Saturday, October 22, 2005

Tax Fraud & Communal Stinginess

I have a friend who works in the Australian Taxation Office. His work involves investigation and prosecution of persons defrauding the Commonwealth of taxation revenue. The ATO recently had a big win with the successful prosecution of an Australian family of Israeli background who ran a series of fashion stores across Sydney.

The family was known for their generosity and philanthropy. Many Jewish community charities were beneficiaries of the largesse of the family. Yet they were eventually prosecuted and convicted.

I was sitting with another friend of mine one night. He and his wife live in the shadow of the Gallipoli Mosque in Auburn. Like many young Muslims, he has plenty of good ideas but few people to support him financially.

We sat up making a long list of projects urgently needed in the Muslim community. Our list included: media response teams, lobbying on law reform issues, training of imams locally, academic scholarships, organizing (in a similar sense to trade union organizing) and a range of other projects that will bring long term benefit to Muslims and other Australians across future generations.

This was just the tip of the iceberg. We could think of so many more projects. But the problem we face is money.

My friend struggles to pay rent and look after his small family. He has plenty of talent and energy. But community work doesn’t pay his bills or butter his bread.

I have my own legal practice. I do a little bit of freelance writing for which I get paid. But my health situation limits how much work I can do. Notwithstanding the large load of debts on my head and no limit of personal obligations, I still manage to do get some work done.

Then I look at the young couple and small group of volunteers that make up AMCRAN. This small bunch has produced work defending and protecting civil rights (indeed basic human rights) which will hopefully protect all Australians. AMCRAN’s work, especially their paper on the PM’s anti-terror proposals, placed the issue on the national agenda.

But who pays Waleed to do this work? Who puts butter on the bread of Agnes and her small group of volunteers?

We have enormous resources in our community. Since 1996, Muslims and other New South Welshmen have been benefiting from the sound economic management of the current governments, both Federal and State. We’ve had low interest rates, booming property prices, plenty of money to pay for our first homes, stamp duty exemptions and a generally booming economy.

Muslims have been making plenty of money. In 2001/02, I opened an office in Auburn. I saw with my own eyes Muslims paying deposits to real estate agents for houses using cash.

There is plenty of money in this community. Yet activists who are doing important work to protect our human rights and our welfare are struggling and working tirelessly despite strained personal circumstances.

Meanwhile, there are organizations which are not working effectively. These bodies obtain millions of dollars in government funds, and use the money to employ family members of their executive. No real or tangible benefit is often seen from such projects, which are often funded as a means of paying back loyal organizational heads for political and other favours.

I have acted for a number of these organizations in the past. I have been forced to reduce my fees in the name of “community spirit”. Meanwhile, those instructing me have enjoyed luxurious lifestyles and often earned higher salaries than myself.

I remember acting for one Muslim school in Sydney in an unfair dismissal matter. I was being asked to reduce my hourly rate to one third of the usual rate. The school principal from who I was obtaining instructions was earning perhaps the same yearly salary as myself. Yet it took that school some 18 months to pay my bill, despite the severe reduction in price.

Of course, there is no point mentioning the various royal families that make up the Islamic industry in Sydney. They know who they are, and so do we. What concerns me is the fact that there are plenty of Muslims living n the “ghetto” areas sitting on piles of gold and silver.

Much of their wealth has not been declared to the ATO. Many are siphoning money overseas, and are engaging in the same tricks which the Israeli-Australian family mentioned at the beginning was doing. The difference is that the Israeli family was actually proving useful members of their communities. Many prominent Jewish Australians came to court to testify as to the generosity of the family. Many saw their conviction as a tragedy to fall upon the Jewish community as a whole.

But when some of our own wealthy families are investigated and convicted, I doubt many prominent Muslim activists will be providing similar testimony. I certainly won’t be assisting in this regard, though I will be happy to provide professional services. For a fee, of course!

Our own wealthy Muslims do little. How else do we explain the fact that so many useful community projects are being undertaken by volunteers who struggle for their livelihood? Imagine if AMCRAN had a budget of $200,000 per year. How much more work could they do in relation to agitating for civil and human rights?

We really have no right to complain when the government wants to give police powers to shoot Muslim terror suspects. After all, the biggest source of terror for our community is our own failure to protect our own rights. Australia provides us with economic, political and other forms of freedom that we could only dream of if we were back in Turkey or Lebanon or Egypt or even Indonesia.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: