Camp Gallipoli stripped of charity status following ACNC investigation
By most accounts, Camp Gallipoli was a big success. More than 40,000 people, mostly children, attended its 2015 Anzac Centenary events around the country, paying up $120 to camp out under the stars “just like the Diggers did”.
While celebrating “the Anzac tradition of equality, loyalty and friendship”, they dined on eggplant moussaka or braised chicken with mustard cream and were entertained by Shannon Noll and You Am I. Camp Gallipoli-branded swags sold for $349 and commemorative “dog tags” branded with the ID of a fallen soldier for $5.
Best of all, it was for charity. The foundation pledged all surplus funds would go to support veterans and their families through the Returned and Services League and Legacy.
The Department of Veterans Affairs had come on board with a $2.5 million grant to help stage the events and granted rare permission for the group to use the protected word “Anzac” for promotional purposes because it was a non-profit group. Corporate Australia was said to have tipped in more than $5 million in sponsorships and donations. Millions more were apparently raised in ticket revenue and branded merchandise.
Except Camp Gallipoli wasn’t actually a charity or not-for-profit – it was a business that used the Anzac name, run by an ex-bankrupt businessman called Chris Fox.
Last week, the foundation was stripped of its charitable status following an investigation into allegations of mismanagement by the national regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission.
In an unusually strong statement, the ACNC affirmed that, “Its registration as a charity was revoked because Camp Gallipoli Foundation Incorporated was unable to demonstrate that it complied with the ACNC Governance Standards, specifically, that it was a not-for-profit entity”.
It had also not “taken reasonable steps to ensure that its directors had met the relevant governance duties,” an ACNC spokesman said.
This damning assessment by the charities regulator is likely to signal the death knell for the foundation, whose prominent past supporters and promoters included then veterans affairs minister Michael Ronaldson, Australian War Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson, senior RSL official Brigadier Tim Hanna and television legend Ray Martin, among many celebrities and sports figures.
The problems at the foundation were first exposed by Fairfax Media just before Anzac Day 2016 in which the RSL and Legacy said they had received no money despite Camp Gallipoli claiming it had raised millions of dollars in sponsorships, donations and ticket sales.
The veterans groups had also severed their ties with Camp Gallipoli ahead of its 2016 events, information that was not publicly disclosed in the foundation’s promotional campaigns.
Fairfax Media also reported Fox was attempting to profit from the charity, which paid “management fees” to commercial companies run by Fox and owned by a family member and an associate.
Fox, who received a $150,000 annual salary as the Camp Gallipoli CEO, admitted at the time that the companies were eligible for fees worth up to $1.5 million in 2015 but claimed he “did not know” how much they actually charged.
The government’s $2.5 million contribution in 2015 was one of the single largest grants for the Anzac Centenary commemorations, but a department spokesperson would not confirm if they had known before distributing the funds that Fox was a recent former bankrupt (2010-2013) with a history of questionable business dealings.
The revelations and ensuing controversy prompted investigations by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission.
Minister for Veterans Affairs Dan Tehan revoked the foundation’s permission to use the word “Anzac” and the DVA launched an audit into how the government’s grant was spent.
It found the grant money had been properly spent on “fixed cost” expenses that had been pre-approved by the government, but noted the foundation’s invoicing was “problematic” and efforts to obtain more information were frustrated by “limited co-operation” from the Camp Gallipoli group.
When the grant was issued, the government had refused to allow any public funds to be spent on hospitality, entertainment or marketing costs. It also held concerns about plans by Camp Gallipoli to increase the size, number and program of the events as the Anzac Centenary approached.
Camp Gallipoli had originally intended to hold “small community-based commemorative events with a focus on education” in the eight capital cities.
Instead, the program rapidly expanded to feature “large concerts and significant commercial elements”, according to the DVA’s report.
A source close to the foundation said that Fox’s plans became increasingly “grandiose” and spending on promotional expenses soared.
The foundation also left a trail of disgruntled creditors around the country after it failed to pay debts to suppliers, some of whom offered services at a discount because Camp Gallipoli was a charity.
“The government was happy to fund things that were structural and involved with staging the event itself. They wouldn’t pay for glitz and glamour,” the source said. “The concept was great and it was [Fox’s] idea but it became a grandiose exercise that fell over.”
Fairfax Media can now also reveal the foundation’s board had considered earmarking $250,000 in the budget as a guaranteed donation to RSL and Legacy for the Centenary year. The proposal was not adopted, a decision the source said was the “biggest mistake” the board ever made.
In another fateful decision, the board also authorised Fox to create companies that could charge the foundation “management fees” that amounted to at least 20 per cent of the fixed costs of staging the event.
In other words, the bigger Camp Gallipoli’s events became, the more money these for-profit companies – owned by Fox’s wife Georgia Anne Fox and an associate Deke Benjamin Smith – were eligible to receive.
Not that the public was aware of any of these arrangements.
As far as Camp Gallipoli supporters and corporate backers knew, money would flow to RSL and Legacy.
The foundation perpetuated this fiction for nearly a year after the Anzac Centenary.
“100% of all surplus funds raised through our events and other activations are distributed to charities which support veterans and their families. Unfortunately it’s difficult to give a % or an exact figure as it ultimately depends on whether there is a surplus once our accounts are independently audited by PWC,” Camp Gallipoli responded to one query posted about donations on its Facebook page in early April 2016.
In reality, the Adelaide-based foundation had completed its financials and sent them to the South Australian charities regulator, the Consumer & Business Services agency. The fundraising summaries published on the CBS website showed no donations were recorded. (The foundation is currently under investigation by CBS.)
Senior RSL and Legacy officials also confirmed they had not received any funds.
It was information Fox was loath to acknowledge when he was contacted by Fairfax Media in the lead up to Anzac Day this year, instead offering a series of bizarre explanations of how the charity operated.
After initially claiming some money had been donated, Fox later said funds had not been distributed yet because the board had not met to vote on the disbursements “out of courtesy” for the ill health of chairman Alan Ferguson.
“We just didn’t have the surplus we thought we’d get,” Fox would later offer as an explanation.
The foundation’s constitution – and its promotional materials – states that one of its objectives is to “use the surplus from the Camp Gallipoli commemorative events to support RSL branches and Legacy Clubs and such other charities with objects relating to the welfare of members of the armed forces and their families”.
Nevertheless, he also attacked the veterans groups themselves.
“RSL revenues come from things like poker machines and other things, so because we are dealing with kids we wanted to distance ourselves from all of that,” Fox said.
“We’re not here to give the RSL and Legacy a cash bonus. If we were doing that, we would be providing a lesser of a product to the kids in the communities we’re trying to engage with.”
Going on the attack was a common tactic for the former advertising executive, who tended to treat questions about the foundation’s activities as a betrayal of the Anzac spirit.
“We’re just, as good Australians, trying to do something good for the bloody nation, pal,” he said.
When informed of his claims – and Fox’s repeated failure to honour a pledge to release the group’s financial records – the board stepped in to speak on his behalf.
In a written statement, the foundation denied any wrongdoing.
“On behalf of the Camp Gallipoli Foundation, I refute any suggestion made from [the journalists] that any monies, especially funds provided through the ANZAC Centenary Grant in 2015, were used for purposes other than intended,” the board said.
“All revenues and fixed costs are transparently reported to the board on a regular basis. In addition, I would like to note the Camp Gallipoli Foundation is audited by external auditors PWC.”
And yet, many of the foundation’s illustrious board would resign within months, including former South Australian politicians Alan Ferguson (chairman) and Graham Ingerson (deputy chairman) and Peter Basedow (treasurer). Mr Basedow also sued Camp Gallipoli over an unpaid debt.
In the wake of Fairfax Media’s report, Camp Gallipoli would face investigations by other media outlets that revealed the foundation’s mounting unpaid bills and allegations that Fox had fabricated his family’s record of military service in World War I.
But the embattled group was not without supporters.
In October, Nine Network star Ray Martin hosted a “special edition” of Channel Nine’s A Current Affair to set the record straight about Camp Gallipoli and Fox amid what the program labelled a media and regulatory “smear campaign”.
He claimed the media reports and government investigations were based on unfounded attacks on Fox, who was just following a dream to “make the Anzac spirit live on to next generations of children”.
“It’s the story that needed to be told, I think. They really set out to do good, for all of us, and got blown out the water.”
The veteran journalist claimed the DVA’s report – released the month before – showed Camp Gallipoli was “clean as a whistle” and blasted the ACNC “as yet another government body … which begins another inquiry sparked again by these wild media allegations”.
“So what about the newspaper’s claims that the RSL and Legacy were also dudded? Again, the government found – surprise, surprise – not guilty,” Martin said.
However, the DVA investigation did not involve verifying whether any donations were made to the veterans groups and the DVA explicitly stated that in its report.
“Serious allegations or sensation? The [Fairfax Media] article offered no proof at all. We could find nothing either. If there is something, we’d love to hear.”
Neither Martin nor Fox have been preparing themselves to answer questions, instead speaking to Fairfax Media through lawyers’ letters marked “not for publication”.
Martin had been one of the foundation’s most prominent backers, filming a promotional video for Camp Gallipoli in the lead up to the Anzac Centenary, as well as hosting events on its behalf in 2015 and 2016.
Martin was paid for these services.
In the ACA program, Martin said: “In the weeks leading up to Anzac Day last year, I worked on a documentary promoting Camp Gallipoli.”
Martin, through his solicitor, said this statement “unequivocally” disclosed his past commercial relationship with Camp Gallipoli. Fairfax Media does not suggest Martin received payments to which he was not entitled.
“As a result of your April article Mr Martin, and many others, believed that a gross injustice had been done to Chris Fox and his family and the ACA program explained the reasons why,” his solicitor said.
After the ACNC stripped the organisation of its charitable status last week, Camp Gallipoli claimed the national regulator’s lengthy investigation had cleared the charity of any wrongdoing.
“We reiterate that the ACNC made no findings of improper conduct by CG or its officers. The ACNC accepted that all potential conflicts of interest between the foundation and its officers were disclosed,” the foundation’s legal representative said.
Although the charities regulator is bound by very restrictive privacy provisions which often means the reasons behind its decisions are not publicly disclosed, the ACNC felt compelled to contest Camp Gallipoli’s statement, publicly.
The ACNC refutes the claim that it “completely exonerated” Camp Gallipoli Foundation Incorporated of “any wrongdoing”.
“Whenever possible, we work with charities to help them get back on track by providing guidance, regulatory advice or entering into undertakings. However, where serious breaches have occurred and a charity is not willing or able to adequately address the ACNC’s concerns, we will revoke the charity’s status.”
The story Camp Gallipoli stripped of charity status following ACNC investigation first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.