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Charity Commissioner investigated over “offensive” comments about Indigenous women

The ACNC Commissioner, Dr Gary Johns, is being investigated by Labor over his refusal to rescind “offensive” comments about the social sector

The charity regulator boss will be investigated by the Labor government over comments he has refused to rescind, including claiming Indigenous women are “cash cows”.

The Commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), Dr Gary Johns, was referred to the Indigenous Affairs Minister over his “offensive” comments about Indigenous women, environment charities and LGBTQI+ rights.

Labor Senator, Jenny McAllister, referred the matter to Nigel Scullion after a heated Senate estimates hearing in which Johns said he would “absolutely not” take back the comments.

“I would appreciate you taking this matter in hand,” McAllister told Scullion in a separate Senate estimates hearing. “We have got a government appointment of a person whose views about Indigenous people are, in my view, offensive.”

It comes as Johns explained to a Senate estimates hearing that he would not allow ACNC staff to include the regulator in Acknowledgements of Country in their email signatures out of fears that it would demonstrate a “bias” towards Indigenous charities.

McAllister asked Johns if past statements – including when he said Indigenous women are being “kept pregnant and producing children for cash” – could suggest he held a bias of Indigenous charities and if he would like to rescind the comments, to which he said no.

“I’m quite public, I’ve written for 30 years about a whole range of matters,” Johns said. “Why would I seek to disavow any of that?”

McAllister told Scullion that Johns “refused to repudiate these views or to even distance himself from them”, adding: “I think it goes to a very serious problem in administration in the charities sector and one that ought to concern you as Indigenous Affairs Minister.”

Scullion responded by saying he shared the concerns “in a broad sense” and would look into the matter further before making any formal announcement into the investigation. He also added that he supported Acknowledgements of Country in email signatures.

“I can see no reason why they would either indicate bias or anything like that,” he said.

Johns is also under fire for controversial comments that suggested people on welfare should be required to take contraceptives and over criticisms he made about suicide prevention charity, BeyondBlue, for supporting marriage equality.

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