RSL NSW President Update – 12 June 2019

Fellow members of the League,

Today, together, we draw a line under the difficulties RSL NSW has faced these past two years.

The Board is pleased to make several announcements to members that will help RSL NSW move forward stronger than ever and fully focused on our mission of respecting, supporting, and remembering veterans and their families. Together, we can return RSL NSW to our honoured position as the pre-eminent veterans’ organisation in this state, and our 350 sub-Branches to their respected position within their local communities.

 

Members’ Draft Constitution

For the past five months the Board and staff have undertaken extensive consultation with members, to determine the best way forward on the next draft constitution. We heard the messages from last December’s congress, learnt from other RSL state branches also reforming their constitutions, and closely engaged the District Council representatives to better represent the views of sub-Branches. Seven District Council leaders, elected by their peers, have worked closely with the Board to produce the draft Constitution released to District Councils today. They have unanimously endorsed the draft and I thank them on behalf of the Board for their valuable drafting advice and insights into the League.

Now it is up to sub-Branches, through their District Councils, to consult with members and provide feedback on the workability of this draft constitution. Feedback from District Councils will be published on the RSL NSW website and responded to by ANZAC House staff, so that all member perspectives can be heard. A second draft, responding to this feedback, will be developed for submission to members later in the year and a congress vote in October. The amended Constitution incorporates reforms required by law, as well as reforms to strengthen us for the future. It preserves our grassroots, volunteer-led structure, respects camaraderie, and clearly defines our unique charitable mission.

 

Fundraising

Today RSL NSW is lifting the ban on local fundraising for sub-Branches.

A clear majority of our sub-Branches have faithfully complied with fundraising rules issued by ANZAC House in the past and are committed to ensuring compliance with fundraising laws and regulations in the future. However, it became clear during the Bergin Inquiry that there were serious deficiencies in the way fundraising was conducted across RSL NSW and particularly at the State Branch level. To protect our hardworking volunteers from unknowingly risking hefty fines or criminal penalties, the Board took the decision to cease fundraising until the risks of non-compliance could be fully understood and managed. It took nearly a year to collect and analyse data that showed what local fundraising was being conducted across the League and how fundraising monies were being managed, spent, and reported. Last year the Board proposed a constitutional model that would have centralised accounting and governance processes for our smaller sub-Branches, eliminating many of the risks associated with fundraising compliance.

Since then, in accordance with the wishes expressed by members at the December 2018 congress, we have worked to return to a position where all sub-Branches could commence local fundraising under their own governance and finance systems. It has been a hard path back to this point, and required the complete overhaul of governance processes, financial and fundraising systems, and staff at ANZAC House. As promised in March, we informed District Councils and sub-Branches – ‘warts and all’ – of potential indicators of fundraising non-compliance risk. We have also established and funded training programs which help sub-Branch executives and trustees understand their governance accountabilities to ensure compliance with fundraising and charities laws. Those training sessions began last week and will continue over the coming months.

We have consulted with the NSW Department of Fair Trading to facilitate a smooth approval process and transition back to fundraising for sub-Branches that wish to fundraise over and above the ANZAC Appeal and Poppy Appeal. We have developed high-level guidance to assist sub-Branch fundraising, but of course the buck stops with sub-Branch leaders who are responsible for their local affairs. Smaller sub-Branches who do not want to manage fundraising compliance issues can continue to participate in the major appeals, for which compliance is managed primarily by ANZAC House.

The fundraising ban has been tough, particularly for Auxiliary members who raise funds to support the welfare of veterans both locally and, through RSL DefenceCare, state-wide. A week ago, I spoke to a meeting of more than 100 of our loyal Auxiliary members in East Maitland. I was particularly glad to let 92-year-young Betty Freeman know she and her Auxiliary could soon be back in their community fundraising, work she has been doing for the League for more than six decades.

 

Board Appointments: Independent Directors

In accordance with the RSL NSW Act the Board has resolved to appoint two independent directors, Sophie Ray and David Bell, with effect 11 June 2019. More than 70 nominations were ranked by the independent executive search firm People for Purpose, and eight shortlisted candidates were interviewed by the Board’s nominations committee.

Sophie Ray is a Director of Silos Estate, an award-winning family farming, tourism and hospitality business based outside Berry in the Shoalhaven region of NSW. Previously Sophie had a successful career with PricewaterhouseCoopers as a corporate lawyer working in both Australia and the UK. She and her family are connected closely to the Defence community in and around Nowra, and Sophie knows several members of nearby sub-Branches. She brings experience to the Board of working for a large regionally based not-for-profit organisation.

David Bell had an initial career in the army (1979-1988) where he reached the rank of Captain. He has worked in government, and his successful corporate career has seen him in executive leadership roles within diverse corporates and membership associations including Telstra, IAG, the Australian Bankers Association, the Actuaries Institute and Ogilvy Public Relations. He is currently Group Managing Director of CT Group Australasia, a research, polling, and campaign communications firm. David has extensive governance experience on boards and councils in not-for-profits, membership organisations, and government. He also brings skills in issue-based campaigning and government relations.

We are delighted to welcome Sophie and David to the Board and thank them both for being willing to serve RSL NSW.

 

Board Appointment: Member-Director General Casual Vacancy

Greg Makutu resigned from the Board with effect 25 May 2019. Greg has been a valued member of the RSL NSW Board and served as RSL NSW’s representative in its capacity as member of RSL LifeCare and as the head of the Board’s nominations committee. Greg works full time as the senior official at the New Zealand High Commission in Sydney and is extensively involved in looking after New Zealand veterans in Australia. Earlier this year he played a critical role in the New Zealand government’s response to the Christchurch tragedy. Greg is resigning from the Board in order to devote more time to protecting the rights of New Zealand’s permanent residents in Australia. We are grateful for his integrity and humble service to RSL NSW as a director and at the sub-Branch and District levels.

The Board considered 17 applicants for two member-director general casual vacancies earlier this year. Jonathan Tuckfield from the Young sub-Branch was ranked as first reserve in that process and the Board has now appointed him to a general casual vacancy position with effect 11 June 2019.

The completion of these appointment processes establishes the Board at full strength and increases the professional skill set of the Board. Importantly, four of the ten director positions are filled by directors from regional NSW.

 

Tribunal Appointments

The State Secretary called for nominations to the RSL NSW Tribunal in April. The Board has resolved to appoint the following service members to form the Tribunal:

  • Jonathan Hyde, a Senior Counsel and former member of the Veterans’ Review Board who is currently a part-time Judge Advocate and Defence Force Magistrate (ANZAC House Unattached List);
  • Paul Bryant, Life Member and former Deputy Chairman of the RSL NSW Tribunal (City of Fairfield sub-Branch);
  • Greg McCauley, practising solicitor (City of Campbelltown sub-Branch);
  • Brian Turner, formerly Registrar and Deputy Chairman of the RSL NSW Tribunal (Katoomba sub-Branch); and
  • Bruce Kafer, who recently completed 42 years of service as a Rear Admiral and member of the Defence senior leadership team (City of Wollongong sub-Branch); while
  • John Hutcheson, a Korean War veteran, Military Cross recipient, and experienced arbitrator/mediator has been selected as a reserve Tribunal member (Hornsby RSL sub-Branch).

On behalf of the Board I thank these tribunal members for their willingness to contribute to ensuring the integrity of RSL NSW.

 

Chief Executive Officer

The CEO of RSL NSW and RSL WBI, Robyn Collins, has advised that she will retire later this year. Accordingly, the Board has commenced the search process to find a new CEO. Robyn has worked for our organisation for the past seven years, first establishing the welfare systems and staff of RSL DefenceCare, and then in the pivotal role of CEO during the transitional phase of the past two years. She stepped up to shoulder significant responsibilities, managing both RSL NSW and RSL WBI through the Bergin Inquiry and completely transforming the staff and systems of both organisations. Much of what we have achieved in repairing State Branch in the past two years has been due to her efforts. At the right time later this year the Board and staff will thank Robyn for her sheer effort and immense passion for veterans and their families.

The CEO search process will be managed by the independent external search firm People for Purpose, who have commenced advertising the position this week.

 

Queen’s Birthday Honours

Congratulations to the many RSL NSW members who received Queen’s Birthday honours, including Dutchy Holland from the City of Campbelltown sub-Branch, Reg Jamison from the Moree sub-Branch, Margot Capp from the Gresford sub-Branch, and 99-year-old Anita West from Ingleburn sub-Branch who were all recognised with OAMs. Congratulations also to Pat McMahon from the Inverell sub-Branch who was awarded a Conspicuous Service Medal for his role in a challenging sea rescue in 1991.

 

A Personal Note

Thanks for your patience and commitment to RSL NSW as we’ve pulled ourselves up over the past two years. Doing things right takes time. I know it’s been a frustrating process and the path back has had some twists and turns. You can be proud of all that we have achieved to repair our organisation and get it back on its feet and standing tall. I was in the tiny village of Ulmarra last week, just outside of Grafton by the Clarence River. We were celebrating the 100th anniversary of our team there, alongside local school students and families, reflecting on the unbroken commitment of a century looking out for each other. I reckon the members who set up the Ulmarra sub-Branch a century ago would be proud of where we are headed today. You should be too.

Thanks for your service to the League,

James Brown

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