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Minister Rejects Charity Boss’s Claim That Acknowledgement of Country May Signal Bias


7 November 2018 at 5:28 pm
Maggie Coggan
The Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, has dismissed claims by the head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Dr Gary Johns, that including an acknowledgement of country in an email signature indicates a bias toward Indigenous charities.  


Maggie Coggan | 7 November 2018 at 5:28 pm


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Minister Rejects Charity Boss’s Claim That Acknowledgement of Country May Signal Bias
7 November 2018 at 5:28 pm

The Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, has dismissed claims by the the head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Dr Gary Johns, that including an acknowledgement of country in an email signature indicates a bias toward Indigenous charities.  

Scullion wrote to the ACNC head in late October following comments made by Johns to a Senate Estimates hearing last month.

Johns said he had removed the acknowledgement of country in his email signature because he believed it demonstrated an ACNC bias towards Indigenous charities.

He also suggested ACNC officials should remove the acknowledgement, or change it to “I” rather than “we”.  

“I took the view that… using the words ‘we acknowledge’ imply that the entire commission was, if you like, acknowledging one group of charities and not others,” Johns said at the hearing.

“The words raise the perception of bias that I’m not treating all charities the same.”

But Scullion said he did not believe that acknowledging traditional land ownership in an email block was likely to cause readers to doubt the impartiality of the ACNC.

“Acknowledgments of country are well-known payments of respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in recognition of their traditional ownership of the land,” Scullion said.

“In my view, there is little risk of the confusion.”

He also said despite Johns telling ACNC officials to remove acknowledgment of country from their email signature blocks out of concern for the perceived impartiality of the ACNC, they should reinstate them.

“I would encourage as many ACNC officials as are interested to include acknowledgements of country in their signature blocks,” Scullion said.

Johns told Pro Bono News however that Scullion was incorrect, and all he has suggested was a change of wording.  

“I have not asked staff to remove acknowledgements, I have asked staff who choose to include an acknowledgment to alter them slightly to avoid any perception of bias,” Johns said.

Shadow minister for charities Andrew Leigh, who has criticised Johns numerous times, said the move by Scullion showed senior Liberals were now distancing themselves from Johns.

“The question remains as to why Dr Johns was appointed by the Coalition government… Labor has been calling for Dr Johns to step down as commissioner before he damages the culture of our trusted charity sector,” Leigh said.   


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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