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RSL's "no comment" on national regulator 'investigation'

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The embattled state branch of the Returned and Services League has refused to confirm whether it is under investigation by the national regulator of Australian charities and not-for-profits.

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It was reported last week that the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission had opened formal inquiries into every state and territory branch of the RSL, in response to a range of reports around mismanagement and financial problems.

A national ABC radio report suggested the New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australian branches were all “under specific scrutiny”, with other branches the subject of a more general review.

But RSL SA president Tim Hanna said today there was “nothing to report” on any ACNC investigation.

Asked whether he was denying such an investigation was taking place, he said: “I’m not making any comment… I have nothing to report.”

“I’ve got nothing to comment on with regard to that particular article.”

InDaily has revealed a range of troubled investments that have led to what the SA branch describes as “cash flow” problems, which has prompted an independent audit ordered by the RSL’s national office, after it was approached for a lifeline.

Hanna said he was “still waiting for word from National” as to when the draft audit report would be handed down.

The RSL’s National CEO Georgie Macris did not respond to specific inquiries about whether the SA branch was under ACNC investigation.

An ACNC spokeswoman told InDaily that secrecy provisions in the commission’s act “restrict what the ACNC can say publicly in regards to charity compliance activity”.

“Generally speaking, the ACNC is only able to confirm compliance activity if it is has been completed and the ACNC has taken action against the charity,” it said in a statement.

“The ACNC takes all concerns seriously, and where there are serious allegations of misconduct and mismanagement we will investigate.”

The statement said the commission took “a proportionate approach to compliance” and “where we find minor governance issues or honest mistakes, we will work with the charity to correct these issues”.

However, “in instances where we find fraud, private benefit, or deliberate breaches of the ACNC Act or governance standards, we will take firm action to protect the charitable assets, the public, and the beneficiaries”.

The ACNC directed inquiries about specific investigations to the relevant branch of the RSL. Each RSL branch is registered with the ACNC as a separate entity.

In November, RSL National confirmed publicly the ACNC had written to the NSW branch seeking information following revelations of a series of scandals, including that former NSW president Don Rowe spent $475,000 on his corporate credit card over six years, including $213,000 in cash withdrawals and that several directors had paid themselves consultancy fees for sitting on the board of the RSL’s aged care wing, RSL LifeCare.

In February, the RSL’s Queensland CEO Luke Traini also confirmed the ACNC had contacted that branch to open an investigation.

The SA branch has seen several board members depart in recent weeks.

One of them, former Liberal MP Ivan Venning, told InDaily he was not aware of an ACNC investigation when he left a month ago, but insisted the issues plaguing the SA branch were separate to those in NSW.

InDaily has been told the ACNC has been directly contacted by RSL members with complaints about the SA branch.

The commission can impose a range of measures depending on its findings, from formal warnings and directions to suspension or removal of responsible persons and even revocation of charity status.

The latter is its most severe enforcement power and strips an organisation of its entitlement to access Commonwealth charity tax concessions.

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