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ACNC avoids Acknowledgement of Country out of “bias” fears

ACNC Commissioner Gary Johns said he does not want staff to link the charity regulator in their Acknowledgement of Country out of fears it would demonstrate a bias towards indigenous organisations

Staff behind the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) have been told to exclude the charity regulator from Acknowledgements of Country in their email signatures.

The head of the Commission, Dr Gary Johns, said he told his staff that they were no longer permitted to use “we” or make reference to the ACNC in Acknowledgements of Country, out of fears that it would show a bias towards indigenous charities.

“The words raise a perception of bias that I’m not treating all charities the same. I think that’s plain on the face of it,” Johns said during a heated hearing on Wednesday, in which MPs questioned his decision and expressed concerns over what it would mean.

An Acknowledgement of Country exists to pay respect to the Traditional Owners and the ongoing custodians of the land as well as to promote awareness of the history and the culture of Indigenous people in an aim to create a more united Australia. It is common among public service organisations as a sign of respect for Australia’s first people.

According to Common Ground: “Many non-Indigenous Australians have not had the opportunity to learn about, and celebrate, the rich cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This contributes to a disparity between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians that persist today.”

Johns said that although he has forbidden staff from making reference to the regulator in their Acknowledgement of Country, he has permitted staff to instead use “I”. He said that one staff member expressed concerns, but did not take discplinary action.

The Commissioner added that he spoke to senior staff at the Australian Taxation Office about whether he had control over his staff’s email signatures. After being told that he “controls the signature block”, Johns put the protocol in place.

Labor Senator Jenny McAllister grilled Johns on his decision, saying she could not see why the regulator would take a different stance to other public service agencies.

“That’s not my problem, that’s yours,” Johns said.

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