RSL NSW President Update: 20 December 2017


Fellow League Members,

This will be my final update for the year and I want to begin by saying thank you to each and every member of the League for what you have achieved during 2017. It has been an enormously challenging year for the League, but also a very important one. I want to thank you all for the part you have played, your support to State Council, and your work to serve veterans and their families. The League exists because of the goodwill and support of our volunteer members. It has been an honour to lead you this year, and will remain an honour to do so next year.

2018 will be a pivotal year for the League, and for veterans in Australia. The centenary of the World War One armistice and the end of commemorations for the Centenary of Anzac will see the nation focused on remembrance and respect for our military history. The Sydney Invictus Games to be held in October will see the eyes of the world on Australia’s modern day veterans, and will provide a unique opportunity for all veterans’ groups in Australia to unite behind a single and worthy cause. Of course, 2018 will bring challenges for us too; the handing down of the Charitable Fundraising Inquiry report on 1st February and the subsequent conclusion of the ACNC’s investigations.

Last Monday, State Council considered the first strategic directions paper which outlines a vision for how our league will navigate the next three years. That will be revised and refined over the coming weeks and a final version of the strategic directions paper presented to members early in the new year. It is not a strategic plan, there will be several months of work yet to turn this strategic direction paper into a strategic plan, not least of which is working out how to resource what we want to do. And we will also need to be flexible so we can incorporate into our planning the findings from Justice Bergin, the ACNC, and any legislation changes that might affect the RSL. But the important thing is that we have begun planning for the future, and we will share the high-level vision of that with members very soon. The paper does outline necessary reforms to the League’s structure and financial model, but let me take this opportunity to dispel two rumours about our strategic direction: there are no plans to shut down women’s auxiliaries, and no plans to centralise all of the League’s funds.

Yesterday the RSL Custodian board met to process the backlog of work from sub-branches in relation to investments and properties. State Council also considered a number of these issues during its meeting on Monday. We are conscious that some sub-branches have been waiting up to nine months for an answer on important questions. The approach we took was pragmatic and where we could approve business, we did. But much more rigour will be required in the way the League and RSL Custodian deal with property issues. For that reason, State Council resolved on Monday to hire a Property Compliance Manager early in the new year who will be a resource to assist State Council and RSL Custodian to help manage sub-branch property issues. We will issue a State Council Directive early in the new year which outlines the process to be followed for common property transactions and issues that sub-branches have. This will provide close direction on how sub-branches should best handle property issues related, in particular, to registered clubs.

State Council has also resolved to hire new staff to provide dedicated support to sub-branches, as well as a Communications Director – who will commence work in January. This will help us to be more responsive to your correspondence and queries.

In the past month we have been closely focused on working on an improved governance structure for the three entities within the RSL NSW group: that is RSL NSW, RSL WBI (known as RSL DefenceCare), and RSL Lifecare. Those of you who have followed the Bergin Inquiry closely will be aware of the many issues amongst and between those entities in recent years, not least of which is the poor way that conflicts of interest have been handled. RSL NSW and RSL Lifecare have been working closely together to consider how to better align the way we collaborate. We have also been looking at ways that the two organisations can better coordinate their efforts to help veterans. Earlier this month, RSL Lifecare’s board agreed to provide up to $1m in funding to go to direct services for current serving members and their families who are in need of assistance (mainly claims and advocacy support, community support and counselling, bereavement support, emergency financial relief, and RSL Active activities). These services will be provided by RSL NSW, utilising the expertise of RSL DefenceCare staff. This development has taken many hundreds of hours of work, particularly given the need to appropriately handle the related party nature of these transactions. It sets a new model for RSL NSW and RSL Lifecare to have a beneficial impact on veterans and their families and I’m grateful to the staff and boards of both organisations for making it happen.

Last week I spent two days with the Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Command, understanding the challenges that today’s Navy personnel face in their service. I spent time onboard HMAS Canberra, the fleet’s flagship, as well as HMAS Watson, HMAS Albatross, and HMAS Creswell. The highlight for me (apart from running into Branxton RSL sub-branch member Cath Harvey on the bridge) was time spent talking to the young officers and sailors of HMAS Canberra, and listening to and watching them working together in their small teams. Navy has built an impressive warship, but also a formidable team culture. As I take some downtime over Christmas I’ll be thinking of those personnel serving our nation at sea, and around the world – as well as the families at home missing them. RSL DefenceCare will remain on standby over the break for any of them that need urgent help. I know our serving personnel will be in your thoughts too.

We’ve come an incredibly long way in the past six months. I’m proud of where the League is headed next year. Thanks again for everything you’ve done, and best wishes from everyone here at Anzac House to you and your families this Christmas.

James Brown