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Call for churches to lose charity status over child abuse

A former tax official has written to the ACNC requesting that churches involved in the child abuse scandals be revoked of their charity status

A former Assistant Taxation Commissioner has called for churches that failed to protect children from sexual abuse to have their charity status revoked.

Terry Hamilton wrote to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) to express his concerns, adding that it was unacceptable for churches to be registered nine months after the royal commission.

Hamilton also wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Australian Taxation Office in regards to these concerns, specifically directed at Catholic Churches.

“These institutions attract significant financial benefits particularly through tax exemptions and charity status,” Hamilton told the Guardian Australia.

According to the High Court, religious institutions can only retain their status as a church body if its activities reflect the character and its practices and if the conduct does not breach or offend against the laws in Australia.

The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse found more than 4,000 children were sexually abused, including 2,468 in religious institutions that are managed by the Catholic Church.

“The associated crimes in these cases breach the taxation law obligations that must result in a forfeit of tax exemptions and the registration of tax-exempt charities,” Hamilton said. “I notified the Prime Minister and the treasurer of these breaches, in particular those relating to the Catholic Church.”

The Commission recommended the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference ask the Vatican to reform church laws by removing provisions that “hinder or discourage compliance with mandatory reporting laws by bishops or religious superiors.”

When announcing that Western Australia had joined the National Redress Scheme in June, Attorney-General Christian Porter said the states and territories, which had responsibility for mandatory reporting laws and systems, currently dealt with priests in different ways.

“The process will be that the states have agreed to harmonise their laws, so in effect to accept the recommendation of the royal commission,” Porter said.

Hamilton said he had notified the ACNC of his concerns on the basis that the charity watchdog would determine if the organisations meets the requirements of a registered charity and would monitor the ongoing governance compliances.

“The ACNC is unable to confirm or comment on any investigations due to the secrecy provisions within our legislation,” an ACNC spokesperson said. “However, one of our current areas of focus is on ensuring charities have appropriate governance in place to safeguard vulnerable people, particularly children.”

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