News - James Brown speaking

RSL NSW President Update: 15 March 2018

Fellow League Members,

In this update I will cover four issues of critical importance to the League:

  • Your feedback on the Strategic Directions paper
  • Plans for State Congress 2018
  • The 2018 Sub-Branch Support Fund
  • RSL NSW State Branch financial statements for 2016 and 2017

Please ensure this update is communicated to all your members.


Your feedback

In the past six weeks, State Councillors have met with representatives of more than 200 sub-Branches and auxiliaries to listen to your feedback, concerns, ideas, and critiques of both the strategic direction as well as League issues more broadly. ANZAC House has received hundreds of emails, letters, and phone calls. Thanks for your engagement and commitment to helping the League progress to be more of a force for good for veterans and their families.

State Council met for two days last week, and amongst other issues, considered the feedback that members have given. It is apparent from your feedback that the clear majority of members are committed to making changes to improve the League and understand there is some urgency to do this, given we need to be more accountable to the public and regulators and to restore normal fundraising operations. But it is also clear that most members want more information before they cast their important votes to shape the future of the League. You don’t want to be unnecessarily rushed into considering a new constitution and strategic plan. We hear you.

From a State Council perspective, we need members to have more information about the extent and complexity of our issues across the League. It is clear that a number of members believe that the League’s problems are confined to a history of bad practices (and indeed personalities) at head office and that sub-Branches are now being unfairly punished for this by restrictions on local fundraising. This is not correct. Members have a great view of the League at a local level, and thanks to the Bergin Inquiry now have a forensic view of head office. What is missing is a clear view of the League as a whole. It has taken some time for our new staff at ANZAC House to assemble a picture of the League’s operations as a whole. The fundraising survey you completed in September 2017 has been critical in all of this. We now have, for the first time, a picture of how the League is operating across the board. We want to show this to members at Congress, so you can make informed decisions about what is the best path for the League’s future.

We’ve flagged some big (and tough) decisions for the League to make, and it’s clear members want more time to have a say on them, as well as to understand the detail. We hear you on that too.

As a result, we have resolved to give members (and congress delegates) more time, more information, and a better chance to have a say before they are asked to vote on a new constitution and strategic plan.


2018 State Congress and Extraordinary State Congress

In response to your feedback, State Council will not present a new Constitution or Strategic Plan to be decided upon by delegates at the May State Congress. Instead, these will be delayed to a specially convened extraordinary congress to be held in Sydney in either September or October 2018.

When we assemble in Albury in May, we will undertake several workshops with delegates to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Providing delegates, for the first time, with an overview of all the League’s operations and financial activities.
  • Informing delegates of the extent and complexities of the League’s issues and non-compliance, as well as outlining the possible paths to restore fundraising and public accountability.
  • Hearing what delegates want our strategy to be in the future, as well as voting on what strategic principles should guide this period of rebuilding the League.

All Congress delegates are welcome, and encouraged, to attend and participate in the workshops.

Of course, we will have some normal congress business to progress as well. This will include presenting reports from the President and Treasurer, answering questions from delegates, and considering motions which have been submitted by sub-Branches and District Councils. State Council will also propose a small number of urgent amendments to the constitution which either rectify problems or allow better administration of the League in the months before the new constitution is presented.

The discussions we have at Albury in May, and the principles and path delegates select for the future of the League, will directly feed into the drafting of a new constitution in June, July, and August. This constitution will then be reviewed for consistency with the Charitable Fundraising Act, other NSW legislation (including the RSL NSW Act), tax law, and charities law governed by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). It will also incorporate any enforceable directions made to us by ACNC, and any amendments made to the RSL NSW legislation. As you can see, this will be a technical and complex process. The new constitution will then be presented to delegates for them to approve or reject at an Extraordinary State Congress to be held in Sydney in either September or October. We anticipate provision will be made for those delegates who require financial assistance to attend this Congress.


2018 Sub-Branch Support Fund

Because of the complexities and extent of the issues we face as a League, there is no quick path back to fundraising in the normal way at the local level. To be even clearer, there is no legal and practical pathway for us to restore normal local sub-Branch fundraising in time for this Anzac Day.

The continued suspension of fundraising has put financial pressure on some smaller sub-Branches. This has the potential of risking the provision of critical services to veterans and their families in their communities. This is an unacceptable outcome for the League. Our financial analysis shows there are more than 150 of our 352 sub-Branches who are reliant on fundraising to continue their welfare operations.

As previously flagged, because of this we need to implement a new sub-Branch support scheme for 2018 to ensure that our smaller sub-Branches can survive. To put it plainly – we will need to call on better-resourced sub-Branches to support less-resourced sub-Branches this year. To ensure that the aims and objects of the League can continue to be met across the entire network, some of our smaller sub-Branches need the League’s assistance and the scheme which has been developed serves to provide that assistance. I’ve spoken to a number of District Council meetings about this already, and the response from larger sub-Branches has been enthusiastic. They are keen to help others in the League get through this period where we are unable to fundraise.

The 2018 Sub-Branch Support Fund directive outlines how much funding sub-Branches have been designated to contribute or to receive from this scheme. It does so in a transparent way so that members can have full visibility on where the money is going. None of the funds are intended to be used for ANZAC House activities. This has taken time since 21 February 2018 for the State Council to be able to finalise and action.

We have based the calculations on 2016 financial returns from sub-Branches, the most recent ones we had available at the time this financial analysis was being completed. A fair determination has been made on the amount each smaller sub-Branch should receive by assessing the income, assets, and expenses of smaller sub-Branches. The amount to be paid from larger sub-Branches is based on their surplus funds and should not impact on their ability to address current expenses.

I appreciate this is a new way of operating for the League, and you will want to discuss this at the sub-Branch level. But please appreciate there is some urgency to the timeline. Some of our smaller sub-Branches are right now at risk of not holding Anzac Day services this year or continuing to deliver welfare work because they have not been able to fundraise for the better part of a year. Of course, smaller sub-Branches can choose not to accept any funding from the 2018 Sub-Branch Support Fund. But this fund will ensure we don’t lose any sub-Branches in our network whilst we work hard to seek approval to commence fundraising. That means less chance of veterans across NSW slipping through the cracks.


RSL NSW State Branch financial statements for 2016 and 2017

You have made it clear that financial transparency of head office is important. Last year, members did not have properly formed financial reports to analyse or question. An enormous effort has gone into preparing financial statements for state HQ over the past 10 months – in very difficult circumstances. Credit is due to our Chief Operating Officer Raj Nair and his team, who have worked many weekends in the last six months to get our financials completed and audited by our new auditors Ernst and Young. And of course, because of the problems in previous years, this needed to be done for both 2016 and 2017. We now have the most comprehensive and detailed set of financial reports in the League’s history, State Council resolved to approve them last week and I signed off on them earlier this week. We are now able to get them to you in plenty of time for you to consider before Congress in May.


Definition of Welfare

Many of you have been asking for a definition of welfare. The State Council has reviewed and discussed a draft definition that has been worked on in conjunction with RSL DefenceCare. This is being finalised and will be provided to sub-Branches in the next couple of weeks.

Thank you for your support and service.


James Brown

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