RSL NSW State President Report: August 2017

18-Aug-2017

Ladies and gentlemen,

You haven’t seen much of me or the rest of State Council recently. We’ve been buried in Anzac House coming to grips with the complexities of our organisation, and the scale of the challenges we face. We believe that we have now completed that process.

Our organisation is more complex than we thought, 634 subsidiaries here in NSW one of which is the $1.2bn aged care and retirement living company RSL LifeCare. Overall, our business operations are responsible for $1.6bn worth of assets, including more than 150 properties. But of course, we are not a business, we are a volunteer organisation and always will be. We are a grassroots local organisation and always will be. But we have a lot of problems to fix.

One of them is fundraising. Last week the State Council issued a directive to suspend fundraising. That applies to all RSL operations across the state, and is a move I acknowledge that will cause distress for some of our smallest sub-branches and auxiliaries. Already I have spoken to many of you about the impact this will have on your operations. Women’s auxiliaries have told me how this will affect their raffles, lunches, bingo nights, and even how they provide catering at wakes. Some sub-branches have indicated that they will struggle to keep their doors open as long as fundraising is suspended. I understand that, and this decision is not one we take lightly. The alternative to suspension was to, going forward, fundraise in a way that was not consistent with the charities legislation. To do that would clearly be unacceptable.

It is hard for me to communicate with you the exact issues we have detected to do with fundraising. As you can appreciate, this has legal implications as well as flow on effects for our audits, insurance, and wider operations. We are working with our regulators to identify and address the issues, and I cannot get ahead of that process. What I can say is that the issue is systemic, and effects every sub-branch, auxiliary, youth club and day club. It has to do with the way we receive money raised through fundraising, account for it, and then report on how it is spent. We are working on a fix to this as fast as possible and will brief all of our members on what needs to be done so we can start fundraising again. This will take some time. Please be patient. We need to get this right so that the public can have full confidence in us. In the meantime the support and assistance fund is being increased to allow for additional support to our smaller colleagues. If your sub-branch or auxiliary is struggling then please do not be shy in asking for help. We have a helpline available here on 0414 559 849 to answer any and all questions you have about the fundraising suspension.

Last week the NSW government passed legislation increasing the powers that Justice Bergin will have to conduct her inquiry into RSL NSW, RSL LifeCare, and the RSL Welfare and Benevolent Institution. Justice Bergin can now compel witnesses to give evidence or to produce documents at public hearings, make public findings, and issue arrest warrants for those that do not comply with an order to give evidence or produce documents to the Inquiry. We are fully cooperating with the Inquiry process, and also with the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission (ACNC) investigation into RSL NSW. I have been briefed by the NSW Police, who are nearing the completion of their investigations – we await a decision by the Police legal division on whether any further action will be taken. Meanwhile, we are addressing our own issues.

In the coming week you will see a new structure for State Branch which integrates staff from both RSL NSW and RSL DefenceCare into the one organisation. I’m also pleased to announce that State Council has resolved to appoint Robyn Collins to the role of General Manager, RSL NSW. Robyn is known to many of you for her excellent work in building RSL DefenceCare into a lean, effective, and excellent organisation delivering help for veterans and their families. Robyn understands our issues and is already at work fixing them – I am very thankful that she has accepted responsibility for leading the reform of RSL’s business operations. Membership services, commemoration, operations, and ceremonial functions will continue to be the purview of the State Secretary and State Council will shortly have an announcement to make regarding that position.

State Council is now meeting monthly, and the State Executive weekly, given the span of issues we need to address. District Council Presidents are meeting monthly by way of a teleconference, and will meet face to face in late October in Sydney. You should expect to see more of these emails from me updating you on what is happening. Please encourage your friends and members to sign up for email updates. I also continue to receive feedback from members through email, the RSL President Facebook page, and at functions and events I attend. This week I represented you at the Victory in the Pacific commemorative service at the Cenotaph, as well as a number of functions to mark Vietnam Veterans Day. Both days are an important reminder of why we exist and the work we have to do for veterans and their families – now, and into the future.

One of the things that will be tough in the next six months will be the resurfacing of bad news about the RSL. I know negative media coverage is something that some members find particularly galling. We need to be prepared for more. As the Bergin Inquiry conducts public hearings unfavourable aspects of our organisation will be dragged to light again. We will have to endure this, and take strength in the hope that come February next year we can once and for all put these issues behind us and move forward as a stronger and fully accountable organisation. For now let me give you two pieces of good news. State Council has signed off on the formation of a new sub-branch at Aberdeen in the upper hunter valley. This sub-branch fell by the wayside several years ago, but with a new infusion of membership is ready to start up again. That is a fantastic development, and I look forward to presenting a charter to the Aberdeen RSL sub-branch in a few weeks time. Secondly, several sub-branches have reported to me a bump in membership in the past three months – a welcome development.

Finally, I wanted to let you know that I have taken a leave of absence from my regular paid employment so that I can fully focus on the job at hand. To be clear, we will have our work cut out for us making the necessary repairs to this organisation over the next six months, so that the authorities can be satisfied that we should continue to operate as a charity. Thanks for your support, and hard work on behalf of the league.

James Brown
President



RSL NSW has set up a dedicated phone number (0414 559 849) and email address (fundraising-enquiry@rslnsw.org.au) for enquiries on the fundrasing issue. This number and email address will be monitored Monday - Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm by Anzac House staff. Click here to read the directive sent to sub-branches and FAQs.