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Cardinal Pell Outburst Creates Questions on Charity Regulation


12 August 2010 at 10:38 am
Staff Reporter
OPINION | The recent stoush between Cardinal George Pell and the Australian Greens prompts the question “Where is the Australian Tax Office when you need them?”, writes Derek Mortimer.

Staff Reporter | 12 August 2010 at 10:38 am


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Cardinal Pell Outburst Creates Questions on Charity Regulation
12 August 2010 at 10:38 am
Derek Mortimer, principal of DF Mortimer & Associates

The recent stoush between Cardinal George Pell and the Australian Greens prompts the question “Where is the Australian Tax Office when you need them?” According to Derek Mortimer, principal of DF Mortimer & Associates, a boutique law firm working exclusively for Not for Profit organisations, if the ATO cannot effectively monitor and regulate charities, it fails them.

Currently the ATO serves as a de facto regulator of charities. Through its tax ruling system, churches and other charities are prohibited by the ATO from engaging in party political activities like encouraging the public to vote against a particular party. There is a good reason for this prohibition. Charities need to keep their independence. The values and policies of political parties and charities can align sometimes, but not always.

Charities that take political sides can find their values compromised. In my opinion, this has happened to Cardinal Pell and the church he represents. In apparent defiance of the ATO’s own tax rulings Cardinal Pell is reported as saying the Greens are “anti-Christian”. But as the Greens have pointed out, at least some of their values and policies align squarely with Christians.

There appears to be no immediate, public effort by the ATO to restrain Cardinal Pell from making party political statements. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect the ATO to do so. Yet the ATO has been travelling through the court system against a self described “activist” organisation called “Aid/Watch Incorporated”. The ATO says this organisation has a political purpose and cannot be charitable. The High Court heard the case in June and judgment will be handed down later this year. The independence of the ATO becomes compromised where it acts against one charitable organisation but does not appear to act against another.

Nor does the ATO have a formal complaints process for the public to complain about a charity’s apparent breach of tax rulings.

In Britain a member of the public can lodge a complaint about a charity engaging in party political activities with the independent charity regulator, the Charity Commission. The Commission may send the charity a warning letter (in the nature of a gentle reminder of obligations) and can also commence a more formal regulatory case report and in worse cases, revoke charity registration and consequent fiscal privileges . The Commission has been publicly active in the lead up to the recent British general elections, to investigate and rule on complaints about charities engaging in party political activities.

In January this year the Productivity Commission restated what the Australian charity sector has for many years been calling for; some form of charity regulator independent from the ATO. The ATO provides many useful services to charities, but if the ATO cannot effectively monitor and regulate charities, it fails them.

Derek Mortimer can be contact at admin@dfmortimer.com.au or telephone 03 9370 9333

*This article first appeared in The National Times, and is reproduced here with the author's opinion.



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2 comments

  • Jim Christian Jim Christian says:

    I love Cardinal Pell and admire his courage in standing up to the culture of death.

    I also look forward to the day that all Christians lose their charitable status since this will help the Church return to its political nature. Christianity is essentially a political religion and due to the compromises during the Constantinian Period of the Church, the radical nature of the Church was traded for a domestic form.

    Cardinal Pell is one of many new post-Constantinian Bishops. Pope John Paul the Great is considered by many to be the first of a new line of post-Constantinian Popes who, free from the shackles of the state are willing to extend the Lordship of Jesus into the political sphere.

    Amongst Evangelical Christians around the world one see post-Constantinianism taking shape although slower. Observe the Manhatten Declaration and you will see the seeds of a more political Evangelicalism taking shape.

    Yes, take away our charitable status so priests and pastors need not worry about being restrained by timid laity who want their little tax credit.

  • TIm Anderson TIm Anderson says:

    Absolutely Pells advocacy is a throw-back to the 1900s Daniel Mannix era for the church to specify questions for candidates and try to influence politics in a secular democracy, anti Green mainly, but look at the church pews on a Sunday, their influence is pure tokenism almost extinct except for some extreme types like Jim Wallace supporting Conroy on internet filtering.

    The only honest broker in parliament on tax free status of churches is Nick Xenaphon, I have been trying to keep tabs on Labors religious leanings for some time. Brumby probably put them up to this, he has banned severe ridicule of any religion, penalty six months jail? http://www.hereticpress.com/Dogstar/Religion/Vilification.html#ruddy

    I have a counter question for the churches, when will they investigate abusive priests among their ranks?

    http://www.theage.com.au/world/victims-of-abuse-to-protest-at-the-vatican-20101031-178nu.html A picture of Cardinal Pell walking into court to support child abuser Ridsdale tells a picture worth a thousand words. Or Pell on saying Condoms do not stop HIV http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/the-evidence-on-preventing-aids-is-clear-20090413-a4rs.html

    Pell is a throw-back who has lost all chance of getting a plum job with the Vatican because of because of abuse allegations, http://www.theage.com.au/national/cardinal-pell-blocked-on-top-vatican-post-20100613-y5y3.html now he is seeking a political career, he should join a political party liberal or labour, the Greens could not accept such a narrow minded bigot against same sex marriage or euthenasia.

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