By Mark Schroffel
Regardless of the legitimacy of their actions (which will doubtless be discussed for some time to come) at RSL Victoria’s 105th annual conference , State President Robert Webster and CEO Jamie Twidale joined forces in an unedifying spectacle to kill a motion from the floor in which Lucas Moon was nominated for the position of Honorary State Treasurer.
The nomination for the vacant position was put to the meeting and duly seconded. Then, after a whisper from the CEO, the President abruptly announced that “the Returning Officer has determined Mr Moon is not eligible to be treasurer” and “so I am not prepared to accept the motion”.
Mr Moon’s nomination was widely anticipated so it strains credulity to suggest this was not a considered and pre-determined tactic by RSL Victoria’s leadership. And even if it was a spontaneous interpretation of the rules by the Returning Officer, Dr Webster was under no obligation to accept his sidekick’s intervention.
That Mr Moon’s candidacy could be so blithely blocked smacks of contempt for the membership and borders on the scandalous.
From my reading of the Rules, I could find no reference to the Returning Officer having any powers to interpret eligibility outside the specified criteria. Yes, criteria must be met, and yes it’s the responsibility of the Returning Officer to administer the processes set out within the Rules. But I could not find any mention of the quasi-judicial powers that Mt Twidale used to make his determination.
Section 9.4 of the state branch rules sets out the eligibility criteria for a member to hold the position of Honorary State Treasurer. Mr Moon asserted to the meeting that he currently satisfies the criteria outlined in 9.4 and was prepared to back it up.
Section 10.2 (f) of the state branch rules outlines the process for sub-branch delegates to nominate a member to fill a vacant branch executive position. Rule 10.2 (f) states:
“If on the closure of nominations, there is no nomination for a Branch Officer, a Sub-Branch Delegate may nominate a Member at the Annual Conference, subject to the nominee's consent.”
Mr Moon reminded the President of the provisions of Section 10.2 (f), noting that:
the position for which he was being nominated was vacant,
he is a qualified accountant and meets the criteria for the role outlined in Section 9.4, and
any member of the conference is entitled to nominate him from the floor.
The President feebly rebutted that the wording of rule includes the word “may”.
Setting aside Dr Webster’s resort to the sophistry of legalese for the moment, even if the word “may” provided the President with the discretion to accept or reject the motion, on what basis did he choose to veto Mr Moon’s candidacy?
The matter of discretion did not arise because the CEO jumped in at that point to read out Rule 10.2(f) to the meeting and added: “however the nominee still must meet the eligibility requirements of 9.4."
He closed by addressing Mr Moon directly: "Lucas, with respect, you were not eligible when you nominated and remain ineligible now.”
And supposedly that was that. Decision made.
Despite Mr Moon arguing that he met the requirements of 9.4, Rule 10.2 (f) only requires that a member may be nominated. The sub-section is silent on the matter of the member meeting other eligibility requirements.
In any case, how did Mr Twidale reach the conclusion that Mr Moon remained ineligible? Despite the gravity of his ruling – blocking a member in good standing from running for office, despite every indication that he was entitled to do so – there was no explanation, no justification, no attempt to place such a seemingly draconian decision in any sort of context.
Clearly the issue warranted more discussion than it was afforded. It was summarily swept aside in such a way that one newly elected member of the State Executive stood his ground and informed the meeting that until the matter was resolved he would refuse to take his position on the executive.
Maybe it was all just a big mistake, an over-zealous reading of the rules? Not very likely. One did not need to be unduly cynical to recognise a pre-planned defensive manoeuvre designed specifically to keep Lucas Moon out.
Time to call in the lawyers? Maybe.
Before it comes to that, however, it is not too late for Dr Webster to put right a demonstrable wrong. He must put this issue to rest or risk being called to account by the members.
In the meantime, he and his CEO have brought RSL Victoria into disrepute. This is not petty RSL branch politics. Serious questions are being raised about the integrity of the State Conference processes and the conduct of the branch’s leadership. Such antics as were witnessed at State Conference do not bode well for the future of RSL Victoria.
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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