By Casey Neill
Greater Dandenong Councillors are opposing a bill that doesn’t exist, fearing harm to religion-based charities and schools.
Cr Tim Dark raised a motion about a bill that Victorian Upper House MP Fiona Patten flagged in December, at the Monday 12 February council meeting.
The Reason Party Leader proposed to amend the Charities Act to exclude the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose.
She said that all genuine charitable work should stay tax exempt.
But Ms Patten said commercial enterprises owned by religious institutions should be subject to the same legal and financial laws as other commercial entities.
Cr Dark said the proposal was “a direct attack on religion and will affect all religions in Greater Dandenong”.
He successfully – six votes to four – proposed urgently writing to all state MPs “strongly opposing any changes to the Charities Act 1978”.
Councillors agreed to issue a media release supporting religion, promoting multicultural diversity and opposing any changes.
They’ll also write to all members of the Greater Dandenong Interfaith Network about the council’s support of the advancement of religion in the city.
“When this bill comes out and charities are hit with land tax, pay roll tax…and are forced to cut back on their services…” Cr Dark said.
“This will cause drastic damage to services in the City of Greater Dandenong.
“The council will then have to fill the gaps.”
Cr Jim Memeti said “this community relies heavily on its institutions of worship”.
“To take money away from those organisations I think is unfair,” he said.
Cr Matthew Kirwan opposed the motion because “there’s been no detail of the actual bill that’s been presented to parliament.”
“It might never actually come to parliament,” he said.
“It would be irresponsible to advocate opposing something that we don’t have the details of.”
Cr Sean O’Reilly said the ideas and the notions that Cr Dark put forward in “we would all agree with, as far as supporting religion and so on”.
But he questioned whether councillors knew enough about the topic to form a position.
“If we were diligent we would study what potential changes there would be to those taxes,” he said.
“I don’t think any of us have studied that really. Should we really be making a decision on it?”