RSL NSW will be facing its biggest test yet for survival and relevance as the state’s pre-eminent veteran support organisation.
Today, (4th) RSL NSW will be holding a congress in Sydney where RSL Sub Branches will vote on the acceptance of a new constitution.
The new constitution has been deemed necessary by the RSL NSW State Branch in order to improve accountability and comply with recommendations from both the NSW Government and the Bergin Enquiry. Former Supreme Court Judge Patricia Bergin led an inquiry that cast a forensic eye over RSL NSW and alleged that the former RSL NSW State President had spent over $450,000 of the RSL’s money for his own benefit with a corporate credit card.
The actions of Mr Rowe and others put RSL NSW on the nose as far as much of the Australian public and the veterans community were concerned. On top of the shenanigans in NSW, RSL Queensland was caught-out by the Australian Charities and not-for-profits commission for governance failures and the South Australian Branch of the RSL has had its own money dramas.
There is a consensus among the ranks of RSL in NSW that better accountability and governance measures are called for, but blood is boiling in many sub branches across the state due to the scale of changes being tabled by the new RSL NSW head shed.
I have written about the draft constitution in previous columns however, in summary, aspects of the new constitution, should it come into play, could see sub branch assets end up in the hands of state branch.
This may fit sub branches who could benefit from having the liability of property they own, particularly if it was in disrepair, becoming the responsibility of the much more financial state branch. It may not be palatable for small communities who own their RSL Halls in good condition or who have cash holdings to see ownership of these assets head to Sydney.
I have spoken to many in the veterans community about the proposed changes and a common theme comes through. The corruption that started all of this in the first place was in the executive of RSL NSW, not out in the regions. Many in regional NSW feel they, the RSL Sub Branches are being punished for what happened in Sydney.
Sub branches have been forced to suspend fundraising for many months and this has been detrimental to conducting core business and left their fund raising arm, the Auxiliary (previously known as the Womens’ Auxiliary) in limbo. Some RSL members have told me they will not be renewing their membership until they see which direction the organisation takes after the December 4 vote.
The 101 year old NSW RSL is at the most fragile period in its history. There is no easy fix to the current woes of the organisation. With younger veterans having their needs met by a swag of other veterans support organisations and many older veterans infuriated about the proposed future direction of the League, State President James Brown and his team face an unenviable task.
Which ever way voting goes today, I sense that the veterans community wants to see this distraction sorted out and the RSL, get on with supporting veterans and their families and commemorating the service and sacrifice of those that have served and who still serve. The RSL State Branch must now listen to the wishes of its members and act on those wishes.
Related reading: Sweeping changes to the RSL following 2016 fraud scandal