Rosie Williams

17th Apr 2019

Eyebrows within the charities sector have been raised over the absence of Charities Commissioner, Dr Garry Johns from Senate Estimates hearings last Wednesday.

Johns was considered a bizarre choice for Commissioner given his prior comments comparing Indigenous women to 'cash cows' and declaring his support for compulsory contraception for women in receipt of welfare.

So controversial was Johns as a choice to head up the charities regulator that Labor's Shadow Minister for charities and not-for-profits, Andrew Leigh set up a petition calling for him to be removed.

The Senate has the power to compel witnesses to testify under threat of being held in contempt of Parliament:

Examples of this type of [Parliamentary] contempt include the refusal of a witness or other person to attend the House or a committee after having been summoned to attend and refusing to leave the House or a committee when directed to do so. ‘To prevent, delay, obstruct or interfere with the execution of the orders of a committee (or of either House) is also a contempt’.

Given that the conference used to excuse Dr Johns' attendance began not on the day he was expected to appear before the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, but the day after the hearing, questions have been raised about whether this constitutes a contempt of Parliament.

Also of interest is that Dr Johns requires the permission of Zed Seselja as Assistant Minister for Treasury in order to travel overseas for work this also raises the question of whether the Minister provided this permission with the knowledge that Dr Johns would not be appearing as required, before the Senate Committee?

I emailed Mr Seslja's office today to clarify these matters and am awaiting a reply.

Dear Mr Seselja,

I am an independent journalist who has written about the ACNC previously for Independent Australia. It has been brought to my attention that the ACNC Commissioner, Dr Garry Johns was asked to appear at the Senate Estimates hearing on Wednesday 10th April but did not attend as he was at a conference in New Zealand.

From the conference program, it is apparent that not only did Dr Johns not speak at the conference but the conference did not start till the day after he was due to appear before the Senate Committee.

I understand that Dr Johns needs permission from yourself as Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance to travel overseas. Can you confirm that you provided this permission to Dr Johns knowing that he would miss Senate Estimates?

Senate image used in tweets of this story is from Wikipedia.

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