News State NSW News Ex-RSL NSW boss admits to spending $475,000 on corporate credit card

Ex-RSL NSW boss admits to spending $475,000 on corporate credit card

Former RSL NSW president Don Rowe
Don Rowe resigned as NSW RSL president in 2014, citing his ill-health. Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Bidgee
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The former boss of the NSW RSL has admitted spending the charity’s funds on his mortgage as well as family phone bills, flights, meals and accommodation in his presidential suite at a Sydney hotel.

Don Rowe headed the NSW-based veterans’ support arm from 2003 until he stepped down in late 2014, for reasons at the time attributed to ill health.

In fact, he was given an ultimatum by the then-national RSL treasurer Rob White to either quit or face an audit into his expenses.

The revelations were aired in Sydney on Monday during a public inquiry set up by the NSW government under the Charitable Fundraising Act.

It follows an auditor’s report last year that found Mr Rowe used his corporate credit card to pay roughly $38,000 in phone bills and withdraw $200,000 cash during his 11-year reign as president.

As president, Mr Rowe received a $20,000 annual car allowance, which he used a portion of to pay off his house mortgage, he told the inquiry.

He also used the corporate credit card to pay for family members’ telephone bills, plane tickets and at least on one occasion, paid for his children to stay in his presidential suite at a city hotel.

“It was indicated to me the unit is available for me at the Hyde Park Inn and for my use as I saw fit,” Mr Rowe said.

Mr Rowe, who lives in Armidale, also used the credit card to pay for his daily living expenses in Sydney and one year spent $568.96 at Coles for Christmas shopping.

While president, Mr Rowe received two pensions, but failed to declare the RSL funds he was using as income to Centrelink, the inquiry heard.

He still receives the two pensions, which are worth about $2000 a fortnight.

During his presidency, Mr Rowe was also a director of NSW RSL’s aged care arm LifeCare, which he spent about three to four hours a week working on.

In 2007 LifeCare’s directors – including Mr Rowe – voted in favour of paying themselves consultancy fees.

The fees started at $18,000 per year and by June 2016, all directors were receiving between $34,303 and $57,172 per year.

The increases were approved by the directors themselves, but Mr Rowe didn’t see a problem with it at the time.

“During my period of tenure, I failed to recognise the conflict of interest,” he told the inquiry.

Mr Rowe apologised for his role in the failure of NSW RSL, LifeCare and the RSL Welfare Benevolent Institution to comply with the charitable fundraising act and admitted the buck stopped with him.

“We’ve had a big stuff-up to be honest and I’m to blame in my position as state president,” he said.

“I certainly apologise for my own shortfallings as state president, I don’t blame anyone else.”

The inquiry continues on Wednesday.