Launch of The Charity Ball

It is my great honour to be here this evening to officially launch Dr Johns’ latest book – ‘The Charity Ball: How to dance to the donors’ tune’.

As most of you in this room are aware, Gary is also a member of that very prestigious political alumnus – past and present Members for Petrie.

And I want to make this observation of just how special it is when political foes in a previous life can actually become life friends in the greater sense.

This is very much the nature of the friendship I am privileged to have with Gary, whom I defeated in the 1996 Federal Election, but we remain friends today.

I always said you really belonged on our side Gary … I’m sure we’ve got spare blue T-shirt somewhere here we can give you …

In politics, Gary had a very distinguished career, serving as Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations, Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council in the Keating Government.

But Gary is one of those remarkable people whose contribution to public life and service did not end when he left Parliament:

  • in 2001, Gary completed his PhD in political science from the University of Queensland;
  • he was an Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Australian Catholic University, and is an appointed visiting fellow at QUT Business School;
  • from 2002-2004 he was Associate Commissioner of the Commonwealth Productivity Commission; and
  • he has been awarded Fulbright Professional Award in Australian-United States Alliance Studies, from Georgetown University in Washington D. C., and the Centenary Medal for ‘service to Australian society through the advancement of economic, social and political issues’.

In all honesty, reading through that list of post-politics achievements Gary probably had more spare time when he was a Minister.

In ‘The Charity Ball’, Gary quite rightly focuses on the need for donors to be better informed of the real purposes and goals of the many organisations and entities that are today calling themselves charities.

In the time of Dickens charity may well have begun at home, but today the number and variety of charities have proliferated on an industrial scale.

This charitable escalation, if I can call it that, has been amplified by the application of digital technology so that ‘problem promoters’ – as Gary refers to them – page 197 – I did my homework – can now ‘problem surf’ – page 11- on Google for whatever cause they choose.

So in this brave new world – we have a new generation of Hashtag crusaders – charities are sexy – but, ‘clicktivism’ does not a social conscience make.

But ease of access to Twitter handles and online information has not necessarily translated to donors being properly informed of the bona fides of the organisations they choose to support.

As Gary quite bluntly, but regrettably and very accurately puts it, too many charities in Australia do little or no charity work. Too many receive most of their income from government and too many lobby government for even more.

The ‘charitable purpose’ being pursued here is all too often the pursuit of the charity’s own existence.

What is even more ironic in this debate is that when the terrible spotlight of accountability and governance is applied to some charities they cry foul and embark on a crusade of moral indignation railing against any who would dare question their legitimacy.

As Australians, we are known as being an incredibly generous people and Gary can speak more meaningfully about what his research reveals on the statistics of moneys raised etc.

Equally, I would hazard a guess that probably everyone in this room has at some stage in their lives given to at least one charity, whether that be through buying Girl Guide biscuits, handing in old clothes to St Vincent de Paul or some kind of disaster relief.

I am actually a great believer in the generosity of people, but I also subscribe to the views expressed by J D Rockefeller when he said: “Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.”

In my view, charities should not become their own growth industry and to the extent that they mislead donors as to their true intent and purposes then we should call out those activities for what they are – fraud.

In ‘The Charity Ball’, Gary has forensically examined the processes followed by many charities and how they structure themselves for maximum benefit – particularly in terms of achieving deductible gift recipient (DGR) status.

The magic DGR acronym – and this is where the fun begins.

If an organisation is endorsed as a DGR as a whole, gifts to the whole organisation will be tax deductible. Alternatively, if an organisation is endorsed for a fund, authority or institution it operates, for example a public fund maintained by an organisation that is on the Register of Cultural Organisations, only gifts to that part of the organisation are tax deductible.

Currently there is an inquiry of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment, chaired by my parliamentary colleague the Member for Mitchell, Mr Alex Hawke, which has adopted an inquiry referred by the Minister for the Environment, asking the Committee to inquire into and report on the Register of Environmental Organisations. This inquiry is ongoing, however, it will only report on environment sector organisations.

In my view, political lobby groups generally, not just environmental organisations, should not be extended the benefit of having DGR status, especially where their activities have little to no relationship with what may have been their original charitable and/or philanthropic purposes.

And with this exact purpose in mind, I have recently written to the Prime Minister suggesting that he commission a broader inquiry examining the DGR status of all political lobby groups.

There needs to be clarity around these issues – not just for charities, but more importantly for donors.

We do not want to see a situation where scepticism as to the bona fides of charitable organisations leads to donor jaundice.

A good place to start in getting a better understanding of the current environment is with Gary’s latest masterpiece – ‘The Charity Ball’.

Gary – congratulations – a phenomenal work – ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure in launching ‘The Charity Ball’ by Dr Gary Johns.

This speech was given by Hon Teresa Gambaro to launch The Charity Ball by Gary Johns at the Alliance Hotel, Spring Hill on Wednesday, July 14, 2015.