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 organisation 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 transparency.”
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, 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, 14.12.17