The Adelaide Advertiser reports…
“Pentecostal churchgoers handed over about $2.5 million in “tithes” to the Assemblies of God megachurch at Paradise.
Figures obtained by The Advertiser show the church, now known as Influencers Church, paid almost that much to their employees.
A tithe is a tenth of a person’s salary, given to the church. Church spokesman Darren Keneally said it told the congregation that the Bible recommended a 10 per cent donation, but told them to give whatever they wanted.
The latest figures filed to the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs are from 2011 and show the church had revenue of over $6 million in that year. The organisation, one of the largest churches in Australia, reported a surplus of about $8.5 million.
The main campus has a television studio, a music school and conference and childcare facilities. The church’s assets are worth about $25 million.
Australian religious institutions are exempt from income tax, fringe benefits tax and GST.
A push for “proof of benefit” led to an inquiry into churches, charities, and not-for-profit organisations in 2010, which in turn led to the establishment of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits commission last year.
The Abbott Government plans to abolish the commission.
However, the commission plans to eventually collect financial information on all churches and other charities.
As of Tuesday, the Assemblies of God at Paradise had not submitted their annual information statement, but it is not due until March.
A commission spokeswoman said 34 AOG churches across Australia had submitted statements, and that overall, more than 15,000 charities had either submitted or started their statement.
South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon started the latest push towards transparency.
In 2009, he called for the Church of Scientology to be stripped of its tax-exempt status, and went on to call for a public benefit test for all tax-exempt institutions.
He said there was “no question” that churches did good things in the community.
“But with a tax-free statement should come some basic requirements of transparency and accountability,” he said.
“The whole reason churches and charities get tax-free status is the good they do in the community. What’s the harm in the books being opened?”
Mr Keneally said the church was “absolutely transparent” to its membership and that people who gave tithes or donations received annual reports and financial statements.
“They have every right to ask how that money is spent and we give that to them,” he said.
He said the church was “active in supporting the community” through measures including home support and food hampers, and that they used “appropriate accounting practices”.
“Any fiscally responsible organisation has to appropriately manage its debts, assets, finances, its balance sheet and Influencers Church does that,” he said.
“It is a large organisation and has to do that responsibly.”