Labor flags parliamentary inquiry into Scientology’s tax-free riches
Labor charities spokesman Andrew Leigh has flagged a parliamentary inquiry into Scientology, expressing concerns about its “unprecedented” wealth and shifting of assets into Australia.
The comments come after an investigation by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald found that the Church of Scientology had shifted tens of millions of dollars into Australia from offshore and had made $65.4 million in tax-free net profits since 2013.
Scientology in the US has shifted tens of millions of dollars into Australia
Mr Leigh now backs Greens calls for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) to investigate Scientology but has also flagged the potential for a federal parliamentary committee to conduct an investigation.
“In the corporate tax space, we’ve been doing a lot of work over recent years on multinational tax avoidance and the practice that multinationals have engaged in, in moving resources into lower tax jurisdictions,” he told ABC Radio late on Monday.
“I think it would be useful for Australians to be assured that the Church of Scientology isn’t practising something similar. Australia doesn’t want to be a tax haven for charities.”
Mr Leigh said it was “appropriate” the charities watchdog “looks very carefully into those activities".
“If the information isn’t forthcoming from the Church of Scientology that satisfies people, then you know we may well go down the path to a [parliamentary] inquiry.”
Greens Treasury spokesman Nick McKim said the party was open to a Senate inquiry “if the ACNC is unwilling to investigate or unable to get its hands on the information it needs”.
“There is a serious need for transparency around the movement of funds across the globe, and how Scientology is using its charity status in Australia,” he said.
The Church of Scientology Australia, in a statement, accused The Age and Herald of reporting “fake news” and said all its funds are “dedicated to the church’s religious and charitable purposes with no need to move them anywhere, except to further those purposes”.
“The sole support for the churches of Scientology in Australia, indeed for all Scientology churches around the globe, derives from the substantial contributions of parishioners. All funds are used to further the churches’ religious and humanitarian mission.”
A spokeswoman for the church, in an email, said Mr Leigh’s comments were based on “false and defamatory reporting”. In recent days, US-based organisations linked to the church have accused The Age and Herald (and this reporter) of inciting religious bigotry, of lying, of quoting anti-Scientologist “extremists” and of even inciting potential genocide against Scientologists.
A parliamentary inquiry would be a significant step. In 2009, former senator Nick Xenophon pushed for an inquiry into Scientology after using parliamentary privilege to detail allegations of serious abuse against former adherents. Scientology denied the claims. That push did not win support from the major parties but a separate broader inquiry was held that recommended the creation of a charities regulator.
Mr Leigh said things have changed since then due to Scientology’s growing wealth, despite its falling number of adherents, and more allegations of abuse, particularly in the US.
Labor spokesman Andrew Leigh flagged support for a potential parliamentary inquiry into Scientology.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
“I think we’ve given the Church of Scientology the benefit of the doubt in the past, and increasingly now that the more their assets go up and the less transparent they are, the more concerns are being raised,” he said. “Those who’ve seen the documentary Going Clear I think have been concerned by the way in which the church has operated in the US.”
He said religions are assumed to be delivering a public benefit to Australia.
“But the Church of Scientology is quite unusual now in that it has less than 1700 adherents, according to the last census, and more than $170 million in assets.
“So that means that for every adherent, they’ve got more than $100,000 in assets … I think it would also be useful for the Australian public if the Church of Scientology was to make very clear to Australians what broad public benefits they gain from providing as a community this tax concessional status.”
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar has been approached for comment.
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