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Drought relief charities made to defend donation spending

Major drought relief charities have had to defend their administrative spending costs as disputes draw a line in the sand

Prominent drought-relief charities have had to defend the way they spend donations after allegations were made over the misuse of the foundation’s administrative costs.

Aussie Helpers defended administrative costs on a Facebook post in which Founder, Brian Egan, laid out the foundations entire costs. The foundation have used donations for equipment, food and support for farmers during the natural disaster.

“Lets [sic] answer some questions that people have been asking over the last couple of weeks,” Egan said in the post. “Admin costs – YES we have them, one full time staff member and one part timer, we do occasionally employee help on a casual basis.

“Are our Board of Directors paid – NO and the founders of Aussie Helpers have never received any form of payment… this has been their passion to look after others.”

In the post, Egan listed the number of administrative spending, including transport and accommodation for volunteers, office costs, vehicles and headquarters. Other expenses have been saved for farmer assistance, including fixing tractors, mending properties, buying groceries and paying for power bills for vulnerable farmers.

Aussie Farmers also defended unused expenses. In 2015, the organisation received $2.4 million in donations and spent $1.5 million delivering services. In the past five years, Aussie Helpers achieved an annual surplus of up to $2.6 million, leaving it with $6.3 million in the bank during the 2016-17 financial year.

Of the $14 million it received in mostly private donations during those five years, $6 million was spent or donated, according to accounts from the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Egan defended the money that was left in the bank, adding it was for programs and for ensuring it had reserves for unforeseen natural disasters.

“We need to this [sic] to fund our ongoing programs of Virtual Psychologist which is a free counselling service for our farming families experiencing depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and domestic violence,” Egan said.

“We also fund AHVISE, a program for our remote and rural farming families who need help in their remote school rooms.”

Egan finished the Facebook post with: “Now we can get back to what we are here to do and that’s to continue helping as many struggling farmers as we can!”

Rural Aid, sponsored by Woolworths, Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank, have also come under scrutiny. Egan said he voiced concerns to Senator Jim Molan about Rural Aid’s expenditure and use of intellectual property meant to belong to Aussie Helpers.

Founder Charles Alder defended employee expenses during 2016-17, $354,000 of the total $951,000 taken in that year. This money went to six full-time employees, including $110,000 to key management personnel.

Alder said the $110,000 was paid to him as Chief Executive, a salary the charity’s board considered fair given his skills. He would not disclose how much his wife, also a full time employee, made but did say the pair worked more than 120 hours a week.

A dispute between Egan and Alder came over the trademark ‘Buy a Bale’, the name of a scheme that allows donors to purchase hey for farmers for $20 a bale. Rural Aid now runs the scheme, but Egan said Alder, after undertaking marketing work for Aussie Helpers, trademarked it in his own name without permission.

“We’ve got nothing to hide,” Alder said. “We’re all good.”

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