ACNC Issues Direction to RSL National
20 February 2018 at 4:59 pm
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission will work with RSL National to restore confidence and “rectify serious governance failures” uncovered by a recent high-level inquiry.
On Monday last week, the NSW state government released a report from former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin, following a year-long independent inquiry into the fundraising activities of RSL NSW, RSL Welfare and Benevolent Institution and RSL LifeCare.
It found that former NSW RSL president Don Rowe spent $465,376 on his RSL credit card between 2009 and 2014, and allowed his son to stay rent-free in RSL-owned accommodation in Sydney for seven years.
“The integrity of each of RSL NSW, RSL WBI and RSL LifeCare has been compromised by a combination of sheer ineptitude and cronyism and in the case of RSL NSW, disreputable conduct of the long serving president, Mr Rowe,” the report said.
In wake of the report and the ACNC’s own investigation, the charities regulator has issued a direction to the RSL National board.
ACNC commissioner Dr Gary Johns, said that the charity needed to regain trust and repair serious governance and accountability issues.
“Unfortunately, poor governance practices and misconduct have been far too common in the past, and this has damaged the reputation of one of Australia’s most well-known charities,” Johns said.
“For decades RSLs have provided vital services and support to servicemen and women, and their families. However, they cannot do this important work without the support of their members and donors.
“The RSLs must now improve their governance and accountability, to regain trust and ensure our veterans and their families are getting the best possible support and care.”
Johns said the direction required RSL National to take action to “address the non-compliance with the ACNC’s Governance Standards, including a review of the charity’s board and governance practices”.
“The ACNC has worked closely with representatives of RSL SA, RSL NSW, RSL LifeCare, RSL QLD and RSL National over an extended period,” Johns said.
“There has been a genuine commitment shown by the charities to put policies and procedures in place to ensure that these issues are resolved, and are not repeated in future.”
In a statement, RSL National acknowledged a need to “review and transform internal governance and compliance policies and processes in some areas of the organisation”.
RSL National said they conducted their own investigation into the conduct of RSL NSW in October 2016 and supported the evidence presented to the Bergin inquiry.
The organisation also acknowledged the directions order issued by the ACNC.
“The notice of directions order includes a review of the current governance and compliance arrangements and financial management policies that underpin the RSL National board,” the statement said.
“The review will be conducted by an independent governance expert who specialises in not-for-profit governance and compliance arrangements. It is expected that the review will take up to four months to complete.
“The ACNC will be overseeing the progress of the review and closely monitoring the project milestones as they are being facilitated by the independent governance expert in collaboration with the RSL National CEO.”
The completion of the review will deliver a “comprehensive action plan” for RSL National directors, which will allow the organisation to meet all ACNC’s regulations under the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Act 2012.
An ACNC spokesperson told Pro Bono News that RSL National will have to ensure its action plan is submitted to the commissioner for approval within four months.
“As per the direction, RSL National is required to engage a governance expert – the charity then has four months from the date of engaging a governance expert to complete a review of its board and governance, and submit an action plan to address the identified areas of concern,” the spokesperson said.
“The action plan is submitted to the ACNC, for approval by the commissioner.”
The ACNC spokesperson added that a failure to comply could result in “formal warnings, injunctions, suspension or removal of board members, and revocation of charity status” for RSL National.