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ACNC head announces plans to step down

3 June 2022 at 4:42 pm
Wendy Williams
The news has been welcomed by many in the charities sector who believe Dr Gary Johns was the “wrong appointment at the wrong time”.

Wendy Williams | 3 June 2022 at 4:42 pm


ACNC head announces plans to step down
3 June 2022 at 4:42 pm

The news has been welcomed by many in the charities sector who believe Dr Gary Johns was the “wrong appointment at the wrong time”.

Dr Gary Johns, the controversial head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, has announced he will step down from the role at the end of July. 

In a statement made on Friday, Johns said it had been a great privilege to serve as commissioner, supporting charities to undertake their extraordinary work in communities across Australia. 

“I am proud to have led the commission at a time when transparency and accountability in the sector, critical to maintain public support for charities, has been more important than ever,” Johns said. 

 “As my term draws to a close and I pursue new opportunities, I know the Australian charity sector is robust and vibrant, and is in a strong position to take on any new challenges that may lie ahead.” 

Johns, a long-time critic of charities, was appointed to the position in December 2017 much to the surprise of the sector.

A former Labor minister in the Keating government and senior fellow at conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), he was brought in to replace the well-respected inaugural commissioner Susan Pascoe

Many view his appointment as marking the beginning of the government’s crackdown on charities.

Just days after he was appointed a petition was launched calling for his resignation. During his five years at the helm of the commission he has continued to face criticism from both those in the charity sector and the now-assistant minister for charities Dr Andrew Leigh.

Leigh has previously said “putting Gary Johns in charge of the charities commission is like putting Ned Kelly in charge of bank security”.

In a media release published on Friday, Leigh said he welcomed the news that Johns had tendered his resignation.

“The election ended the Liberals’ nine‑year war on charities,” Leigh said.

“The Albanese government will engage with the sector with respect and creativity, and work to fix fundraising, increase charitable giving and build a stronger charitable sector to support vulnerable Australians. We recognise that it accounts for 10 per cent of employment and a significant amount of GDP, and that charitable advocacy plays a vital role in our democracy.”

Questions had been raised by many in the sector about whether Johns’ position would have been tenable under the new Labor government, but Johns insists the outcome of the election had no bearing on his decision to step down ahead of his term ending in November.

“I announced it to my chairman of the board before the election and I said no matter what the result I would be leaving and for very simple reasons,” Johns told Pro Bono News.

“There are two reasons. One, I have done the job. I had literally a five year plan… and I’ve done it. So there is no point remaining in a position when you feel as though you have given it all you can.

“The second reason is that I want my voice back. I will be going back into the public arena as of 1 August and getting back my pen if you like, re-entering public debate in areas I have had a passion about for many years.”

He said he hoped his legacy would be that he concentrated on the public, not the charities.

“The [charities] act tells me that I am to inform the public of the work of the sector, that is precisely what we kept coming back to,” he said.

“I am especially proud of our major achievements – bolstering the integrity of the Charity Register and transforming its data and search features, and developing a new program to strengthen good governance through free online courses for those who run and lead charities, set to be launched soon.”

In response to a question on whether he had changed his views of charities during his time as commissioner, he denied that he was ever a charity critic.

“I was really talking about the charity market and that it is opaque,” he said.

“Now it is less opaque, and you can see it for what it does. I haven’t changed my views at all.”

The news that he is stepping down has been broadly welcomed by the sector.

CCA CEO David Crosbie told Pro Bono News that Johns lacked the necessary skills for the role.

“While I wish Gary well in whatever he chooses to do next, I strongly believe he was the wrong appointment at the wrong time to an organisation that needed proven management skills and a positive vision for the charities sector. Dr Johns had neither of these attributes,” Crosbie said.

“Under his leadership the ACNC has gone backwards in many of its key performance measures. We look forward to a more considered process in appointing his replacement.”

Ray Yoshida, coordinator of the Hands Off Our Charities alliance, told Pro Bono News this was now an opportunity for the charities minister to reset the sector’s relationship with the commission.

“Australia needs a commissioner who respects the crucial advocacy that charities do on behalf of their communities and in pursuit of their charitable purposes,” Yoshida said.

“This is an opportunity for the minister for charities to strengthen our democracy by resetting the ACNC’s relationship with the sector and restoring civil society voices to the centre of public debate and policy making.”

Leigh confirmed the government will now commence a search for a suitable replacement, “who can work constructively with charities and non‑profits to not only uphold the laws and regulations, but to strengthen the social fabric”.

“The government will run an open and transparent process to identify the best qualified candidate to work with the sector in building a reconnected Australia,” he said.


UPDATE: This article was updated to include comments from the assistant minister for charities, Dr Andrew Leigh.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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