The Australian today claims that hardline Muslim clerics are encouraging their followers to cheat the tax system because they consider paying income tax contrary to Islamic law.

It is alleged that fundamentalist imams are placing sharia law ahead of Australian law and are also condoning welfare fraud and the cash economy as tax-evasion methods at Friday sermons in Sydney. Prominent Islamic leaders around Australia have condemned the anti-tax preaching.

However they are serious allegations and they come the same day where allegations of $700,000 in taxpayer funds were granted by NSW Premier Morris Iemma to the Lebanese Muslim Association and the Australian National Sports Club Incorporated to build an indoor sports complex in Mr Iemma’s electorate of Lakemba.  

The Opposition has referred the grants fiasco to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The allegations of tax cheating and welfare fraud have put the local Muslim community of Lakemba under a cloud. I don’t think it’s right that we should be throwing big taxpayer dollars into a community that allegedly is being preached to cheat the Australian government. In this vein I believe any further taxpayer funds to complete the indoor sports complex should cease.

The Australian Taxation Office should immediately announce a data matching program to test the veracity of the tax cheating claims. It should start by obtaining a list of all home owners in the Lakemba suburb and run those names through the tax office system to establish whether they are registered as taxpayers and lodging income tax returns. The names should also be run through the Centrelink system and compared to what the tax office throws up.

Investigators could then determine whether there are tax or welfare problems that deserved greater scrutiny. The results of the investigation should be made public and could then be used to determine the extent of taxpayer funds to be allocated for extra capital works such as the indoor sports complex. Isn’t that fair?

Peter Fray

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