INQUIRY PUTS SCIENTOLOGY ON NOTICE

7 September 2010
  •   Tax-exempt status of charities and religions to be more closely scrutinised
  •   Attorney-General called on to investigate new cult laws

Independent Senator for South Australia Nick Xenophon says the bipartisan recommendation of the Senate Economics Committee for a Charities Commission to be established in Australia will ensure greater transparency and accountability of charitable and religious organisations.

"Reform of the not-for-profit sector is long overdue," Nick said.

"There are around 60,000 not-for-profit organisations in Australia, many of whom operate without the scrutiny of the authorities, but who are effectively supported by taxpayers."

"The establishment of a Charities Commission will mean that all organisations that enjoy 'charitable status' will have to open their books and prove that they do indeed provide a benefit to the community," Nick said.

The Senate Economics Committee was inquiring into Senator Xenophon's Private Senator's Bill, Tax Laws Amendment (Public Benefit Test) Bill 2010, and heard from a range of experts, charitable and religious organisations, members of the public and former members of cult-like organisations.

The Committee has recommended that a single, independent national commission for not-for profit organisations, similar to the Charities Commission for England and Wales, be established, which will, among other functions, apply a Public Benefit Test.

It also calls for the Government to inquire into the operation of the anti-cult taskforce, MILVILUDES, in France to learn how it monitors the activities of cults, with a view to establish a similar agency in Australia.

"These recommendations go further than the introduction of a Public Benefit Test," Nick said.

"This is a win for all taxpayers who have unknowingly been supporting organisations with no proof that they deserve charitable status."

"More importantly, this is a huge win for people whose lives have been significantly damaged by the actions of certain organisations who have been enjoying tax exemption under the label of 'charity' or 'religion', but whose behaviours have been far from charitable," Nick said.

Senator Xenophon has called for the Committee's recommendations to be implemented as soon as possible, and no later than 30 June 2011.

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