ACNC Could Investigate Church of Scientology
30 June 2015 at 12:38 pm
The national charity regulator has told an Australian Senator that it has the power to investigate allegations of abuse within the Church of Scientology and review its charity status.
In a letter to Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, seen by Pro Bono Australia News, Director of Compliance and Reporting at the ACNC, Stewart Donaldson, said concerns raised about the Church of Scientology in Australia had been looked at.
It follows a request from Xenophon in April this year that the charity status of Scientology be reviewed following fresh allegations of abuse which were aired in the documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.
“The ACNC has completed an initial evaluation of these concerns and viewed the Going Clear documentary,” Donaldson said in the letter.
“We have concluded that the concerns you raised are within the ACNC’s jurisdiction to the extent that they are occurring after the commencement of the ACNC in December 2012 and relate to ACNC governance standards, reporting and record keeping obligations and entitlement to registration under the ACNC Act 2012 and the Charities ACT 2013.”
Donaldson said the ACNC could take a range of actions against the Church of Scientology, including encouraging it to conduct a self-evaluation, launching its own investigation or review, or reviewing the church’s entitlement to registration as a charity.
He said the ACNC may also decide to take no action “until further evidence is available”.
Xenophon told Pro Bono Australia News that he was not convinced the Church of Scientology deserved to be registered as a charity.
“An organisation that is receiving tax-exempt status ought to be subject to some scrutiny,” he said.
He said Australia should look to the example of the United Kingdom, which has refused to give charity status to Scientology since 1999 because it has no “public benefit arising out of the practice of Scientology”.
In an official statement to Pro Bono Australia News a spokesperson from the ACNC said the regulator was limited in what it could say about the investigation.
“We take all concerns about registered charities seriously. Where there is evidence of serious mismanagement or misappropriation, a serious, persistent or deliberate breach of the ACNC Act, or where vulnerable people or significant charitable assets are at risk, the ACNC will act firmly and quickly,” the spokesperson said.
“The ACNC works with other government bodies and agencies to ensure an appropriate whole-of-government approach is taken to compliance and enforcement matters. If we have any concerns about the charity or the people involved, we will contact the relevant enforcement agency.
“Due to the secrecy provisions within the ACNC Act, we are unable to comment on specific cases and what action we may or may not take.”
President of the Church of Scientology Australia, Vicki Dunstan, told Pro Bono Australia News that she was confident that the church should remain a registered charity.
“Not only does the Church know it is a charity but others who are qualified to pass judgment also affirm this,” Dunstan said.
“The Church of Scientology is a charitable organization recognized by a unanimous decision of five Judges of the High Court of Australia in 1983 and we remain so today. Nothing has changed.”
Dunstan pointed to large amounts of humanitarian undertaken by the church as a justification for its charity status.
In more damning allegations, the President of a Not for Profit organisation that specialises in protecting people from cults has accused the Church of Scientology and the Exclusive Brethren of being cults that are hiding behind their charity status.
This week Pro Bono Australia News conducted an investigation into what differentiates a charity from a cult.
Read the full story here.