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Drought Charities Welcome ACNC Probe Following Online Abuse

Wednesday, 7th November 2018 at 5:33 pm
Luke Michael
The two drought relief charities at the centre of a charity watchdog inquiry say they are confident the millions of dollars donated to vulnerable farmers are being managed appropriately.

Wednesday, 7th November 2018
at 5:33 pm
Luke Michael



Drought Charities Welcome ACNC Probe Following Online Abuse
Wednesday, 7th November 2018 at 5:33 pm

The two drought relief charities at the centre of a charity watchdog inquiry say they are confident the millions of dollars donated to vulnerable farmers are being managed appropriately.    

Pro Bono News spoke to representatives from Aussie Helpers and Rural Aid, after the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) revealed it was seeking assurances from both charities that the goods and funds they received were going to those in need.

This follows a Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) report in August that found Aussie Helpers had retained large cash reserves from its yearly donations. The report also said that in 2016-2017, more than a third ($354,000) of the $951,000 Rural Aid received in donations was spent on wages.

Tony Bonnici, a director of Aussie Helpers, told Pro Bono News the charity received nasty feedback on social media following the SMH report, and had reached out to the ACNC on 8 October to ensure they were following proper reporting processes.

He said the ACNC replied telling the charity it was meeting its ongoing reporting obligations, which made the ACNC’s announcement of an inquiry surprising.

“But while we were surprised, we were kind of glad that this has happened because we want to get this sorted out once and for all and get it over and done with, and we are very open and transparent with our dealings,” Bonnici said.

It has been reported in the media that Aussie Helpers is being investigated by the Australian Charities and…

Posted by The Official Aussie Helpers Page on Monday, 5 November 2018

He said Aussie Helpers were confident the ACNC would find no wrongdoing on the charity’s behalf, and said the farmers the organisation helped could attest to the charity’s good work.

“We’ve got a lot of support and for all the detractors we have, they are vastly outnumbered by our supporters,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it’s difficult enough to get a farmer to speak up as they are a proud lot, and we don’t want to let people know who we’ve assisted due to privacy.

“And lately with this nasty social media campaign, the farmers that have spoken out and said Aussie Helpers have assisted us have been shouted down by others, and so they are now even more reluctant to speak out.”

Charles Alder, the CEO of Rural Aid – which runs the popular Buy-a-Bale program – said his charity welcomed the inquiry and was also confident the organisation’s operations were above board. 

Responding to allegations the charity spent too much on wages, Alder – who earnt $110,000 in 2016-17 – said he had no issues with staff salaries and noted Rural Aid couldn’t do the large-scale job it did without paying people decently.

“The greatest challenge that non-profits have, is that they are expected to perform like the best companies we have in Australia but do it for no money,” Alder told Pro Bono News.

“You can’t get the best people for no money and you can’t grow a charity to be successful without spending some money in the process.

“At the end of the day, we’re able to supply assistance to thousands of farmers across Australia because we have systems in place and we have staff in place to be able to manage the logistics. If people think they can do all that for nothing then I’d love them to have a go at it.”

It has been reported in today’s media that Rural Aid and another charity are in discussions with the ACNC about process…

Posted by Rural Aid on Monday, 5 November 2018

Bonnici agreed, and said while everyone had a right to be concerned about where their donations were going, there was a wrong and right way to go about it.

“We’ve been fairly open as to how as to where our money goes. Our website shows all the different services that we provide,” he said.

“Everyone has got a right to ask questions, but what’s been happening is that we’ve received [abusive] comments that in some cases are borderline defamatory.”

The ACNC said its inquiry was still ongoing, and that both charities had been fully cooperative.    

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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