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Melbourne ministry faces huge tax bill

Controversial pastor and politician Danny Nalliah defies Charity Commission

UPDATE, MARCH 10: When this article was originally published, the name and logo of Catch The Fire Melbourne church was incorrectly included. Catch The Fire Melbourne is a completely separate organisation and in no way associated with Catch The Fire Ministries or Rise Up Australia party leader Danny Nalliah. Eternity apologises for any confusion this may have caused.

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Controversial Melbourne ministry Catch the Fire, which is led by Rise Up Australia party leader Danny Nalliah, has had its charitable status revoked by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

The ACNC is tight-lipped about the specific reasons for stripping the church of its charitable status, but says that the church will have 60 days to object to the decision.

“We are consulting with our lawyers as to what steps we can take next,” Nalliah told Eternity. “At this point in time I’m weighing the pros and cons of whether I should appeal [the decision].”

Nalliah says that he was unaware that under the Charities Act, Catch the Fire Ministries would not be allowed to endorse or oppose a particular political candidate or party, and that he was only made aware of the legislation when he received a letter earlier this week saying he was in breach of it.

“It is an unfair law, and the law needs to be repealed.” – Danny Nalliah

Before their status was revoked, Catch the Fire Ministries was endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office to access the following Commonwealth charity tax concessions: GST concession, income tax exemption, and fringe benefits tax rebate. The organisation did not have deductible gift recipient status.

Nalliah says he is “surprised and shocked” at the decision of the ACNC, and believes that it is unjust and discriminatory.

“Even if we have to pay tax, we will pay tax, but we will not compromise speaking the truth because the truth is what sets people free.” – Danny Nalliah

“It is an unfair law, and the law needs to be repealed,” says Nalliah.

“We want to challenge the legislation. [But] we will not compromise our stand. Even if we have to pay tax, we will pay tax, but we will not compromise speaking the truth because the truth is what sets people free.”

In a press release, acting ACNC Commissioner, David Locke, explained that revocation is reserved for the most serious cases.

“Where possible, we will work with a charity to resolve the issues we find during a compliance investigation,” said Locke.

“Normally we’re not able to talk about individual cases because of the strict privacy provisions that we have in our legislation,” David Locke from the ACNC told the ABC.

“But in this particular case Catch the Fire Ministries have themselves spoken to the media and set out that [the ACNC’s] concerns were in regards to political activities they were undertaking and I can confirm that that is the case.”

Responding to the ACNC’s decision, Nalliah said that Catch the Fire Ministries had been an overtly political church since its beginnings in 1998.

“As it currently stands, yes I am guilty under the law. But we don’t accept that, because [the law] is wrong.” – Danny Nalliah

Steve Kerr, a lawyer and the executive director of the Christian Management Australia standards council, says that while charities are able to access a suite of tax exemptions, the ACNC is quite strict about what kinds of activity are not permitted.

“Advancing religion is deemed to be charitable,” says Kerr, “unless you have a disqualifying purpose, which under the Act, includes promoting or opposing political parties or candidates for public office.”

“Promoting does not include distributing information about the policies of a particular party, or advancing debate about those policies. It includes assessing, correcting, comparing or ranking policies,” says Kerr.

The ACNC has decided that Catch the Fire has gone further than just talking about the policies of political parties.

Danny Nalliah isn’t ashamed of that.

“Yes, I definitely told people to vote for Rise Up Australia. I also told them to vote for One Nation, Australian Christians and Family First. We were definitely telling people who to vote for,” says Nalliah.

“As it currently stands, yes I am guilty under the law. But we don’t accept that, because [the law] is wrong.”

The decision has been backdated to January 2014, which could mean the church needs to repay up to three years of tax concessions.

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