RSL NSW Fraud Charge Reignites Fix Fundraising Campaign
30 January 2019 at 5:10 pm
The arrest of the ex-RSL NSW president on fraud charges has reignited calls to fix state fundraising laws, as sector experts say the state laws played no role in the regulation of the charity.
Don Rowe was charged on 23 January with two counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, following a two-year investigation by NSW police which uncovered over $238,000 in stolen donations.
An inquiry in 2016 found Rowe had withdrawn $200,000 in cash and spent $475,000 on the corporate credit card to pay for family phone bills, mortgage, flights and meals during his 11-year reign as president, which ended in 2014.
A two-year-long investigation by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) also found the organisation was riddled with widespread misconduct and significant governance failures, which the organisation said have now been cleaned up.
But Sue Woodward, head of Not-for-profit Law – one of the organisations leading the campaign to fix state fundraising laws – said this case was a perfect example of the irrelevance of fundraising laws for catching out charities doing the wrong thing.
“If you look at either end of this case, the criminal areas have been referred to the police and the issues of governance are being dealt with by the ACNC,” Woodward told Pro Bono News.
“It’s not been the state fundraising laws that have come to the rescue and dealt with these problems.”
NFP Law has been working in collaboration with some of Australia’s leading professional and peak bodies to overhaul fundraising regulation for the last two years.
In particular, the coalition is campaigning to strengthen and broaden Australian Consumer Law (ACL), repeal fragmented state and territory fundraising laws, and create a core mandatory code of conduct that supports self-regulation of charities.
Woodward said if state and territory fundraising laws were repealed, it wouldn’t have any impact on whether people such as Rowe were caught out or not.
“It’s not that if we took away state fundraising laws there wouldn’t be anything there, because there are actually layers of regulation to protect charities and the donated dollar,” she said.
While the Fundraising Institute of Australia (FIA) said it couldn’t fully back the #fixfundraising campaign, the organisation’s CEO, Katherine Raskob told Pro Bono News she agreed fundraising legislation didn’t play a part in catching Rowe out.
“As NFP Law noted, there already exist protections in general law such as corporations law and the Crimes Act to deal with serious misconduct, such as this kind of fraud,” Raskob said.
However she said while the FIA supported the intent of the campaign, it was unlikely all states would repeal their own fundraising laws, and even if the Commonwealth set up their ACL model, it would take years to complete.
“We know from direct contact with NSW and Victoria that they have no intention of repealing their laws,” Raskob said.
“The amendment to the ACL could probably not be approved and passed by Parliament until 2020 and framing the proposed national code plus consultation would take longer.”
But she said she welcomed any discussion on fundraising issues.
“Any case that highlights issues with existing fundraising legislation and therefore prompts examination and discussion is relevant in FIA’s view, even to examine the areas of agreement or differences in order to find a better way forward for our members,” she said.
The comments come ahead of the final day of the Senate Inquiry into Charitable Fundraising on Thursday, where several experts including Norman O’Bryan AM SC will appear before the senate.