RSL Queensland takes steps to fix governance issues
21 May 2019 at 4:13 pm
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission has cancelled compliance action that threatened to strip RSL Queensland of its charity status after the organisation took steps to improve its governance standards.
RSL Queensland announced on Tuesday the ACNC had decided to revoke a direction – issued in May 2018 – which compelled the organisation to engage a governance expert and conduct a review of the board’s performance or face regulatory sanctions.
This followed an ACNC investigation which uncovered serious governance failures within the charity around financial and operational matters.
In a letter to RSL Queensland, the ACNC said it was now satisfied the organisation had complied with its direction and taken steps to modernise its governance structures and compliance processes.
RSL Queensland CEO Luke Traini said the charity had worked collaboratively with the ACNC to make a range of improvements to meet its compliance and legal obligations.
“The changes we have made to date – and are continuing to make – will help us meet the high standard our supporters rightfully expect,” Traini said.
“The final step in becoming a strong, resilient organisation able to fully meet these standards is the adoption of a new RSL Queensland constitution at our AGM in June.”
Tony Ferris, the president of RSL Queensland, said the organisation never lost sight of supporting the close to 200,000 current and former service people across the state.
“Our staff, directors and volunteers have worked incredibly hard over the past 12 months to ensure RSL Queensland is more accountable and transparent,” Ferris said.
“We look forward to moving forward with renewed energy and purpose to rebuild the integrity of the RSL and meet the needs of our defence family now and into the future.”
Concerns were originally raised about RSL Queensland after it emerged the charity owed the Australian Tax Office more than $312,000 in fringe benefits tax liability.
An ACNC investigation found RSL Queensland directors were being given money for “out-of-pocket expenses” without any policy, guidance or governance around reporting of the funds.
ACNC commissioner Dr Gary Johns confirmed to Pro Bono News that RSL Queensland had met the terms of the direction and it was no longer in effect.
Failure to comply with the direction could have led the ACNC to suspend or remove board members, and ultimately, revoke the organisation’s charity status.
“The ACNC acknowledges the significant efforts of RSL Queensland’s board and management team in implementing the actions set out in the direction and broader reforms to improve its governance,” Johns said.
“I encourage the charity’s board to maintain the commitment and momentum demonstrated throughout this process.
“Maintaining a strong and resilient organisation will ensure RSL Queensland can continue to deliver critical support to veterans and their families.”
The ACNC has worked with a number of RSL charities to rectify serious governance failures and restore confidence in recent years, including RSL National, which was issued a direction’s notice last year by the commission.
This followed a year-long independent inquiry which found 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.