RSL Victoria’s 2020 AGM to be held on July 9 promises to be a doozy.
It seems that the chairman, Robert Webster, has been cornered into a fight with a band of progressives hell-bent on kicking out stale incumbents and implementing sweeping changes to bring about transparency and democracy to the Victorian branch.
Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming AGM, it’s clear that a growing number of veterans are looking for a fresh approach.
The ructions within the Victorian Branch of the RSL might be partially explained by Webster’s 32 years of incumbency. Thirty-two years is an extraordinary run for an elected official. It suggests that RSL Victoria is more comfortable taking a conservative approach to running things, a preference for the tried and true (although just how “true” may be a matter of opinion).
It’s the sort of situation where everything works if the right people are in charge. Stability can be a good thing, but there comes a time when a fresh approach is needed.
Adding to the fury of members concerned about the future of RSL Victoria, the branch has had a brush with regulators in having to explain various money transfers, the so-called round-robin affair involving East Malvern and Rye sub-branches. The latest blow-up is around the executive order to sell not-for-profit aged-care organisation Vasey RSL Care resulting in the Chairman of Vasey RSL Care, Michael O'Meara, going public in defiance.
While there is a cloud over the old guard, there are also unsubstantiated - and possibly spurious - allegations levelled towards key voices for reform. The rifts within the ranks of RSL Victoria are deep and personal, and there seems to be limited apetite for reconciliation.
Meanwhile, faithful and loyal members and staff are holding it together to deliver the best they can for the veteran community. The current mess is incredibly unfair to them and the many people that rely on the RSL to help them through.
RSL Victoria is failing. Not because members have dared to challenge to status quoe, but because a lack of forseight over decades has lead the organistion to an unsustainable position. It either continues as a community oriented gaming and liquor concern, or it returns to its mission of providing “the best possible support and services to all generations of Veterans in Victoria”.
If there is a change of leadership after the next AGM, there is a question that must be asked: Will the new leadership have enough support - or skill - to manage the reconciliation and choose a path that benefits the next generation of veterans?
Mark Schroffel is a veteran, 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.