Negative gearing is seemingly off the table in the heady season of Malcolm Turnbull tax reform. Yet perhaps Malcolm should take a lateral look at the tax problem and that seemingly untouchable bastion of our tax system: God-gearing.
While religious groups often declare that their members can in some way skirt around the death issue, they also enjoy a tax-free status most of us only dream about. And it’s not only the large corporate religions that benefit from our Aussie God-geared tax haven. Every small sect who manage to cobble together a merry band of deluded followers can claim religious tax-free status.
Is it because our politicians consider God-gearing a kind of insurance against group electoral action? Perhaps. Is it a small gesture in case the hereafter does exist? Unlikely.
What has always been the argument is that religious groups have significant ‘public benefit’ and therefore need some sort of special consideration. And The Australian Tax Office has a peculiar reference to the ‘spreading of religious doctrine and practice’ as being necessary criteria for obtaining tax-free status. Doesn’t the Islamic State do that?
I bet that you, as either an individual taxpayer or business owner also have significant public benefit. You either undertake work that facilitates economic and community growth or provide people with employment . Most of us, religious or not, do our best to create a world that is positive and livable. Good works are not the sole domain of the believer.
As an educator, I have hopefully given individuals some benefit over the past 40 years and will continue to do so. I find it very amusing that the ATO also gives ‘the advancement of education’ as another criterion for tax-free status. Really! Why then isn’t every teacher in the country paying less tax or none at all!
Contributing through taxes, while painful at times, is a basic tenet of democratic society. If 100% of income goes towards good works, then no tax is paid – it’s pretty simple.
Like Apple, Google, Pratt Holdings, McDonalds Asia Pacific and Hoyts, church groups are rorting the tax system while collecting property assets worth billions. Property owned by the church sits outside of the property tax system. Cardinal George Pell knows lots about God-gearing.
Yet religious groups, or schools flying a religious banner are at the very centre of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. These organisations pay no tax and hope that the government will fund any redress system for victims, a request the Government has rightly ignored.
Perhaps if the Catholic Church and all religious organisations paid their share of tax they may also find themselves adhering to the laws of state the rest of us follow for a safe, non-abused society. At the moment, the divide between church and state is not only robbing our country of tax dollars, but facilitating abuse and the misuse of power. It’s time to close the divide.
While being an atheist, this piece wasn’t written from an anti-religion platform, but from a nagging sense that those who facilitate the worst of crimes pay the least of tax.