Tuesday, 30 October 2018

A public servant who sees being out-of-step with Australian values as a virtue

Gary Thomas Johns is a former Labor politician and current full-time Commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) since December 2017.

At the time of his appointment he was also Director of the Australian Institute for Progress and an Adjunct Professor at the Queensland University of Technology Business School.

BuzzFeed News, 25 October 2018:

The boss of Australia's charity regulator has refused to back down from his earlier description of Aboriginal women as "cash cows", while claiming that including an acknowledgement of country in his email signature would make him seem biased.

Appearing before Senate Estimates on Wednesday evening, the head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), Gary Johns, was questioned about his recent decision to remove the acknowledgement of country from the commission's email signatures.

Until a few months ago, his own signature and that of some of his staff had included an acknowledgement of country, beginning with "we acknowledge the elders". The practice of acknowledging country is common across the public service.

Johns said he was trying to avoid looking biased, as the commission oversees both Indigenous and non-indigenous charities and he is a "commissioner for all charities".
"It worried me, the term 'we acknowledge', because it refers to the commission," he said. "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," he said.

"The words raise the perception of bias that I'm not treating all charities the same," he said. "I think that's plain on the face of it."

Johns raised the issue with ACNC staff whose signatures contained an acknowledgement of country, but left them the option of changing "we acknowledge" to "I acknowledge". One staff member objected, and Johns says he took no disciplinary action against her.

Labor senator Jenny McAllister said to Johns that the acknowledgement "doesn't in any way speak about charities ... Traditional owners are not charities". Johns said that it "refers to Indigenous people", and McAllister replied that Indigenous people were "people and citizens", not charities.

"To be an Indigenous charity, you need a number of Indigenous people on the board, so to all intents and purposes they are," Johns replied, pointing to the charitable purposes of organisations such as Reconciliation Australia, which he said only apply to Indigenous people.

Johns' appointment to ACNC commissioner in December 2017 was controversial, partly because of his public stance on Indigenous issues.

In a 2015 appearance on The Bolt Report Johns said that Aboriginal women were "used as cash cows. They are kept pregnant and producing children for the cash". He has argued that women on welfare should have to take contraception. He has also criticised Indigenous not-for-profits, describing Recognise, an organisation that campaigned to raise awareness and support for constitutional recognition of Australia's First Peoples, as "the officially sanctioned propaganda arm of the Australian Government" in his 2014 book The Charity Ball.

In his estimates appearance Johns said he had "absolutely not" disavowed those views. "I'm quite public," he said in response to questioning from McAllister. "I've written for 30 years about a whole range of matters. Why would I seek to disavow any of that?"
McAllister asked whether he had done anything to "dispel any perception of bias" that his previous comments might have created.

"No, and I don't need to as the commissioner," he replied……

Shadow minister for charities and not-for-profits Andrew Leigh, who previously started a petition calling on Johns to resign, said it was "disappointing" that Johns had "publicly confirmed during a parliamentary hearing in his role as the charities commissioner that he still holds these opinions". He described Johns as "drastically out of touch with the Australian community".

"What remains to be heard is [the government's] explanation of how he can possibly remain [at the ACNC] given his comments," Leigh said.

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