By Leo D’Angelo Fisher
Transparency does not come naturally to the secretive and at times paranoid RSL Victoria leadership. The murky circumstances surrounding the sudden resignation of CEO Jamie Twidale is just the latest example of the state executive’s nothing-to-see here approach to corporate governance.
Twidale’s resignation was reported in the Herald Sun on Saturday August 21 but was not publicly announced by RSL Victoria.
Instead, state president Robert Webster made do with an internal email to sub-branch presidents, secretaries and managers, dated Monday August 23 and seen by Australian Veteran News, which announced that RSL Victoria had “accepted” Twidale’s resignation, which was “effective immediately”.
“I wish to thank Mr Twidale for his achievements over the past two years, including leading us through the pandemic, ensuring financial stability while also increasing and improving the services we offer to veterans and their families,” Webster wrote.
“In particular, we acknowledge his role in establishing the Veteran Services Directorate and his success in modernising business processes.
“Mr Twidale brought a high level of energy and innovation to the role at a critical time for the RSL and we wish him well in his future endeavours.”
This was a particularly effusive commendation given that Twidale had apparently been “stood down” and was “under investigation”, according to media reports in June. Again, there had been no public announcements regarding Twidale’s position at RSL Victoria, not then or since, and scant information for RSL members.
According to a June 20 report by the ABC, Webster sent an all-staff email on the afternoon of Friday June 18 announcing that “an independent investigation has been commissioned by RSL Victoria into matters regarding the chief executive officer”.
"The results of that investigation are being considered by the state executive and additional steps will be taken in accordance with RSL policy and procedures,” Webster wrote in the email.
"We take any concerns regarding staff behaviour extremely seriously and ensure proper processes are followed."
Webster told the ABC it would be inappropriate to make further comment while the investigation was underway, adding that the RSL was committed to providing “a safe, supportive and inclusive workplace”.
Despite these matters being made public – and especially given the implied seriousness of the matters under investigation – RSL Victoria did not feel compelled to clarify or elaborate exactly what Twidale was being investigated for.
Lack of proper process
In an appalling lack of proper process, it having been leaked that Twidale was under investigation, he was simply left hanging. With details of the investigation remaining a closely guarded secret, a hornet’s nest of rumour and innuendo was cracked open.
It may have been gossip – never lacking in the internecine machinations of RSL politics in Victoria – that gave rise to the secretive investigation in the first place.
According to an Australian Associated Press report in the Canberra Times, Twidale sought to address posts on veterans’ social media forums about his old dating-app profile which had sought "to embarrass me and call my personal qualities into question".
"The content of the profile is fairly benign but there is a very mild fifty shades of grey tinge to it," Twidale said in a pre-emptive email to staff, noting that the profile was from before he became CEO in 2019.
"I have in the past had an open relationship and yes I had a Tinder profile but no longer do. I am neither embarrassed nor ashamed of anything I have done in my personal life."
Whether Twidale’s patronage of a dating app was the matter under investigation is unknown; whether it was or not it is unlikely that his strategic gambit advanced his standing as CEO. He should never have been placed in that situation in the first place. And RSL Victoria’s members deserved more transparency from the outset: if their CEO was under investigation they were entitled to know why, by whom the investigation was being conducted and the terms under which that investigation took place.
RSL Victoria has a history of secretive deliberations. Whether it’s the aborted sale of Vasey RSL Care, the on-again/off-again Anzac Day march or its position on the royal commission into veteran suicide, what goes on behind closed doors stays behind closed doors, and that tends to be for most of its decision-making.
The Twidale affair is just the latest case in point. And true to its secretive and paranoid disposition, Webster’s email to sub-branch presidents announcing Twidale’s resignation carries the warning: “Sub-Branches are not authorised to speak publicly about this matter.”
If members can’t speak about Twidale’s resignation, then Webster should.
Members have a right to know. What were the allegations faced by Twidale? (Could it actually be that his career has been jeopardised on the basis of a dating-app profile?) Was Twidale suspended or was he on leave? (He couldn’t have been both.) What was the nature of the investigation and was it completed? If so, what were its findings? (This is especially relevant given Webster’s glowing tribute.) And, confidential details aside, was there a settlement involved in Twidale’s departure?
It is hard to imagine a clumsier and more hamfisted instance of corporate governance in the not-for-profit sector. Whether Twidale deserved to be investigated we simply do not have enough information to make such an assessment, but there is no doubt that the RSL Victoria state executive should itself be the subject of a rigorous review into its handling of the unedifying Jamie Twidale affair.
Leo D'Angelo Fisher is a regular columnist and Editor-at-Large at Australian Veteran News. Connect with him on Twitter: @DAngeloFisher.