RSL scandal a ‘wake up call’, state president tells Illawarra members

Have faith: RSL NSW president John Haine fronted a meeting of Illawarra and South Coast sub-branch members on Thursday to reassure them the state council was taking action. Picture: Adam McLean.

Have faith: RSL NSW president John Haine fronted a meeting of Illawarra and South Coast sub-branch members on Thursday to reassure them the state council was taking action. Picture: Adam McLean.

The leadership of the RSL in NSW has moved to reassure its Illawarra and South Coast sub-branches in the wake of a consultancy payments scandal that has been engulfing the organisation. 

State president John Haines fronted about 40 delegates and sub-branch members at Wollongong’s City Diggers on Thursday morning. saying the controversy had been a “wake up call” for the organisation.

Earlier this month, the RSL’s national president Rod White stood aside amid claims a number of senior figures shared more than $2 million in consultancy fees from aged care provider RSL LifeCare since 2007, without properly declaring the payments.

NSW treasurer Bill Hardman and state councillor Don Rowe have also stood aside or quit.

All have denied any wrong-doing, and an investigation is underway.

However, two other state councillors last week quit the NSW council due to their frustration over a lack of action. Further, the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission (ACNC) has threatened to strip RSL NSW of its charity status if it finds evidence the rules have been broken.

In Wollongong, Mr Haines was keen to reassure members that the remaining leadership was taking action.

And despite reports of other sub-branches threatening to spill the leadership ahead of next year’s state congress, the president said he was confident of support from Illawarra sub-branches.

“We want to say to members, have faith, trust us, we’re going through a very difficult process that has been thrust upon us and we can work it through,” Mr Haines said.

“But if we sit back and decide not to do anything, we’re fools – we realise that – and we know changes are needed for the future of the RSL.”

If we sit back and decide not to do anything, we’re fools – we realise that. - RSL NSW president John Haines

President of the Wollongong RSL sub-branch Peter Poulton commended the state council’s “open and transparent process” and urged local members to reserve judgement about the payment allegations.

“Our members are fully briefed on what’s happening, they’re quite cognizant of the facts now and are just going to wait for due process,” he said.

He said comments about sacking the state executive were “ludicrous and stupid” as allegations conduct had not been proven.

Clarification

In an earlier version of this story, it was stated that state councillor Don Rowe had stood aside "in recent weeks".

However, Mr Rowe stepped down from his role as president in 2014 due to ill health.

In recent weeks, the RSL has been engulfed in a crisis amid allegations he and other senior figures shared in more than $2 million in consultancy fees from aged care provider RSL LifeCare since 2007, without properly declaring the payments.

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