Liberal MP removes a Lifeline chief executive from campaign flyers

Liberal frontbencher Paul Fletcher has removed a Lifeline chief executive from his campaign flyers after Lifeline Australia “firmly reminded” her of the rules about charities being involved in political endorsements.

Wendy Carver, CEO of Lifeline Harbour to Hawkesbury, appeared on Fletcher’s campaign pamphlets that were mailed out to constituents of the Bradfield electorate on Sydney’s North Shore. They featured several prominent locals – including a photo of Carver and her endorsement of the Liberal candidate.

Paul Fletcher’s campaign advertisement featuring Lifeline Harbour to Hawkesbury CEO, Wendy Carver.Credit:Paul Fletcher Member for Bradfield campaign

“Paul is open, supportive and we are very appreciative for his dedication and commitment to our organisation and our crisis support and suicide prevention services,” she was quoted in the pamphlet as saying.

Her name, suburb, and role at Lifeline Harbour to Hawkesbury are attached to the quote.

The Herald and The Age attempted to contact Carver at Lifeline Hawkesbury to Harbour, but were referred instead to the national Lifeline Australia office. Lifeline Australia received several messages from members of the public last week, but largely deflected accusations of political endorsement.

Their initial response claimed the pamphlet “does not constitute an explicit endorsement of the Minister or of his party.” Lifeline Harbour to Hawkesbury is a separate entity from Lifeline Australia.

Federal Communications and Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher with former NSW Premier Mike Baird at a campaign launch.Credit:Edwina Pickles

But the organisation later told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that Carver had been spoken to about the flyer.

“Lifeline Australia does not endorse the use of Lifeline representatives in political material in their official capacity and has firmly reminded Mrs Carver of Lifeline Australia’s position on political engagement,” Lifeline Australia said in a statement.

It comes after the CEO of Guide Dogs Victoria was stood down in April following her appearance in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s election materials, and a similar situation last week when Pyjama Foundation founder Bronwyn Sheehan condemned Liberal MP Trevor Evans for featuring Sheehan in campaign flyers without his consent.

A spokesman for Fletcher reiterated Carver’s quote was “a personal reflection on her association with Paul, not a political endorsement.”

“However, in the light of subsequent media attention, and in consideration of Lifeline and its vital work, Ms Carver’s testimonial will not appear on any further campaign materials,” the spokesman said.

In March, Scott Morrison and Paul Fletcher held a press conference with Carver and CEO of Lifeline Australia Colin Seery to announce an additional $52.3 million in funding for Lifeline.

Under Australian law, charities risk losing Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) registration if they “promote or oppose a political party or candidate for political office.”

In the last decade, only one charity has been deregistered. This is because political endorsement is only considered a breach of ACNC regulation if it is stated within a charity’s constitution.

Regardless, ACNC Commissioner Dr Gary Johns warned charities of such behaviour in a statement released last week.

“There are issues beyond ACNC compliance that can have an impact,” he said.

“A charity whose activities are perceived as crossing the line (such as a representative of a charity using their name to endorse a political candidate on promotional material)… may damage the charity’s reputation.”

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