Board Communiqué for 26 August 2020
On 26 August, the Board met by video conference because of the restrictions associated with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Due respects were made to the fallen.
The President’s Update
The Acting President acknowledged the ongoing work across all sub-Branches supporting veterans in their communities and appreciated the feedback on the draft strategic plan. Members are commenting that it is not until they have an opportunity to participate in a consultation session on the strategic plan that they understand the plan’s intent, placing veterans and families and the charitable purpose, at the centre, delivered locally by strong sub-Branches that are working collaboratively as one RSL.
The Board concurred with the Acting President’s comments about the District Court’s decision to quash the conviction of the former State President, Don Rowe. The decision was disappointing given the Bergin Inquiry’s findings, but the Board’s focus needs to be on the future and the work being done to reassert the RSL’s position as the leading veteran’s charity.
The Acting President reported on his and the CEO’s August meeting with the Federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister Chester. Discussions included:
- the Acting President updating the Minister on issues that are still outstanding from last year’s Congress that are being advocated through RSL National, including pension rates
- accuracy of Treasury forecasts of numbers of veterans seeking assistance, putting pressure on and future funding for DVA in the October budget
- opportunities to implement more Productivity Commission recommendations
- addressing the medical service rates for DVA client treatment compared to other agencies.
- the proposed Nowra centre model
- development of ‘virtual’ tours of memorials could be developed.
The Minister accepted an invitation to attend a Board meeting later in the year.
The Acting President also reported on the August meeting he, the CEO and Board Chair had with ACNC Commissioner, Gary Johns. The Commissioner commented on the first Annual report required under the Enforceable Undertaking. He acknowledged that the report only addresses State Branch, but acknowledged the work being undertaken to ensure all sub-Branches are also meeting the same regulatory standards. He said he would respond to the report in more detail in due course.
The Acting President updated the Board on the latest matters dealt with by the RSL National Board, including:
- the proposed national promotion of commemorations, like ANZAC Day 2020, which RSL QLD is willing to pay for, but with other States involved. RSL NSW is represented and aims to participate, but within funding constraints.
- a proposal for an ICT Managed Service provided to RSL National by RSL QLD to deliver (i) IT systems and support (ii) Audit & Support; (ii) best practice services and advice on working; (iii) and support current operations & provide continuous improvement.
- work between National and RSL QLD on a Veteran Employment Program
- updates on VSA; Open Arms; the new Australian Military Bank Veterans Reward Account that is being rolled out as part of their RSL Money program (that sub-Branches may have received information on)
The National Chairman reported that the National AGM is normally in September, however it has been pushed back to November. He re-iterated importance of 16 Sep workshop for strategic plan and funding for RSL National.
The NSW Board considered several items of correspondence. The correspondence highlighted several instances of non-compliance by sub-Branches regarding expenditure of charitable funds. The Board agreed that more direction will be required and noted that the Board has the legal obligation to refer breaches to the ACNC. The Board also resolved to continue to work with executives/trustees, particularly education and training with respect responsibilities and directed the CEO to commence work on this. One matter was referred to the Tribunal.
The CEO provided an update on Strategic Plan consultations. He said there is an increasing level of awareness among members that ‘doing nothing’ is not an option. There is overwhelming individual member support for most of the proposed initiatives, but this is not translating to individual submissions being made to the portal on the website. A new way of receiving feedback is being developed to capture feedback more effectively. The CEO is working on the final plan based upon feedback so far and reported on the likely ‘phasing’ of the final plan.
Budget and Business Performance
July 2020 Results
The budget for FY2020-21 is still being prepared, with RSL NSW operating against a forecast for the months of July-September 2020. Overall, there have been slight variances against forecasted expenditure and the Hyde Park Inn has performed better than forecast due to an extension of the contract with the Department of Communities and Justice. The transition of DefenceCare to RSL LifeCare included the transfer of several assets including the CRM and IT hardware at no cost, resulting in the write-off of these assets from the balance sheet to the profit and loss statement.
Ernst & Young are currently undertaking the year end audit. The audit is planned to be completed by 11 September, with financial statements to be signed by the Board on 23 September.
Whilst Hyde Park Inn experienced strong occupancy in July 2020, occupancy in August has dropped and we are uncertain of when public occupancy will start to increase. RSL NSW continues to remain eligible for JobKeeper, which has been extended to March 2021.
The following operational matters were noted:
The Board noted that District Presidents’ Council feedback on the model constitutions had been received, and management’s advice that the proposed changes would require consideration, and possibly constitutional change to progress.
The Board agreed that the current and predicted risk environment rules out the possibility of a ‘physical’ Congress in December. The Board directed that the Congress/AGM be conducted via technology on 7/8 Dec only i.e. an ‘on-line’ Congress.
Nowra Veterans and Wellbeing Centre
The Board considered and approved the Draft Business Case proposed by the project Steering Committee. The Board acknowledged the significant volunteer work of the working group, and the work undertaken to ensure a financially sustainable solution to meet DVA’s requirements, aligned to strategy. The Board noted the feedback from DVA on the business case prepared by the working group (provided to the Board), and the subsequently submitted version recommended by the Steering Committee, that was endorsed by DVA staff. The Board emphasised the importance of ongoing local engagement and project oversight; the exciting opportunity the project offers for veterans and current serving personnel; the criticality of the proposed consortium approach led by RSL LifeCare on behalf of RSL NSW; and the possibility of replicating such a sustainable model in other locations.
RSL NSW received the formal invitation to submit the Board approved business case to DVA on 22 August. This submission will be completed by 28 August. RSL NSW will now await DVA’s decision on the $5m grant towards the Centre.
Donations to RSL DefenceCare
The Board commented feedback that the recent changes to RSL DefenceCare are not well understood by members. The Board asked the CEO to address this. The Board re-iterated the importance of sub-Branch donations to RSL DefenceCare continuing through RSL NSW as previously informed here.
The CEO updated the Board on the progress of the Board Election. Notwithstanding the SOP issue (see below), the Board noted that the Returning Officer has advised that the process is running smoothly.
The Board noted advice from the ACNC about fee subsidisation and asked the CEO to return with recommendations at the next meeting. The Board also directed the CEO to prepare information on next year’s fee schedule for next Congress, per last AGM’s decisions.
The Board approved the following SOPs, which had been amended by the DPC:
- SOP1 – Charitable Activities, Donations and Charitable Purpose Contribution (Enabling the critical donations to RSL DefenceCare now RSL WBI is winding up)
- SOP 11 – Chapters.
The Board also considered SOP 12 – RSL NSW Board Election Procedures and discussed the DPC’s comments. They noted that the DPC’s comments were not received in time for consideration at the July board meeting as requested, and so management had to commence the election process before the SOP was finalised, in order to comply with the constitutional requirement that the election be conducted and finalised before Congress on 7/8 Dec. The Board asked management to prepare a final version of the proposed SOP 12 incorporating the DPC’s input and to send it to the Board for approval by Circular Resolution.
The DPC Chairman joined the meeting. The Board considered and discussed the Chairman’s written Report.
The DPC Chairman advised that the DPC membership had concluded (noting the formal advice was yet to be provided) that the election should proceed as commenced, noting the issue with the timing of and settling the draft SOP.
The DPC Chairman asked that the DPC have permanent representation on the Agenda Committee and AGM Suspensions Committee. The Board agreed that the DPC could have a representative attend the Agenda Committee, as a non-voting observer. The Board asked the CEO to check and report back on whether the Constitution set out the process for appointing members of the Suspensions Committee.
The DPC Chairman confirmed the DPC had paneled a Review Panel for the Tribunal, per the Constitution, and this was formally noted by the Board.
Attendance of Minister for Veterans NSW
NSW Minister for Veterans Geoff Lee joined the meeting at ANZAC House. He thanked the RSL (members and ANZAC House) for supporting all commemorations during the challenging COVID 19 pandemic. He talked about economic pressures and the likely effect on the NSW Budget. He thanked RSL for assisting with the recent veteran’s survey and agreed to share outcomes when known. The Board requested that he consider requesting support from TAFE NSW to provide technology facilities to support the AGM, particularly in the regions. He agreed to consider this.
Social Media Strategy
The Board noted the proposed social media strategy, to address the weaknesses in this form of communication to members, the younger non-member veteran community, and key influencers.
Attendance of RSL National Chairman and President
Mr David Nathan Independent Chairman, and Greg Mellick, National President, briefed the Board on RSL National’s proposed strategic plan and consultations. The Chairman took the board through the proposed strategic themes.
The Board received the final advice from Barry Dunphy, Clayton Utz about the extent of duties and accountabilities of RSL NSW directors in relation to all RSL NSW related entities, including RSL LifeCare and sub-Branches. The Board requested management to prepare a plan on actions required with respect to the advice, and how best to promulgate it to the membership.
Veteran Services & Policy Committee
The Committee Chair referred to the Committee’s meeting minutes highlighting key matters:
- Update on actions from Congress, noting matters that were still being pursued. More info here .
- Matters to be raised with Minister Chester (see Acting President’s report)
- Recognition and thanks to Bronte Pollard, for his work generally, but specifically on policy papers related to recommended changes to Club Grants scheme, and his work building the Liaison Officer role at the National Centre for Veterans Health, Concord (NCVH)
- The imminent commencement of the (part-time) Liaison Officer role as at NCVH under a six month trial. The role is to liaise with all sub-Branches and help connect veterans in need to services, and help the Centre follow up patients, within constraints of confidentiality.
Awards and Recognition Committee
The Board approved the recommendation from the Selections Committee for one life membership.
Nomination, Remuneration and Performance Committee
The Committee advised it had received the proposed ANZAC House performance objectives for FY 20/21 and would consider them at an upcoming Committee meeting.
The Board delegated authority to the CEO for several property matters which will be reported to the members once strategic planning is complete.
The Board noted the Joint Working Group’s approved Constitution preamble and agreed it should be adopted as soon as practicable and will request it be considered at the LifeCare AGM. The Chair said she is expecting a formal request from RSL Lifecare in relation to expanding the membership, and that once the request is received, the Board will discuss how to consult with RSL NSW members about this.
The Board received an update from the State Secretary/Manager Membership on matters currently before the Tribunal.
The Board considered four recommendations from hearings by the Tribunal.
Based on the Tribunal recommendations, the Board resolved
- To direct a member to cease holding office (as a Trustee, sub-Branch Executive or District Council executive) under the RSL NSW Constitution;
- To revoke the Charter of a sub-Branch; and
- To take no further action against a member who was referred to the Tribunal on the basis that he had allegedly brought the League into disrepute through misuse of charitable funds.
The Board noted the recommendations of the Tribunal to warn a member for wearing medals he was not entitled to wear. The Board resolved that in conjunction with the warning, the member be directed to not hold office in the League in accordance with the RSL NSW Constitution for a period of three years.
Rent Waivers, Deferrals, and sub-Branch matters
The CEO updated the Board on this significant activity. One matter has been referred to the NSW Office of Small Business for mediation. This will be a test case prior to considering referring other outstanding matters for mediation. The Board acknowledged the challenge for sub-Branches in a position where they are being asked to forgo revenue to help keep clubs open.
Matters settled by the CEO under delegation for sub-Branches were noted.
The September meeting will be held by technology, but it is still planned to conduct a risk workshop and meeting face to face in Sydney in October.
Chair, Board of Directors