What pisses me off: People who don’t get their facts straight! 5

What pisses me off


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I grow tired of the Atheist Foundation and others whingeing that the churches don’t pay tax. Their claim is false.

For me it’s personal.

I received a salary from the church for 30 years. This salary was the major portion of parishioners’ donations to the church. I was very happy to pay tax out of this salary. At a quick calculation, I contributed between $150,000 and $200,000 to the nation’s tax revenue over those 30 years. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (God bless them) put the number of ministers of religion in Australia in 2001 as just over 12,000. If we count these are 6,000 full-time equivalent employees, then their contribution to Australia’s tax revenue over 30 years is between 9 and 12 billion dollars.

The churches do pay tax.

The Anglican Church, as a responsible employer, put aside part of my salary into superannuation. Our super fund started before the Super Guarantee, and enabled me later in my career to put additional savings into the fund. This means now in retirement I live partly off my super. Without super, I would be receiving a bigger pension. My super fund makes a contribution by saving the expenditure of tax.

The parishes where I worked have parish centres with rooms that community groups use, either for free or at much less than the commercial rate. While it is true that the parishes were partially exempt from rates, they made a contribution to the community through the sharing of their facilities – again saving the expenditure of rates and taxes. Many self-help groups, political clubs and community organisations could not meet if it were not for the churches.

The churches do save tax.

It’s true that the tax situation of the churches is complex; there may be some unfair exemptions for the churches; there are churches that rort the system. If our community were designing this from scratch they would almost certainly do it differently. But we can only live with our history.

From 1788 Australia has had a ‘love-hate’ relationship with religion. Many convicts and early settlers had good reason to dislike the church. On the other hand, most Australians in the 19th and 20th Century considered themselves believers. Australian Governments look to the churches to provide services that the churches can offer more cheaply and hopefully with more compassion than Government bureaucracy.

Section 116 in our Constitution does not declare Australia to be a secular nation. Rather it acknowledges the existence of both church and state and proclaims that they are to be kept distinct, but not necessarily for the church to be kept out of public life. The church’s contribution to our public life is different from the state’s.

And in the meantime, we can get our facts straight. The churches do pay tax, and they do save taxes.

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Ted Witham

Ted Witham lives with his wife Rae and energetic Jack Russell dog Lottie in a Retirement Village in the beautiful south-west corner of Australia. His articles on Australian music teachers have appeared in Limelight and Insight History, and he enjoys writing short stories and poetry. He is currently attempting a novella and receives great encouragement from his writers' group.

  1. Ted, from what you say here, you as an employee of a church paid income tax on your earnings and contributions tax on your super. Like the rest of us you pay GST on purchases. So you are a good citizen and tax payer. The question really is – What is the tax status of the church as a legal organisation which employed you. My guess is it’s a charitable organisation which gets hefty tax breaks, if not tax free status.

  2. “…If our community were designing this from scratch they would almost certainly do it differently. But we can only live with our history…”

    You can’t change history, but if there is a problem with the current design, it could and should be changed. You don’t have to do wrong things in the future just because it was done that way in the past.

    Maybe churches should become two financial entities; one as a business/employer and one as a charity – and if both are run from the same site, pay half rates for the business side.

    One reason many people are against church tax concessions now is that mosques are treated in a similar way yet are funding terrorism and their impending slaughter and take-over of western countries. If there were no moslems in Australia I’m sure this issue would die down.

  3. they may pay tax for employees BUT they are the largest land owner in the country. rate exempt as they are a “charity” well charity does not close doors at night or have the homeless kicked off their property ( I have seen it in Melbourne) and having been to The Vatican museum and seen the extraordinary wealth hidden there and even here in Australia , the rate free tax exempt of these so called charities is long overdue an overhaul. In particular the ” church” we have in our apartment building

  4. and by the way why cant you say what annoys me rather than use poor language

  5. You know what really annoys me? People who misrepresent facts to suit their own beliefs.

    Your payment of income tax as an individual employee has precisely nothing to do with your employer’s tax status.

    If churches do in fact pay tax as you assert, then the money they receive from donations (plus all their other sources of income) would be assessed and taxed before it come to you as a salary. They would pay rates and local council charges like any other entity.

    This is not “atheist winging”, it’s basic fact.

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