The moment Gerroa's Glenn Kolomeitz knew something was amiss within NSW RSL

Glenn Kolomeitz says he'll continue to support veterans and their families, despite being sacked as RSL NSW's chief executive. Picture: Adam McLean
Glenn Kolomeitz says he'll continue to support veterans and their families, despite being sacked as RSL NSW's chief executive. Picture: Adam McLean

Gerroa's Glenn Kolomeitz was sacked as the RSL NSW boss after launching multiple investigations into the league. The veteran tells ANDREW PEARSON of his frustration at not being able to finish what he started.

Glenn Kolomeitz says a royal commission-style inquiry into the NSW RSL, the organisation he led for about 20 months before being sacked, is a “watershed moment”. 

The inquiry, announced this week, will be remembered in years to come as the moment when the doors to Anzac House – the league’s Sydney CBD headquarters – were opened, Mr Kolomeitz says.

Glenn Kolomeitz, a lawyer and former soldier who served in Afghanistan and East Timor, on deployment (left and below) and in his office in 2013 ahead of contesting a seat in the Senate (above).

Glenn Kolomeitz, a lawyer and former soldier who served in Afghanistan and East Timor, on deployment (left and below) and in his office in 2013 ahead of contesting a seat in the Senate (above).

The moment its books were opened to public scrutiny and the moment the “healing process” could begin.  

Mr Kolomeitz, a lawyer and former soldier who served in East Timor and Afghanistan, took over as RSL NSW state secretary and chief executive in August 2015.

He ordered a forensic audit into the league’s spending in September, which rapidly spread and sparked other probes that have ensnared the national president Rod White – who stood aside – and former NSW president Don Rowe. Mr Kolomeitz, 49, was terminated as chief executive in late April. 

PEARSON: You’ve been pivotal in uncovering allegations of fraud and misconduct. Is there a sense of satisfaction that you’ve achieved the inquiry, even though you’re no longer the CEO?   

KOLOMEITZ: I’m frustrated that I didn’t get to finish what I started.

My intention when taking the job was to get in there and, yes, fix the financial and company structures, and grow the organisation and do the whole strategic CEO piece.

But I didn’t realise the depth of the governance problems I’d have to start fixing.

So, having started to fix the governance issues and to fix the company structural issues, it's disappointing that I won’t necessarily get to see that through. I haven’t disappeared from the scene, so I certainly would look at any options to be able to contribute to those reforms in the future.

You ordered a forensic audit early in your CEO tenure. Is there a moment you first got a sense something was wrong?

The actual trigger for that was that we received a letter from a group at Granville calling themselves the ‘Granville Coalition Against RSL Corruption’, or something.

This letter was sent around to all the CEOs of the state branches … about [NSW president] John Haines taking payment for his voluntary services. I received that letter, tabled it in the boardroom, and next thing all hell broke loose.

Some of the comments were ‘we’ve got enough dirt on all of them, we’ll show them’.

That was the trigger, that plus all the other stuff I’d been hearing about Don Rowe and all the stuff I’d been seeing in the books, in the finances. I went ‘nuh, no more’.   

I demanded the forensic audit at that point going back the statutory period, a seven-year period, into all state councillor expenditure and the executive expenditure.

What are some of the things you found?   

The sense of entitlement was incredible. That sending of the executives and their wives to Thailand [to visit the factory that was making their blazers] was disgraceful.

As part of the internal compliance measures that was stopped, but that doesn’t mean it was OK for it even to have happened.

There was also the other one, the beer cards [giving $500 beer cards to each member when they renewed their membership].

I spoke at the sub-branch [giving the beer card]. A member got up and said … ‘I fought at Long Tan and you took away me beer card’. That really just took the wind out of me. I said ‘damn right I did’ and moved on to the next question because that culture of entitlement expressed in that one point made to me … was just disgraceful.

There’s other examples. I know St Mary’s sub-branch is ... trying to raise money for another Australian memorial at Pozieres.

There’s already, I think, three Australian memorials at Pozieres and they want another one - that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be going to veterans and their families’ welfare.

Now more than ever is that money needed to support veterans and their families?

You only have to look at these figures; 41 fallen in Afghanistan, 28 young veterans suicides this year alone. Now that’s 28 suicides which I say are entirely preventable. The services are there and we have to fund them.

Maroubra sub-branch are sitting on $28 million from the sale of an asset on my watch; that’s $1 million per young veteran who has taken his life this year alone.

How far would that $1 million per young veteran go to preventing these veteran suicides? I can’t overemphasise that point.

It kills me to see these extravagances and the money going to utter nonsense when by law it’s supposed to be going to our charitable purpose and that charitable purpose is saving these young veterans’ lives and looking after their families.

Do you think there’s a sense some of those branches feel like everyone’s been tarred with the same brush? We’re hearing there’s a reluctance in the community to support the organisation because of what’s happening at head office?

We have some very hardworking sub-branches in the Illawarra. I’ve seen the documented evidence of the money they raise and the work they do.

Nowra is a hardworking sub-branch, entirely focused on mission but, yes, their collections are being impacted by this damage that started at the top.

As they say, the fish rots from the head. It certainly has rotted from the head and that is flowing down to the tail of the fish, which is the little sub-branches out there trying to do the right thing, trying to raise money for our charitable purpose.

Having said that, there is a sub-branch [in the Illawarra] which, and I know this for a fact, will be out there collecting money, selling badges and things around the appeals periods but making sure they take their lunch entitlements.

So even if they only sold $40 worth of badges, they’ll still take their $50 lunch entitlement. Even that sense of entitlement is not good enough ... that is absolutely false economy and it’s losing sight of the mission.   

Back to head office, can you describe the culture of RSL NSW’s state council?  

Very much a culture of entitlement. More a culture, I think, of ‘look at us, we’re at the pinnacle of this organisation, we’re the state councillors, look at all our medals, let’s go for a march and strut around at the head of the march wearing our medals’.  

It’s sad because it’s like they’ve lost sight of the mission, the welfare focus, and are more focused on strutting around in medals at the head of marches because, again, this is a culture of superiority or something.

When you were sacked, was there the sense your work wasn’t done yet?

A number of quite senior people in the league said that I’d achieved a lot more in my first six months than any previous CEOs had achieved in their tenures.

I had put in a lot of initiatives, a lot of programs and started fixing the company structures, the finances and the rest of it, so I wasn’t finished and I’d hate to see things revert back to business as usual.

Is there still more to be uncovered? Is this just the beginning?

There’s more to be uncovered. There’s a lot more to be found in that organisation and it goes back decades. I have no doubt.

How much are you talking?