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Bronwen Dalton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five university members.View the full list Currently religious organisations receive tax-exempt status because advancing religion is presumed to be of public benefit within the Charities Act 2013…
Since then, a reporting regime has been phased in but some smaller charities – notably basic religious organisations – remain exempt from financial reporting obligations.
“Basic” religious charities do not have to answer financial information questions in annual information statements given to the ACNC, or submit annual financial reports to ACNC (regardless of its size), or comply with the ACNC governance standards.
Basic religious charities are the only type of charity to receive this level of exemption from reporting obligations.
Under one of the policy headings on its website, “Religious Tax Exemption”, it says religious organisations receive tax-exempt status due to the public benefit presumed to be derived from the advancement of religion, and that religious organisations are exempt from standard accounting and record-keeping obligations. We asked the Australian Sex Party for the source of its statements but it did not get back to us before publication.
But it is possible to test the statements against current Australian legislation. Religious organisations have always been tax-exempt in Australia.
This includes large bodies such as the Anglican and Catholic Churches, through to smaller ones such as the Church of Scientology, Seventh Day Adventist Church, and the Exclusive Bretheren. It defines a charity as “a not‑for‑profit entity” – which can’t be an individual, a political party or a government entity – with one of the following 12 “charitable purposes”: a) advancing health; b) advancing education; c) advancing social or public welfare; d) advancing religion; e) advancing culture; f) promoting reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance between groups of individuals that are in Australia; g) promoting or protecting human rights; h) advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public; i) preventing or relieving the suffering of animals; j) advancing the natural environment; k) any other purpose beneficial to the general public that may reasonably be regarded as analogous to, or within the spirit of, any of the purposes mentioned in paragraphs a) to j); (l) the purpose of promoting or opposing a change to any matter established by law, policy or practice in the Commonwealth, a State, a Territory or another country…
But it’s slightly more complicated when it comes to how some religious bodies have to report their finances.
A basic religious organisation is a special sub-group of charities, for instance individual parishes, that exist for the purpose of advancing religion.
Until a few years ago, there was no statutory financial requirement for any charity to publicly report on its finances.