RSL NSW President Update: 17 October 2018

17-Oct-2018

Fellow members of the League,

Writing in 1927, RSL leaders reflected on the accomplishments of the first decade of the League and wrote, “the work of the League will not have been completed until the last time-worn veteran is laid to rest, and, even then, it is our fond hope that our sons and grandsons will have taken up the cudgels, and will, in treasuring and fostering the traditions handed down to them, complete the task, and attain in full the ideals which the League has visualised, but which in the relatively few years left to us, cannot be as fully realised as we would desire.”

Then, as now, our league was focused on being fit to fight for veterans and their families long into the future. Then, as now, there were different opinions the League should progress.

Member feedback on the constitution

I’ve spent the past month on the road visiting members of the League around the state. We’ve held member feedback sessions in Wagga Wagga, Moss Vale, Goulburn, Queanbeyan, Singleton, Newcastle, Taree, Port Macquarie, Orange, Sawtell, Wollongong, Nowra, and Moruya. Thanks to all of these sub-Branches for their warm hospitality. We’ve also conducted several member feedback sessions from our new ANZAC House on Regimental Square in the Sydney CBD.

I want to pay tribute to the members of the member consultation review panel. We put out the call a few months back for any member to join this group and accepted all 30 nominations to it. The group have been testing and refining the ideas which have been incorporated in the first draft of the constitution, and have been an invaluable source of advice. The panel includes members from the country and the city, as well as qualified lawyers, and together represent many decades of experience within the League. Thank you for your help and your hard work.

I’ve spoken with close to a thousand league members and heard their feedback, concerns, and ideas about this constitutional process. I hear that we are moving more quickly than most members would like, particularly given that we are catching up on over 50 years of overdue reform to our founding governance document. I hear that members want more detail before they sign up to such a significant change to the way the League operates. But I also hear that members accept the need for major reform, not just because of the expenses scandal of the past year, but because we can and must lift our ability to deliver excellent welfare to veterans and their families who need it – regardless of age, service, or type of military experience.

We are incorporating all of the feedback you have given into a second draft of the constitution which will be presented to members in early November, for their decision at the extraordinary congress in December. You should expect to receive the following in early November:

  • An agenda for the extraordinary congress with motions listed
  • The recommended draft constitution
  • Appendices to the constitution, and detail on how model A and B sub-Branches will work
  • A budget to support motions regarding financial levies
  • A recommendation on board remuneration prepared by an independent expert consultant

In the next month, I will provide you with more information on a few key issues which have been raised during member feedback sessions, including:

  • What RSL DefenceCare does and how it fits within the League
  • The relationship between RSL NSW and RSL National
  • What work has been done to fix up State Branch
  • Issue at a sub-Branch level to do with governance and compliance

We are running member feedback sessions most Wednesdays at Anzac House, I will travel to the North West of the state later this month, and I will also conduct a Facebook Live, open Q&A session on the 7th of November.

You will have seen some critical feedback circulating in emails from a few members. They are of course free to express their views. I wish that they had used the feedback sessions and engaged in fulsome debate and discussion, or had put their hand up to do the hard work in the member constitutional review panel.  My question to these members is what is your vision for the League beyond simply opposing any change? How do we keep the League working for the next 100 years and realise the ideals on which it was founded a century ago?

These are the questions we should all be focussed on and that I urge you to ask of these members.

Auxiliaries

I have had the opportunity to meet with many Auxiliary members and to hear their concerns, particularly around the inability to fundraise. I am delighted that Auxiliaries will be able to take part in the Poppy Day Appeal this year, thanks to a one-off compliance solution our team have been able to secure approval from the NSW Department of Fair Trading. But we have more work to do before Auxiliaries and sub-Branches can resume normal fundraising. In my opinion, it will be very difficult to do this without a new constitution.

Based on consultation with Auxiliary members, we have taken the decision to hire a full time Auxiliaries coordinator. I will be writing to Auxiliaries in the coming weeks to seek their feedback on the way forward. I also want to thank the Auxiliaries who have been engaged in making extraordinary quilts and poppies for the Invictus Games. I look forward to seeing them presented next week.

Invictus Games

The Invictus Games begins this week. Last night, I had the immense honour of representing RSL National and all the RSL state-Branches in presenting competition uniforms to all of the Australian Invictus athletes. Thanks to your support, every Australian team member will wear the RSL badge when they compete next week. Several RSL members are in the team. They will make us proud. You can read my newspaper article on the power of the games here and listen to an ABC Radio interview I did on the impact the games will have on Australia’s veterans by clicking here.

Five of our members will have the honour of presenting medals to winning athletes during the games. They are:

  • Joanna and Ella Turner (Ingleburn sub-Branch) - Joanna Turner is a service member and is the widow of Sgt Ian Turner who served with 2nd Commando Regiment and tragically took his life in 2017. Ella is her 13 year old daughter.
  • Deborah Carter (Pittwater sub-Branch) – Deborah is a former RAAF nurse who takes particular care to look after elderly veterans in her Sub Branch, visiting them when they are sick and making sure that they have everything they need at home.
  • Douglas McLeod (Aberdeen sub-Branch) – Doug served with 1RAR Townsville and deployed to Somalia as radio operator during Operation Solace. He was medically discharged from the ADF and is the President of the newly re-formed Aberdeen sub-Branch.
  • Shirley McLaren (War Vets Village sub-Branch) – Shirley is a service member and was selected for the first WRAAF course when the WRAAF was re-formed on 29 January 1951. She has been a war widow since 24 December 1972 and is a resident of the RSL Lifecare village at Narrabeen.
  • Malcolm Whitney (Roseville sub-Branch) – Malcolm is the sub-Branch Vice President & Trustee and has been a very active member of the League. He served a year in Vietnam during 1967/68 with the Royal Australian Corps of Signals.

I hope you watch our brothers and sisters in arms as they compete on our behalf next week, and standby for a further announcement on the future role RSL will play in encouraging veterans to be involved in sport.

Veterans Policy

Yesterday I met with the Minister for Veterans Affairs Darren Chester, and Shadow Minister Amanda Rishworth. I presented each with a copy of our submissions to the Productivity Commission review into Veterans Compensation and Rehabilitation, as well as our submission to the Cornall review of Veterans Advocacy Services. I also urged them to support the inclusion of a question on the 2021 Census asking about service in the Australian Defence Force. This stunning bureaucratic oversight means veterans are not counted in the most important survey conducted in Australia.  I’m happy to say both MPs have committed to seek the support of their colleagues in resolving this matter, and ensuring veterans are counted on the next Census. Please take up this issue with your local federal MP when you see them next. You can view these submissions here.

Action against former councillors and employees

Many of you raised concerns about the lack of action taken against former councillors and employees regarding the issues during the Justice Bergin Inquiry into the RSL. We have waited eight months for the NSW Police, Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission, and Australian Securities and Investment Commission to complete their inquiries. I wrote to the NSW Police Commissioner last month requesting an update on the criminal investigation surrounding Mr Don Rowe’s expenses.

You will recall that last year we acted to terminate Mr Rowe’s membership of the League. Last week, State Council resolved to issue notices to several members who appeared in front of the Bergin Inquiry, requiring them to show cause why their membership of the League should not be terminated. Holding office within the League is a great responsibility, as is managing charitable money on behalf of veterans and their families in need. We should expect nothing less than the highest standards of conduct and professionalism. The veterans we help deserve nothing less than excellence.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the Games next week and will send updates on a weekly basis between now and congress in December.

James Brown