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RSL inquiry recommends police referrals, sweeping charity reforms

Monday, 12th February, 2018

Former NSW RSL president Don Rowe admitted using his RSL credit card for day-to-day living expenses. Photo: Peter Rae

FORMER RSL NSW president Don Rowe should be referred to police over his misuse of league credit cards and 13 other directors referred to charity watchdogs for covering up the expenses scandal, a high-level inquiry has found.

The inquiry also recommended that eight board members and executives of the veterans' league’s aged care arm should be referred to the watchdog over payments made to some voluntary board members that appeared to breach charities regulations.

The inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin, SC, has also called for sweeping reform of fundraising regulations to make charities such as the RSL more accountable for how they spend money collected from the public.

The report comes 18 months after Fairfax Media first reported concerns within the veterans' league over the way some board members were spending allowances.

The NSW government was scathing when it released the report in Sydney on Monday.

Minister for Better Regulation, Matt Kean, said the 547-page report detailed the “corruption and cronyism which led the NSW RSL to the brink of destruction”, and included “forensic analysis of the shameful events which represent the darkest days in one of our most loved institutions”.

“The report details the shameful and disgraceful behaviour of former president Don Rowe and the culture which allowed him to get away with it," Mr Keen said. “It also highlights appalling business practices, shocking oversight and leadership which can only be described at best as being utterly inept."

Mr Keen said the state league now had the opportunity of a “new beginning" under president James Brown, a former Army officer who the inquiry singled out for praise.

The state league was rocked in late 2016 by revelations Mr Rowe spent $475,000 on a corporate credit card over a six-year period, including $213,000 in cash withdrawals.

Some board members, including Mr Rowe and former national RSL president Rod White, received tens of thousands of dollars a year in "consulting fees" from the league's aged care arm, RSL LifeCare.

The NSW government has already referred some material on Mr Rowe to the police after an investigation by audit firm KordaMentha.

The inquiry's recommendation that its report, plus months of testimony and thousands of pages in documentary evidence, be also referred to police will likely provide momentum to any investigation.

More to come.


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