The national charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), has taken compliance action against two RSL charities - RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare.
ACNC Assistant Commissioner, David Locke, announced that the ACNC had entered into enforceable undertakings with both charities to address significant governance failures. This followed separate investigations into the charities’ activities and operations.
“Over the last nine months we have made public statements regarding compliance action against registered charities under the RSL umbrella,” Mr Locke said.
“Today’s announcement of enforceable undertakings with both RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare follows lengthy, in-depth, investigations into the activities and operations of the two charities.
“We commenced our investigations into these charities in 2016, and they remained open to ensure the findings of the NSW State Government’s Bergin Inquiry were taken into account.”
The ACNC provided substantial evidence to the Inquiry, which was launched in August 2017.
Assistant Commissioner Locke confirmed that the investigations into both charities had highlighted significant governance issues.
“Governance failures occurred at the highest levels of these charities,” Mr Locke said.
“We have presented our concerns to the charities, and have worked with them to set out the measures we feel they must take. To their credit, both charities have cooperated fully with the ACNC and have acknowledged their failings.
“However, both charities must now demonstrate improved governance to remain registered with the ACNC. These enforceable undertakings outline exactly what RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare need to do, and by when.”
Assistant Commissioner Locke said that RSLs play a vital role in our community.
"For decades, charities associated with the RSL movement have provided services and support to servicemen and women, and their families,” Mr Locke said.
“However, they cannot do this important work without the support of their members and donors.
"RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare must now demonstrate improved governance and accountability to regain trust, and to ensure our veterans and their families are getting the best possible support and care."
The enforceable undertaking between the ACNC and RSL NSW is in response to serious issues the ACNC identified during its investigation into the charity’s governance, specifically:
- The misuse of charity funds by now-former State President, Mr Don Rowe.
- The now-former State Council’s failure to properly investigate the misuse of funds or to report the allegations to police.
- The now-former State Council’s misleading statements regarding the circumstances of the former State President’s resignation.
RSL NSW is already working to address the ACNC’s concerns. As part of the enforceable undertaking, the charity has committed to 15 measures to demonstrate improved governance, transparency, and financial management.
The enforceable undertaking between the ACNC and RSL LifeCare is also in response to serious issues the ACNC identified during its investigation into the charity’s governance, specifically:
- The charity’s directors approving and receiving remuneration and allowances, in breach of their obligations to the charity.
- The charity’s funds being used to pay for directors, staff and others, to attend functions linked to the Liberal Party of Australia without consideration as to whether attendance was compatible with RSL LifeCare’s charitable purposes.
- Non-compliance with the charity’s fundraising authority under the NSW state Fundraising Act.
RSL LifeCare has already taken significant steps to address its governance failures. As part of the enforceable undertaking, the charity has committed to four measures that demonstrate improved board governance. These include addressing issues relating to board remuneration and risk management, as well as adherence to its Political Advocacy Policy.
Both the enforceable undertakings cover a three-year period. RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare must provide quarterly reports to the ACNC on their compliance with their respective agreements during the first 12 months, and then provide annual reports for the two years after that.
ACNC Media Contact:
firstname.lastname@example.org or 0466 089 108
All ACNC compliance decisions – acnc.gov.au/compliancedecisions
ACNC Governance Standards – acnc.gov.au/governancestandards
NSW State Government Bergin Inquiry - report findings
NSW fundraising legislation - Charitable Fundraising Act 1991
ACNC compliance powers:
The ACNC’s compliance powers include providing regulatory advice, enforceable undertakings, directions, suspending or removing board members, and ultimately, revoking charity status.
Revocation of charity status removes an organisation’s entitlement to access Commonwealth charity tax concessions.