Guide Dogs Victoria launches investigation after CEO publicly backs Josh Frydenberg
20 April 2022 at 5:08 pm
“Those responsible for running charities need to be confident that they comply with the ACNC’s governance standards.”
The board of Guide Dogs Victoria has launched an internal investigation after its CEO appeared in material endorsing the federal treasurer’s re-election campaign.
Karen Hayes is pictured holding a guide dog puppy on a flyer distributed in the seat of Kooyong, alongside the words “Why I am supporting Josh Frydenberg”.
She is quoted as saying, “Time and time again, Josh has shown his genuine care for Guide Dogs Victoria and the people with low vision and blindness we serve.”
But in a statement issued on Wednesday, the board said it had no prior knowledge of the material – which is signed “Karen, chief executive officer, Guide Dogs Victoria” – and does not endorse it.
The charity also requested the material be “immediately removed from circulation”.
Guide Dogs Victoria has launched an internal investigation after its CEO appeared on campaign material for Josh Frydenberg. Chair Iain Edwards says the board had no prior knowledge of the material and does not endorse it. Statement below. @10NewsFirstMelb pic.twitter.com/gIWUy5KKPi
— Patrick Murrell (@pamurrell) April 20, 2022
“Guide Dogs Victoria is absolutely committed to its important work as a charitable apolitical organisation in line with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) regulations,” the statement read.
The CEO’s endorsement has attracted backlash on social media, with some long-time supporters saying they will no longer back the organisation.
Others have called into question whether the material breaches charitable regulations.
It comes just days after a similar flyer appeared featuring Cate Sayers, the founder of Inclusion Foundation, also supporting Josh Frydenberg.
Just cancelled my donation to Guide Dogs sorry but if yre going to attach yr .org to a political party or politician I’m out as a 20 yr donor. #GuideDogsVictoria
— petsam (@petsam8) April 19, 2022
Endorsing political candidates is not permitted
Under the Charities Act, charities are free to “promote or oppose a change to any matter of law, policy or practice, as long as this advocacy furthers or aids another charitable purpose”.
However, they can be disqualified for “promoting or opposing a political party or candidate for political office”.
Speaking on ABC Radio Melbourne, ACNC commissioner Dr Gary Johns reaffirmed that endorsing political candidates was not permitted.
“You can sing from the rooftops about your charitable purpose, that you’re in favour of this or that, but not about candidates or political parties,” he said.
“Just keep out of that because it can trigger my investigation, but it also certainly triggers a reputational risk for the charity.”
He was unable to comment specifically on Hayes’ actions or whether an investigation was underway.
When asked where the line could be drawn between the charity and an individual, Johns told Pro Bono News that “those responsible for running charities need to be confident that they comply with the ACNC’s governance standards”.
“One of the standards, Governance Standard Five states that responsible people must act honestly and fairly and in the best interests of the charity and for its charitable purposes,” he said.