I’m sure many people would be surprised to learn that there’s a multinational corporation in their town or suburb that owns more real estate in this country than any other private organisation, yet it pays no council rates or land taxes. Its directors are exempt from paying income tax, fringe benefits tax, stamp duty, payroll tax and even car registration. One branch of this corporation even manufactures breakfast cereal but pays no company tax on their profits.
This multinational “corporation” is of course, religion, and the Australian Tax Office recognises thousands of religious organisations, who this year avoided paying an estimated $30 billion in taxes. Whilst no fair minded person should object to worthy causes like healthcare, aged care, and social welfare receiving tax exemptions, how many people would consider “the advancement of religion” or “spreading religious doctrine and practice” as charitable causes, as defined on the ATO website?
Melbourne City Council have estimated that they lose over $10 million a year due to these rates exemptions, which raises the cost to other ratepayers by 10%. These exemptions are enshrined in law despite being antithetical to the Aussie egalitarian principle of a fair go for all. We abhor tax evaders and welfare cheats yet we allow this injustice to continue with bipartisan support from the two major political parties.
No one is denying that many churches provide invaluable charitable services, however Australia is one of the few nations in the world that make all investment earnings by religious institutions tax free, regardless of whether these are spent on charitable activities. Additionally there is little transparency or accountability required by law which makes the true extent of the lost tax revenue difficult to measure.
Is it fair or equitable that Kelloggs™ pay full company tax on profits, yet Sanitarium™ pays none, simply because one of those companies is owned by a church that believes in a supernatural deity? Or that a science teacher pays income tax but a scripture teacher does not? A marriage ceremony or funeral held in a church by a minister of religion attracts no GST, yet a civil ceremony does. 64% of marriages in Australia are performed by a civil celebrant, which is interesting considering the latest census figures show 61% of people identify as being Christian.
Why should the average taxpayer be subsidising churches that lobby the government to oppose the law reforms that the majority of Australians support, such as marriage equality, voluntary euthanasia, stem cell research, ethics classes in schools, and separation of church and state?
Surely it is time that these anachronistic and out-dated tax laws are brought into line with 21st century Australian ideals of equality for all and provide a level playing field for all regardless of their supernatural beliefs.
Member of the Secular Party of Australia and the Hunter Skeptics.