Tax proposals threaten religious charities

HRLA has contributed to a new inquiry examining the regulation of charities in Australia following a recent report from the Productivity Commission. The report, entitled ‘Productivity Commission 2023, Future foundations for giving,’ recommends changes that would disadvantage religious charities in numerous ways, against all common sense.

In a positive move, the popular deductible gift recipient (DGR) scheme will be expanded, to lift the scale of current giving, but certain religious activities, and all activities that are for ‘advancing religion’, are specifically excluded. So also is aged care, a sector in which religious bodies have made an enduring contribution in Australia.

The changes would also remove DGR concessions for school building funds, which have been essential to faith-based schools for many years. Faith-based schools provide enormous benefits for society, removing much of the burden and expense of public education, and providing an alternative to public schooling in an age when the classroom is being misused to promote ideologies that few Australians adhere to. The influence of faith is also valuable for social cohesion and promoting moral and community values and wellbeing.

In addition, the concept of ‘basic religious charity’ will be removed, in a way that could significantly impact faith-based organisations, including by allowing interference with their leadership.

These proposals have met with criticism from faith groups.

Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli has expressed concern:

“The draft report appears to discriminate against religious organisations, and is at odds with the Government’s own objective to expand philanthropic giving.”

Peter Wertheim, co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, referred to the draft recommendations as an attack on religious institutions, describing them as “puzzling and disturbing”.

The Inquiry is accepting submissions until 9 February 2024.