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Frydenberg's 'charity endorsements' likely violate the law: EXCLUSIVE

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Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's 'endorsements' from persons in the charity sector raises eyebrows (image via YouTube)

The Inclusion Foundation is at the centre of the evolving scandal involving figures from charities endorsing Josh Frydenberg's re-election campaign, writes Anthony Klan.

THE Inclusion Foundation charity, whose founder spruiked Treasuer Josh Frydenberg in political advertisements – almost certainly against charity laws – received record government grants last year that were over six times more than average.

The revelations come as it has emerged Cate Sayers has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the chair of her organisation, who happens to be her husband.

In the year to 30 June, Cate Sayers’ Inclusion Foundation received $933,986 in government grants, which was 6.3 times higher than its average over the preceding decade and almost three times higher than its previous highest grants, $313,216 received in 2018-19.

In the since-pulled political advertisements – which were officially endorsed by Frydenberg – Sayers says Frydenberg had “recently” made a “significant investment” into Inclusion Foundation’s Impact21 program.

Cate Sayers says in the advertisements:

'Because he cares Josh has always supported the Inclusion Foundation, most recently with a significant investment into Impact21.'

The Government grants in 2020-21 were so big compared to Inclusion Foundation’s operations that two-thirds of the money has been accounted for as “payments in advance” because it wasn’t used in the year.

Inclusion Foundation is a 'for-purpose-charity that champions the inclusion of people with Down syndrome', its website states.

How much of the $933,986 came from the Federal Government, and from which arm or arms of the Federal Government, is not known because Inclusion Foundation has not reported that information.

Frydenberg and his office did not respond to requests for comment.

Cate Sayers and Inclusion Foundation have repeatedly failed to respond to requests for comment over the past week.

Frydenberg, the Member for Kooyong in Melbourne, made headlines last week after it emerged he had launched political advertisements, both online and via flyers, apparently backed by charities.

It is illegal for charities to engage in 'promoting or opposing a political party or candidate for political office', in laws the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) is responsible for policing.

One of the advertisements featured Karen Hayes, the CEO of charity Guide Dogs Australia, titled 'why I am voting for Josh Frydenberg'.

Last week it was revealed that taxpayer-funded “support” included $3.5m in JobKeeper payments that Guide Dogs Victoria didn’t need and which went to bolstering its “cash at bank” from $16.65m to $18.75m.

Guide Dogs Australia’s board last week said it had been unaware of Hayes’ involvement, requested the ads “be immediately removed from circulation”, and that it had launched an “internal investigation”.

On Tuesday, it announced Hayes had been “stood down” pending the outcome of its investigation.

Guide Dogs Victoria has not said why its investigation into the apparently simple matter has not yet been completed.

It has now emerged that last week, shortly after the scandal broke, the chair of Inclusion Foundation, Luke Sayers, who is Cate Sayers’ husband, wrote to clients and employees claiming that she had engaged in no wrongdoing.

Addressed to 'Inclusion Foundation Family', Luke Sayers the charity does 'not endorse, promote, or oppose any political parties or candidates' and that Cate Sayers had shared 'her personal views'.

That’s despite Mrs Sayers appearing in the ads as “Founder, Inclusion Foundation”, repeatedly referring to the charity and citing Frydenberg’s financial support.

Luke Sayers wrote:

'The Board and Management of the Foundation understands the concerns that have been raised over the past few days regarding this.'

'We are aware of our obligations as a registered charity and we do not endorse, promote, or oppose any political parties or candidates,' he writes, using the wording of the ACNC laws.

In the email, Mr Sayers makes no reference to the fact that Cate Sayers is his wife, or to the inherent conflict of interest that this presents.

He also makes no reference to who from Inclusion Foundation’s “board and management” considers it has not engaged in endorsing political candidates, or whether Cate Sayers – herself a board member –was removed from those deliberations.

Luke Sayers is a former long-time CEO of consultancy PwC Australia and the current President of Carlton Football Club.

As revealed on Wednesday, Luke Sayers’ new consultancy Sayers Group, which he formed in September 2020 after leaving PwC, received $4.13m in Federal Government contracts in just the past 12 months.

The ACNC declined to comment on whether Cate Sayers or Karen Hayes had broken charity laws citing “secrecy provisions” written into its legislation preventing it from discussing individual charities or their legal breaches.

In the political advertisements, under the heading 'why I am voting for Josh Frydenberg', Mrs Sayers is described as “founder, Inclusion Foundation”.

'Josh is the epitome of community' and has a 'massive track record' of 'supporting… our local charities', Mrs Sayers says in the ad.

Mrs Sayers asserts:

'Kooyong is also home to a charity I founded in 2009 called Inclusion Foundation for individuals with Down syndrome.

 

I value leaders who support an inclusive society.'

Inclusion Foundation’s accounts for 2020-21 state that Mrs Sayers was the “voluntary CEO” of the group from 2009 to 2015.

She then became a board member, until 2019 when she was appointed “temporary CEO” until January 2021, when she 'rejoined the board as director and founder'.

Of the $933,986 in government grants last financial year, Inclusion Foundation records $251,594 as “revenue” with the unused remainder of $632,911 recorded as “grants received in advance”.

As previously revealed, over the past two financial years, Inclusion Foundation received 'COVID-19 Government stimulus' of $195,848 ($100,000 in 2020-21 and $95,848 in 2019-20).

During that same time, its “salary and wages” bill almost doubled.

In 2018-19 Inclusion Foundation’s salary and wages bill was $333,770; in 2019-20 (the first year of COVID-19) it was $585,069; and in 2020-21 it was $609,678, the group’s accounts show.

'In 2019 Luke was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his significant service to business, to people with a disability and the community,' Luke Sayer’s Inclusion Foundation bio states.

Anthony Klan is an investigative journalist and editor of The Klaxon. You can follow him on Twitter @Anthony_Klan. 

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