RSL NSW President Update – 23 July 2019

Dear RSL members,

Last week we held our second forum of all 23 District Councils at ANZAC House. Presidents and Secretaries representing their sub-Branches came to deliver the draft constitution feedback they have gathered, to help us refine a final document we can take to congress. The District Councils are playing an important role passing information back and forth between the different levels of our organisation, and I’d like to thank them for their effort. We had a robust debate and heard plenty of concerns given the scope of change on the table, but the discussion was very constructive. You can listen to participants in their own words on video here.

Change

I reminded your representatives of the change we have already faced: when I joined the RSL in the 1970s members had to be returned servicemen, to have served in war-like conditions. But the need to be inclusive and to stem declining membership forced us to change in a way that felt radical at the time. Today, some of us have non-warlike and peacekeeping service, while many served in peacetime. Our auxiliaries now even have male members who will help to ensure that they, too, survive into the future.

After the Bergin Inquiry, State Branch cleared the decks in head office. The board of RSL in 2019 is vastly different from what it was a hundred years ago. It includes two women, and many directors are not returned. Two are independent and other new directors have brought impressive professional experience. Each of us has completed the Company Directors Course through the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Such change is needed to keep up with the vastly different set of legislation and regulation we now face. But to those concerned about change I would say this: without structural change in the League many of us could not be members in the first place, and the rest of us would be denied your contribution and much poorer for it.

We all now have a role in making sure the entire RSL is compliant. This starts with recognising that the Bergin Inquiry could have gone beyond ANZAC House and explored relationships between sub-Branches and club limited boards, the use of welfare dollars on overseas trips, and whether every single one of us stuck to the letter of Charitable Fundraising Act. The results might not have been pretty. And if investigators ever come back, none of us wants the victim to be a volunteer trying to do the right thing for their community. People understandably don’t love change, but we need change when it’s for the right reasons. And fortunately, this time members are shaping our changes.

Consultation

Members took the time to respond to our survey at the beginning of the year and now to make submissions on this draft constitution. We’ve gone through the District Councils asking them to badger their sub-Branches on the changes that they need to see in this draft – what they think should be changed or left in. Because it is you who will be making the final decision in October.

The board has a role to play but there was a fair perception in 2018 that the board was ruling from the top. The forum last week showed that the role is now being shared more evenly from the board right down to the sub-Branches and members; that we all share this road back to fundraising and to fixing up where we went wrong, including our public perception. If any members feel they haven’t been heard so far, please keep your submissions coming in – we’ll try to take them right up to the last minute. We don’t have a choice in whether we change, but you, the member, have the chance to shape our change. We’ll take all feedback and work with the DC7, who were elected by their peers from the District Councils, to adjust the final draft of this constitution and get it back out to you so we can move forward.

Before I let you go, many of you will know about the alternative constitution being circulated by some sub-Branches by email. We are treating this on par with feedback from any other member, however, given the group want their constitution put to a vote at congress, we think it’s fair that the membership knows it has faced the same legal scrutiny as the board’s constitution. We sought an external legal review of Rockdale sub-Branch’s constitution to check whether it meets the requirements of the RSL NSW Act, and a legal opinion by Ashurst Lawyers is now available on the Constitution 2019 page of the RSL NSW website (click here) – along with feedback from all others on the board’s draft constitution. I encourage you to have a look.

The board needs your support in this reform. Unlike what some will always say, we are not taking control from you but in fact empowering you by giving a voice to every single member. We cannot sit back and continue on the path of yesteryear. We need to get on with what our core business is and that’s looking after veterans and their families. So please, keep the submissions coming forward and don’t be afraid to ring ANZAC House or to talk to your District Councils to get the information that you require to contribute.

Thank you,

Ray James
Acting President

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