Breast Cancer Network CEO criticised over Liberal election ‘endorsement’

Kirsten Pilatti

Kirsten Pilatti. Source: BCNA

The CEO of a top Australian cancer charity has been criticised by patients after she appeared to endorse Treasurer Josh Frydenberg for reelection on national television.

Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) chief executive Kirsten Pillati is facing demands to apologise over the interview, conducted within weeks of the upcoming federal election.

In it, she is seen publicly backing Mr Frydenberg, the Liberal member for the Melbourne seat of Kooyong, saying he had “always been at the end of the phone”.

“Whether it is policy questions, questions of superannuation and access for cancer patients or just for local issues, we have always had such a wonderful relationship with Josh.”

Her comments were broadcast on Sky News Australia last month, but only made headlines after the footage emerged on Twitter a week ago.

The backlash from social media users was swift.

“So disappointed in your CEO’s endorsement of Frydenberg,” said one Twitter user. “I and my family have directly raised thousands of dollars in donations to BCNA. We will now direct our other efforts towards other breast cancer charities.”

Another said: “As a 20-year breast cancer survivor, I was appalled to see that Kirsten Pilatti, CEO of BCNA, has endorsed Josh Frydenberg’s election campaign. It’s not enough to claim that you don’t endorse politicians: you just did!”

Questions have also been raised in the media over whether the BCNA, which has more than 150,000 members, could be jeopardising its not-for-profit status by involving itself in electoral politics.

Under the Charities Act, organisations like the network must only have a charitable purpose and cannot “promote or oppose a political party or a candidate for political office” as one of their main aims.

It comes amid growing controversy over the appearance of other charities in election material supporting Mr Frydenberg as he battles to retain the seat amid a challenge from neurologist Dr Monique Ryan, who is running as an Independent.

Last week, Guide Dogs Victoria announced it would hold an internal investigation after its CEO Karen Hayes appeared on pamphlets supporting the Treasurer, while Mr Frydenberg has also been forced to remove images from his campaign website posing with members of the Scouts.

However, the BCNA has denied making any political endorsements.

In a statement it said: “BCNA does not endorse individual politicians or political parties.

“We have been fortunate to be able to work with politicians from all political parties and our focus is to ensure that we can be part of policy decisions, no matter who is in government.”

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