Being an active member of the Returned and Services League of Victoria (RSL Vic), I have witnessed firsthand the dedication, sacrifice, and service our volunteers embody. Just recently, this dedication was tested when our RSL Vic State President, Dr Robert Webster OAM, made a remark with a xenophobic undertone during the RSL Victoria's 108th Annual State Conference. He has since acknowledged his mistake and has openly apologised to delegates for the offensive comment. This incident, however, serves as a reminder that individual actions do not define our organisation as a whole.
Fair Critique versus Destructive Discourse
Trials and tribulations aside, a fair critique of our performance, or lack thereof, is not only welcome but necessary for our growth and improvement. However, I am profoundly disappointed that the discourse surrounding our organisation has stooped to new lows in recent times.
I have seen comments on social media that label our dedicated volunteers as "old white cronies." These attacks distract from our commitment to serving our veterans and breach the principles of understanding, empathy, and acceptance that I believe are fundamental to us as Australians. Rather than addressing the substance of our actions or suggesting ways to improve our services, these critics have chosen to resort to superficial slurs based on age, sex, and race.
In the critics' attempt to attack the perceived lack of inclusivity, they ironically demonstrate profound ageism, sexism, and racism. As I see it, we should not be assessed based on uncontrollable factors such as age, sex, and race. These are not chosen attributes. Instead, we should be judged by our actions, decisions, and contributions.
From my experience, every RSL volunteer I have interacted with has provided significant service to this nation. Many representing sub-branches have served operationally. Their commitment to Australia and its principles of freedom should be deeply respected, and this, not their demographic characteristics, should be recognised first and foremost.
Indeed, resorting to divisive and unfounded stereotypes such as the "old boys club" or, worse still, the derogatory "pale, stale and male" does nothing to bolster the integrity of our organisation. Instead, it creates unnecessary internal discord and fuels a harmful culture of blame. These cliched tropes not only misrepresent the diversity and dedication of our membership but also belittle the earnest intentions and efforts that each member brings to the table. This approach certainly doesn't pave the way for progress or improvement.
Such sweeping, inaccurate characterisations distract from the critical strategic issues that should rightly demand our focus and energy. It's essential to approach these matters with a serious mindset rather than defaulting to cheap, dismissive shots that undermine the validity of our real challenges. By engaging in substantive discussion around these issues, we can foster an environment of mutual respect and understanding that ultimately benefits our organisation as a whole.
Our Strength Lies in Our Differences
I would argue that the value of the RSL lies in our united desire to serve our community, despite our differences. Indeed, if we learn to appreciate and harness them effectively, those differences could be our greatest strength.
Just like any other organisation, the RSL has room for improvement. Our challenges and shortcomings are not hiding in the shadows but primarily out in the open for us to identify and overcome. And it's important to underscore a point that's often lost amidst the din of misconceptions and stereotypes: No nefarious forces are at work here, and no geriatric masterminds are secretly plotting for power. It's just an easily promotable myth. The truth is that we are doing our best, and often, as is the case for many volunteer organisations, the results can be disappointing.
While such narratives might be an appealing explanation for our issues, they do nothing to move us forward. So instead of casting doubts and spreading divisive theories, it's better to direct energies toward the big strategic shifts needed to make it better for the people we aime to support.
The goal should be to work together, even in the face of disagreements, to make the RSL an even stronger pillar of support for those who have sacrificed so much for our nation.
It's far easier to tear down than build up. Let's choose the more challenging but ultimately rewarding path of unity and improvement.