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Conscientious Objection to the Military use of my Taxes
The following is similar to letters sent to several federal MPs and Senators.
You may have thought that the days of conscientious objectors going to prison for their beliefs were a thing of the past. After all this is a civilised democracy that prides itself on its tolerance of many different cultures and beliefs. Unfortunately, I am writing to tell you that this is not so. Or perhaps you are already aware of the injustice of taxation law when it comes to conscientious objection. In any case, I am asking for your urgent help.
I am a conscientious objector, and I may well find myself both bankrupt and in prison in just a few weeks time. I have a wife and two children; a son aged four and a daughter of only seven months. It is very difficult to explain to my son, and of course impossible to explain to my daughter, why their Government wants to take me away from them and put me in prison.
Like many other conscientious objectors, I realised many years ago that simply refusing military service was not enough, that even during peace time my taxes were helping to pay for weapons and military training, including the disgraceful training of Indonesian soldiers, who we recently saw, yet again, killing their own unarmed citizens. The law recognises, in the case of murder, that paying someone to do your killing for you is as serious a crime as doing it yourself.
Many conscientious objectors now understand this, but most are PAYE taxpayers and have little chance to do anything about their beliefs. In 1990, after becoming self-employed for the first time, I withheld 10% of my tax from the tax office and instead paid it to an organisation supporting research into nonviolent defence (the Peace and Development Foundation Inc.). I told the tax office exactly what I was doing and why, and I have done this for the past 8 years, whenever tax was payable.
After 8 years, things are suddenly moving rapidly. A week ago, Judgement was entered against me in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for $8952.51. The amount I have actually redirected is $5202.46; the rest is penalties and interest. Yesterday I received a letter from the tax office saying "If full payment [of what is now $9488.11] or a reasonable offer of payment by installments is not received by Friday 12 Jun 98, a Bankruptcy Notice will issue". Of course I will not pay. And whether or not I am declared bankrupt, I will at some stage be ordered by the court to give a statement of my assets. Of course I will not give any information that would allow the money to be taken. That's what it means to have a conscientious belief, and this is when I will probably find myself in jail (ostensibly for contempt of court).
If I did not continue to act according to my beliefs then, as defined in the Defence Act my beliefs could no longer be considered "conscientious", and I would no longer be eligible to be considered even as a conscientious objector to military service in time of war.
I can assure you that I have no avenue within the law, as it stands, for doing what I am doing. But all it would take is a small amendment to the Tax Act, similar in spirit to the provisions in the Defence Act, that would allow bona fide conscientious objectors to pay the defence proportion of their tax into a fund to be used to support nonviolent, non-military forms of defence (research or implementation).
I have heard that some politicians in the past have expressed the fear that this would "open the floodgates to discretionary taxes of all kinds". But this is complete nonsense. The idea that people would present themselves in droves before a tribunal to establish that they had a bona fide conscientious objection to paying taxes for health or welfare is simply laughable. Even conscientious objectors to military service are probably less than 0.1% of the population.
However I'm sure that the majority of Australians believe in the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion which appears in our Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Act. I just hope it doesn't take a "Free Dave Keenan" campaign to convince their representatives likewise. I also direct you to section 116 of our constitution.
Even the people in the tax office say they respect my beliefs and would rather not have to do this to me, but, short of resigning, they would be breaking the law if they did not.
But in the short term, (very short) what I really need is a moratorium, and anything you can do to help obtain one for me would be greatly appreciated.
In fact I'm begging you to help me, if not for my sake, for the sake of my children.
David C. Keenan, 3-Jun-98
116 Bowman Parade
Bardon QLD 4065
Phone: (07) 3366 2660
Please send letters in support to:
Hon. Peter Costello MP
Fax: (02) 6273 3420
The Attorney General
Hon. Daryl Williams AM QC MP
Fax: (02) 6273 4102
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
To Nonviolence Today #58 contents page