24 May 2017

ABC News: – 24 May 2017

The besieged New South Wales branch of the RSL has a new president after Malcolm Turnbull’s son-in-law, James Brown, was elected to replace John Haines.

Today’s election came after months of allegations of financial misconduct at the top of the organisation.

Mr Brown, 36, is an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran.

download 55

“I’m very humbled to be chosen by the membership today. There’s a clear desire amongst the membership — 38,000 members, 360 sub-branches — to have younger branches contributing,” he told Lateline.

The New South Wales Government and the RSL’s national branch had called for the existing council, including Mr Haines, to stand down while investigations are carried out.

Despite that, the council ran again for election today and five existing councillors were re-elected, along with several younger veterans. 

In March, NSW Minister for Veteran’s Affairs David Elliott called for senior members of the NSW RSL not to take part in any official Anzac Day duties.

However, Mr Haines defied that request and laid a wreath during the dawn service at Martin Place.

Police, the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, NSW Fair Trading and Attorney-General’s departments are investigating the NSW branch over claims of fraud, misappropriation of funds, profiteering and cover-up, in some cases going back a decade.

New boss to push for diversity

Mr Brown was elected overwhelmingly 138 votes to 102.
“We’ve seen today a number of young veterans being elected — we’ve also seen a woman elected to the state council for the first time in
quite a while,” Mr Brown told Lateline.

Former Commando Mick Bainbridge was elected to the board at the age of 32.
“The average age of the RSL membership in NSW is 69 — the membership of the State Council has been older than that,” Mr Brown said.
“The new State Council is going to have a good mix of experience and energy.”

Mr Brown is the fourth state president in three years and some would ask why he wants the job.
“It’s important. I think I’m going to be spending a bit of time in the coming months getting up to speed on what the organisation’s been doing and the extent of our problems,” he said.

“This is a 100-year-old organisation … No-one can do what we do. No organisation has the reach, the goodwill and the thousands of volunteers that we have.”

The new president is going to have to get to the bottom of where the RSL’s money has been spent.

The State Congress has not been presented with annual audited financial accounts. Mr Brown has promised transparency will be the order of the day as will be diversity.

“Traditionally we’ve had an image as a boys’ club. We’ve got to make sure there are no barriers to anyone joining our organisation,” he said.

See the ABC Lateline interview here starting at the 16th minute