RSL broadens inquiry into allegations of financial misbehaviour in NSW hierarchy

Former NSW RSL president Don Rowe at Sydney’s Hyde Park war memorial. Photo: Ben Rushton The RSL has widened the scope of investigations into alleged financial misconduct that flourished for years in the league’s NSW leadership.

Reeling from revelations that a string of state councillors accepted unauthorised “consultancy fees” from nursing home provider RSL LifeCare and former NSW RSL president Don Rowe withdrew more than $200,000 in cash on his RSL credit card, the national body wants to throw the spotlight on all financial dealings from 2004 onwards.

“We are broadening the internal investigation to ensure we fully investigate all of the allegations of financial misconduct by some RSL NSW council members,” acting RSL national president Robert Dick said on Wednesday.

NSW RSL has agreed to form a board of inquiry to investigate the use of expenses, LifeCare consultancy fees and the funnelling of donations from sub-branches and the women’s auxiliaries to LifeCare – all concerning aspects of an initial forensic audit by advisory firm KordaMentha.

The board of inquiry will now be presided over by a former High Court, Federal Court or State Supreme Court judge appointed by the national RSL, Mr Dick said.

It will also be assisted by legal counsel to be announced early in the new year.

“The board of inquiry will identify the nature and extent of all the payments made to the individuals specified in the initial KordaMentha report; and investigate the influence those individuals had over decisions for payments or donations made by the district council and sub-branches to RSL LifeCare,” Mr Dick said.

“It will also investigate the circumstances surrounding Don Rowe’s resignation and the alleged misuse of expenses.”

NSW Veterans Affairs Minister David Elliott last week referred allegations against Mr Rowe, including that he withdrew $200,000 in cash from an RSL credit card and provided five family members with mobile phones paid for by the league, to police.

KordaMentha found Mr Rowe and former national president Rod White were among NSW state councillors who received $2.5 million in consultancy fees from RSL LifeCare without the needed permission of the state government under charities laws.

Councillors Bill Humphreys and Bob Crosthwaite, who were also RSL LifeCare directors when the payments were made, have refused to stand aside but have been relieved of all committee duties for the time being.

Mr White has refused to explain any of his actions despite repeated requests for information from KordaMentha.

The initial audit revealed Mr Rowe and Mr White had both used their positions within the RSL to steer donations from other, needier parts of the organisation towards RSL LifeCare while they were receiving consultancy fees.

The board of inquiry will commence hearings soon after KordaMentha submits its next report in about March next year.

Mr Dick said: “We will work in unison with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) and other government agencies who are currently conducting their own investigations into these matters.”

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