There isn’t going to be a Senate enquiry into religions.
What has happened is that Senator Nick Xenophon has proposed a Bill which, if passed, would amend the tax code so that religious and charitable institutions will not be exempt from income tax unless (as well as meeting all the existing conditions) they satisfy a proposed “public benefit test” – namely, that there must be an identifiable benefit to the public, or a significant section of the public arising from their aims and activities, and that this must be balanced against any detriment or harm.
This doesn’t call for any “Senate enquiry into religions”; the new rule would apply to religious and charitable entities equally, and it comes before the Senate as a matter of general principle. If it were passed, it would be for the ATO to apply the “public benefit test” to any religious or charitable body seeking tax exemption. That application, and its outcome, would of course be confidential to the taxpayer concerned.
But it probably won’t be passed. Senator Xenophon is an independent senator and, in introducing a Bill, he is following a tactic often employed by independent, opposition and backbench senators to raise an issue for debate. He doesn’t seriously expect the Bill to pass. The chances of a Bill which does not have government support becoming law are negligible – even more so where, as here, the Bill seeks to amend the tax code.
The Bill arises, as Senator Xenophon himself says frankly, out of his concerns over the tactics and activities of the Scientologists in Australia. If so, denying them tax exemption seems to me to be an odd way of addressing those concerns. When we seek to control people’s behaviour in the public interest, we don’t normally do it through the tax code. (“Bad rapist! No tax deduction for you!”) We do it through the criminal law, or through a directly enforceable regulatory procedure.