When ACNC Commissioner Dr Gary Johns commenced at the Commission, he made it clear he would spend as much time as he could in regional Australia, visiting charities. “I regard those as my constituents, and, by and large, we could say that regional Australia carries a burden in a number of areas that requires the work of charities, and it may well be under-resourced,” Dr Johns said.
“It is important for me to get out to charities all over Australia because with any regulator there is a distance between you and the people you regulate and I’m trying to close that gap. I’m the one who gets to sew it up, see people face to face and tell their stories to staff, but I also inform myself as to whether we’re doing a reasonable job. More broadly, it is important to see if we can find better ways to get the story out to a wider audience about all the work that these charities do.”
He said some charities are a bit nervous when the ACNC first gets in touch. “I reassure them they’ve done nothing wrong, that it really is my opportunity to meet charities face to face. Let’s see what people are doing to pursue their charitable purpose. That’s the real deal - these are the stories that we really do enjoy hearing and the conversations are just wonderful.”
Each year, Dr Johns does about four regional trips. In September he was in Queensland, around Bundaberg and in December, in central Victoria, around Ballarat. During his last trip in May, he clocked up about 400 kilometres on the road in South Australia, meeting charities in Whyalla, Port Augusta, Davenport, Port Pirie, Clare, Balaklava, Gawler and Adelaide. His central New South Wales trip in March spanned even more territory - 800 km driving from Sydney to Katoomba, Perthville, Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo, Gilgandra, Coonabarabran, Tamworth, Gunnedah and Muswellbrook, winding up in Newcastle.
“In just one week I got to see a tremendous variety of charities and individuals doing outstanding work, often with charities that they have started themselves. Western Air Care was an amazing group. This fellow took me 40 kilometres out of Gilgandra where he runs his own trucking company, and through his charity, he puts feed out to farms in drought. He just happened to drop into the conversation that he was a vicar too. So when he would deliver hay to one of these far western farms, he would of course undertake anything from burials to weddings to christenings. Just an amazing character, his wife and son-in-law, with other assistants as well. Wonderful people.”
The diversity in the charities’ missions and activities is apparent. On the last trip, Dr Johns met with charities including Barayamal, which supports aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs, Nova for Women and Children which provides housing and other services and a youth choir called Moorambilla Voices.
“That charity started when two friends got together one night, and decided there should be a place where children could get together and sing together, to learn new skills, but also to help them psychologically because this is an area that had been in drought for a long time and has only recently come out of drought. They have to raise their own money every year. So that’s the inspiration. A couple of people get together with a great idea and keep it going year after year. It’s quite remarkable.”