Atheist Foundation of Australia

  • To encourage and to provide a means of expression for informed free-thought on philosophical and social issues.
  • To safeguard the rights of all non-religious people.
  • To serve as a focal point for the community of non-religious people.
  • To offer verifiable information in place of superstition and to promote logic and reason.
  • To promote atheism.
Become a MemberMake a Donation

Atheist Foundation of Australia Incorporated (AFA)

Submission to the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report on Philanthropy

February 2024

 

The Atheist Foundation of Australia Incorporated (AFA) was established in 1970 and has members in every State and Territory across Australia.  Its aims include the encouragement and provision of informed free-thought on philosophical and social issues, applying the scientific method regarding proof on matters of belief versus facts, and to safeguard the rights of non-religious people.

The AFA makes this submission to the Productivity Commission in response to its Draft Report on Philanthropy 2024.  Our comments focus on the elements of the report reviewing Charities and Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) Status.

Context

a) Religious Status of Australian Citizens

A factor in our submission is the changing status of religion in Australia.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics through the Census monitors religious status of its citizens.

Deducing from the ABS graph above, it is expected by the next Census in 2026 that the “Atheists and No-Religion” group will be the largest single group in Australia. As a proportion of the population, this group
deserves, at the very least, equal government financial treatment to religious groups. Currently, this does not occur due to historical quirks within the Charity and Tax Assessment areas of government. Religious benevolent behaviour, as with any benevolent behaviour, has a positive effect in our society, but religions and Basic Religious Charities (BRC) are commonly privileged financially, having money collected or forgone through the tax system and redirected into religious activities. The AFA recommends that tax incentives to religion and Basic Religious Charities be removed to create equity within the system.

b) Secular Perspective
By far, the majority of Australians want their governments to be run in a secular manner. That is, they expect the separation of Church and State.
In 2016 The Rationalists Association of NSW and Plain Reason commissioned a secularism survey with the international polling company IPSOS and found that:

78.4% of the population thought that it was “very” or “somewhat” important to separate personal religious beliefs from the business of government. 1

At that time the non-religious community was much smaller than today, so this indicates that not only do non-religious Australians want secularism, but a high proportion of those holding religious beliefs also expect
secularism from government.

The AFA does not want (or even believe it is possible) to remove individual choice to practice a religion – but it does expect, along with 78% of Australians, that no financial bias or benefit is granted by government towards the practice of religion.

c) Philanthropy Review
The Australian Government has, in the context of its goal of doubling giving by 2030, asked the Productivity Commission to undertake an inquiry to analyse motivations for philanthropic giving in Australia and identify opportunities to grow it further. The AFA welcomes this review.

The terms of reference assigned the Commission three broad tasks:

– analyse trends in philanthropic giving in Australia and the drivers of these trends

– identify opportunities for, and obstacles to, increasing philanthropic giving in Australia

– recommend ways to respond to these opportunities and obstacles. 2

The inquiry focused on charities as defined in the Charities Act 2013 (Cth), including those with and without Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status. The reason for this focus is that the government’s role on influencing
giving by granting tax deductions for donations is centred on registered charities and organisations with DGR status – these are the entities generally used to promote, receive and distribute philanthropic donations.

The terms of reference also ask the Commission to examine the effectiveness and fairness of the DGR framework and the ability of donors to assess and compare charities. 3

The AFA notes this last element of “fairness” within the DGR framework and suggests the current system is not fair, and is unfairly weighted towards financial privilege for religious organisations.

 

AFA Comments on Draft Recommendations
The Draft Report on this review provides a number of recommendations, and the AFA comments on the following which pertain mainly to the impact of religion in the review:

Draft Recommendation 6.1

A simpler, refocused deductible gift recipient (DGR) system that creates fairer and more consistentoutcomes for donors, charities and the community.

The AFA supports this basic premise, which provides a reasonable guide to the type of activity that warrants government support. In particular, withdrawal of DGR status to charities for school building funds or to
provide religious education in government schools will eliminate the unfairness of many schools converting a tax-deductible donation into a private benefit. The non-religious and ex-religious query whether objective
fairness and transparency is achieved by, for example, parents of children at Catholic schools receiving a tax deduction for donating to their school to install its third swimming pool. This would seemingly focus benefits
to their children rather than the community at large.

The AFA also strongly supports the lack of DGR status for charities undertaking advancement of religion. The underlying assumption that advancing religion somehow is a benefit to society is prejudiced against those who hold no religion.

The AFA concurs with the Commission that the changes to the DGR framework would clearly still allow for charities to undertake those activities not excluded by the use of the existing mechanism of a gift fund. This ensures tax deductible donations would only be directed towards non-excluded activities.

The AFA notes and strongly agrees with the Commission’s comment on p20 of the Report that it sees no compelling case for grandfathering existing DGR endorsements. Any grandfathering would totally undermine
the whole case for creating a unified, consistent and transparent approach to the changes proposed for the DGR system.

The AFA supports the commission on these draft recommendations.

Draft Recommendation 7.1
A more transparent and consistent approach to regulating basic religious charities. The Australian Government should amend the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) to remove the concept of ‘basic religious charity’ (BRC) and associated exemptions, so all
charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission have the same governance obligations and reporting requirements proportionate to their size.

The AFA supports this change as there seems to be no substantive reason to treat BRCs differently to any other
type of charity. Currently they are under no obligation to provide financial and other governance reporting to
the ACNC or tax authorities, simply because they have a religious basis. Full accountability and transparency
are critically important in this regard.

Further Issue
Income tax
The AFA notes the terms of reference for the Commission are limited to assessing Philanthropy, but suggests that these are only part of the levers available to encourage and regulate bast practice in the direction of funds
to charitable work.

The DRG framework provides incentives or disincentives to encourage donations to maximise community benefit. But the final community benefit is derived from a combination of that cost with the costs associated
from the income taxation system.

By providing income tax exemptions for income and capital gains tax, the government (and by association the community) forgoes taxation revenue that would otherwise be directed to other public purposes. Charities
and in particular Basic Religious Charities benefit from tax exemption based on “advancing religion” as a head of charitable purpose without regard to their financial circumstances and effectiveness.

The treatment of religious activities as “charitable” is an historic  anachronism which has no place in modern society or values. There is nothing inherently charitable about a group simply because it adheres to a
particular set of spiritual beliefs. The AFA supports targeted, directed and transparent benevolent activities, but the concept of advancing a belief system does not in itself benefit the needy in society. The AFA believes
this to be inequitable as it redirects government funding away from broad community projects and focusses it towards an inappropriate, limited and declining proportion of the population.

In summary, the AFA encourages the Commission to recommend the proposed reforms to the DRG system to government which reflect modern values and needs in the community, and to include a reference in its final
report to the need for a more complete examination of charities through the income tax framework.

Contact: Russell Hanna, Communications Manager
[email protected]

1 https://www.nsl.org.au/resources/surveys/ipsos-2016-secularism-survey-data/ 1
2 2023 Productivity Commission Draft Report p64
3 Ibid.

 

Atheists disturbed over religious discrimination by NSW Government

The NSW government has rejected the nomination of Sydney Atheists President, Steve Marton, to sit on its newly devised Faith Affairs Council.  According to the most recent Census, one third of the NSW population is non-religious.  But the views of this large...

What do “human rights” mean to you?

The Human Rights Commission has released a video marking 10th December as the 75th anniversary of the Declaration for Human Rights. The video features several people stating what human rights mean to them, including Steve Marton who currently serves on the Atheist...

Atheist applies for seat on new NSW Religious Affairs Council

President of Sydney Atheists and Committee Member of The Atheist Foundation of Australia, Steve Marton, has applied for nomination to the NSW Government’s inaugural Faith Affairs Council.  The Minns Government has called for a 16-member council to be set up to provide...
Secularism Australia Conference

Secularism Australia Conference

With guest speakers already sharing their excitement surrounding the Secularism Australia Conference, we would like to offer you the opportunity to purchase tickets at the discounted early-bird rate, which will conclude on Saturday 7 October. The early-bird rate of...
Religious Affiliation in Australia

See what we’ve been up to

The Atheist Foundation of Australia Committee would like to thank for your support. We also like to update you of two of our important and successful achievements in the last two years. In 2021, we took a leading role in association with six other free-thought...

Atheism is not a religion, mark “no religion”

As you know, the Australian Government is conducting a census of the population on the 10th August 2021. The census is an important snapshot of the country and informs government and businesses in their decision making. Census data is used to plan and deliver services...

Census21 No Religion Campaign Rejects Fake News and Fearmongering

The Census No Religion campaign is aware of a particularly hateful and misleading message circulating on social media, by email and SMS text message. The message suggests that non-religious people should incorrectly record that they are religious or face the...

Census No Religion Campaign

On the 10th of August, a census is being conducted to collect important data on the circumstances and attitudes of the Australian people. Your friends and family will be asked if they hold religious beliefs, and it’s an important...

Religious Discrimination Bill is resurrected

In a recent webinar with Family Voice Australia, Kevin Andrews (Liberal Party Back Bencher) indicated that "compromise had been reached" regarding the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, and that it would be introduced into the Parliament "shortly". Mr. Andrews...

Religious Freedom Bill Submission

Religious Discrimination Bill – Second Exposure Draft Date: 19 January 2020 Submission type: Non-Profit – Atheist Foundation Of Australia and Sydney Atheists Email: [email protected] Confidentiality: For Public Release The Atheist Foundation of...

Submission to the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Review of 2021 Census Topics

The question on religion in the Australian Census contains an element which is problematical in obtaining accurate figures. The problem is that it asks “What is the person’s religion?” This is a leading question and can elicit a religion of baptism when the person may...

Campaigns

Census No Religion

The current census data does not accurately reflect our country’s religious views.

This is due to a large number of Australians marking that they belong to a religion in the census when in fact they no longer practise or hold those beliefs.

Census data is used by the government and many other organisations to inform a wide range of important decisions from the amount of public funding religious organisations receive, to the voice and influence religion is given in public affairs and media.

The next Australian Census will be held in August 2026 and we need it to accurately reflect what Australians truly believe.

So, when you’re filling in the census and you come to the question of religion, this is your chance to think carefully and decide whether you still see yourself as religious.

If you don’t see yourself as religious anymore, this census, mark ‘No Religion’.

Visit the Campaign Web Site

Our Philosophy

The Atheist Foundation of Australia recognises the scientific method as the only rational means toward understanding reality. To question and critically examine all ideas, testing them in the light of experiment, leads to the discovery of facts.

As there seems to be no scientific evidence for supernatural phenomena, atheists reject belief in ‘God’, gods, and other supernatural beings. The universe, the world in which we live, and the evolution of life seem to be entirely natural occurrences.

No personality or mind can exist without the process of living matter to sustain it. We have only one life – here and now. All that remains after a person dies is the memory of their life and deeds in the minds of those who remain.

Atheists reject superstition and prejudice along with the irrational fears they cause. We recognise the complexity and interdependence of life on this planet. As rational and ethical beings we accept the challenge of making a creative and responsible contribution to life.

Past AFA Members

I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.

Clarence Darrow 
Clarence Darrow

It’s an incredible con job when you think about it, to believe something now in exchange for something after death. Even corporations with their reward systems don’t try to make it posthumous.

Gloria Steinem 
Gloria Steinem

Truth in matters of religion is simply the opinion that has survived.

Oscar Wilde 
Oscar Wilde

It is usually when men are at their most religious that they behave with the least sense and the greatest cruelty.

Ilka Chase 
Ilka Chase

The religious persecution of the ages has been done under what was claimed to be the command of God.

Susan B. Anthony 
Susan B. Anthony

Hast thou reason? I have.
Why then dost not thou use it?
For if this does its own work,
what else dost thou wish?

Marcus Aurelius 
Marcus Aurelius

No Gods – No Masters.

Margaret Sanger 
Margaret Sanger

I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say that one is an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or agnostic. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.

Isaac Asimov 
Isaac Asimov

The intelligent beings in these regions should therefore not be surprised if they observe that their locality in the universe satisfies the conditions that are necessary for their existence. It is a bit like a rich person living in a wealthy neighborhood not seeing any poverty.

Stephen Hawking 
Stephen Hawking

At a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

George Orwell 
George Orwell