The $2m feud that could close QLD RSL Club by Anzac Day

AN INTERNAL feud over a $2m "paper transaction" may see the Cairns RSL Club forced to close as veterans march by on Anzac Day.

The $2.1m dispute between the Cairns RSL Sub Branch - the veteran welfare organisation - and the RSL Club - the licensed venue - has its roots in a financial agreement 30 years ago, when sub branch trustees provided the money to allow the club to refit in the 1990s after it gained a gaming licence.

Thanks to a controversial loan deed document drafted in 2009, the sub branch has the power to recall the loan, and has demanded payment in full by mid April.

Club general manager Craig Clark said that in the likely event that the club is unable to repay the full amount, it will cease trading as it will be insolvent.

The sticking point is how the original transaction has been interpreted by the new sub branch board.

The club maintains that the "debt was repaid in full to the banks through rent and interest payments from the club."

A club position of statement published on its website claims "signatories to the agreements certified that the agreement was established as a commercially legitimate funding tool for the sub branch/veterans welfare and not a genuine reflection of an indebtedness of the club to the sub branch."

If the dispute is not resolved, it is likely that no gunfire breakfasts, or cold pints, will be served at the club on Anzac Day.

The centre of the Cairns veteran community would have ceased trading.

The Anzac Day 2019 dawn service was held at the cenotaph on Cairns Esplanade. Members of the 51st Battalion and HMAS Cairns at the dawn service. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
The Anzac Day 2019 dawn service was held at the cenotaph on Cairns Esplanade. Members of the 51st Battalion and HMAS Cairns at the dawn service. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

"You have to make the club attractive to make money to deliver services for veterans," Vietnam veteran, former Cairns mayor, and former sub branch board member Kevin Byrne said.

"This is an extraordinary set of circumstances ... Anzac Day would be the busiest time of the year."

He predicted potential members who were turned off by the current dispute.

"This tarnishes the image of the RSL," he said.

Craig Clark said the new sub branch board was intractable despite overtures for mediation.

"Our position has always been to negotiate," Mr Clark said.

"It became a paper transaction and should have been written off.

"That they would do this kind of thing before Anzac Day is staggering."

Although the club had pivoted from COVID and was "trading really well", Mr Clark said it did not have a cool $2.1m handy.

Club director Gail Russell said the dispute had been "extremely upsetting" for the old Diggers who found fellowship at the club.

"We have got nothing to hide," Ms Russell said.

The club has called a special general meeting and is petitioning the sub branch to also call a special meeting to resolve the crisis.

The Cairns RSL Club building on the Cairns Esplanade.
The Cairns RSL Club building on the Cairns Esplanade.

Sub branch president Peter Hayton said any decision ­regarding closure was "one for the club".

"The Cairns RSL Sub Branch board is not willing to breach any loan deed ­confidentiality clause, nor any business in confidence discussions with the club, however, the Cairns RSL Sub Branch, after repeated email requests for clarification to the club, has not been formally advised by the RSL Club Ltd that it will cease to trade," Mr Hayton said.

"Should we be informed that the club has plans to cease operations, then we will, in due course, be seeking a new operator to establish a quality hospitality space that focuses on our defence family."

A spokeswoman for RSL Queensland said the state body did not intervene in matters between district sub-branches and clubs.

Originally published as The $2m feud that could close Cairns RSL Club by Anzac Day



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