(image via Days of the Year)
Fundraising activities of the RSL will be subject to a Royal Commission style inquiry which will have wide-ranging powers to compel witnesses and seize evidence, the NSW state government has announced.
In a joint statement, NSW Minster for Innovation and Better Regulation Matt Kean and Veterans Affairs Minister David Elliot announced that Supreme Court Justice Patricia Bergin SC had been appointed to head an inquiry under the Charitable Fundraising Act which will examine all facets of the NSW RSL’s financial activities connected to their charitable groups.
Kean says the inquiry follows questions about the expenditure of funds raised and held by RSL NSW, RSL LifeCare and the RSL Welfare and Benevolent Institution (DefenceCare) – each of which holds an authority to conduct fundraising activities under the Charitable Fundraising Act.
He said the inquiry would have the necessary powers to conduct a swift and thorough investigation.
“We will get to the bottom of these allegations once and for all,” Kean said.
“These are serious complaints and the fact that they’ve allegedly been committed in the name of one of our oldest and most respected institutions is totally unacceptable.
“We want to clean up the mess and make sure it never happens again.”
Stressing that he had already foreshadowed changes to the NSW RSL legislation to provide greater financial oversight including an annual report to Parliament, Minister for Veterans Affairs David Elliot welcomed the investigation.
“I am completely fed-up. Based on the emails, letters and conversations I have with veterans around NSW as well as their sub-branches there is overwhelming support for the Government to intervene,” Elliott said.
“It is heartbreaking to see the NSW RSL trashed in such a way and this is an opportunity to restore public confidence in this iconic organisation.”
The latest announcement follows preliminary findings in a report release by KordaMentha in December last year, which found a number of financial irregularities.
In particular, it found that current RSL National and former RSL NSW State President and former State Honary Treasurer Rod White had received ‘consultancy fees’ from at least 2004 to 2016 from RSL LifeCare despite being a director on the board of that organisations.
Although NSW law prohibits directors of not-for-profit organisations from consultancy work for which they are remunerated without approval from the relevant minister, such approval did not appear to have been granted.
Already, the allegations have already sparked a NSW police fraud investigation and an inquiry by Australia’s charities watchdog, the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission.
The announcement also comes a fortnight after the sacking of RSL NSW chief executive officer Glenn Kolomeitz, who blew the whistle on the alleged frauds.