The Council of Australian Humanists (CAHS) has joined a growing volume of voices calling for the establishment of a Charities Commission in Australia. CAHS said it is incomprehensible Australia does not have a Charities Commission to oversight the huge charity sector in Australia when (1) the Charities Definition Inquiry of 2001 recommended a Commission (2) the New Zealand government has recently established a Commission and (3) Britain has had a Commission for many years.
CAHS noted that without a Commission there have been striking examples of individuals and organisations, some of them religious, defrauding the public when a simple registration and reporting requirement would have prevented this fraud. Furthermore, CAHS argued tax exempt charitable organisations who receive very significant support from all Australian taxpayers are entitled to transparency and accountability concerning these organisations.
Spokesperson, Max Wallace, author of The Purple Economy, said: ‘Religious organisations, for example, are tax exempt and have no adequate public reporting requirements. While CAHS believes religion should not be a ground for charitable status, and thus tax exemption, the government could at least introduce a Commission to introduce some degree of accountability.’ He also noted that in a well-known case in Britain, an organisation that is tax-exempt in Australia, The Church of Scientology, was denied charitable status in Britain because the organisation did not satisfy the requirement for ‘public benefit.’
Max Wallace also said a similar test should be applied in Australia. In particular, if an organisation was found to have knowingly committed criminal acts it should not be eligible for tax-exempt charitable status. He said ‘In some disturbing cases it has been demonstrated that the hierarchy of certain churches and church-based private schools knew one or more of their staff was committing offences against children and concealed that information. But the question of whether they should lose their tax-exempt status because of this behaviour has never arisen. That is not good enough. Taxpayers should not be subsidising paedophilia and other crimes regardless of who causes them. The Charities Act needs to be reviewed and a Charities Commission should have powers of sanction.’