This year, unlike any other year in its recent history, RSL member and community expectations on the performance of the RSL in the delivery of its mission is under the microscope; illuminated by the light of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. One thing the community is becoming aware of is the ineffectiveness of the support systems around veterans, especially those in transition. This is one area where the RSL is expected to play a significant role in terms of leadership and advocacy.
The Royal Commission has heard about the disjointed and mal-aligned services on offer from all manner of government agencies and the hundreds of ex-service organisations operating across Australia. One thing has become blindingly clear, is the need for unity and for key agents in the process. Leading organisations such as the RSL must take this opportunity to re-established trust and confidence in motives and what they deliver for the Australian veteran community.
When it comes to the Royal Commission, the RSL is one organisation that’s had a clumsy grip on its obligations towards representing the will and the interests of its members. I will leave it to others to examine the RSL’s leadership on this issue, but I think it’s fair to say that so far, the RSL has managed to essentially announce that it welcomes the findings and, somewhat belatedly, calling for action on dealing with the complexities veterans and their families face in accessing services.
It’s difficult to see amongst its initiatives, including the idea of a new services directory, any sense of a strategy that takes a national approach to improve coordination of support, making use of best practice support systems and case management.
There’s much to do, and the Australian veteran community needs the RSL to lift its game.
One challenge is that the RSL is operating on an outmoded model of governance that has fostered its father-knows-best approach to doing business. A case-in-point is the forthcoming election of the National President and the complete lack of engagement amongst members. This important event has the potential to shape how the RSL will influence the national agenda in relation to veterans’ affairs for now and well into the future.
Indeed, democracy within RSL is such that the members are being kept in the dark about how the State delegates will be voting when it comes to deciding the who will be the President of RSL Australia for the next three years. It seems that consultation on such matters of such significance is not really part of the way we do things around the RSL. Instead, State delegates will take their instructions from State Boards and simply cast their vote accordingly at the RSL Australia AGM scheduled to be held sometime in September or October.
The reality is that there is strictly no need for consultation simply because the 100k+ individual veterans signed up to the RSL are only members within the structures of their respective State Branches. It’s the State Branches entities that make membership of the Returned & Services League of Australia Ltd (commonly referred to as RSL Australia, or RSL National) not any individual member.
Clause 9.2 of the Constitution of the Returned & Services League of Australia Ltd states the following:
The Members of the RSL shall be:
(a) the President; and
(b) State Branches.
RSL National By-Law 3 which outlines the rules in which the above “members” are to elect the National President. The election procedure is outlines as follows:
(a) If there is more than one nomination for President, at the Annual General Meeting the
Members will elect the President from amongst those nominated.
(b) The election will be conducted by secret ballot.
(c) The returning officer is the National Solicitor or other person appointed by the Board.
(d) The person receiving the majority of the votes cast will be declared elected.
(e) If there are only two nominees and a tied vote, the current President has a casting vote.
In a nutshell, the National President will be elected by the State Branch delegates and the current National President at the AGM of the Returned & Services League of Australia Ltd to be held sometime in September or October. And, as it will be the case with this year’s election where the current President is re-standing for election, the current National President is entitled to participate in the vote in which he is a contestant. He also has the benefit of holding the casting vote should there be tie.
There are two nominations for the National Presidency to be decided at this year’s AGM: Tony Ferris, the former President of RSL Queensland and the current National President Greg Melick.
From what they say publicly, the two nominees offer very different visions for the future of the RSL. Their views and ideas of the future are likely to be of interest to the membership, however many members won’t even be aware of who standing and how they came to be nominated.
This piece is not about who has the better vision or the credentials to deliver on their promise, but an attempt to illuminate an election process that fails to seek views of the thousands of members supposedly represented by their peak body. Without broader member engagement, RSL Australia is adrift from modern standards of corporate transparency that at a bare minimum would require State Branch boards to advise their members on who they will be voting for and why.
For the RSL is to be seen as a reforming and capable organisation, it must embrace a process in which the State Branches engage their members in the voting process.
The smart money on the outcome for 2022 is that incumbency will be rewarded, and members won’t be given the chance to express their view on the options before them.
AVN approached all RSL State Branches for comment and received three replies ahead of the deadline for this article.
The President of RSL Queensland, Stephen Day, advised AVN that “RSL Queensland will be represented at the AGM and, consistent with its constitutional approach to voting for elected positions, that delegate will vote on behalf of the Queensland Branch. The delegate’s vote will be informed by the collective view of the State Board.”
In a similar vein, a spokesperson for RSL NSW said that “RSL NSW will be represented at the RSL Australia Annual General Meeting in September. Its representative will vote in consultation with and on behalf of its members.”
And then there was the ever so brief response from RSL SA jabbing out a line directing us to the RSL Constitution.
How’s that for a take-it-or-leave-it approach towards members of a league filled with people who’ve risked their lives and their health for democracy?
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