By Eamon Hale
As far as the RSL at a state and national level are concerned, RSL Queensland is a leader amongst them. Taking advantage of their significant cash assets raised predominantly through the RSL Art Union, the Queenslanders have led the national RSL in developing an impressive suite of research informed services. Notable initiatives include the RSL Employment Program, Mates4Mates and Go Beyond.
Unfortunately, the Queensland branch has also had its share of controversy. In March 2018, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission issued a Directions Notice to RSL Queensland in in relation to governance, bookkeeping and questionable benefits to Directors. The then incoming President, Tony Ferris, had a major repair job on his hands.
Ferris, RSL Queensland’s youngest ever President, set off on a vigorous modernisation campaign to ensure the league was fit for purpose and able to stand up to legal and financial scrutiny. The culmination of these efforts came this year, with drafting a new constitution and a Membership Value Proposition (MVP), “to provide simple and compelling description of the value and benefit of being an RSL member” and “to give a consistent message about why veterans and their families would want to join, stay and contribute to the RSL”.
The MPV set out that “RSL Queensland’s mission is to advocate for Veterans and the Defence Family. As members you are supported to commemorate, connect and thrive throughout life.”
It was a simple and dare I say sensible attempt to draw the members of the state branch together in a unified and enduring purpose. But the delegates at Congress spoke and the MPV and Ferris as President are no more.
These outcomes must have clearly meant a hugely disappointing Congress for Ferris. The victor, Major General Stephen Day, reportedly didn’t stick around to listen to Ferris’s speech or hear the results of the election ballot. The early departure was interpreted by some as a snub and was perhaps not the graceful handover expected for an RSL State Congress. Others however commented on the positive tone of the congress and suggest that Day represents an opportunity to take the branch to a new level.
Indeed, it will be very interesting to see the style of leadership Day will bring to the role. With a CV that doesn’t require any padding his experience with RSL is however limted and he has not yet outlined his ambitions for the role. His rank and deployments to Namibia, East Timor, Iraq, and Afghanistan make his military qualifications plain to see, and his knowledge of governance through graduating from the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the United Stated National Association of Corporate Directors also put him in good stead.
Despite the election and constitution outcome, Tony Ferris deserves great recognition for a job well done. He leaves RSL Queensland in a vastly better position than when he began and he can be very proud of his record, remaining an excellent example of what a State President can be. Indeed, RSL Queensland generally is a shining example of what can be achieved with vision and willingness to get in and make things happen.
While it might have been galling for some that a relative newbie to the RSL (Day having only joined the Gaythorne Sub-Branch about 6 months ago) can nominate and win the senior position, it is at least a positive reflection on the strength of the RSL in Queensland that two quality candidates are willing to contest the presidency.
As for the future of RSL Queensland under Stephen Day, we will be watching with great hope and optimism.
With the Royal Commission into Veteran and Defence Suicide looming large, arguably the biggest veteran issue in generations, RSL members will be looking to Day to influence in champion much needed changes in response to its revelations.
My hope is that his recent strategic experience outside of the military, his reputation within it, and a personal vision will add a new and positive dimension to the way the RSL does business.
Eamon Hale is the Vice President of the Hawthorn RSL Sub-branch in Victoria, having served in the Australian Army as a cavalryman for 16 years. Eamon is a regular contributor to Australian Veteran News.
Connect with Eamon on twitter: @eamhale