Petition Calls for Gary Johns to Resign as ACNC Head
11 December 2017 at 4:52 pm
Just days after Dr Gary Johns was appointed the new commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), a petition has been launched calling for his resignation.
Labor’s shadow minister for charities and not for profits, Andrew Leigh, started the petition which he said he would table in parliament.
“After spending years waging war on Australian charities, the government has appointed a trenchant critic of charities to oversee the sector,” the petition said.
“The appointment of Gary Johns as the charities commissioner signals a major escalation in the Turnbull government’s war on charities.
“Gary Johns must resign for the good of the sector.”
“Gary Johns’ attitude towards our charities and his views on many of the vulnerable communities they work with make his role as charities commissioner untenable,” the petition said.
“For these reasons, we the undersigned believe that Gary Johns is unfit to lead Australia’s charity regulator. We call on the House to guard the independence of our charities by seeking his resignation.”
The petition comes after the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) labelled Johns’ appointment as “deeply troubling and an attack on Australia’s charities and not-for-profits”.
“In appointing Dr Johns, the government reverses the positive work of the commission and its strong standing across the sector,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.
“As the regulator for the charitable sector, it is essential that the ACNC operates independently, at arms-length from government and the sector. This gives both government and the sector certainty, trust and transparency. The ACNC has earned the respect of both the public and the charitable sector in Australia by doing just that.
“Dr Johns has expressed a range of views that make his appointment as commissioner untenable. For example, he has strongly held views that charities should not undertake advocacy at all, and certainly not using public funds. He has also referred to Aboriginal women as ‘cash cows’ and called for people on income support to be forced to use contraception.”
Goldie added that this was “another prong in the government’s attempts to stop civil society from having a voice”.
“Just [last] week the government signalled its intention to silence advocacy by banning international donations to civil society organisations, a controversial position that Dr Johns has previously come out in support of,” she said.
“We are very concerned about the attack on advocacy that this appointment represents. Advocacy is an essential part of a thriving civil society, and it is essential that the community sector has a voice into the debates that affect us all.
“The prime minister should step in, and reconsider this appointment.”
ACOSS also released a joint statement with leading charities and peak bodies including the Australian Council for International Development, Australian Conservation Foundation, Community Council for Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre, expressing deep concern at the appointment.
“Johns has consistently shown himself to be a trenchant anti-charity campaigner and it is difficult to see how he can or will act in good faith on behalf of the sector, which is a core function of the commission and requirement of its commissioner,” the statement said.
“In June, more than 100 charities wrote to the prime minister raising concerns about the future of the ACNC and to request a robust process to appoint the best possible new ACNC commissioner.
“Until now, the ACNC has also done what few new regulators have achieved – improved public trust and confidence while gaining widespread support across the sector it is regulating. The charities sector now fears this reputation will be undermined and the positive work of the ACNC reversed.”
Meanwhile, not-for-profit legal service Justice Connect said they acknowledged the appointment, but noted that previous public statements by Johns seemed “at odds” with his new responsibilities.
Justice Connect’s acting CEO Sue Woodward said: “It is clear the sector holds the ACNC in high regard. When the ACNC speaks, the sector listens. When the ACNC asks them to do something, they do it. This is reflected in very high compliance rates for annual reporting.”
“As a sector we called for an independent specialist regulator. We want ‘bad apples’ dealt with but we also want a regulator who understands the work we do and why that work often involves advocating for change.”
Justice Connect’s statement concluded: “We hope under the new commissioner’s leadership the overall regulatory approach of the ACNC does not change.
“A loss of confidence in and respect for the ACNC by the sector would be detrimental in a similar way to a loss of confidence by the public in charities.”
Speaking at the announcement of his appointment last Thursday, Johns indicated he wanted the ACNC to offer Australians greater transparency about the charities they looked to donate to.
“The step we’re going to take now, is to use the data that we already asked of charities and use it to greater effect, so that donors can see how charities are operated,” Johns said.
“Once you get to do that, the donor can look inside the market and see how many charities offer deeds in their area of interest or how many don’t. So we may pick up gaps and overlaps in the market.
“So I intend as far as possible, to put more information at the hands and literally the fingertips of donors so they’ll drive the market.”