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In November 2017, the Federal Cabinet appointed Hon Philip Ruddock to chair an Expert Panel on Religious Freedom (the Panel) to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to religious freedom. The Panel accepted submissions until 14 February 2018 (more than 16 000 submissions were received). Mr Ruddock has been given an extension of time and is now due to report on 18 May 2018.
Not-for-profit Law's submission to the Panel deals with the intersection of charity law, discrimination law and tax. It focuses on the extent to which charities can manifest religious faith without adversely affecting their charity status.
Not-for-profit Law's submission argues that no changes are needed to charity legislation:
- In relation to discrimination – the ability of religious organisations to discriminate (whether the exemptions that permit this are wound back or increased) should be dealt with in discrimination law, not by way of shorthand amendment to charity legislation (as was attempted by those moving proposed amendments to the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017). Provided charities comply with discrimination laws, their charity status will not be at risk. No special protection of charity status is warranted, for religious bodies or any other type of charity.
- In relation to advocacy – all charities can already legally advocate for changes to government policy provided the issues are relevant to a charity’s purpose(s). This remains the case under the current law, even as governments come and go. Charities can already advocate for traditional marriage (where this is in pursuit of their charitable purpose) and this would not be curtailed by any changes to discrimination or other laws.
- In relation to tax concessions – an organisation’s charity status, and therefore related charity tax concessions and benefits, will not be at risk all of a sudden because of the legalisation of same sex marriage. As stated above, charities must comply with discrimination laws (whatever they may be), must not have a disqualifying purpose (such as engaging in activities which are unlawful or contrary to public policy or promoting a political party), and must be for public benefit.
- That the ability to discriminate should continue to be dealt with in discrimination law, rather than in the legislation dealing with charities, primarily for the sake of coherence and simplicity, which promotes compliance, but also recognising that there are many charities and other not-for-profits which are not registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).
- The harmonisation and simplification of discrimination laws, including a single definition of religious body for discrimination law purposes in all jurisdictions.
- That the consolidated and modernised discrimination law proposed by the Human Rights Law Centre (whose submission to this inquiry we endorse) should include the same protection from discrimination for volunteers and unpaid workers as for paid employees.
You can read Not-for-profit Law's submission in full below: