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Paul Fletcher used PCYC’s endorsement ‘without permission’ on election flyers, youth charity claims

By Josh Butler and Paul Karp
Communications minister Paul Fletcher used an endorsement from PSYC NSW without permission, the youth charity says.
PCYC NSW said it was ‘concerned the PCYC name has been used without permission for political purposes’ on the Paul Fletcher flyers distributed in Sydney’s north. Photograph: Supplied

Police Citizens Youth Clubs NSW has asked the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, to stop using election flyers featuring its Hornsby president, claiming an endorsement quoted by the Coalition MP was used without the permission of the charity or the local president.

Another Liberal MP, Julian Simmonds, has separately come under fire for using months-old endorsements from a local charity and church group in his own political material.

A PCYC NSW spokesperson told Guardian Australia it was “concerned the PCYC name has been used without permission for political purposes” on the Fletcher flyers distributed in Sydney’s north.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), the national charity regulator, says charities can engage in “advocacy and campaigning” if those activities further their charitable purpose but forbids charities from engaging in advocacy and campaigning if it promotes or opposes “a political party or a candidate for political office”.

Scrutiny on these rules has increased through this election after the chief executive of Guide Dogs Victoria was stood down, pending an independent investigation, for endorsing Josh Frydenberg, and the Liberal MP Trevor Evans used charity testimonials without consent.

Election flyers distributed by Paul Fletcher in Bradfield, featuring a testimonial by Peter Kirkwood, president of PCYC Hornsby.
Election flyers distributed by Paul Fletcher in Bradfield, featuring a testimonial by Peter Kirkwood, president of PCYC Hornsby. Photograph: Supplied

Fletcher, the member for Bradfield, distributed political pamphlets bearing endorsements of “what locals say about Paul Fletcher”.

Alongside a local Hornsby shire councillor and the co-founder of a women’s shelter, the flier quotes Peter Kirkwood in his capacity as president of the PCYC Hornsby Ku-Ring-Gai branch saying Fletcher “engages with the local community in a friendly and professional manner and makes himself available wherever possible”.

But PCYC NSW told Guardian Australia that neither the organisation nor Kirkwood himself authorised the use of his name and photo, or the mention of the PCYC Hornsby branch, in Fletcher’s election material.

The charity said it was “disappointed” to see the flyer, stressing its obligation under ACNC rules to “remain politically neutral and not endorse political candidates”.

“Mr Kirkwood has assured us that he did not authorise the use of his PCYC NSW title or his photo on the flyer,” a spokesperson said.

“We take our ACNC obligations very seriously and are concerned that the PCYC name has been used without permission for political purposes. We would like to assure our members and supporters that PCYC NSW is politically independent and does not advocate for any political party or members.”

PCYC NSW said it had asked Fletcher’s office to remove it and Kirkwood from the material.

A spokesman for Fletcher defended the use of Kirkwood’s quote, but said it wouldn’t happen again.

“Paul Fletcher has strong relationships with a range of community organisations and community leaders in Bradfield,” Fletcher’s spokesman said in a statement.

“Mr Kirkwood offered a personal reflection on his association with Paul, not a political endorsement. However, in consideration of concerns raised by the PCYC, his testimonial will not appear on any further campaign materials.”

Separately, residents in the Brisbane seat of Ryan have reported receiving testimonials for Simmonds, a first-term Coalition MP, in the mail. Quotes in support of Simmonds have been attributed to the Pink Elephants Support Network and priest Mark Franklin, despite the Brisbane Archdiocese revealing the latter testimonial was not intended for use in the election campaign.

The material is authorised by Simmonds, but was distributed with letterheads from the charity and church.

The testimonial from Franklin, from Our Lady of the Rosary Parish Kenmore and Moggill, is dated 8 February and praises Simmonds for being “respectful, engaging and friendly”.

A testimonial for Julian Simmonds from parish priest Mark Franklin.
A testimonial for Julian Simmonds from parish priest Mark Franklin. Photograph: Julian Simmonds
An authorisation by Julian Simmonds on church testimonial
An authorisation by Julian Simmonds on the testimonial Photograph: Julian Simmonds

A resident of Moggill, who asked to remain anonymous, said they were “very concerned about the potential misuse of the letter”.

“So I contacted the parish who confirmed the letter was written more as a character reference and they were not aware it was being distributed in this manner.

“I found it completely inappropriate to receive this letter. It makes no attempt to even appear to be campaign material … The use of the church’s letterhead is completely inappropriate.”

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Brisbane said the Kenmore parish had provided the letter “following a request from [Simmonds] electorate office”.

“This letter was not intended for the purpose of inclusion in any election campaign material.”

The second testimonial, from the miscarriage and early pregnancy loss charity Pink Elephants, praises Simmonds for helping legislate bereavement leave through its Leave for Loss campaign.

“I will be forever grateful to Julian and his team for stepping up and helping us to make monumental change for our community,” the charity’s chief executive Samantha Payne wrote.

Pink Elephants Support Network testimonial authorised by Julian Simmonds
A testimonial from Pink Elephants Support Network authorised by Julian Simmonds Photograph: Julian Simmonds
The reverse side of the Pink Elephants Support Network testimonial.
The reverse side of the Pink Elephants Support Network testimonial. Photograph: Julian Simmonds

Payne told Guardian Australia the testimonial was given “a while ago”, and referred further questions to the organisation.

A Pink Elephants spokesperson said the charity was “aware of our obligations as a registered charity and we do not promote, endorse, or oppose any political candidates or parties”.

“The views expressed are in direct relation to the Leave for Loss Pregnancy campaign for bereavement leave for early pregnancy loss, and not intended for political purposes.”

Guardian Australia has contacted the Liberal party for comment.

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Dive Deeper:
Former Australian of the Year says Liberal MP Fiona Martin selectively quoted him in political endorsement without his knowledge
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Morning mail: US senators block abortion bill, Albanese wins leaders’ debate, the great escape – as a food courier
Thursday: Writers push for climate to be on election agenda as leaders’ debate dominated by cost-of-living measures. Plus: the $10bn…
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One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
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Get all your news in one place