Sunday, May 6, 2012


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In 1998 the chairman of the Australian Skeptics Science and Education Foundation Harry Edwards in a memo to Barry Williams raised concerns over the financial status of Foundation. According to Edwards, the total amount invested on behalf of the Foundation, principally in first mortgage security over real estate, as of 1 March 1998 was $966,987. This was generating an income of about $79,000 p.a. or about 8.2%, but subsequent falls in interest rates probably reduced this amount, at least in the short term. Ongoing commitments listed by Edwards, including honoraria, scholarships, prizes, convention subsidies and a grant of $100,000 to the Mt Stromlo Observatory ($10,000 p.a. over ten years) amounted to over $25,000 p.a., leaving the Foundation's disposable income at little more than $50,000 p.a., which was available to state groups and individuals applying for grants. (In 1995/6, the first year of the bequest, $35,000 was shown as distributed to state groups, but it is not clear whether this largesse continued because later financial statements are not available.). The policy of the Foundation under Edwards' chairmanship was "to ensure the financial viability of all Australian Skeptics groups in perpetuity. It was agreed that "the capital would be maintained at a predetermined level" and that the expenses and disbursements should be "limited to an amount not exceeding income".

Edwards was concerned at pressures on the trustees to eat into capital in order to fund the increasing Skeptics salary bill and the activities of the committee. Figures submitted to the NSW Department of Fair Trading by treasurer Richard Lead show that in 1996/7 and 1997/8 the Australian Skeptics Inc made losses of $27,214.25 and $42,526.87 respectively.

However, it seemed to be the policy of at least some members of the Skeptics to simply keep spending the money until it ran out. Treasurer Richard Lead, who joined the group after Whalley’s money was received, explained to the author: 'Personally, I hope we do run out of money, but in about 10 years.

What is the point of not using it for the purposes for which it was donated?

We are not a religious organisation'. Dr Steve Roberts, the only Victorian on the 'national' body has expressed similar sentiments to the Australian Rationalists magazine editor, Ian Robinson.

Edwards proposed sending a letter to all members of the Australian Skeptics Inc committee outlining his concerns. In the draft letter Edwards explains that the Australian Skeptics Inc income for 1998/9 would only be approximately $48,000, and as projected expenditure (mainly journal printing costs and the Editor/CEO's salary and expenses) was nearly $110, 000, there would be a $60,000 shortfall. According to Edwards, Williams refused to allow him to send this letter to the Committee on the grounds that it may panic the members.

In the event, according to figures submitted to the NSW Department of Fair Trading by treasurer Richard Lead, the 1998/9 expenditure turned out to be $126,243, only $16,000 more than Edwards' estimate, but the income is listed as $143, 859, nearly $100,000 more. It is not clear whether this extra
income came substantially from the Foundation or not, as Barry Williams denied a request from the Australian Rationalist magazine to provide current information about the Skeptics' finances, nor if so whether this was at the expense of reducing the Foundation's capital, as Lead has argued for.

Edwards is no longer in a position to answer this question, as the result of the events described below.

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