A poll in the Fairfax press yesterday showed that the majority of Sydney people had got jack of the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day once they realised how disruptive it would be. While the men who run the world’s premier institution of misogyny and paedophilia should never have been allowed to hold their medievalist frolic in public in the first place, the event has undoubtedly been affected by the Iemma Government’s Sadim touch.

Typically, the NSW Government buggered up the organising of the event, leading to an extended stoush with the racing industry which was only resolved via a large bribe to the horse floggers, which came on top of tens of millions already gifted to the Catholics to help celebrate such bizarre concepts as transubstantiation, virgin birth and zombie messiahs.

John Watkins – apparently one of the talented ones in Macquarie St – then applied his usual “shut the place down” approach of handing police ridiculous powers and closing off half the city, which worked so well during APEC that the Chasers were waved through to within bombing distance of world leaders. He also claimed that the event would generate $190m in tourism revenue, but refused to release the basis for the figure, suggesting it’s the usual creative arithmetic of magical multipliers and outlandish assumptions employed by events organisers over the years. Youth Day organisers preferred an even sillier estimate of $230m offered by the local Chamber of Commerce. This was at the same time they were pleading for local Catholics to volunteer to have “pilgrims” billeted on them.

But while Alex Mitchell has previously explained how much taxpayer money has been showered on the Catholic Church, that’s not the end of it, not by a long stretch. Don’t forget that religious groups do not pay tax – including company tax, GST, FBT and capital gains tax, or even council rates, stamp duty or land tax. Even the for-profit services run by religious groups – which frequently compete with other business – are exempt from company taxation.

In 2005, Adele Ferguson did the hard work of estimating the revenue of Australia’s main religions for BRW. She found that the Catholic Church earned the bulk of the more than $23b in revenue earned by the ten largest religious groups – $16.25b. At the same growth rate identified by Ferguson, this would be $20.47b in 2008. If even just 5% of that revenue was profit, that’s more than $300m that the Catholic Church will avoid this year in company tax alone. Ferguson estimated that the Church had more than $100b in assets, the bulk of which would be property – which would mean several hundred million dollars more in land tax that state governments are missing out on.

So, courtesy of our exempting religions from taxation, the Catholic Church alone keeps the best part of a billion dollars a year minimum. Throw in everyone else – the Uniting Church, the Anglicans, the happy clappers and their coffee chains, the Salvos – and we’re talking a billions of dollars a year in tax revenue forgone. The $160m being poured into the Youth Day is small beer indeed.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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