‘Basic religious charity’: a justified exemption?

The first of the ACNC[i]’s three objects is to ‘maintain, protect and enhance public trust and confidence in the sector through increased accountability and transparency’. Laudable. But why, then, does a multi-million dollar unincorporated charity that is

  • primarily about promoting religion,
  • running a DGR[ii] fund, and
  • has repeatedly received $100 000 in government grants

not have to

  • disclose any financial information, or
  • comply with the ACNC’s governance standards[iii], and

can have people running it who cannot be suspended or removed by the ACNC?

The answer? Because it is a ‘basic religious charity’. This includes the typical Uniting, Anglican, or Catholic parish.

But, you say, why, given the ACNC’s object above, would the legislation provide for this huge exemption, this black hole of accountability and transparency? Good question. The only reasonable answer is that these charities are already subject to equivalent measures, and therefore to impose the same requirements on them would be a duplication. Is this the case though? If you are a donor to one of these religious charities, and it has revenue greater than $250 000,

  • do you get given an industry standard financial report showing the parish’s finances?
  • is there a mechanism to remove those in charge?
  • does the parish follow governance practices equivalent to these?

If not then you have lost out by the introduction of the ACNC.






[i] Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission

[ii] Deductible Gift Recipient. See http://www.acnc.gov.au/ACNC/FTS/Fact_DGR.aspx.

[iii] These standards ‘require charities to remain charitable, operate lawfully, and be run in an accountable and responsible way’.