• Guide Dogs Victoria boss departs

  • Immediately after latest revelations

  • Still refusing to release Hayes findings

  • One year on, all same questions remain

 

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ANTHONY KLAN

The boss of Guide Dogs Victoria has joined the march to the door, as it emerges his departure was announced just hours after revelations he was warned — a decade ago — over “politicisation” favouring the Liberal Party.

The departure of Iain Edwards, who was appointed chair in 2018, follows that of former CEO Karen Hayes, as well as the charity’s chief financial officer and its general manager of marketing and communications, who each resigned late last year.

Edwards will depart Guide Dogs Victoria on April 14 next week, almost a year to the day it emerged that Hayes had appeared in political advertisements spruiking then Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg.

It is illegal for charities to endorse politicians or political parties.

Last June Edwards moved from being chair to the role of “interim CEO” after Hayes departed.

It was announced Edwards would “step down” from “his current role as Board Chair for a short period” and “take on the role of Interim CEO” until a new CEO was found.

However Edwards will now depart entirely next week, with the commencement of new CEO Nicky Long, who was formerly the CEO of deafness charity Expressions Australia.

Guide Dogs Victoria posted news of the appointment of Long — and departure of Edwards — to its website in January, however it appears to have been missed by the nation’s media (including this publication).

The statement was published on January 13 — which was hours after The Klaxon published an expose revealing Edwards had been warned of serious concerns of “politicisation” a decade ago.

On the afternoon of January 12 The Klaxon revealed a Guide Dogs Victoria client wrote to Edwards in 2013 expressing major concerns about it having been “part of a political event” for the Liberal Party on the eve of that year’s federal election.

(Edwards started on Guide Dogs Victoria’s board in 2011).

The Klaxon’s January 12 expose. Source: The Klaxon

 

The client was so distressed by the charity ”openly campaigning” for the Liberal Party, they pulled out of an arrangement to appear in the charity’s fundraising material, saying it would be unconscionable to do otherwise.

“My concern is Guide Dogs is an independent charity and in my view showed very poor governance by openly campaigning in a federal election for one side of politics,” the client wrote to Edwards on September 24, 2013.

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

“There is a big difference between lobbying government for money and being part of a political event”

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

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.

Iain Edwards. Source: Guide Dogs Victoria

 

After the Hayes scandal broke on April 19 last year, Guide Dogs Victoria’s board released a statement 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 April 20 statement says.

That position raised eyebrows.

By then the advertisements, featuring Hayes as “CEO, Guide Dogs Victoria, were already being distributed to letterboxes; and a video of Hayes spruiking Frydenberg was also running as a paid advertisement on social media.

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The board’s “no prior knowledge” claims were also despite it emerging — later that same day, on April 20 — that Hayes had also appeared in a similar video in 2019, spruiking Frydenberg ahead of that year’s federal election.

The April 20 statement from the board said:

“The board has launched an internal investigation…we will make no further comment during this process”.

“We will make no further comment during this process” – Guide Dogs Victoria board

Board statement April 20. Source: Guide Dogs Victoria

 

Days later, on April 25, the charity released another statement, Hayes had been “stood down” pending what it now termed an “independent investigation”, which was “underway and is ongoing”.

“The purpose of the investigation is to understand what happened and ensure it never happens again,” the charity said.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further while the investigation is continuing.”

“The purpose of the investigation is to understand what happened” – Guide Dogs Victoria board

Those statements had the effect of hosing down the intense media coverage.

However a year later, Guide Dogs Victoria is still refusing comment — and the voting public still has no idea what happened.

“The voting public still has no idea what happened”

Guide Dogs Victoria board is steadfastly refusing to say what the “investigation” found — or even who conducted it.

That’s despite the charity receiving millions of dollars a year in taxpayer funds.

Charity announces “investigation” – refusing to release the findings a year later. Source: ABC

 

Guide Dogs Victoria’s board and management have given no media interviews since the scandal broke, instead releasing a handful of carefully-worded media statements.

The board — which lavished Hayes with praise when she “resigned” — has also steadfastly refused to say whether Hayes did anything wrong.

That’s despite it being the biggest scandal in the charity’s 66-year history, sending it into a tailspin from which it has not recovered.

Frydenberg — who officially “authorised” both the Hayes flyers and social media video — has also at all times refused to comment when asked about the specifics of that electoral material and how it came about.

At the May election Frydenberg, who had been Federal Treasurer, lost his seat of Kooyong to independent Monique Ryan.

It is the first time the seat has left Liberal hands since the party was founded in 1944.

On the night of the election Frydenberg fronted national television and — though providing no context — described Hayes as “one of the best CEOs in Australia”.

 

2022:

April 19: Media reports Hayes appearing in Frydenberg advertising

April 20: Guide Dogs board says “internal investigation” launched

Apr 26: Hayes “stood down”, “pending an independent investigation”

May 21: Frydenberg says Hayes “one of the best CEOs in Australia”

May 30: The Klaxon queries board on Hayes – including ongoing salary

May 31: Hayes “resignation” announced

June 2: Announced Edwards to become “interim CEO” for “short period”

2023:

Jan 12: The Klaxon reveals Edwards warned of “politicisation” a decade ago

Jan 13: Edwards resignation announced

 

Investigations into Guide Dogs Victoria have revealed a broken charity.

Guide Dogs Victoria has been delivering woeful performance, is riddled with governance failures – including being caught lying to donors  — all while sucking up millions of dollars a year of taxpayer funds.

In December we revealed the charity delivered just 40 guide dogs last financial year, despite receiving over $21 million in revenue.

In 2021-22 it received $11.3m in public donations but delivered just $1.33m of dogs, its worst result since 2011-12 (the earliest results published on its website).

The Klaxon’s expose June 11 last year. Source: The Klaxon

 

It delivered 28,349 “total client hours” in 2021-22, which was down slightly on a decade earlier, delivering 28,897 in 2011-12.

In that time its total annual revenue surged from $11.98m to $21.51m; its wages bill ballooned from $6.37m to $9.8m; and its government funding surged over four-fold, from $1.07m to $4.5m – the vast majority under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

That ongoing government funding is on top of over $10m of taxpayer funds the charity has received for redeveloping its Melbourne headquarters — much of that directed by Frydenberg as Federal Treasurer.

 

Revelations by The Klaxon:

2022:

June 11 — Taxpayers charged four times more for fewer services

June 23 — Spends more on fundraising than dogs

June 27 — Fundraising boss gave $87,000 to Liberal Party

Nov 20 — Guide Dogs Victoria caught lying to donors

Dec 16 — Supplies lowest value of dogs on record

 

Hayes was paid an annual salary of $299,000 in the 2013-14 financial year.

Her salary in the years since remains a secret since because from 2014-15 the charity no longer breaks out the figure in its annual reports — and the board is refusing to say.

As previously revealed, the Guide Dogs Victoria board became far more “corporatised” in 2015, with its reporting far less transparent.

What incoming CEO Long will be paid has not been disclosed.

Incoming Guide Dogs Victoria CEO Nicky Long. Source: Guide Dogs Victoria

 

Remaining on the Guide Dogs Victoria board is accountant and former Ernst & Young partner David Cochrane; and Charles Thompson, a “former mergers and acquisitions lawyer and management consultant”.

Edwards is a physiotherapist.

From the 2015-16 financial year, Edwards, Thompson and Cochrane have rotated between the chair and deputy chair roles.

“Edwards, Thompson and Cochrane have rotated between the chair and deputy chair roles”

Cochrane, made “acting board chair” after Hayes departed, will become chair on an ongoing basis.

There are currently seven directors on the board.

Chair and deputy chair positions rotated between Thompson, Edwards and Cochrane. Source: Guide Dogs Victoria. Graphic: The Klaxon

 

Premature Exit

Like much to do with Guide Dogs Victoria, the circumstances around Edwards’ exit are murky.

The Klaxon asked when Edwards’ most recent stint as chair had been due to expire — and so by how much it had been cut short given his departure.

The charity refused to respond to those questions.

Guide Dogs Victoria’s governing documents show board appointments are typically three-year terms.

Edwards was appointed chair in November 2018. A three-year term would have expired in November 2021, and a second three-year term would have expired in November 2024 – just over 18 months from now.

On June 2 last year, the Guide Dogs Victoria board announced Edwards would “step down from his current role as Board Chair for a short period and take on the role of Interim CEO”.

“Iain will commence as Interim CEO on 20 June, and remain in the role for up to six months while a recruitment process is undertaken to appoint a new CEO,” the statement says.

“Board Director and Vice Chair, David Cochrane, will be taking on the role of Acting Board Chair during this time.”

“Iain will commence as Interim CEO on 20 June, and remain in the role for up to six months” – Guide Dogs Victoria board.

In its statement on January 13 this year, announcing the appointment of Long, the board says:

“Iain has decided not to nominate for reappointment to the GDV Board once Nicky joins as CEO”.

“Iain has decided not to nominate for reappointment to the GDV Board” — Guide Dogs Victoria board

David Cochrane and Charles Thompson. Source: Guide Dogs Victoria

 

The charity provided no answer when asked on Tuesday when Edwards’ most recent stint as chair had been due to expire.

Instead, external spokesman Tim Lele, of PR agency Keep Left, provided us with the following  written response:

“In compliance with Guide Dogs Victoria’s constitution, current employees or past employees of the company in the previous 12 months cannot hold a position on the Board”.

After the Hayes scandal broke, and in its aftermath, questions were asked as to why Edwards remained at the charity, given he had been the chair that had presided over the scandal.

The client who raised the serious concerns with Edwards in 2013 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.

At the 2013 election eve event, Liberal leader Tony Abbott, then shadow treasurer Joe Hockey and then Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg attended Guide Dogs Victoria’s headquarters and posed for the nation’s media holding puppies.

At the event they announced a $2m “redevelopment” grant should they win the next day’s election — which they did, ushering in almost a decade in power.

Over the following years the Coalition held multiple media appearances at Guide Dogs Victoria’s headquarters, which is in the Kooyong electorate.

Similarly, millions more dollars of taxpayer “grants” were announced.

Dutton posts to social media Thursday. Source: Instagram

 

Despite the seriousness of the Hayes scandal — with laws almost certainly broken — charities regulator the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has repeatedly refused to comment.

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

Liberal Leader Peter Dutton continued the tradition of posing with puppies this week.

On Thursday he posted a picture of himself and “Waffle” at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

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Anthony Klan

Editor, The Klaxon

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