a being that doesn’t exist. We are against the damage that is caused by people who would ram that belief down everybody else’s throats. Religion causes untold grief around the world. Where religion is strongest, so is murder, poverty, disease, unhappiness, and many other social ills. The statistics on this are clear in the most wealthy countries. Doubtless the poorer countries follow the same trend.

    To say the brain exists, but not the mind, is wrong. The mind is the action that the brain performs. A rock rolling down a hill is real and so is its rolling action.

    Our brain was designed to deal with the natural world. It fits very well with reality and logic, but does make some mistakes. We have developed a system of techniques can be used to protect against those errors. It is known as science. Science works.

    We can get our morals from logic and an understanding of our nature as social creatures. The movement against slavery was atheist. Churches fought hard to excuse and retain slavery. Civil rights and women’s rights come from atheists. They were and still are opposed by religion. The same is true of gay rights, children’s rights, and animal rights. Secular society has advanced morality leaps and bounds beyond what religion is capable of. Religion causes and excuses wars, pedophile priests, witch-burnings, racism, and much more. Religion is generally morally corrupt, except where they have adopted secular society’s broader morals.

    The term “scientism” is not the same as a scientific approach to the world. “Scientism” generally refers to a facile and mistaken approach to science. You’re setting up a straw man. I accept most science-based explanations of the world, but that acceptance is always provisional. No scientist worthy of the name thinks that they are always right. I accept that the universe is probably 13.8 billion years old, but I’m perfect happy to have that changed by more information when the James Webb Space Telescope is launched.

    It seems you are merely trying to tear down rationality, yet you try to use rationality to do so. Doesn’t this strike you as absurd? But it is worse because you don’t propose anything to replace it. Do you believe in myths? Do you think that the superstitions of Bronze Age goat herders are superior to the technologies that make possible your computer?
  • Front page from rationalist society website;
    Rationalists hold that all significant beliefs and actions should be based on reason and evidence, that the natural world is the only world there is, and that answers to the key questions of human existence are to be found only in that natural world. “We’re in favour of science and evidence as opposed to superstition and bigotry!”

    We can look forward to such a beautiful non-religious future: classes on anti-theism, ‘supercharged Antitheism’, ‘we atheists will band together, gather up our copies of “God is not Great – Religion Poisons Everything” … and begin offering evangelical classes in a new type of Theism’. ‘and our “God is dead” Sombrero party, climaxing spectacularly with the smashing of a lolly-filled Pinyata of Christ the Redeemer.’

    My question is: Why are the rationalist society so against Someone that does not exist?

    John Lennox raises some interesting questions to ponder:
    . If reason and rational thought come from your physical brain (not mind, mind does not exist in the natural world), which is the product of unguided mindless processes, how can you trust it to do logic?

    . The natural world offers both animals working together (bees, ants) – showing altruism, and animals killing and eating each other (including their young in order to mate sooner), survival of the fittest. How does a rationalist decide which path to take?

    . a view that we call “scientism” : and that is that science is the only way to truth, now that is just logically false, because the statement “science is the only way to truth” is not a statement of science, so if it’s true, it’s false.
  • 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?