RSL NSW President Update – 9 April 2019
Fellow members of the League,
One of the main roles of the RSL throughout the last century has been to act as a leader for and of the veteran community. In years gone by, veterans’ groups around Australia looked to the RSL to lobby governments on their behalf, to lead significant commemorative events, and to provide the backbone of the system of welfare and camaraderie that our ex-serving community relies on.
Today our veteran community is divided. There are over 5000 groups claiming to represent veterans and their families – from those with a nationwide physical presence, to simple Facebook pages run part-time by those wanting to help. During World War Two, when Australia had nearly a million men and women under arms, there were no more than 3000 groups. Because the RSL has not been strong in recent years, many smaller groups have sprouted looking to take our place. We will of course work with anyone who has a good idea to help veterans and their families. But so many groups, pursuing so many agendas, each focused narrowly on their own tactical activities has led the veteran community in Australia to the point where it risks strategic failure. The public doesn’t know which of these 5000 groups to support, and government struggles to work out which veterans’ group it should listen to.
Nowhere was this more obvious to me than in my visit to Canberra last week. I was in Canberra to speak with the government and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs about the budget for veterans’ affairs announced last Tuesday. One of the initiatives I was particularly proud to see announced was $4m in funding to train RSL members to be better equipped to identify and care for their mates who might be contemplating suicide.
Late last year I met the Prime Minister to outline a range of issues our veteran community needed assistance with. Chief amongst these was the scourge of veteran suicides. I have spoken to you often of the need to do more in this area, and in the past year have spoken to a number of our members who have, without any formal training, offered that crucial word or shoulder to a mate suffering in their hour of greatest need.
When I visited our St Marys sub-Branch they told me of the horrible way suicide had impacted their community. And you know that I lost one of my mates to suicide in 2017. The program announced on Tuesday night will train up to 20,000 RSL members in the two-day ASIST suicide intervention training. That will give our community an army of first responders, trained to spot the warning signs and get professional help for those among us struggling with mental health issues. That will have a real impact – I’m grateful to the government and DVA for supporting this initiative. We will publicise the details of how you and your sub-Branch can access this training soon.
Now imagine what we could achieve if the veteran community could speak to government with a unified voice.
There are a range of other issues which demand we present a strong and unified position to government. The reforms to the compensation system suggested by the Productivity Commission, the changes coming to the advocacy system as a result of the Cornall review, issues related to the DFRDB, the plans to redevelop the War Memorial, and the urgent need for frontline services for veterans – particularly in regional areas.
The RSL must resume its role as the leader of the veteran community. In that light, this year we have asked representatives of other veteran and ex-service organisations in NSW to join with the RSL NSW Board to march together in the Sydney ANZAC Day March. The next step is to work with other groups to forge unified positions on veterans’ policy, so that next year we can speak in Canberra with an amplified voice and deliver a greater result for veterans and their families.
In your sub-Branch, you can reach out to other ex-service organisations in your local area to explore ways you can work together and solve common challenges. I know many of you do this already, and many of our members volunteer for more than one veterans’ group. Keep this up, and if there is more we can be doing to bring the veteran community back together again under the leadership of the RSL please let me know.
District Council Representatives Meeting
As you read in last week’s State Secretary Newsletter, we recently brought nearly fifty District Council Presidents and Secretaries together at ANZAC House to lay out the problems RSL NSW is grappling with and seek advice on the way forward. It was an open and productive two days of discussions, and I am grateful to those who attended as well as the staff who organised the meeting. We must rely more heavily on our Districts to provide the backbone of RSL NSW across the state and have asked our Presidents at the District level what responsibilities they are able to take on and what resources they will need to do it.
Convening representatives from 23 Districts on a regular basis is practically difficult and, to that end, District Council representatives at the meeting elected seven of their number to work closely with the RSL NSW Board in the coming six months to shape the future Constitution and Strategic Plan that members want. The elected seven representatives are:
- Peter Fidden (Karuah sub-Branch – Vice President, Newcastle DC)
- Brian Boughton (East Maitland sub-Branch – President, Hunter Valley DC)
- Bill Hardman (Forestville sub-Branch – President, Northern Beaches DC)
- Lee Cordner (Kiama/Jamberoo sub-Branch – President, Central Southern DC)
- Ron Duckworth (Bass Hill sub-Branch – Honorary Secretary, Far Southern Metropolitan DC)
- Keith Wood (Gundagai sub-Branch – Vice President, Far South Western DC)
- Grahame Handley (Castle Hill sub-Branch – Honorary Secretary, Far Western Metropolitan DC)
Thanks to each of them for volunteering (or being volunteered!) to serve. The Board looks forward to working with you in the months between now and our October Congress.
District Council Secretaries have been sent information from the two-day meeting which they will share with sub-Branch members in the coming weeks. This information lays out some of the strategic issues that RSL NSW needs to resolve, including fundraising, governance, finances, and compliance with our charitable-purpose. They have also received the results of the SVA survey conducted earlier this year, which we will be releasing publicly after ANZAC Day commemorations have concluded.
RSL NSW Director Vacancies
The nominations committee of the RSL NSW Board this week conducted interviews with shortlisted member candidates and expects to be able to resolve appointments to casual vacancies at a Board meeting on Wednesday, 10 April. Advertising has commenced for Independent Directors in accordance with the RSL NSW Act 2018, and you can find the advertisement here.
ANZAC Day Events
This morning I represented you at the RSL NSW / Department of Education RSL and Schools Remember ANZAC Commemoration Service. We had more than one hundred schools attend the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park to commemorate our ancestors in a service entirely led by student leaders. His Excellency the Governor of NSW delivered an outstanding address. Last week I attended the opening of a new office and veterans’ drop-in centre established by our Auburn sub-Branch, who took the occasion to contribute $20,000 to the RSL sub-Branch Support & Assistance Fund. This week I will be attending the ANZAC Commemoration march and service at Canterbury Hurlstone Park sub-Branch, as well as a range of events in the next few weeks.
I know you are all busy too. Rather than list all of this activity in these updates, I will post semi-regular updates to our Facebook page so you can get a better sense of the sorts of things the Board and I are doing on a day-today basis.