Charity Regulator Revokes Three QLD Charities
14 February 2017 at 8:40 am
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has revoked the charity status of three organisations following investigations into their operations.
The ACNC has made six charity revocations since the start of January.
The organisations include community services charity Brighter Horizons Limited, a suicide prevention charity for returned soldiers called Walking Wounded Ltd and an Aboriginal trust set up to assist native title groups called Gulf Aboriginal Development Company Limited.
Acting ACNC commissioner Murray Baird said the regulator took concerns about the operations of charities seriously and would revoke charity registrations where organisations were not meeting the standards required of registered charities.
“Part of the ACNC’s role is to shine a light on Australia’s charity sector, and take action where there has been wrongdoing,” Baird said in a statement.
“We receive approximately 60 concerns every month, and the majority of these are raised by members of the public. A large proportion are also from the charity sector itself.”
The ACNC said the revocation of Walking Wounded Ltd was backdated to 16 October 2014. The organisation was endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) as a deductible gift recipient (DGR), and also had access to GST concessions, income tax exemption and FBT rebates.
The Walking Wounded was founded by Brian Freeman, who served for 20 years as an infantry and special forces soldier and officer in the Australian army. The charity said that in recent years the organisation was being run by its board of directors and was supported by a team of soldier welfare officers and external counselling services.
Board director and retired serviceman Malcolm Cockburn told Pro Bono News said he was somewhat surprised by the ACNC decision. He said the action followed allegations made against the organisation to the regulator.
“We don’t know what those allegations were or what was sent into them, they won’t tell us,” Cockburn said.
He said the ACNC sought information about governance and the way meetings were held and the organisation had provided all the information requested.
“We have 60 days to reply. We are going through what the ACNC has sent to us and comparing it to what we sent them and we will be seeking clarification about what needs to be done,” he said.
“We need to know what the discrepancies are and how to rectify them.
“We were a little bit surprised. Our big concern is we don’t know what the allegations were… you do have disgruntled people and in this day of social media they make accusations and say things they have no information about what they are talking about… and we are trying to tread through a minefield not knowing what we are stepping on.
“We have had threats… but no one will will tell us who these people are. It is a very sensitive area working with veterans.”
Cockburn said the directors would be working through the organisation’s options and whether they can afford to fight the revocation or if they can continue their work with reduced services.
In response to Cockburn’s comments, the ACNC’s Baird told Pro Bono News in a statement that “before the ACNC starts any investigation, we contact the charity to clarify matters and raise our concerns”.
“We provide the charity with opportunities to address our concerns and supply information to us to help us understand the issues. All decisions made by the ACNC are based on evidence,” he said.
“Throughout the investigation process, the ACNC is in regular contact with the charity involved and the charity is fully aware they are under investigation.”
He said prior to revoking the registration of a charity, charities are given a written notice (a show cause notice) stating the grounds on which the commissioner proposes to revoke the registration; the charity is given 28 days to provide a written statement showing cause why the charity should not be revoked, and the opportunity to provide any additional information in support of the statement.
“Where possible, the ACNC will work with a charity to resolve the issues we find during a compliance investigation. However, where we find serious breaches of the ACNC Act and governance standards we will revoke charity status,” Baird said.
The revocation of Brighter Horizons Limited was backdated to 4 August 2016. According to the Australian Business Register (ABR), Brighter Horizons Limited has been operating since 2014.
It was endorsed by the ATO to access Commonwealth tax concessions including GST concessions and income tax exemptions.
As recently as June 2016 Brighter Horizons was advertising for four new directors.
The charity described itself as “a newly established charitable organisation located in Coomera”.
“We run programs that provide assistance to all levels of society through education, community services, youth services and improvement to lives of individuals and families.
“Our aim is to improve and brighten the future outlook for all, and to improve the safety and quality of life for the disadvantaged children and young people, through the provision of viable and effective care solutions in partnership with government bodies.”
However in August 2016 the charity was placed into liquidation.
The revocation of the Gulf Development Company Limited was backdated to 1 July 2013. The organisation was endorsed by the ATO to access Commonwealth tax concessions.
The Gulf Aboriginal Development Corporation was established in 2012 to represent the interests of native title groups and to manage the compensation payments from the Pasminco Century Zinc Mine project.
A spokesperson for the organisation told Pro Bono News that it was speaking with its lawyers about appealing the decision.
All three organisations will lose access to Commonwealth charity tax concessions as a result of the ACNC action.
The ACNC said it was prevented from disclosing further details due to secrecy provisions in the ACNC Act.
The first revocation for 2017 was the Catch The Fire Ministries following a compliance investigation into the organisation’s activities and operations.