FSG CEO Vicki Batten (right) during a trip to Africa in September 2017.
FSG CEO Vicki Batten (right) during a trip to Africa in September 2017.

Charity boss took Africa trip after $5.2m loss

THREE months after FSG Australia recorded a $5.2 million loss, chief executive Vicki Batten and three top employees travelled 12,000km to Africa where they spoke at a business workshop.

Entitled "Justice Journeys", the trip took place in September 2017 and included a "Zambian Women in Business" workshop, with guest speakers Ms Batten and FSG Innovations Manager Julie Marsh.

FSG, which provided services to disabled clients on the Gold Coast, reported a $5.2 million loss at the end of the 2016-17 financial year three months earlier.

The company had numerous offices and employed hundreds of people on the Northern Rivers.

Ms Batten is now working in Lismore as a counsellor.

Photographs posted to social media showed a champagne dinner with Zambian food held in the lead-up to the trip.

A caption with the photographs read: "Ladys (sic) get ready … We will be in Zambia in less than a week. Team Aussie is very excited and looking forward to meeting you all. Yesterday we had a great meeting over a nice Zambia meal".

A flyer from FSG's trip to Africa with FSG CEO Vicki Batten and Julie Marsh advertising a Zambian Women in Business Workshop.
A flyer from FSG's trip to Africa with FSG CEO Vicki Batten and Julie Marsh advertising a Zambian Women in Business Workshop.

The four-hour workshop cost 100 Zambian Kwacha to attend, equivalent to AUD$13.67.

The average Zambian household weekly income is K270.

FSG Australia entered voluntary administration on June 30 this year, despite receiving $60 million annually from governments.

It is currently in the hands of administrators who will decide on August 3 whether the embattled charity will enter liquidation.

If the company enters liquidation, their assets will be sold to repay creditors, including redundancies and entitlements of the 900 FSG employees.

FSG's African pilgrimage was an example of an "unfunded community project".

Unfunded programs are fuelled by public donations, not government funding.

An independent auditor hired by FSG's biggest funder, the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors, found that "non-funded community projects" were a large contributor to the charity going broke.

A Facebook post of a dinner prior to the Africa trip, captioned “Yesterday we had a great meeting over a nice Zambia mean (Zambian meal)”.
A Facebook post of a dinner prior to the Africa trip, captioned “Yesterday we had a great meeting over a nice Zambia mean (Zambian meal)”.

"Once concerns were raised about the future of FSG, the department engaged (auditing firm) BDO to urgently undertake an immediate independent financial investigation," a spokesman for the department said.

"This investigation found FSG's losses are due to over-delivery of services and providing many non-funded community projects."

A source close to the company said unfunded projects shouldn't cause losses.

"Unfunded programs mean that they are not funded by the government," they said.

"Funding comes from different areas that have specific objectives.

"If they didn't have money for unfunded programs they shouldn't have run them - it's as simple as that.

"They were not essential."

FSG planned a fundraising event for Justice Journeys as recently as June 23, which was cancelled for unknown reasons.

Vicki Batten (L) holding a bunch of flowers on arrival in Africa.
Vicki Batten (L) holding a bunch of flowers on arrival in Africa.

The event, which was titled "Morning Tea and Fashion Parade - FSG for UNICEF" was $35 per person to be held at Runaway Bay Community Centre.

While UNICEF declined to comment on the event, they confirmed they had no record of a partnership with FSG.

The event states the reason for the Justice Journeys program is to "connect with communities that are not in the demographic region … Poverty is a key development problem in social, economic and political standpoint. Nearly 1/2 of the world's population - more than 3 billion people - live on less than $2.50 a day. It is in this light that FSG decided to go beyond the borders of Australia and Justice Journeys was born."

Further information reads: "The first journey took place in September 2017. Four of FSG's leading ladies, including CEO Vikki (sic) Batten, embarked on a journey to Zambia in Africa for a two-week trip focusing on identifying and responding to community needs, the way FSG has done since its inception in 1797 but this time, internationally. The team also met a group of ladies from One Light Women, some of whom are HIV positive, who make hand sewn products."

FSG justice journeys Africa fundraiser banner.
FSG justice journeys Africa fundraiser banner.

When asked about the trip to Africa Minister for the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors Coralee O'Rourke said that despite FSG being primarily government funded, it was up to the FSG board to decide how money was spent.

LNP shadow minister Dr Christian Rowan said the Africa expedition was another example of Ms O'Rourke failing the taxpayer.

"It's troubling to hear that time and effort was being spent on overseas projects when FSG's core business of providing disability support to Queenslanders was clearly suffering from years of multimillion-dollar deficits," he said.

"Minister Coralee O'Rourke and the Labor government have failed in their due diligence, accountability and oversight when allocating taxpayer dollars over a number of years given the range of issues now emerging in relation to FSG."

The Gold Coast Bulletin made repeated attempts to contact Ms Batten without success.



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