RSL NSW AGM and State Congress 2021
During the virtual RSL NSW State Congress and AGM, delegates collaborated to bring RSL NSW closer to the attainment of the goals in the Strategic Plan 2021-26, and heard from distinguished speakers including Governor and RSL NSW Patron Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC; Minister for Sport, Multiculturalism, Seniors and Veterans The Honourable Natalie Ward MLC; Defence Force Chief General Angus Campbell AO DSC; RSL Australia President Greg Melick AO SC; and DVA Secretary Liz Cosson AM CSC.
The Minister reminded us that collaboration has increased in recent years between state and federal governments, and ESOs including RSL NSW, heralding impactful developments and opportunities such as the Nowra Wellbeing Centre, while Campbell advocated for further increasing assistance and collaboration.
“In her preliminary report, Dr Boss highlights how much of the heavy lifting community and veteran support organisations do in order to support our ADF members, veterans and their families,” Campbell said, citing former interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention Dr Bernadette Boss. “You should be supported in this but it needs to be work that is undertaken in a spirit of coordinated, collaborative, complimentary assistance.”
“Last year, when the pandemic first hit, I was not a proponent of using the word unprecedented,” Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC told RSL NSW State Congress 2021, setting herself apart from just about every media outlet and brand in the country. “It was a difficult year, and this year, I feel, has been more so. But to say it was unprecedented fails to give due thought or respect to what others have endured, particularly our Defence personnel, veterans and those still serving, along with their families.”
And, despite difficulty, the year had its highlights. Beazley cited ANZAC Day’s Dawn Service and March, and several commemorative and memorial services, including at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day.
She also cited the impact of members working together to support veterans and their families across the state – with phone calls and parcels delivered by sub-Branch members to vulnerable people during the pandemic, and the $2.1 million donated by RSL sub-Branches to RSL LifeCare
“Each of these speaks to the advocacy mission of RSL to stand for the interests of veterans and their families, to maximise veteran wellness.,” Her Excellency said. “Together they demonstrate what more than 340 RSL NSW sub-Branches can achieve together.”
As well as unity, Her Excellency highlighted an ongoing focus on wellbeing, sharing a piece of advice we heard from Catherine McGregor in our transition webinar earlier this year, about the importance of making peace with various experiences transitioning from Defence.
“Take a moment to remember those words,” Her Excellency said. “Be conscious of recognising when you or someone near you needs help. To do so is a strength, not a weakness.”
Meritorious Service Medal
The Honorable Margaret Beazley presented four members with the highest honour that can be bestowed on a member of the League. Meritorious Service Medal recipients have 30 years’ continuous RSL membership, alongside 25 years’ continuous outstanding honorary service.
Our congratulations and deep thanks to the recipients of the Meritorious Service Medal:
- Edmund (Ted) Smith, Caringbah RSL sub-Branch
- Gary Tompkins, Belfield RSL sub-Branch
- Paul Bryant, City of Fairfield RSL sub-Branch
- Colin Wilson, Windsor and District RSL sub-Branch
RSL NSW President Ray James OAM noted the difficult year it has been, with the impact of COVID-19 and the stark realities connected to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide among the challenges.
He said the coming year will see the RSL and other ex-service organisations needing to explain how hundreds of millions of dollars of assets are being used while young veterans need support in housing, employment and wellbeing.
“This is where we can unite our collective resources as the Strategic Plan envisions, to be ready and relevant to address this,” James said. “Then, not only will our veterans know what the RSL stands for and does, so will the wider community. A positive experience will attract people to join the RSL movement.
“The community is watching us, and we should remind them that we do care about all veterans and their families, and not just ourselves.”
Ahead of a Q&A session, RSL NSW CEO Jon Black spoke about recent challenges and achievements of RSL NSW – particularly concerning membership and finances. It’s no secret that the average age of RSL NSW members has been increasing steadily for decades, while membership numbers have declined.
In the past 18 months, however, a surge of new service members has seen a dip in the average age – this uplift has been particularly strong since September this year, aligning with changes in accordance with the RSL NSW Strategic Plan 2021-26 including relaunched member communications and free online membership.
“I’m certainly pleased about it, but it’s early days,” said Black. “I like to think that we’re certainly on the right trajectory to reversing that long trend of declining service members.”
New members are essential to a healthy League that can support veterans and their families well into the future, as is funding. Black provided an update on the upcoming Aggregated Investment Management opportunity and the Veterans’ Support Fund – which separately will provide opportunities for sub-Branches to invest with lower fees and the goal of higher returns, and contribute together to the ongoing support of veterans and their families throughout NSW.
Several sub-Branch questions concerned these financial changes.
How does investment support the Strategic Plan 2021?
I think it’s important that we understand the relationship between the two parts of the Strategic Plan. The first part is focused, essentially, on the sub-Branch getting the benefit of returns, but also the management of those resources on behalf of the sub-Branch.
We want the sub-Branch to identify what resources it needs from its returns to go into supporting local activities in the community. And then of course, you then refer to the Veterans’ Support Fund. With a four year forecast identifying what the sub-Branch is able to commit to donating into the Veteran Support Fund, that is how you help us deliver the Strategic Plan.
When is the prospectus being released to sub-Branches?
We are working very closely with Morgan Stanley at the moment on the onboarding pack, and our aim is to get that and the prospectus to sub-Branches by the end of February.
We appreciate the support particularly of Maroubra sub-Branch recently, who helped us develop and test the communications material for this. We are working to ensure it’s simple to undertake the onboarding, and for each sub-Branch to hold an independent relationship with Morgan Stanley and select the portfolio or the asset allocation that best suits their own investment strategy and needs.
Is there a minimum investment amount?
The minimum will be $100,000 to take advantage of the investment system that Morgan Stanley provides – wholesale investment benefits are a significant thing to take advantage of.
Morgan Stanley agreed to the $100,000 initial investment balance, which is quite low compared to other investment managers who wouldn’t even look at portfolios unless they were $2.5 million. We will seek further opportunities to look at those smaller balances and see how we can support sub-Branches.
With membership applications being processed by ANZAC House now, who decides which sub-Branch new members join?
There are a lot of new membership applications coming through and each member can choose which sub-Branch they would like to be attached to, or they can choose to be attached to ANZAC House rather than a sub-Branch.
Current serving members or veterans of the ADF and allied forces can choose the sub-Branch that is closest or most convenient to their home or work, or wherever they may spend most of their time. So I think that’s really critical to making sure that we’re meeting the needs of veterans.
Membership application still requires a legal declaration that the prospective member is a veteran, and responsibility sits with the individual making a declaration – false declaration is an offence.
Who is responsible for Veteran Wellbeing Centres and how can sub-Branches get involved?
In the example of the Veterans’ Wellbeing Centre at Nowra, the Federal Government developed a wellbeing centre policy and announced $30 million to fund resources in six locations around Australia.
RSL NSW secured funding from that program for Nowra for the initial capital, undertaking to provide the ongoing operational costs of running the centre in perpetuity.
We are seeking grant funding and have had meetings with several locations around New South Wales leading up to this next federal election to convince the government to expand the program for wellbeing centres.
In terms of the sub-Branch getting involved in running the centre – contributions can be made to the Veterans’ Support Fund. These fund donations to RSL LifeCare for the ongoing running of the centres, and that will be recognised – that’s an enormous lift for us.
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