Over a hundred large churches in Australia and other religious organisations allegedly received millions of dollars of emergency government support during the coronavirus pandemic despite hardly being financially impacted.
According to an investigation by local media ABC, about 3,500 religious entities received JobKeeper payments (the equivalent of Furlough Scheme in the UK) amounting to a total of AU$627 million (£333 million) during the scheme that lasted until March.
The JobKeeper scheme in Australia did not originally include religious leaders because they are not technically recognised as employees under Australian law. However, the scheme was later extended to include religious workers.
For example, Scripture Union Queensland, the largest provider of chaplains in Australia, received more than AU$15 million (£8 million) despite only seeing an 11 per cent fall in revenue during 2020.
Organisations were required to forecast a 15 per cent fall in profit in order to qualify for the scheme.
Responding to the accusations, Scripture Union Queensland told ABC the institution “met the statutory decline-in-revenue tests for charities to qualify for JobKeeper support” and said it was because of the scheme that were able to maintain employment for all stuff.
Among the churches being scrutinised, is that of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Horizon Church, which recorded a surplus of AU$81,101 (£43 million) in 2020, an increase of 89 per cent versus the previous year.
The church accounts did not disclose the exact amount received by the government, but it recorded AU$533,694 (£283 million) in grants and subsidies.
In a statement, federal treasure Josh Frydenberg recognised religious organisations perform a “vitally important job” and said he would welcome them returning Jobkeeper money “if they are in a position to do so”.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide, the Evangelical Christian group Power to Change, the Lutheran Church of Australia and the Crossway Baptist Church in Melbourne were also accused of receiving more money than they needed.