The contest for the RSL Presidency boils down to strategy and the wherewithal to make it happen

The very fact that there is a contested election for the presidency speaks volumes of the mood within the member ranks of RSL Victoria. The three-way contest for the presidency of RSL Victoria reveals that this is not a simple intergenerational stoush.


The three candidates for the presidency (introduced in the order they appear on the ballot) are David Jamison AM, Glen Ferrarotto, and the incumbent Robert Webster OAM.


The challengers, Jamison and Ferrarotto, are by no means rogue candidates caught up in a tide of discontent. They are earnest and serious contenders who in their election statements advocate for measured change to ensure the RSL is able to meet the needs of current and future generations.


Webster has made an enormous contribution to the League, first joining the State Executive in 1989. His election statement cites the challenges of the times, offering a steady hand and to “position the state branch with its next generation of leaders”.


The choice in the election is about who amongst them is the most capable of uniting the members and devising and implementing a workable strategy for the future.


Despite the occasional references to a strategic plan, nothing has been published and there is little evidence that a strategic plan is in use. What became of the fabled RSL Victoria’s Strategic Plan 2019-2023 developed under the guidance of previous CEO Mike Annett is somewhat of a mystery. Reportedly, Annett's plan was built around the following five pillars:

  1. Governance and Communications

  2. Delivery of Services

  3. RSL Brand

  4. Constitutional Structure

  5. Business Model

What the plan actually said about any strategic priorities is also a mystery. What is known; however, is that there is growing dissatisfaction amongst members who are raising concerns about organisations performance across each of the five areas listed above.


Although there is growing speculation that the meeting won’t go ahead as scheduled, the AGM, and by default, the election has been set for 11 July 2020.


One concern about the 11 June date is that some sub-branches (such as Bentleigh RSL for example) have not yet given the minimum 14 days notice to their members for the OGM required to determine how the sub-branch will use its votes.


Not only are these sub-branch votes required by the Rules, but they are also the only occasion members get to have their say in the election process. But when the election does go ahead, members should know that their say in the election is either diluted or amplified by a mad system of disproportionate representation.


Under the State Branch Rule 10.3(e)(1), each sub-branch are allocated a number of votes according to the number of Service and Life Members within the branch as follows:

This system delivers the possibility of a situation where a tiny sub-branch of 15 barely interested members has the same voting power of a highly active sub-branch of 169 members.


It’s a situation where having members on the books is important; no matter the quality of member engagement of the bang for patriotic buck.


Despite this ill-conceived voting system, at least the Branch Rules require the use of preferential voting for the election or branch officers. This means that unless a candidate attracts more than 50% of first preference votes, second preferences become very important in deciding the outcome. In a three-way contest, this means that the Returning Officer may have some work to do in counting second preference votes.


Which leads to yet another issue. The State Branch Rules do not allow for the nomination of independent scrutineers. Instead, and according to the rules, “the State Executive is to appoint at least five Service or Life Members to be scrutineers and to assist the Returning Officer in the conduct of a ballot.”


In every other democratic jurisdiction, the job of a scrutineer is to scrutinize the conduct of the ballot, not to work as Assistants to the Returning Officer. Clearly the use of scrutineer in this instance is a misnomer. There is simply no mechanism in the rules for the proper oversight of the election or for independent observation of its conduct.


In addition to the above, there is no way of ensuring sub-branch representatives actually cast their votes in accordance with the wishes of their members as determined in the aforementioned OGMs.


Should there be any uncertainty about the veracity of the problems already stated, the real story is that the forthcoming election is bristling with controversy.

Will the AGM and election go ahead on the 11th July as planned? Will there be time for sub-branches to call OGMs ahead of the vote? Will the vacant position for Treasurer be filled by the only qualified nominee? Is there a process in place that verifies the financial status of members being represented by sub-branches?


Well, stay tuned.


In the meantime, RSL Victoria members might consider what they want for the future of the RSL in Victoria and who might have skills and wherewithal to bring it all together into a coherent and actionable plan.


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