Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sunday Age bin

In the Sunday Age Terry Lane points out that there's no point having antiquated laws hanging around on the books if they're never enforced. Well, it's worse if they are enforced; look at, for example, the Preamble to the Act of Elizabeth I on Charitable Uses, 1601, which is still used in Australian law to determine what is and is not a charity and is or is not entitled to receive tax deductible donations. Only purposes that fall within the headings of “The relief of aged, impotent, and poor people; the maintenance of sick and maimed soldiers and mariners, schools of learning, free schools and scholars of universities; the repair of bridges, havens, causeways, churches, seabanks and highways; the education and preferment of orphans; the relief, stock or maintenance of houses of correction; marriages of poor maids; supportation, aid and help of young tradesmen, handicraftsmen and persons decayed; the relief or redemption of prisoners or captives and the aid or ease of any poor inhabitants concerning paym ents of fifteens, setting out of soldiers and other taxes.” In Australia, to this day, the objects there enumerated, and all other objects which by analogy are deemed within its spirit and intendment, and no other objects, are in law charitable.
The words 'by analogy' do in practice get a fair thrashing; one case decided that an organization that wanted to provide free public access to the Internet met the definition of a charity, on the grounds that the preamble to the Statute of Elizabeth included “the repair of bridges, ports, causeways and highways,” and the Internet was an information highway. While this helps a bit, the situation remains plainly idiotic. The Treasurer, to his credit, has noticed this, and set up an ilniinquiry some years ago into the definition of charity; when the Inquiry reported, however, the Treasurer, to his discredit, put it into the too hard basket and kept on with the old system.
The consequence is that there are many things which everybody agrees are unquestionably for the public good that can't get tax deductibility. This suits the Tax Office just fine, but the rest of us not nearly so much. The English themselves have decided that four hundred and six years of Good Queen Bess are quite enough, and have brought in a sparkling new Charities Act. Isn't it time we followed their example?

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