RSL NSW President Update: 11 April 2018
Fellow Members of the League,
We are starting to see lots of positive stories about the League and our veterans and volunteers. On Monday night, the ABC’s Australian Story program aired a powerful documentary on our Vice President Mick Bainbridge. If you haven’t watched it yet, I would urge you to watch. Earlier today I spoke with a group of our members who served during World War II and will be profiled in an upcoming newspaper feature. On Monday I was pleased to host, on your behalf, the annual student-led RSL & Schools Remember ANZAC Service at the Hyde Park Anzac Memorial. More than 1500 students braved the scorching sun to pay their respects to the service of veterans and their families. On Tuesday, I attended another schools’ service run by Penrith RSL sub-Branch at the Penrith Paceway. More than 1800 school kids turned out, and my thanks to the executive at Penrith for running such a fine activity. We signed up our newest member – Army’s Forces Commander Major General Gus McLachlan – before the Easter weekend and he has been urging his troops to get behind RSL NSW. We are grateful for his support and the closer links we are forming with serving defence personnel.
Last Friday, along with Vice Presidents Ray James and Mick Bainbridge, I met with the new Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester. We had a productive conversation about the needs of veterans, efforts to ensure more veterans have a smooth pathway to employment after they leave the military, and the high numbers of recent veteran suicides. We took the opportunity to update him on our progress within the League and look forward to working with him in the future to make sure that veterans rights and needs are met.
This time of year is a very busy one for the League. I know many of you are busy preparing for ANZAC Day ceremonies and have just completed your annual general meetings. I will keep this update short as I know we’ll see each other in Albury, just six weeks from now.
Changes at ANZAC House/Communications
Let me start by apologising for the difficulties some sub-Branches have had in either contacting ANZAC House or receiving replies from ANZAC House. We are dealing with an enormous number of issues, at a time of year which is already very busy in the lead up to Congress and ANZAC Day. I know how frustrating it is for you to experience delays in receiving answers from ANZAC House. In the past fortnight we have completed a restructure of staff within RSL NSW headquarters to be able to better serve the needs of members. As you will have seen in the State Secretary’s newsletter there is now a dedicated sub-Branch support team.
We’re also changing the way communications from ANZAC House to you work. For the past six months we’ve been in crisis mode, and so most of what you have heard has been directly from me. We are still working to fix an enormous number of issues across the League and now is the time to move into more steady state operations. From this week the State Secretary will once again be your main point of contact on league operational issues, and he will issue separate updates. My updates will focus on veterans’ affairs, strategic issues, and council activities. In the lead up to Congress I’ll be communicating on several matters directly with District Council Presidents and relying on them to disseminate information to the sub-Branches as well.
You should by now have received the audited financial statements for RSL NSW and RSL WBI for 2016 and 2017. This week we posted to the website summary minutes for State Council meetings held so far this year. We expect to post details of individual councillor expenses to the website this week, in accordance with your direction at last year’s State Congress. Sub-Branches will also, shortly, receive the agenda and proposed motions for State Congress allowing plenty of time for them to be considered before Congress.
State Council – Mr Ray James
Last week the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC) wrote to RSL NSW detailing it has no plans to undertake individual action against Mr Ray James in response to the information and recommendations arising out of the Bergin Inquiry. You will remember that Mr James was referred to ACNC by the NSW Minister for Better Regulation at the end of the inquiry and took a leave of absence pending the outcome of that referral. Following the communication from the ACNC, last week State Council unanimously voted to request Mr James return from leave and once again take up his position as State Vice President. On behalf of the Council, I am pleased to welcome Ray back and to start to put this difficult period behind us.
2018 Sub-Branch Support Scheme
We’ve received a lot of feedback on the 2018 sub-Branch support scheme. 40% of the League’s annual income comes from fundraising. Without it many of our small sub-Branches are struggling to deliver on their welfare work. Kiama Jamberoo sub-Branch, for example, announced last week that they will be unable to fund their ANZAC Day march this year because of the lack of fundraising. We’ve asked our biggest sub-Branches to help out our smaller ones this year through the sub-Branch support scheme. Thanks to those who’ve already contributed, thanks especially to the few sub-Branches who asked if they could contribute over and above the designated amount. Many of you have let us know some of the problems with the scheme and the difficulties you are having in administering it. I know it is difficult and we are asking you to make payments in a short space of time.
The scheme is not perfect but it’s the best we can do in the time available. Several sub-Branches have pointed to errors in the financial data and requested that their contribution levels be revised. We are handling those on a case-by-case basis and have already made several revisions. Some sub-Branches have asked that donations they have already made to small sub-Branches be accounted for and we are looking at accommodating those requests.
District Council Presidents have been helping enormously with feedback on the scheme, and in response to their suggestions, State Branch has asked District Council Presidents to review payments to be made under the sub-Branch support scheme and highlight any they are concerned about prior to making the payment. We anticipate the first payments in the scheme will be made this week to allow those struggling sub-Branches to ensure that ANZAC Day can go ahead.
Earlier this week I spoke to Bob Hicks from the Taree sub-Branch to congratulate him on his recent award for 50 years of service with the League. Bob served with 7th Battalion in Vietnam in 1968. He returned to Sydney on the HMAS Sydney the day after ANZAC Day that year after having been deployed for twelve months. He joined the Wagga Wagga RSL sub-Branch, then moved to Taree and has been doing welfare work for 23 years. That is exactly the kind of volunteer service that our league is renowned for and my thanks to Bob for everything he has done and continues to do for veterans and their families.
The 2018 State Congress will be an important one for the League. The first day will be a chance to give delegates the information they need to understand our fundraising difficulties as well as the bigger picture view of the League and its activities. Day two will be dedicated to giving delegates their chance to have a say on the League’s future. Day three will see the normal league business of congress conducted with many motions to consider. State Council and I look forward to welcoming you to Albury and spending time with you in a few weeks. I’ll be back in touch before ANZAC Day, and between now and then I look forward to seeing many of you at our events.