Feminist advocacy group ‘Our Watch’ seeks shield from public scrutiny

The President The Chairperson: These drug cartels Men’s Rights Advocates represent a clear and present danger to the national financial security of the United States Domestic Violence Industry. (With apologies to the late, great Tom Clancy)

On 9 December 2014 I sent an email to the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission:

“I have made several attempts over as many days to access info about the charity called ‘Our Watch Limited‘. Each time I find that most fields on their page show as “Information Withheld”. I have not seen this message on the pages of other charities. Can you please advise why such is information has been withheld? I am also awaiting the lodgement of the first annual return for this organisation – I understand that this should occur sometime this month. I look forward to receiving your advise on this matter – thank you” On 11 December 2014

I received the following reply: “Firstly, I can confirm that the Our Watch Limited is a registered charity. This can be confirmed on the ABR here. In relation to the withheld information, charities do have the right to apply to have charity information withheld from the Register if they have valid reasons for the ACNC not to publish some of the charity’s detail. Not all information can be withheld, only information that fits within certain criteria (such as information that the information is commercially sensitive and there is a risk that publishing it will cause harm).

When charities submit a withholding application it places a temporary blanket over the charity record on the ACNC Register so the public cannot access any details until their application is processed.  Therefore, you would not be able to access any details on the Register. Please see click here for further information on withholding.  

Furthermore, the 2014 Annual Information Statement (AIS) is the second reporting requirement for all registered charities. The due date for the Annual Information statement is within six months of the end of your reporting period. However, the Commissioner advised yesterday that the due date has been extended for charities that use a 1 July30 June reporting period to 31 January 2015.”

Well now isn’t that curious, because none of their information was shielded until about two weeks ago. So it seems the shutters went up sometime after I uploaded my post on ‘Our Watch, in which I indicated interest in undertaking due diligence on their financials. And around the same time that another feminist domestic violence advocacy group, White Ribbon Australia, attracted harsh criticism in relation to their spending priorities and unusual financial practices. Oops, that share trading can be risky business. Surely just coincidence.

OK well, under what circumstances might a charity seek approval to shield their details?

The ACNC web site includes the following information:

“You must apply to have charity information withheld. Other than for private ancillary funds, there are only some circumstances when we may withhold your charity’s information from the Register. The ACNC Commissioner has discretion to withhold or remove information from the Register if the information:

  • is commercially sensitive and it could cause harm
  • is inaccurate, confusing or misleading
  • is offensive
  • could endanger public safety, or
  • is covered by ACNC regulations.

The ACNC may also decide not to publish details of any warnings we have issued to a charity if:

  • the information could cause harm
  • the charity was not behaving in bad faith, and
  • withholding the information does not conflict with our objects under the ACNC Act.”

I wrote back to ACNC seeking further clarification, and to their credit they promptly responded in the following manner: “Unfortunately we are unable to advise what the basis of the request however I can explain the process. There is no service standard for these applications, as we do have a number these requests that are waiting to be processed. If a charity would like to have information withheld from the ACNC Register the process is as follows:

  1. The charity makes an application to have the information withheld. They do this on the Portal, in writing, or on an ACNC form.
  2. The request is received and we apply a blanket withhold rule on that charity’s record. This is to ensure we don’t publish any sensitive data (such as the address of a women’s shelter) while the decision is being made. Please note this is often an automatic step undertaken via the charity Portal.
  3. The request is reviewed by a Registration Analyst, who decides whether the request meets the requirements set out in the Australian Charities and Not‑for‑profits Commission Regulation 2013.
  4. Once the decision has been made we remove the blanket withhold, and only details that were approved for withholding are withheld from the Register. For example, the charity would appear in a search along with their financial details, but the street address may not.

The ACNC Act sets out the rules around withholding information at Subdivision 40–10, which can be found here. The policy on withholding is also available here. If you have concerns in relation this charity, you can raise a concern about any registered charity to us for further investigation if it is something that is within our jurisdiction. There is further information that can be found here about the issues that ACNC may be able to look at.”

Thus at this point in time, one can only speculate on why ‘Our Watch‘ sought to have their details suppressed and/or what reasons they might have advanced to support their application. Perhaps this will become clear in the fullness of time.

Running my eyes over the possible criteria earlier provided by ACNC however, my eyes kept returning to the word “harm”. Could it be that ‘Our Watch‘ engaged in that peculiar feminist practice known as damseling, breathlessly asserting the potential danger/s posed by unknown people unknown men crude disaffected men of vile character and who are intent on mischief*?

I would like to be able to state that, sooner or later, all pertinent details of ‘Our Watch‘ will be subject to scrutiny and any anomalies exposed. ‘Our Watch‘, as with any other similar group receiving substantial amounts of public funding, should operate transparently and be properly accountable to the Australian community. Unfortunately I cannot do so, however, as moves are well underway to abolish the ACNC by way of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Repeal) (No. 1) Bill 2014 (and related debate).

The three key dates to watch now are the revised deadline for ‘Our Watch’ to submit its annual report (31 January 2015), the lifting of the shield on Our Watch‘s details in the ACNC website, and the ceasing of operations by ACNC.  

(*the feminist view of mens rights activists)

Update 10 January 2015: According to the ACNC website, on 8 January 2015 ‘Our Watch’ lodged their annual return and financial details to the end of June 2014.

These sources show a total annual revenue of $4,845,880 mainly comprising government grants totalling a whopping $4,675,550, with only a paltry $6k sourced from donations. Almost all of their expenditure was attributed to staff-related costs ($807,579), “transactions with key management personnel” ($354,021), and professional fees ($960,196).

Under “Transactions with key management personnel” it states “Key management personnel of the entity and the Board of Directors and senior management. Key Management Personnel remuneration comprises the following expenses ($354,021).”

The annual return lists only nine full time employees and two part time employees. Given that compensation for “senior management” is wholly or partly excluded from “staff-related costs”, suggests that average annual salaries for other staff are well in excess of $80,000 per person per annum.

The only information still being withheld is the office address and details of ‘Responsible Persons’.

 

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