Once the Governor-General’s proud pet project, the controversial Australian Future Leaders Foundation has vanished from the charity register. Jommy Tee reports the latest on the elusive charity … even a recent sighting of the mysterious King’s Cup itself!
The mysterious Australian Future Leaders Foundation disappeared from the charity regulator’s website on 31 January 2024, the day it was meant to both submit and publish its annual financial statements.
The secrecy continues
The secrecy that surrounded the Foundation’s establishment, has now extended to the ongoing public disclosure of its annual financial statement.
MWM contacted the charity regulator – the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) – as to why the Foundation is no longer publicly listed.
A spokesperson for the ACNC stated:
“By law, the ACNC cannot speak publicly about the circumstances of any charity, apart from referring to information published on the Charity Register.”
The Charity Register does not show a charity with that name.
Speaking generally, there are limited circumstances in which the ACNC may agree to withhold a charity’s information from publication. These circumstances include:
- where the information is commercially sensitive and publication could cause harm to the charity or a person
- where the information is inaccurate, or likely to confuse or mislead
- where the information is offensive
- where the information could endanger public safety, or
- any other circumstances prescribed by the ACNC regulations.
It appears the Foundation, which spruiked corporate leadership programs to develop a new generation of future leaders, has applied to keep its affairs hidden from the public gaze.
How it all began
The Foundation had been heavily promoted by the Governor-General, David Hurley, and his office to then prime minister Scott Morrison as a pathway to deliver leadership programs; and it was to be the recipient of $18m of government funding. The funding was announced a few months before the federal election.
After the election was lost by Morrison however, the grant was rescinded by the Albanese government following pressure from the cross-benches and independent media.
Hurley and his office met the Foundation’s executive director, the regally connected Chris Hartley, multiple times over a two-year period ahead of the 2022 federal election. The Foundation was listed as a priority of the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General for two years running as part of the Office’s annual statement of priorities.
It is fair to say that Hurley and his Office were invested in seeing the project proceed.
Even before it all began – the King’s Cup
Hurley, when he was NSW Governor, had supported one of Chris Hartley’s other charities, the King’s Cup Organising Committee (KCOC). A most impressive and valuable trophy, commissioned by the now defunct KCOC for the King’s Cup military rowing extravaganza held in 2019, occasionally gets sighted at events that Hartley attends.
Readers of MWM will recall that artefacts from the Australian War Memorial were melted down and used in the trophy itself, together with contributions from the other nations competing in the Cup.
The Cup runneth somewhere
The latest and somewhat belated sighting of the Cup occurred in August 2023 in of all places Wellington, New Zealand – again at a vice-regal event.
The NZ Governor-General, Dame Cindy Kiro, presented medals to the participants. The event was attended by the ambassadors and High Commissions of Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, the United States and the Netherlands.
An account of the event by Leander Club details how the NZ Chief of Defence received an “engraved presentation board which included a gold nugget wrapped around precious metals from each nation and their Heads of State”.
Morrison thought it was a right-royal cracker of an idea
Not to be outdone, Dame Cindy Kiro, in her role as NZ Commander in Chief, was presented with a “dagger of silver, gold and diamond”.
Chris Hartley, the founder of several Australian charities, as expected, had a hand in proceedings.
A reminder that the KCOC originally listed with the charity regulator the location of its program as being Government House, Dunrossil Drive, Yarralumla, ACT.
We had previously disclosed that the King’s Cup’s previous “public appearance” was at HRH Princess Anne’s Royal Patronages Dinner in April 2022.
My kingdom for a future leader…or two…or three…
Hartley, the quintessential vice-regal and military networker, has had a recent history of using these connections to promote his various charities.
The Foundation’s greatest coup was getting the Governor-General’s endorsement to lobby Morrison for funding to develop Australia’s future leaders. Inexplicably, Morrison thought it was a right-royal cracker of an idea and found $18 million for the Foundation.
Senate estimates previously heard that the Governor-General was going to become the patron of the Foundation – despite a prima facie case that the Foundation did not meet the Governor-General’s own guidelines for patronage. The guidelines explicitly state that a significant record of achievement over at least five years is required before parting can be considered.
Likewise, no one advising the Governor-General saw a potential conflict of interest in the GG lobbying the PM for funding for a Foundation – a Foundation of which the GG himself was to become patron.
The Foundation also had Deductible Gift Recipient status fast-tracked and bestowed on it by the Morrison government.
Despite government funding being canned, the Foundation was able to raise $2.1 million in donations, according to the only financial statement it ever lodged last year with the charities regulator.
According to last year’s statement (obtained from previously downloaded internet archives), the Foundation, with a full-time staff of one, paid out $475,000 in wages and salaries.
A surplus of $1.5 million was reported by the Foundation at the end of FY2022.
All hat and no cattle
While the Foundation was flush with cash last year, it is yet to run a single leadership course, still has no publicly accessible website, and last year continued to list its program as the “Governor General’s Australian Future Leaders Program”.
When this was pointed out at Senate estimates by Senator David Shoebridge, the GG’s office was embarrassingly forced to write to the Foundation’s executive director, Chris Hartley, that the program should “be referred to simply as the Australian Future Leaders Program” and “is not include reference to the Governor-General”.
Four years after its conception, with an original vice-regal nod-and-a-wink of approval, Morrison government funding secured – then rescinded by the Labor government, the development of future leaders is still in abeyance.
Now, with the Foundation’s financial statements apparently off limits to further public scrutiny, the mystery continues.
Perhaps Australia’s future leaders are destined to be recruited via word-of-mouth and behind closed doors.
Jommy Tee is a long-time career public servant, having worked in the policy development field for 25+ years as well as an independent researcher interested in politics, current affairs, and Nordic noir.