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Not For Profit Australian Computer Society At War, Who Gets What?

A brutal war has broken out at the Australian Computer Society with threats of legal action, defamation claims and members taking on members. It has become very ugly.

ACS, as it now prefers to be called, is ostensibly a not for profit organisation that generated $44M in revenues last financial year. The Society has been described as an organisation that “hides or delays reporting its activities,” with questions now being raised about where the money generated comes from and how management are remunerated.

What started off as an organisation for professionals involved in the growth of the Australian computer Industry appears now to be an organisation which under the auspices of the Australian Charities and Not For Profit Commission (ACNC) is engaged in a brutal war over its future and above all how the organisation is being run.

According to several people involved in the fight the ACS has engaged lawyers to try and shut down critics calling for a review of the Society’s business operations.

ChannelNews has requested a full set of financials for the not for profit organisation including the amounts paid to executives running the operation.

Some members who have contacted CN claim that the Society “Does not like questions about the way that the operation is run”.

In the past the Australian Computer Society has threatened InnovationAus with legal action overthe publication’s coverage of the ACS’ botched attempt at a restructure last year and the Federal Court debacle that followed.

Acting for the ACS, law firm Clayton Utz wrote to InnovationAus claiming “many” articles about the society’s attempt to restructure and the Federal Court case it provoked were defamatory and has demanded that they be removed from their website.

InnovationAus was the second publication that the Australian Computer Society, its management, and legal representatives have threatened in the past.

The technology website iTWire also received a letter from Clayton Utz threatening legal action over its coverage of ACS’ failed restructure, the court case, and the general unrest that followed.

Graeme Philipson is an ACS member and well known technology journalist and author. He told CN “ACS management tried to shut me up and set their legal goons onto me, but my articles reporting on the organisation’s many problems have made me a lightning rod for disaffection. Their attempts to censor me have been extraordinarily counter-productive.”

He added “Many members have already quit. Professional membership is down by more than half over the last decade. Many people don’t even know there is an Australian Computer Society. That’s not surprising as the organisation has been very poorly marketed. Many people in the industry regarded as totally irrelevant.:

Reformist President Ian Oppermann has had enough and is moving a vote of no-confidence in the Management Committee had a Congress meeting next Friday. His widely leaked letter to the ACS Congress members has led to furious lobbying over the weekend. Congress members are being contacted by ACS members in large numbers.

Philipson removed his articles from online newsletter iTWire after it was threatened with legal action. He mainly reposted them on his own website and now publishes an informal ‘ACS Observer’ newsletter to continue to report on what is going on.

“My most recent piece made a few observations, informed by the vast amount of information that has been shared with me as a chronicler of events. I am being contacted by dozens of Congress members, ordinary ACS members and ex-members, and concerned ACS staff.

“ACS management tried to shut me up and set their legal goons onto me, but my articles reporting on the organisation’s many problems have made me a lightning rod for disaffection. Their attempts to censor me have been extraordinarily counter-productive and ensured much greater coverage of my reportage, as well as providing me with many more sources of information. I don’t have to go looking for things anymore, people come to me.”

Ian Oppermann was elected President of ACS in February pledging to make the organisation more transparent. He is a widely respected individual with over 20 years’ experience in the ICT sector. He is NSW Chief Data Scientist.

In his recent letter to the ACS Congress one of his main criticisms criticisms was the lack of proper reporting to ordinary members by the Management Committee of its activities. “A member-based organisation should be open by default,” he said.

Philipson said “The extent to which the Management Committee is prepared to go to hide details of its deliberations and the reasons behind its decisions is truly extraordinary. Only the sketchiest details are given, reluctantly, and then months after meetings are held.”

Many members also claim that financial details in the annual report are poorly reported and that the Annual Consolidated Financial Statements are no better. “It is impossible to tell where the money is coming from and where it goes. Questions about such matters go unanswered” claims Philipson.

“It is uncommunicative across the board to the point of secretiveness, even paranoia. So much so that many are asking what the organisation is trying to hide.

Pictured Andrew Johnson

“Many people have complained to me about the lack of responsiveness in the organisation’s extraordinary opacity. I have certainly experienced it myself. I believe Oppermann’s motion requesting a detailed audit of ACS’s accounts has a few people worried.”

According to ACS records CEO Andrew Johnson resigned on 8 July, with his three months’ notice ending this Thursday 8 October. This is the day before the Congress meeting at which Oppermann will move his motion of no confidence in the Management Committee.

Some insiders claim that Johnson is already plotting a comeback and that a deal has already been worked out with his supporters on the Management Committee. This could be an issue raised at Friday’s meeting of the ACS Congress.

ChannelNews has asked the Australian Computer Society for their financials but as yet the organisation has failed to respond to our request.

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