The national charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), is working with a number of RSL charities to rectify serious governance failures and restore confidence.
Last week the Bergin Inquiry, headed by former NSW Supreme Court Judge Patricia Bergin SC, published its report into RSL NSW, RSL WBI (known as DefenceCare), and RSL LifeCare.
The ACNC provided information to the Bergin Inquiry, including a submission in October 2017.
ACNC Commissioner, the Hon Dr Gary Johns, said that the ACNC's own investigations, and the Bergin Inquiry, have detailed serious governance and accountability issues.
"Unfortunately, poor governance practices and misconduct have been far too common in the past, and this has damaged the reputation of one of Australia's most well-known charities," Dr Johns said.
"For decades RSLs have provided vital services and support to servicemen and women, and their families. However, they cannot do this important work without the support of their members and donors.
"The RSLs must now improve their governance and accountability, to regain trust and ensure our veterans and their families are getting the best possible support and care."
Commissioner Johns outlined the ACNC's recent compliance action relating to RSLs.
"In August 2017, we completed an investigation into RSL SA, which resulted in the charity entering into a compliance agreement with the ACNC," Dr Johns said.
"We have open investigations into both RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare, and we will progress these now that the Bergin Inquiry has published its findings.
"And today, we are issuing a Direction to RSL National, after our investigation found a number of governance failures.
"The Direction requires RSL National to take specific actions to address the non-compliance with the ACNC's Governance Standards, including a review of the charity's board and governance practices."
Commissioner Johns was encouraged by the new leadership at the RSLs involved.
"The ACNC has worked closely with representatives of RSL SA, RSL NSW, RSL LifeCare, RSL QLD and RSL National over an extended period," Dr Johns said.
"There has been a genuine commitment shown by the charities to put policies and procedures in place to ensure that these issues are resolved, and are not repeated in future."
Commissioner Johns explained that while the ACNC had a range of regulatory powers, these do not extend to fundraising, a key issue raised by the Bergin Inquiry.
"We have a range of compliance powers that we can use against charities," Dr Johns said.
"For example, we are able to suspend or remove current board members, issue warnings and directions, and ultimately revoke charity status.
"Revocation of charity status is the most severe action we can take, and strips an organisation of entitlement to access Commonwealth charity tax concessions.
"Where the ACNC takes compliance action against a charity, we publish the information we can on the Charity Register at acnc.gov.au."
- 23 August 2017 media release: New RSL SA board commits to resolving charity regulator's concerns
- ACNC compliance decisions: acnc.gov.au/compliancedecisions
ACNC media contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0466 089 108
RSL National media contact: 0427 253 392