Guide Dogs Victoria has launched an internal investigation following its chief executive officer publicly endorsing federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s bid for re-election.
- The Guide Dogs Victoria board said it had no prior knowledge of Ms Hayes’s endorsement
- The charity has requested the material be “immediately removed from circulation”
- Mr Frydenberg is defending Ms Hayes’s endorsement of him
The move may be in breach of regulations for charities set out by a national body.
Karen Hayes appeared in a social media video posted on Mr Frydenberg’s Facebook page yesterday, and she featured in letterbox flyers dropped off in the seat of Kooyong.
In a flyer, Ms Hayes is pictured holding a guide dog puppy alongside the words “Why I am supporting Josh Frydenberg”.
The letter is signed “Karen, Chief Executive Officer, Guide Dogs Victoria”.
In the social media video, Ms Hayes credits the Treasurer with helping the charity complete a $30 million renovation of its Kew headquarters.
“He gives us guidance and connects us with people in the community, or within government, that we need to talk to to make change,” Ms Hayes said.
A message at the end of the video confirmed it was “authorised by Josh Frydenberg”.
The organisation has released a statement saying its board had “no prior knowledge of the distribution of this material and does not endorse it”.
“The board has launched an internal investigation and requested that this material be immediately removed from circulation,” the statement said.
“The board of Guide Dogs Victoria fully understands the concerns that have been raised by members of the community and from our supporters about this matter.”
The video was removed from the Treasurer’s page on Wednesday morning.
Charity commission says political endorsements not allowed
The Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission (ACNC) website says charitable organisations will be disqualified for “promoting or opposing a political party or candidate for political office”.
Charities are allowed to advocate for changes in law and policy, something that is often seen when parliamentary bills are up for debate or before the release of government budgets.
ACNC commissioner Gary Johns did not comment specifically on Ms Hayes’s actions or whether an investigation was underway.
However, he said endorsing political candidates was not permitted.
“You can sing from the rooftops about your charitable purpose, that you’re in favour of this or that, but not about candidates or political parties,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“Just keep out of that because it can trigger my investigation, but it also certainly triggers a reputational risk for the charity.
“What we mostly do here is write to the charity and point out the limits of their political involvement, and that’s usually enough to get a pretty good response.”
Mr Frydenberg defended the endorsement, describing it as “a proof point” of what he had delivered for his community, and “the public recognition that I’ve received from these community organisations”.
“These community organisations are ones that I’ve worked with over a long period of time, and they’re simply reflecting that work that I have done with them,” he said.
“Their charitable purpose is very clear — supporting people in need — and that’s what I’ve been helping to do as the local member, so it’s an inconvenient truth for these fake independents that I’m receiving public recognition from community organisations that I’ve helped substantially for over more than decade.”
“It’s confected outrage and the reality is an inconvenient truth for these fake independents.”
Mr Frydenberg did not directly respond to questions about whether his office paid for the printing and distribution of the flyers.
Race for seat in Melbourne’s inner east to be close
Kooyong has become an increasingly tight battle for the Treasurer.
The once-safe seat is now the battleground for a well-funded challenge from independent Monique Ryan.
Some polling has indicated Dr Ryan will win the seat, but Liberals remain confident Mr Frydenberg will retain it.
Mr Frydenberg has spent big in his electorate, with large billboards at major intersections.
Insiders say the areas east of Burke Road will be critical to his re-election chances.
Dr Ryan said she had received one of the flyers in her letterbox.
“I think it’s really inappropriate that people who are receiving taxpayer money to support their charities are then spruiking on behalf of politicians who supported them,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.