“Shared Mission, Shared Future” – RSL NSW strategic planning17-Aug-2016
Written by CEO/State Secretary: Mr G Kolomeitz
As my team at ANZAC House continue on the strategic planning journey for the period 2017-2021, the ongoing relevance of RSL NSW and the ever-increasing need for the services we provide is becoming increasingly apparent. Whilst we remain a progressive organisation, being agile and adaptive to the evolving needs of the serving and former Defence community and their families, we must continue to keep one eye on the past. Our forebears established this organisation with a view to looking after their surviving mates and the families of the fallen but also with a vision to the future – to leave a legacy for subsequent generations of ex-Service people and their families. In order to keep faith with the intent of the founding generations of RSL members, we have a similar duty to plan strategically in order to preserve that legacy and care for the current generation of our mates and their families whilst considering what the League will offer to future generations.
Even a cursory glance at the achievements of earlier RSL NSW members and executives evidences a preparedness to take up the fight for our constituency. This fight included advocacy to and lobbying of government at all levels on issues of relevance to the League broadly and to members specifically. Noting greater than 50% of the support and services provided by our operational arm, RSL DefenceCare, has in recent years been directed at serving ADF members and their families, it is relevant that RSL NSW, working with RSL National, directs its attention to Defence in our advocacy and lobbying efforts. We must plan to engage with government and the public service at all levels, both in servicing the needs of our client base and in keeping faith with the actions of our forebears – they were not afraid to take up the fight and nor should we be. Our strategic planning reflects this reality.
The voice of the RSL was once a powerful force not to be ignored in political circles. Where once the State President and State Secretary had direct and timely lines of communication with the Premier and relevant ministers, such communication has too often, in recent times, been relegated to public servants at various levels. Of course, ministerial communication is not the only way to get our message out – to execute our Mission in the public face. Our strategic planning at RSL NSW now reflects the need for the strategic use of media outlets and social media tools to assist in the execution of our Mission and the promulgation of our message – the notion of the RSL getting its ‘mongrel’ back is being inculcated in our strategy.
In exercising our voice it is incumbent on the League to remind our parliamentarians of all political persuasions of the following prime ministerial commitments made in the aftermath of conflict:
“We say to them … ‘you go and fight, and when you come back we will look after your welfare.’ We have entered into a bargain with the soldier and we must keep it.” Billy Hughes, 1917.
“When the war is over, the obligations to the fighting men will not have ceased … [we must] satisfy that solemn debt of honour which all governments owe to the fighting men and to their dependents, for having stood between the enemy and those at home.” John Curtin, 1944.
“A Cabinet committee of ex-Servicemen completely revised the schedule of benefits, and made recommendations which were adopted … though changing costs of living will render a further review in our next Budget clearly necessary.” Robert Menzies, 1951.
“They should be given war service homes, repatriation health benefits, civilian rehabilitation training, scholarships for their children and generous retirement and resettlement allowances.” Gough Whitlam, 1969.
“These are people who stick together; these are people who see things through. Many [of the injured] will not serve again. Some will not walk again. Not one will be forgotten. Our country will take care of these Australians as they have taken care of us.” Julia Gillard, 2011.
“When we look back at Australia’s treatment of veterans, the sad fact is that our actions have not always matched the best of intentions.”
“And we honour your service by caring for the wounded, honouring the fallen and caring for their families and never forgetting that the best way to honour the heroes of World War One in this century is to support and care for the heroes and veterans of today.” Malcolm Turnbull, 2016.
It follows that enhanced engagement with government is reflective of our vision – “Shared Mission, Shared Future”. Part of this vision is gaining greater participation on the part of both government and the corporate sector in the execution of our Mission. This reflects what I am calling the “tripartite relationship” between RSL NSW, the State and Federal governments, and the corporate sector in funding and delivering the broad array of services required of us under our charitable trust obligations.
As I have emphasised on previous occasions, RSL NSW is a charity with a ‘noble and honourable mission’ – to provide for the care, wellbeing, compensation assistance and commemoration of serving and former Defence members and their families and to promote government and community awareness of the needs of the serving and ex-Service community and families. This mission is stated in similar terms in the Objects of the charitable trust governing our operations as a charity. Compliance with this charitable trust allows RSL NSW to enjoy certain taxation benefits deriving from our charitable status. Non-compliance with the terms and rules of this charitable trust risks the loss of our charitable status and resultant benefits. In order to properly comply with the requirements of the trust, RSL NSW must ensure that our ‘income, property and assets are used and applied solely toward the promotion and pursuit of the Objects of the trust. In addition to the risk of such loss of charitable status, a more tangible risk is that posed to the ability of RSL NSW to fund its charitable activities in a substantial and sustainable way into the future.
The upshot is that RSL NSW, including its sub-Branches, has an obligation to direct its financial holdings to the achievement of our charitable purpose, ie, the execution of our Mission. As CEO, I have a duty to explore and develop funding options which both sustain our charitable activities and ensure compliance with our obligations under the charitable trust. The good news is that we at RSL NSW State Branch, in conjunction with the General Manager of our service provider, RSL DefenceCare, are developing ‘big, bold, brave’ ideas – initiatives aimed at achieving both these objectives whilst preserving and protecting sub-Branch capital from risk. One such initiative presently being developed is the use of ‘impact investing’ by which sub-Branches invest in bonds to fund our charitable services and simultaneously receive a return on their investments from the government based on the performance of these services.
The NSW State Government has embraced impact investing, via the use of social impact bonds, in a range of social areas and, I am very pleased to advise, recently opened up an impact investing line for ‘veterans’ homelessness’ which, of course, includes a holistic approach to addressing and preventing veteran homelessness by utilising all the services RSL NSW presently provides. A number of sub-Branches in the State are now structuring their financial planning to cater to inclusion in this impact investing option, as part of their diversified investment strategies, once the initiative is operational. I have been meeting with a number of members of the NSW Parliament from both sides of their respective chambers in the course of developing this funding initiative and the response to date has been very supportive. This funding model carries no political risk in light of the savings to the State coffers it envisages and no financial risk to capital in light of the government guarantee attached to the bonds once established.
The common theme when speaking with recently separated Defence members across the State is that the transition process from the ADF to civilian life and, particularly, from the ADF to DVA is a minefield which is very poorly handled by Defence and DVA. Concerns surrounding the navigation of this minefield are purportedly exacerbated when mental health issues are present. Assisting in the transition space is entirely on-Mission for RSL NSW – this is a space which the League, by absolute necessity, must occupy in order to properly execute our Mission and remain relevant to the needs of the current generation of serving and former ADF members. An aspect of ADF transitions which I find particularly disturbing is the Individual Welfare Board (IWB). Having recently attended a welfare board as support person for a transitioning special operations soldier and RSL member, I can only say that such boards are concerned with “welfare” by name only. The board consisted of no less than three Lieutenant Colonels, one of whom was a lawyer, two Majors and three Warrant Officers – all furiously taking notes or digitally recording the meeting. In the absence of a support person, this board would have been little more than an ambush of a private soldier with mental health concerns who is in the process of leaving his chosen career. The attitude of the commanding officer chairing this ambush was confrontational and dismissive and was certainly not conducive with ensuring the future wellbeing of one of her soldiers – indeed his welfare appeared to be the last thing on the commanding officer’s mind and the welfare of a soldier certainly had little relevance to the Lieutenant Colonel lawyer in attendance. Indeed, having read the Defence writings on the subject of welfare boards I can identify no place for a lawyer in this process – surely a lawyer of the rank of Lieutenant Colonel is more gainfully and efficiently employed in other duties rather than attending every welfare board in his unit – or was it just this particular welfare board? That question is perhaps better addressed by way of a Senate Estimates brief, which RSL NSW is certainly prepared to compile in the exercise of our voice of serving and ex-serving Defence members.
I have since ascertained that this process in the guise of welfare is far from an isolated case. In the last week I met with a former soldier and trained psychologist, who is also a sub-Branch welfare officer, at which time she described to me the adverse impact her “welfare” board had on her wellbeing at the time. She was also very critical of the welfare board process, stating it is not likely to contribute to positive clinical outcomes for those members subjected to such process – some of our most vulnerable Defence members.
In our strategic planning, RSL NSW is addressing the need to have a footprint in the transitions space including the need to lobby government for a more outcome-focussed and genuinely welfare-based transition process which actually places the needs of our sailors, soldiers and airforce members at the forefront of all considerations. Further, RSL NSW is working with the NSW Government and the corporate sector in the post-separation training and employment space. This is our Mission.
Sub-Branches would by now have received the list of nominees and voting instructions for the by-election of a State President following the elevation of Mr Rod White to the RSL National presidency. I can advise members who may not be aware that the nominees for State President are, in the order of the ballot, Mr Peter Stephenson, Mr James Brown, Mr Robert Crosthwaite, Mr William Hardman and Mr John Haines. Ballot papers are to be returned to me as the Returning Officer no later than the close of business on Wednesday 28th September 2016.
As I conclude this On The Radar piece, I return to the obligation imposed on all of us in the League – an obligation which our forebears recognised in establishing this noble organisation - by asking the following question: do I want to leave the RSL in a better state for the next generations of veterans and ex-Service people and their families?