By Mark Schroffel
RSL Victoria is in trouble. It has become dysfunctional, divided and hopelessly decoupled from its reason for being, which is to support and advocate on behalf of veterans.
The unravelling of RSL Victoria, under a leadership that is out of touch, defensive and even arrogant in its oblivion, is a matter of concern to a band of Victorian veterans who believe that drastic change is necessary. They believe it is time for a change of leadership, but more importantly, they demand a root-and-branch overhaul of RSL Victoria to ensure that it remains a relevant and effective veterans’ organisation.
They have highlighted the many failings of RSL Victoria and its leadership: the mismanagement of the branch’s finances, the breakdown in engagement with the veteran community, the hamfisted and tin-eared attempt, since abandoned, to sell veterans’ accommodation not-for-profit Vasey RSL Care; the destructive over-reliance on poker-machine revenue; the fracturing of Victoria’s sub-branch community; and what can at best be described as an uneven record when it comes to veteran support, welfare and advocacy.
The reformers’ cause is beyond question. But what has also become clear is that the reformers are as wanting as the object of their agitation.
The self-styled RSL Reform Group is a mostly anonymous group of veterans whose intentions are well founded but whose cause has been undermined by its lack of cohesion, purpose and accountability. From almost every viewpoint RSL Victoria is in desperate need of reform and better leadership, but the same can be said of the so-called Reform Group.
While the cloak of anonymity has afforded the reformers some safety from the tribunal-happy executive at ANZAC House – dissenters speak up at some risk to their standing as members – it is time for these would-be agents of change to come out of the shadows and assert their legitimacy as reformers who care genuinely and deeply about the future of RSL Victoria and the veterans and families it represents.
It is time for the reformers too stand up and be counted; to present the case for change in a unified and constructive way; to abandon the campaign of puerile emails and sniping from the sidelines and behave not as a mob of unruly vigilantes but as a disciplined reform movement the membership can trust and respect; and to bring accountability and transparency to their campaign for change, the very attributes they (rightly) say are lacking in RSL Victoria.
There is a reason RSL Victoria’s leadership, despite its manifest failings, has survived another year of intrigue and inadequacy. That reason is the failure of the reformers to convince RSL Victoria’s membership that change is necessary.
One thing for sure is that there is no shortage of shrill voices attacking the failures of “the system”. What is lacking is a well organised grass-roots style campaign for change with strong leadership and the backing of members who are prepared to stand and be counted.
The impotence of the reformers was revealed at the recent State Conference, with RSL Victoria’s leadership running roughshod over those who dared to advocate for change. Yes, the status quo was aided by arcane rules and procedures, and an arrogant and ruthless preparedness to deploy them, but the reformers cannot avoid responsibility for their ineffectiveness.
The reformers have become a caricature of the organisation they seek to change. They have failed to instill confidence in themselves or their call for change. They do not hold the trust or respect of their fellow members. The time for the haphazard and anonymous guerilla campaign is over.
The reformers need a plan and effective leadership. They need to be seen to be advocating for change, they need to reveal themselves – Who are they? What do they stand for? What qualities and qualifications do they bring to the table? – they must outline what that change would like under their vision and leadership, they need to co-ordinate their efforts in a way that properly holds the present leadership to account and gives confidence to those veterans who also would like to see change.
It’s time for the reformers to step up or pack up.
Mark Schroffel is the Editor-in-Chief of Australian Veteran News. Mark is a veteran and has a day-job as strategy consultant and researcher interested in veteran support policies and transition programs. He designed and led the Melbourne Legacy sponsored ShoutOUT research initiative to gather insights and stories about post-1991 veterans and their families. Mark can be followed on twitter @MarkSchroffel
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