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“It’s perfectly entitled to”: PM stands by Catholic Church’s alleged breach of guidelines

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks up amid media backlash directed at the ACNC’s decision to probe a charity for political misconduct

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has responded to outrage from the Catholic Church over the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission’s (ACNC) regulatory investigation.

The ACNC is investigating Catholic Education Melbourne for breaching regulatory guidelines during the Federal seat of Batman by-elections, prompting the former PM Tony Abbot to criticise the ACNC for “picking on the Catholic Church”.

“The Catholic Church communicates its views all the time and it is a free country, it’s perfectly entitled to,” Turnbull said.

“As far as the charities commission, that’s an independent agency and it’s designed to be and operates independently of government. I can’t add any more to it than that. If you have inquiries of the ACNC … you should inquire of it.”

Turnbull will meet the Catholic archbishops of Australia’s three largest cities to hear concerns over the ACNC probe into the education body, which has since received backing from Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Shorten said the investigation was a “very disturbing and un-Australian trend”.

“If the government or people are asserting that there is a rule which says that representatives of schools, representatives of the education sector, can no longer criticise cuts to school funding, that is a stupid rule and it needs to be changed.”

The investigation follows a robocall put out by the Executive Director, Stephen Elder, in which he said: “Malcolm Turnbull has slashed funds from low-fee local Catholic and independent schools and our state system.”

Elder added that Labor would restore the funds, before adding: “Education is vital for our future – and the future of our schools depend on who you support on Saturday.”

ACNC Commissioner, Gary Johns, responded to the comments, clarifying that the probe is underway to investigate the activities and statements made on behalf of the charity during the by-election and the extent to which it breaches guidelines.

In an article written in The Australian, the ACNC were made out to have threatened criminal charges, including jail time, on the charity’s Executive Director.

“We are required by the ACNC Act to include in such notices an alert to the charity about potential penalties under the Commonwealth Criminal Code for providing false or misleading information or documents,” Johns clarified.

“The ACNC itself does not have any powers to determine criminal matters.”

According to ACNC guidelines, charities are prohibited from crossing the line into “disqualifying” political purposes, including having a “purpose to promote or oppose a political party or a candidate for political office”.

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