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Mixed Church reaction to Treasurer's assurances on charities

While some Catholic advocacy groups were more skeptical, the Bishops Conference yesterday welcomed assurances from Treasurer Peter Costello that the Federal Government has no plans to remove the tax-free status of charities that speak out on government policy.

Mr Costello said "legitimate" charities which lobby the government can keep their tax exemptions.

"What this law says is if you legitimately help the poor or the sick, or education or hospitals, then you are tax deductible," he told Sydney radio 2UE. "And what's more, you can engage in lobbying, as long as it's ancillary or incidental, as long as its not your sole purpose."

Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference General Secretary Fr Brian Lucas said he understands CHA's concerns and noted that the draft legislation may need to be amended slightly to clarify the government's policy intent.

"We are heartened by the Treasurer's statements today regarding the definition of charities," Fr Lucas said.

"The Catholic Church has been an active participant in consultations with the government on this important issue and we will continue to work together to ensure that charities can continue to provide help to those Australians most in need."

But Catholic Health Australia (CHA) and other groups are continuing to argue that the advocacy role of charities is more than incidental and are therefore threatened by the Treasurer's proposal.

"The job of charities is to provide services and to speak up for people who haven't got a voice for themselves, and if charities can't have that role, then low income people and people who need a just outcome are in trouble," Mr Sullivan told ABC Radio.

In Melbourne, Jesuit Social Services Policy Director Fr Peter Norden likened the Costello move to then Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett's failed attempt to "silence" the churches and the non-government during the 1990's.

"Government policy advisers simply have to learn that it is a central mission of charities such as ours not only to do good but to ensure that harmful legislation and regulations are changed to protect the vulnerable members of our community," he said.

"Moral issues are our bread and butter and we will not be starved out of this activity by such misguided and poorly grounded legislation."

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference/The Age/Jesuit Social Services

Treasurer denies charities will lose concessions (The Age)
Dems slam charity tax break cut (Herald-Sun)
Australian charity proposal under fire (ABC)
Charities 'to keep tax concessions' (The Advertiser)
Federal Treasurer | Draft Legislation on the Definition of Charities (media release)
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Jesuit Social Services
Catholic Health Australia

31 Jul 2003