A charity approved by the Morrison Government has been launched after receiving millions in donations, but a closer look at the fine print reveals cause for suspicion. Anthony Klan reports.
THE “GOVERNOR-GENERAL’S” Australian Future Leaders Foundation – which was to receive $18 million from taxpayers despite having no office, website or staff, before the Albanese Government snapped the plan – has been launched after attracting $2.2 million in “donations”.
It can be revealed the “Gurkhas” charity used by businessman Chris Hartley as a springboard – which claims to have ‘international’ operations in Australia and Nepal and purports to serve ‘victims of disaster’ – has reported deficits every one of the past five years and had “negative” assets since at least June 2019.
Documents filed with the charities regulator state the ‘Governor-General's Australian Future Leaders Program’ has raised $2.17 million in ‘donations and bequests’ of unstated origin, of which $445,855 has gone to unspecified ‘pre-establishment costs’.
On the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) website, the Australian Future Leaders Foundation, run by Hartley, states its objective to ‘help build a nation that leaves no one behind’.
The charitable objective is to help build a nation that leaves no one behind, through an Australia-wide leadership initiative that makes a substantive impact on societal inclusion, economic prosperity and equity of access.
Significant financial and support in kind from community focussed organisations and individuals who believe that Australia needs a national leadership program has been both committed and expended.
No public money has been granted or committed.
The Australian Future Leaders Foundation still appears to have no website and its “office” is listed as ‘Tower 2 Barangaroo, NSW’ — an entire skyscraper.
The revelations come as new details emerged last week about Governor-General David Hurley’s support for the Australian Future Leaders Foundation before the $18 million funding was scrapped — including that he intended to tell the Queen about it.
The ACNC site states the charity was created on 13 April 2021.
Now, the Australian Future Leaders Foundation has filed documents with the ACNC, including its first annual report, for the year to 30 June 2022.
The ACNC site says the Australian Future Leaders Foundation has two ‘full-time equivalent staff’, comprised of one full-time employee, one part-time employee and one casual employee.
It states ‘employee expenses’ in the year were $571,425.
The site states the charity has 223 ‘volunteers’.
Its ‘donations and bequests’ in the year were $2,170,000.
The charity’s bio on the ACNC site says:
‘The Governor-General's Australian Future Leaders program will better prepare, better equip and better connect Australia's future leaders for a more uncertain world by leveraging 65,000 years of collective knowledge and our unique national diversity.’
Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison last year approved an $18 million grant to the charity – with ongoing grants of $4 million every year – but the funding was scrapped last September after Labor won power.
Little is known about Hartley and he has consistently refused to respond to media questions.
Hartley registered the “Gurkha Welfare Fund Australia Limited” in March 2015.
On the ACNC website, Hartley’s Gurkha Welfare Fund Australia states it has ‘international’ operations in Australia and Nepal and that ‘visits by Gurkhas to Australia have provided the catalyst for fundraising’.
In fact, it has raised just $1,647 in the past four years, has had more liabilities than assets since at least June 2019 — and its “address” is a post office on Sydney’s north shore.
The address of Hartley’s charity is stated on the ACNC site as ‘32 Alexandra St Hunters Hill, NSW’ — which is an Australia Post office.
In the 2019 financial year, the charity raised $500 in donations and reported assets of $815 and liabilities of $3,462.
In the year to June last year, it raised $1,147, had total assets of $1,012 and total liabilities of $4,476, or negative net assets of -$3,764.
The Gurkha Welfare Fund Australia continues to be registered with the ACNC, filing its latest “Annual Information Statement” on 30 January this year.
Despite having almost no funds and apparently engaging in next to no activities, the charity’s website suggests it is very active:
Brothers in Arms: supporting fiercely loyal, unflinchingly brave ‘brothers in arms’ who have fought alongside Australians since Gallipoli.
Keeping the Link: the ties, the joint history, the links to Nepal, the Nepalese diaspora and brother Regiments.
Its homepage quotes former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying: “As the inscription on the Gurkha memorial in London states, they are the bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous.”
The site also carries a video of Abbott, titled ‘A word from the former Prime Minister’.
The “news” section of the site carries an article from 18 January this year titled ‘Dinner Held at House of Lords in aid of The Gurkha Welfare Trust’, along with photos, and another dated 4 January, titled ‘Shree Janapriya students thrilled with their new school’.
Neither article relates to Hurley’s Gurkha Welfare Fund Australia, but rather the UK charity Gurkha Welfare Trust.
In response to questions about Hartley in September last year, the UK’s Gurkha Welfare Trust said it had no formal affiliation with Hurley’s Gurkha Welfare Fund Australia.
Adam Bentham, Gurkha Welfare Trust Head of Fundraising and Communication, said:
We are aware of The Gurkha Welfare Fund Australia, though... there is no formal affiliation between it and the Trust outside of our standard ‘Community Fundraising’ agreement which we have with many of our fundraisers who raise money in aid of the Trust.
We were aware that The Gurkha Welfare Fund Australia held a challenge event in Sydney in 2017 after which its Director, Chris Hartley, visited our offices in the UK and we received two donations from the Fund that year.
The sum raised was enough for us to build several of our earthquake-resilient homes for veterans and widows in Nepal. Outside of that, we have had very little interaction with the Fund or its Director/s.
Filings for Hartley’s Gurkha Welfare Fund Australia on the ACNC site show it raised donations of $1,640, $48,920 and $7,676 in the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 financial years respectively.
Marque Lawyers managing partner, Michael Bradley, said he was limited due to client confidentiality, but the charity had been a client of the firm, having “acted pro bono for the Fund, in relation to its establishment as an entity and a charity”.
We have no current or ongoing relationship with the Fund.
We are unaware of any matters of concern relating to the Fund or its activities.
The first set of annual accounts for the Australian Future Leaders Foundation were filed with the ACNC on 31 January and are for the 2021-22 financial year.
Prepared by Gold Coast-based Peregrine Advisory, the accounts show the charity had net assets of $1.52 million at 30 June last year.
Under ‘Charity Programs’ on the ACNC site, the charity states: ‘The Governor-General’s Australian Future Leaders Program.’
Under ‘Summary of Activities’, it states: ‘Community volunteers are in excess of 200.’
The site also states:
In the latter part of the financial year, the organisational focus, skill base and investment moved from ideation, curriculum design and operational structure to delivery planning.
Significant intellectual property has been generated. Transport, accommodation and delivery partner contracts are all underway.
Anthony Klan is an investigative journalist and editor of ''The Klaxon'. You can follow him on Twitter @Anthony_Klan. This article was originally published on The Klaxon and has been republished with permission.
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