Whistleblower fund claims need inquiry
ANIMALS Australia perpetuates the image it is in a David and Goliath battle against those who perpetuate animal suffering.
In its own publications it refers to itself as a "small animal charity from down under" that holds the "powerful exporter companies" to account.
At best, such statements are only fractionally true and may act as cover for a more concerning pattern of behaviour.
In reality, the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission classifies Animals Australia as a 'large' charity, that Australian Electoral Commission records show received $9.3 million in public donations in 2018 alone.
Since 2014, it has reported more than $39m in tax-free revenue, $34m stemming from public donations.
Animals Australia has disclosed to the ACNC it operated in all states and territories in Australia as well as Austria, Brazil, Indonesia, Jordan, Romania and Israel.
Its international arm Animals International is registered to its Melbourne offices.
It is also a comparatively big political spender. In 2017-18, Animals Australia registered political expenditure to the AEC of $2.4m - more than the Business Council of Australia (at $1.7m), the Minerals Council of Australia (at $1.2m) and GetUp! (at $742,000).
While positioning itself as the underdog can likely be forgiven as a marketing tactic, there are other inconsistencies worthy of more serious attention.
Animals Australia has always denied paying for footage. And yet, it is administrator of the $5m 'Animal Justice Fund', which when launched in 2010, was intended to provide up to $30,000 to individuals who came forward with evidence of animal abuse in factory farming.
One of the stated aims of the fund is to "provide financial support to whistleblowers whose income has been impacted upon by reporting and exposing animal abuse".
While acting as administrator to a fund that encourages whistleblowers by financially rewarding them, it claims to not to carry out such behaviour itself.
This self-proclaimed 'small charity' (with revenue across 5 years of $39m and operations in at least six countries) is steadfast in these claims - with denials of payments issued in 2011, 2013, 2018 and 2019.
Recently, Federal Member for O'Connor Rick Wilson made statements to Parliament reinforcing previous allegations that Animals Australia does pay for footage.
He claimed to have seen receipts for payments made to crew members of livestock vessels in the amount of $178,000 from Animals Australia. Other similar allegations have been made in several media sources.
A Department of Agriculture investigation into these allegations found no "breaches of Commonwealth law" had occurred but there is also no law that prevents paying for footage. Still, Animals Australia continues to deny making payments.
In a statement to the Sydney Morning Herald, after the Department of Agriculture's investigation was closed, a representative of Animals Australia stated, "This investigation has proven that... No incentive was paid to film or provide the vision...". Again, this is not entirely truthful.
Illegality is not the only standard to which charities are held in this country. The ACNC sets out the following for charities regarding making false or misleading statements: "A statement is false if it is contrary to fact or wrong, irrespective of whether or not it was made with the knowledge that it was false".
If Animals Australia has paid for footage, which needs to be investigated, and something it has repeatedly and publicly denied, then it has made false statements. Unlike its other claims, this is one it must be held accountable for.
Allowing such behaviour has the potential to cause serious harm.
- NT Livestock Exporters Association chief executive officer Will Evans