ACNC commissioner faces Senate scrutiny over travel arrangements
30 March 2021 at 5:19 pm
Senate Estimates heard that the charities commissioner cost taxpayers $36,500 in flights over a six-month period flying from his home to the ACNC main office
The head of the charities commission has been forced to defend his decision to live in Brisbane and charge taxpayers for flights to its main office in Melbourne, while admitting the federal government approved this arrangement based solely on a verbal agreement.
Dr Gary Johns appeared before Senate Estimates last Wednesday, and was asked about the process involved in allowing him to stay living in Brisbane throughout his tenure as commissioner.
Johns told estimates that when offered the position in 2017, there was a verbal discussion with the then Assistant Minister to the Treasurer Michael Sukkar, which made it “quite clear” that he would be based in Brisbane and visit the main Melbourne office from “time to time”.
“The fact is I reside in Brisbane and that was the basis on which I took the job. It was quite explicit in the discussion I had with the minister and that has been accepted for three or more years,” Johns said.
Labor Senator Jenny McAllister asked Johns if he thought it was odd there was no written documentation of this agreement, to which he replied he didn’t know.
McAllister told estimates that in the six months to June 2018, Johns’ flights cost the taxpayer $36,500. She referenced an Australian Financial Review report that said Johns was entitled to $392 a night while in Melbourne – costing taxpayers another $27,000 over that time.
Johns has also set up a Brisbane office for himself that the AFR reported costs $20,000 a year.
The commissioner defended his position to stay living in Brisbane.
“It is an Australia-wide post. To be based in Brisbane is, I think, a perfectly reasonable thing,” he said.
“I spend a lot of time in regional Australia, and Brisbane is quite a good departing point, probably more so than Melbourne.”
Pro Bono News asked Minister Sukkar – who is currently the minister responsible for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission – to confirm if this arrangement was solely a verbal agreement, and if so, why there was no written documentation of the decision.
He was also asked if the cost implications of this arrangement were considered prior to the minister approving it.
A spokesperson for Sukkar told Pro Bono News the ACNC commissioner’s arrangements around travel expenses and allowances were determined by the Remuneration Tribunal.
“As a statutory officer, the commissioner must ensure he complies with the Remuneration Tribunal determination,” they said.