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EXCLUSIVE INVESTIGATION

ANTHONY KLAN

Guide Dogs Victoria’s board – which claims to have been unaware of political spruiking by its ousted CEO Karen Hayes – was alerted to serious concerns of similar activity almost decade ago.

The Klaxon has obtained a series of emails showing the charity’s senior management and board – including current CEO Iain Edwards – were alerted to serious concerns about the charity “openly campaigning” for the federal Liberal Party in 2013.

Weeks out from last year’s federal election it emerged Hayes had appeared in advertisements spruking Federal Liberal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, sending “Australia’s most trusted charity” into turmoil.

Guide Dogs Victoria’s board responded to the scandal saying it had “no prior knowledge” and that it “fully understands the concerns that have been raised”.

Yet it can now be revealed a long-time Guide Dogs Victoria client – who had been slated to appear in its fundraising advertisements – was so appalled by the charity’s actions ahead of the 2013 federal election he pulled his endorsement.

The client, who has asked not to be named, had been set to appear as a face of Guide Dogs Victoria, along with his dog, as part of its “Storybook” fundraising campaign.

But after Guide Dogs Victoria engaged in “political alignment” and “openly campaigning” politically,  he wanted nothing to do with it.

On September 6, 2013, the day before that year’s federal election, Guide Dogs Victoria hosted a media event for Liberal leader Tony Abbott, then shadow treasurer Joe Hockey and then Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg.

Federal election eve, September 6, 2013. Source: Josh Frydenberg/Wayback Machine

 

After the event, the client wrote to Guide Dogs Victoria’s board and management.

The “very poor governance” it had displayed by “openly campaigning in a federal election for one side of politics” meant he could no longer conscionably endorse the charity.

“There is a big difference between lobbying government for money and being part of a political event,” the client wrote.

“There is a big difference between lobbying government for money and being part of a political event” – Guide Dogs Victoria client

“Obviously I am referring to the event the day before the recent federal election.”

In the September 24, 2013, email, the client said his concerns “in no way represent my political views” but that the charity hosting a “political event” for the Liberal Party showed “very poor judgement”.

“Any political alignment by a charity to me shows very poor judgement and makes me personally uncomfortable to be connected with these views by association,” he wrote.

“Being part of fundraising in the current climate is something my conscience does not allow me to do,” the client wrote.

“Being part of fundraising in the current climate is something my conscience does not allow me to do” – Guide Dogs Victoria client

Guide Dogs Victoria client raises serious concerns in 2013. Source: Supplied

 

Iain Edwards

The Klaxon can now reveal that current Guide Dogs Victoria CEO Iain Edwards was not only personally told of the serious concerns of politicisation in 2013, he said he agreed with them.

Edwards was appointed a Guide Dogs Victoria board member in 2011 and in the 2018 financial year he became chair.

When Hayes “resigned” as CEO last year Edwards stood down as chair and became “interim CEO” – a position he still holds.

The day after the client sent his concerns to Guide Dogs Victoria management on September 24, 2013 (above) he forwarded those same concerns to Edwards, then a board member.

Edwards responded the same day: “I think today’s board meeting will be interesting. I fully support your views”.

“I fully support your views” – Iain Edwards

“I fully support your views”: Edwards responds to the client in 2013. Source: Supplied

 

What happened at that board meeting and what action the board took over the concerns – if any – is unknown.

“I heard nothing further…they did nothing about it,” the client told The Klaxon.

He said he was unsurprised when the charity became engulfed in scandal last year over Hayes’ endorsement of Frydenberg.

They did exactly the same thing ten years ago but did nothing about it,” the client said.

They did exactly the same thing ten years ago but did nothing about it” – Guide Dogs Victoria client

The carefully-worded statement Guide Dogs Victoria’s board released after the Hayes scandal broke was attributed to Edwards, who was chair at time.

“The board had no prior knowledge of the distribution of this material and does not endorse it,” the statement says.

Iain Edwards. Source: Guide Dogs Victoria

 

Edwards did not respond when asked what actions he took after being alerted to the clients concerns in 2013; whether he raised the issues at the September 25, 2013 board meeting; whether he had raised issues of “politicisation” at any board meeting since; or whether he still “fully supported” the view that Guide Dogs Victoria “showed very poor governance by openly campaigning in a federal election for one side of politics” before the 2013 federal election.

Instead, current Guide Dogs Victoria chair David Cochrane provided The Klaxon with the following written statement:

“Guide Dogs Victoria is and always has been an apolitical organisation. In 2022, the Guide Dogs Victoria Board undertook a review of its governance framework to reinforce its apolitical position and has since introduced new policies and training across the organisation which outlines how to acknowledge or thank volunteers, donors, supporters, politicians, individuals and other organisations.”

Cochrane has been a Guide Dogs Victoria board member since October 2016.

Charities regulator the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has repeatedly refused to comment when contacted by The Klaxon.

As previously revealed, the ACNC falsely claims that it is legally prevented from commenting on any charity due to “secrecy provisions”.

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