Australia’s leading charities and peak bodies today expressed deep concern that the appointment of Dr Gary Johns to lead the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission indicates the government is intent on silencing Australians by destabilising charities.
Charities provide a voice for millions of Australians on issues that most concern them: mental and physical health, Indigenous advancement, education, the environment, among many others. However, today’s appointment – together with its announced plan to restrict advocacy is clear evidence the federal government is seeking to prevent charities from giving a voice to these and other issues of importance to everyday Australians. Instead of stifling charities’ good works and public engagement on issues that they were established to address, the government should be facilitating their work on behalf of Australia’s most marginalised and disadvantaged communities.
The appointment of Dr Johns sits within a worrying trend of governments seeking to silence charities – from bans on international donations to attempts to hamstring the ability of charities to fundraise. Dr Johns has consistently shown himself to be a trenchant anti-charity campaigner and it is difficult to see how he can or will act in good faith on behalf of the sector, which is a core function of the Commission and requirement of its Commissioner.
In June, more than 100 charities wrote to the Prime Minister raising concerns about the future of the ACNC and to request a robust process to appoint the best possible new ACNC Commissioner.
Until now, the ACNC has also done what few new regulators have achieved – improved public trust and confidence while gaining widespread support across the sector it is regulating. The charities sector now fears this reputation will be undermined and the positive work of the ACNC reversed.
The charities and non-profit sector exists for Australians in the good times and bad. It also makes a major economic contribution, employing more than 1 million Australians and turns over in excess of $142 billion each year.
Governments all know Australians need a strong not-for-profit sector if we are to be both economically strong, and enjoy healthy fulfilling lives. Signatories to the Statement:
Australian Council for International Development
Australian Conservation Foundation
Australian Council of Social Service
Campaign for Australian Aid
Community Council for Australia
Human Rights Law Centre
Lock The Gate
Pew Charitable Trusts