The government has welcomed the resignation of controversial charity regulator Gary Johns, saying the election has ended the Coalition’s “nine‑year war on charities”.
New assistant charities minister, Andrew Leigh, said late Friday that Johns would resign as the head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. This role gave him power over charity registrations, investigations, and compliance.
The 2017 appointment of Johns – a former News Corp columnist who criticized charities for engaging in political advocacy – attracted significant controversy.
The charity sector said that the decision to place an “anti-charities campaigner” in a role that wielded such significant power was “bizarre” and could scare not-for-profits away from criticizing government policy.
Johns also met criticism in 2018 for refusing to back away from past comments that pregnant Indigenous women were being used as “cash cows” to obtain government benefits. He has also been criticized for his 2015 comments that anyone whose “sole source of income is the taxpayer, as a condition of benefit, must have contraception”.
On Friday night, Leigh said he welcomed Johns’ resignation. He told the Guardian he had not contacted Johns since taking on the charities portfolio.
“It’s entirely his own decision,” he said.
Leigh said the government would now begin a search for a suitable replacement who can “work constructively with charities and non-profits to not only uphold the laws and regulations but to strengthen the social fabric”.
“The election ended the Liberals’ nine‑year war on charities,” he said.
Johns was a federal Labor MP and minister until 1996. After leaving parliament, he joined the Institute of Public Affairs, where he stayed for almost a decade as a senior fellow. Before his appointment at the ACNC, Johns had experience as a director at the Australian Institute for Progress, as an associate commissioner of the Productivity Commission, and worked as an academic at the Queensland University of Technology and Australian Catholic University. He had expertise in issues of public service and policy.
He responded to criticism of his appointment by saying he was “neither friend nor foe” to the sector.
“My job is to apply the law, and advocacy is a charitable purpose when taken in conjunction with other charitable purposes,” Johns said.
Leigh said the Albanese government would run an open and transparent process to find the best-qualified candidate to replace him.
“The Albanese Government will engage with the sector with respect and creativity and work to fix fundraising, increase charitable giving, and build a stronger charitable sector to support vulnerable Australians,” he said. “We recognize that it accounts for 10 percent of employment and a significant amount of GDP and that charitable advocacy plays a vital role in our democracy.”