The Australian Financial Review, Wed 10 Nov 1982, p7

Scientology's status challenged in court


A VERY old and pure form of tax avoidance favoured by governments throughout the western world came before the High Court yesterday.

The device is not available to individuals. First they must band together and become recognised as a religion, before they can take advantage of the tax exemptions which are provided by legislatures for religions, or religious organisations, or religious bodies.

The case before the High Court concerned the Church of the New Faith, as it is known in Victoria, or the Church of Scientology as it is called elsewhere in Australia.

The Scientologists are trying to prove that their Victorian organisation is a religious organisation, and is thus entitled to exemption from payroll tax in Victoria.

The Victorian Payroll Tax Commissioner has recently taken a hardline against smaller groups claiming exemptions under this section of the Payroll Tax Act, and according to the counsel for the Scientologists, Mr D. M. J. Bennett, QC, has also ruled that Seventh-day Adventists are not a religious organisation in Victoria.

The High Court is hearing the Scientologist case partly as an application for special leave to appeal to the court, and partly as the full appeal.

The Scientologists have to show that their case is deserving of the High Court's attention by being "special." They point out that the Scientologists' claim of 150,000 adherents in Australia and eight million world-wide warrants the court's attention.

They say also that similar tax exemption provisions for religions appear in the commonwealth's income tax assessment act, and in the tax acts relating to payroll tax, land tax and other state taxes in most or all of the states. And, they add, they are not the only "religion" at risk.

Mr Bennett said the High Court had never defined the meaning of religion, a word which also appears in an important section of the Commonwealth Constitution.

Mr Bennett tried to obtain such a definition by looking at a few Australian and many American cases. He then tried to show that Scientology fell within that definition.

The case continues today.

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