RSL payments scandal: Local branches turn against NSW leadership

RSL national president Rod White has been stood down. Photo: Jeff de Pasquale James Brown has described the RSL as being in crisis. Photo: Brendan Esposito

The leadership of the RSL in NSW is facing the threat of removal, with a number of sub-branches in the state working to sack the entire state council over its handling of the consultancy payments scandal that has engulfed a number of councillors.

Castle Hill, one of the state’s largest and most influential RSL sub-branches, and more than 20 sub-branches in Newcastle are calling for a special meeting where the state council could be voted out and replaced by either an administrator or an interim leadership made up of three district presidents from around the state.

Fairfax Media has learnt that talk has already turned to a potential new state president, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s son-in-law James Brown, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the names in the frame.

Former Liberal state MP Charlie Lynn, a Vietnam veteran, is also being pushed as a replacement for acting president John Haines if the board is swept aside by the grassroots branches.

Mr Brown, who is married to Mr Turnbull’s daughter Daisy, contested for the presidency in September but came second to Mr Haines in a five-candidate ballot.

Last week, the RSL asked national president Rod White to stand down because of his alleged acceptance of fees during his time as state president, while treasurer Bill Hardman stood aside and councillor Don Rowe quit.

Councillors Bob Crosthwaite and Bill Humphreys have refused to step aside but are barred from all committee duties while investigations into the alleged misuse of funds continues.

In an opinion piece for Fairfax Media last week, Mr Brown described the RSL as being “in crisis”, referring to allegations that state council members appointed to the RSL-owned LifeCare nursing home group shared in $2 million or more “consultancy payments” since 2007, despite LifeCare being a registered charity.

“Restoring the RSL must begin by acknowledging the culture among the organisation’s leaders that has allowed these problems to fester,” he wrote.

“New voices are needed at the very top. It is odd that despite having three very capable women running the RSL’s district councils, none have yet been incorporated into the state leadership. Nor are younger veterans adequately represented.”

Mr Turnbull has mentioned Mr Brown in a number of speeches to veterans, including one at the launch of a veterans’ employment scheme on Thursday.

Mr Brown, who first went to Iraq as a troop commander with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in 2003, did not return calls on Thursday.

David Edmond, president of the RSL Newcastle District Council, which incorporates 24 sub-branches, said anger at the state council was running high.

“A lot of people didn’t know what was going on and it’s not good enough,” he said. “State council has been getting away with blue murder.

“The sub-branches have been made to send all this money to Sydney over the years and we didn’t know what happened to it. Nobody was upfront and now we learn of these allegations.”

To force a special congress and a vote on the fate of the state council, 75 of the state’s 360 sub-branches need to demand one. Mr Edmond said his district would.

Castle Hill sub-branch, whose members include NSW Veterans Affairs Minister David Elliott, has already passed a motion calling for the state council to be removed an administrator appointed.

Castle Hill president Don Tait said he was working to bring on a special congress.

“I’m going to do everything I can to sort this bloody thing out,” he said. “If you think I’m annoyed, you’d be right.”

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