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Church calls Charities Bill 'unworkable'

Seven Catholic organisations have made a joint submission to the Board of Taxation to convey the Church's considered view that the proposed legislation of the definition of a charity is impracticable.

Earlier this year, Federal Treasurer Peter Costello moved to exclude tax-exempt status for organisations that perform a significant advocacy role on behalf of the poor and marginalised. Mr Costello stipulated that any lobbying must be 'incidental'.

At the time, the Bishops Conference accepted the Treasurer's assurance that the Church would not be affected if it was a "legitimate" charity. But other organisations in the Church cried foul over what they perceived were attempts to muzzle Church criticism of Government policy.

The combined submission stressed that the Church's organisation is complex and that Catholic organisations must be assessed for their charity status as a whole, and not in isolation.

It said various elements of the Bill are "ambiguous", and the Bill fails to give "greater clarity and transparency" to charities.

"Some aspects of the Bill including 'not-for-profit', 'dominant purpose' and 'public benefit' go further than the common law position," it said. "This is contrary to the government's stated intention to codify the common law position."

Further, the submission said the Bill does not incorporate the various government department policies which have interpreted and extended on the common law definition of charity.

The submission on behalf of the Church in Australia responds to the exposure draft of the Bill released by the Treasurer on 22 July. The organisations that put their name to it were: the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes, Catholic Welfare Australia, Catholic Health Australia, National Catholic Education Commission, the Archdiocese of Melbourne, and Catholic Church Insurances.

Submission of the Catholic Church on Definition of a Charity - October 2003

Taxation Laws Amendment Act (No. 6) 2003 (PDF)
Mixed Church reaction to Treasurer's assurances on charities (31/7/03)
Treasurer denies charities will lose concessions (The Age 30/7/03)
Australian charity proposal under fire (Radio Australia)
Federal Treasurer | Draft Legislation on the Definition of Charities (media release)
Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference
Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes
Catholic Health Australia
Catholic Welfare Australia
National Catholic Education Commission
Archdiocese of Melbourne
Catholic Church Insurances
Australian Tax Office: Non-profit Organisations | Tax law updater for non-profit organisations | Non-Profit News Service No. 0039 - Release of Charities Definition Exposure Draft

9 Oct 2003