The head of the charities regulator has vowed to take “very seriously” a referral asking the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to investigate a $17,000 gift made by the Australian Conservation Foundation to Bill Shorten, The Australian reports.
Coalition MPs backed Liberal MP Ben Morton after he wrote to ACNC chair Gary Johns asking him to investigate whether the ACF broke laws governing payments to third parties. Mr Morton this week requested an investigation focusing on Mr Shorten’s two-day tour to the Great Barrier Reef and the Galilee Basin in January, where he was lobbied over the $16.5 billion Adani coal mine.
Mr Johns said he was not legally allowed to say whether the regulator would adhere to a request to investigate the ACF but noted the referral by Mr Morton was not being treated lightly.
In his letter, Mr Morton flagged concerns that the trip may have breached provisions banning payments for a private benefit.
ACF chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said it was “not uncommon” for the charity to pay for environmental excursions with political leaders.
“Charities periodically take our elected representatives to areas of environmental damage, human suffering and communities of need,” Ms O’Shanassy said.
Liberal MP Jason Falinski said the referral was a “litmus test” for the charity regulator.
“It spends all its time regulating Catholic schools … but this is what it was designed to do, to stop this sort of nonsense going on and it never happens,” Mr Falinski said.
Liberal MP Eric Abetz said there were several environmental charities that were “taking liberties” and getting involved in politics.