Did the ACNC remove the details of the ACL board out of safety fears?

The Australian Christian Lobby claims its board members are under attack from members of the LGBT community who are endangering their safety in the “battle for marriage and freedom”.

Lyle Shelton

In a media release this week Lyle Shelton, the Managing Director of the political lobby group, said an article in The Australian showed that marriage equality activists were sending a clear message, people who didn’t support marriage equality have no place in Australian society.

The newspaper’s front page article stated that the Australian Charities and Non-Profit Commission (ACNC) had agreed to keep details the board members of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute and the Australian Christian Lobby off the public record ­because publication “could ­endanger public safety”.

“The ACNC has taken this unusual step because they recognize that our board have become the targets of a merciless campaign to silence other views on marriage.”

Shelton said in his media release.

Liberal politicians Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson, who recently featured in a controversial marriage debate video for The Bible Society, both raised concern about the need for board members to make moves to protect their safety.

“Australians should be deeply concerned by these developments,” Hastie told The Australian. “If this is the pattern now, what will happen if SSM is legislated?

“What will happen to individuals, religious institutions, charities and schools who don’t share in the new morality?”

Fellow MP Tim Wilson was equally concerned and said it was essential that people held respectful debates.

“I utterly condemn the necessity for the need for this action. Freedom means freedom for everyone, including people of faith and also those who have been discriminated by them. This case is another reminder of the need for respectful dialogue.” Wilson said.

The MP continued, noting that the ACL themselves had been quick to blame those they disagree with, but seemed to be surprised when other responded in kind.

OUTinPerth asked the ACNC to confirm the claim that they recognised that board members of the Australian Christian Lobby were targets of a merciless campaign. We also asked them if the decision to remove the details of board members from the register was “unusual”.

While the ACNC is unable to comment on individual cases, their spokesman did give us an overview of how their processes work, and it does not align the statements put out by the Australian Christian Lobby.

What’s been happening so far

The request to have the information suppressed followed an online campaign focussing on IBM Managing Partner Mark Allaby. Allaby was previously an executive at pwc, while he was also a board member of the Australian Christian Lobby.

Mark Allaby

Last year Allaby was forced to resign from his position at the ACL after it was highlighted that his role in the Christian organisation was out of step with the values of his employer.

While he resigned from the ACL board, Allaby remained on the board of The Lachlan Macquarie Institute, a second organisation closely affiliated with the Australian Christian Lobby.

The Institute aims to encourage young Christians to develop leadership skills to advance Christian values in public debates.

Now part of the team at IBM, a company that is listed on the Pride in Diversity Index as a great employer for LGBTI people, Allaby faced a second round of online questioning regarding the appropriateness of his board position.

Under pressure, Allaby resigned from his board position once again.

In a second article in The Australian, published the next day, it was reported that the nation’s religious leaders were outraged that the two charities had been forced to request the information about board members be hidden to ensure safety.

Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies

Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies told the newspaper that corporate organisations that surrender to such attacks were “weak-kneed”.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher, from the Catholic archdiocese of Sydney, said it was “deeply concerning when people of a Christian faith are forced to avoid going on the public record with their deeply held beliefs”.

The campaign highlighting the discordant positions of Allaby and his employers has come from several outspoken LGBT rights activists using the social networking site Twitter.

 

The questioning of Allaby’s role on the boards has been driven by rights activists Michael Barnett and Rod Swift. Both a long standing human rights activists focusing primarily on LGBTI rights.

Michael Barnett

As well as drawing attention to the roles Mark Allaby has at IBM and the Lachlan Macquarie Insititute, they have also highlighted the board position held by University researcher Dr Steve Chavura.

Dr Chavura is also a board member of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, and is employed by Macquarie University. He lectures on a range of topics including political thought, religion and history.

The criticism of Allaby and Chavura’s position on the Institute’s has been based on the fact that both their employers are listed on the Pride in Diversity Index.

The annual awards list is Australia’s national benchmarking instrument for LGBTI workplace inclusion from which Top Employers for LGBTI people is determined.

Activists have asked how organisations such as IBM and Macquarie University can be listed on the index, while their employees hold positions with a organisations that actively argue against LGBTI rights.

The Media Response

The majority of the coverage has been in The Australian and other News Corp titles including The Herald Sun. Many of the reports have labeled the activism undertaken as “Persecution of Christians by the Gay Left“.

Journalist have often conflated the issue of workplace inclusion with the campaign for marriage equality, but Barnett’s tweets have all focused on the Pride in Diversity ranking.

The ABC program The Drum issued an apology for linking the different issues, but no such apology has come from other media organisations.

Several reports have suggested that Barnett and Swift have called for the board members to be sacked from their respective jobs. In fact, all they have done is question how someone can be a board member of an organisation that promotes one point of view, while adhering to the policies and values of another.

Concern has also been raised about how some commentators have highlighted that Michael Barnett is Jewish. Bringing his own religion into the debate, when he himself has not raised it.

LGBTI news website The Stirrer has a great rundown on how the debate has played out so far.



Did the ACNC remove the information about the ACL because they shared their concerns?

While the ANCN can’t comment on particular cases they did talk us through their standard procedures for dealing with requests for information to be removed from the public register.

When a request is received, the organisations response is to immediate remove the listing completely. After the listing is removed, they begin a process to access the concern that has been raised.

A spokesperson for the organisation confirmed that when they received a request from the Australian Christian Lobby and the Lachlan Macquarie Institute all information was immediately removed from public view.

After a team member had an initial look at the details of the request, and it was identified that board members details was the area of concern, the rest of the information about the two charities was put back up online.

After this is done, the ACNC then begins to look into the actual request that has been made. The process is given sixty days. If the request is valid, the information will continue to be hidden on their site. If there request is deemed to be invalid, then it will be returned to public view.

“If a registered charity applies for a withhold request, the ACNC will immediately remove information from the Charity Register while we process the application. We will often remove the entire Charity Register listing in the first instance. We do this to ensure that any risks, for example public safety or commercial sensitivity, are minimised while we consider the request.

“If the ACNC Commissioner decides not to accept a request to withhold information, the information will reappear on the Charity Register. Registered charities have 60 days to appeal this decision, during which time we will continue to withhold the information.” a spokesperson told OUTinPerth.

Many charities have information that is not available to the wider public. For example, A Women’s Refuge would probably have their address concealed. Organisations that are in competition for tenders and funding may have some of their financial information removed for reason’s of commercial confidence.

In the 2015-16 period the ACNC received over 6581 requests to remove information from public view. The requests came from  1,028 different charities. The previous year 1,996 charities lodged requests.

A single charity can make multiple requests for information to be removed from public view.

After the sixty day assessment period, 3,316 of these requests were approved. In the other 49.6% of cases, the information was restored to public view.

Did the ACNC take an “unusual step” in removing the information about the ALC and the Maquarie Institute’s Board members? No, it was their standard operating procedure and it happens thousands of times each year.

Did the ACNC “share the view” that board members of the ACL and the Macquarie Institute are in danger from LGBTI activists? Not at this stage, as the assessment period takes 60 days.

OUTinPerth reached out to the Lachlan Macquarie Institute and the Australian Christian Lobby, Michael Barnett, Rod Swift and Pride in Diversity. 

Graeme Watson

 

 

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