The councillor was falsely accused of dudding a charity, the Victorian Emergency Relief Fund. The governing committee of the charity looked into the claims against Peters and found there was nothing in them. They suspected the sources of the stories were political rivals of Peters, with over-active imaginations and an axe to grind. Peters was an active member of the ALP’s moderate grouping Labor Unity at the time.
Undeterred, The Age newspaper, several local newspapers and Today Tonight repeated these claims as fact. Today Tonight had a particularly extreme approach, with one of their reporters investigated by Victoria Police on allegations that he’d assaulted the former mayor.
Peters had worked for the charity, which successfully raised many tens of thousands of dollars for the victims of bushfires in regional Victoria, including farmers and many others directly hurt by the consequences of the fire.
When regulators in the Victorian department of Consumer Affairs followed up the allegations, they found the full audited financial statements of the organisation revealed that essentially every dollar was accounted for and that – under Peters’ guidance – tens of thousands of dollars had been successfully generated for deserving beneficiaries.
Those facts had previously been clouded by constant reference to the quantum of funds raised without mention of the cost of actually raising the funds, including postage, premises and staff. “The ugly thing about it was that any charity could have been attacked that way,” said one close observer familiar with situation.
“The Salvo’s obviously raise a lot of money in fundraising appeals and they spend a lot to collect the funds, in advertising, mail costs, staff and what not. The criticism some in the press made of Peters was that he was miraculously expected to raise funds without incurring costs. It’s good the authorities finally saw through all the bulldust”, he said.