Board Communiqué for 26 November 2021

The Board met via Teams video conference, commencing at 9:00am. Due respects were made to the fallen.

Impact of COVID 19 and Royal Commission

The Board acknowledged the ongoing impact of Covid19 restrictions on operations but noted that sub-Branches continue to reach out and support members and other veterans in need. The Board further noted that the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is about to commence and identified the significant role the RSL will have during this inquiry, responding to matters raised, and critically supporting impacted veterans and their families.

President’s Report

The President briefed the Board on his observations and member feedback from his extensive phone calls and visits around the State.  Areas of interest included:

Commemoration – The President thanked all sub-Branches for leading commemorations for Remembrance Day across so many communities across the State.  From front pages of major mastheads to leading TV and social media, the RSL was very prominent, as it was with respect to the Royal Commission.

Fundraising – The President noted the fantastic effort on Remembrance Day, especially in the regions. Several sub-Branches remarked on the improved motivation because sub-Branches keep 100% of monies earned (per Strategic Plan). However, the Board discussed the lost opportunity to get the RSL brand in the community where sub-Branches are not fundraising, principally in metropolitan areas where sub-Branches have other income streams.

Sub-Branch Portal and Communications – The President noted that the impact of the lockdowns has had a significant impact on communications as sub-Branches rely on meetings to update Members. Notably the information relating to the Strategic Plan such as the importance of the ‘portal’ rolled out to every sub-Branch to manage membership as the updated application system and free membership is implemented does not seem to have been circulated through the Membership, notwithstanding ongoing efforts to communicate information by ANZAC House. He noted the challenges of the volunteer base considering the volumes of information via email and web until face-to-face communications can be fully re-established.

RSL National

The President updated the Board on RSL Australia including the Qld President’s resignation from the Board. A new director was nominated by Qld, Mr Jamie Whitehead.

The President provided an update on the national support and commitment to the NSW (Strategic Plan initiative 1.1) initiated project for a ‘Catalogue of Services’ (an online capability that enables new or transitioning ADF personnel to connect to available support services, including their local sub-Branch) which has received initial endorsement from both the Department of Defence and Department of Veteran Affairs. Importantly, it is a collaborative project among all State RSLs and other national level ESOs like Legacy.

The President also reported that the new Federal Veterans Affairs Minister, Andrew Gee had met the State Presidents. He commented favourably on NSW’s intentions regarding the proposed increased network of Veteran Wellbeing Centres.

Strategic Matters for Decision

  • Young Veterans Advisory Committee –The Board approved the appointment of 10 veterans and a volunteer secretary to the Young Veterans Advisory Committee. The Committee will stand up officially on 6 December. Its purpose is to advise the Board on matters affecting Young Veterans and how to better engage younger veterans to get them involved with the League, aligned to the Strategic Plan’s objectives.
  • Membership –The Board noted the extraordinary uplift in membership since the October implementation of the online membership application process, as part of the Strategic Plan implementation. The Board noted the FAQs provided to sub-Branches regarding the new system and how challenging it is to undertake this implementation via email and other digital forms of correspondence. The Board noted that the deliberate promotion of the updated RSL membership process is yet to occur as it’s important for sub-Branches to familiarise themselves with the process before launching the planned promotions.
  • Congress 2021 – The Board considered several matters relating to this year’s Congress, including concerns raised through the DPC and separately from one DC President. This included consideration of request by some DC Presidents to postpone consideration of constitutional amendments until Congress 2022. On balance, the directors noted input from the broader membership and the efforts made by so many sub-Branches to prepare for Congress under very difficult circumstances due to the pandemic.

The Board also noted the appreciation conveyed by sub-Branches about the explanatory notes included in the Notice of Meeting because Congress is being held virtually. On that basis the Board decided to continue with the AGM, including consideration of all constitutional amendments, as planned, and as set out in the notice of AGM.

CEO’s Report

The CEO discussed the following issues and actions were taken as follows:

  • Royal Commission – The Royal Commission will be a key focus of ANZAC House resources and efforts as the scourge of suicide is a focal point of many veterans, particularly younger generations. It is a critical opportunity for the RSL to demonstrate through actions like the Strategic Plan what it is doing to be relevant and supportive of younger cohorts of veterans. The Board noted the RSL’s submission and RSL NSW’s preparedness to support impacted people.
  • Strategic Plan Implementation – The Board received and noted the first dashboard report regarding the status of implementation of the Strategic Plan. It will be placed on the website so all members can monitor progress, as required under the Strategic Plan. Progress will be updated to delegates at Congress where delegates will be asked to formally note the update.
  • Funding Model Part 1 – The Board examined the progress with the implementation of the Funding Model. Part 1 (Aggregated Investment Management) and noted the recent settlement of the formal agreement with the successful service provider. After a competitive process, the large international firm Morgan Stanley has been appointed to provide these services to sub-Branches which may participate on a voluntary basis. However, with the focus on Congress and then the holiday season, the onboarding information for sub-Branches to consider accessing this service will occur in February next year.
  • Funding Model Part 2 – After feedback had been received from sub-Branches Part 2 of the funding model (the ‘Contribution Pool’) is now called the Veteran Support Fund and its formal introduction has been delayed so it can be incorporated into a new SOP. The Veteran Support Fund is an opportunity for sub-Branches to choose which Statewide or strategic initiatives they wish to support. Although participation in the fund is voluntary per the Strategic Plan, many sub-branches have already made significant contributions, particularly to RSL DefenceCare (RSL LifeCare) and the Support and Assistance fund. To assist funding ANZAC House, it was agreed to reinstate the ‘President’s Shield’ as an initiative within the Veteran Support Fund.
    The CEO emphasised the importance of contributing to the Veteran Support Fund and the power of collective donations in attracting Members, particularly where activities or charities carry the RSL Brand. Many sub-Branches are still seeking to support other non-RSL veteran charities. In doing so, they are missing their opportunity to support and promote the RSL Brand and give it the standing it needs in the community so that the public understands what it stands for, but also, more importantly so that veterans understand what the RSL does and stands for (meaning they are then more likely to join.)
  • CFO Report – The Board noted the critical revenue impact because of the pandemic impacts on the Hyde Park Inn, and therefore the importance of Sub- Branches supporting ANZAC House through the Veteran Support Fund. The Board further noted the planned DA submission for the Hyde Park Inn in December, a significant milestone towards settlement of the sale. Also, the Board noted the new and emerging KPIs referring to membership and support to veterans.
  • Veteran Wellbeing Centres – The CEO provided an update. The Nowra permanent facility sod turning is expected to take place on 8 December. The Riverina Veteran Wellbeing Centre in Wagga is, now open in temporary location. Settlement of a site for a Centre in South Western Sydney is likely in first quarter 2022. In CBD Sydney, a Wellbeing Centre will likely commence operations in a temporary site from February 2022. The CEO also noted that a major advocacy campaign for Federal funding will commence in December. This includes coordinated efforts in Riverina, Hunter, Mid North Coast and Far North Coast. Sub-Branches are ‘spokes’ to each centre as per strategic plan, including the connection of volunteer advocates to a common client management system. DC Presidents are assisting in relevant areas.
  • Sub-Branch Voluntary Administration Levy – After consultation through the DPC, the Board approved the policy to enable sub-branches to charge attached members a ‘levy’ (akin to a ‘coffee and tea’ levy) of up to $15/year. The levy must be agreed by a general meeting of the Sub-Branch and individual members can choose whether to pay the levy or not. The detailed policy will be released in December.
  • Sub-Branch Matters – The Board noted all the matters approved under delegation, and approved Culcairn, Ulmarra and South Grafton becoming Chapters.

Committee Reports  

  • Audit and Risk Committee
    -The Board noted and approved the Risk and WHS reports, noting the looming and increased risk associated with cybercrime. The updated delegation’s matrix was noted and approved.-With respect to WHS the Board noted the requirement to further investigate the risks relating to unvaccinated employees and volunteers. A policy is to be considered, and if deemed advisable, developed to support sub-Branch executives and trustees in navigating COVID-19 vaccination issues.-Following a competitive market process, the Committee made its recommendation to the Board to appoint PKF to audit RSL NSW effective FY2022. The Board noted the efforts of EY on the audit engagement since 2017.
  • Selections Committee – Seven Life Memberships recommendation was received and endorsed for National approval.
  • Veteran Services and Policy Committee – A lengthy report was noted. Many matters are being progressed, particularly in relation to advocating with the DVA for improvements to access specialist appointments. Detailed information is available on the website. The Board noted the successful evaluation of the RSL’s Liaison Officer at the National Centre for Veteran HealthCare at Concord. Over 50 veterans were directly supported through the Centre and, in many cases, connected to local sub-Branches. The Board agreed that the RSL Liaison Officer role should be further supported, and sub-Branches are encouraged to support by donating to the Veteran Support Fund (see comments above regarding the status of the Veteran Support Fund SOP).
  • RSL National Diversity Committee – Louise Sullivan provided an update on the first committee meeting, the purpose of which is to improve diversity across the RSL’s leadership. Louise emphasised that diversity goes beyond gender and can include service history, country of origin and demographic (amongst other things).

RSL LifeCare  

  • The Board considered the RSL Lifecare Annual Report and agreed items to be raised at the AGM.
  • The Board approved two new director appointments to the Board of RSL Lifecare and the reappointment of two existing directors to the RSL Lifecare Board.

Independent Director Appointments

The Board noted the resignation of David Bell from the Board with effect from 3 December. The two independent directors left the meeting and the remaining directors were briefed on feedback from the DPC on the process to seek new independent directors in the new year following expiry of the remaining independent director, Sophie Ray’s term of office. The Board thanked David Bell for his significant input and commitment during his two years on the RSL NSW Board.

Tribunal Matters

The Board noted the update on matters before the Tribunal.

District President’s Report – The report was received. The Board noted that the DPC Charter required that it must be reviewed every two years and that a review was due early in 2022. Considering feedback from several DC Presidents who had decided not to continue, the Board agreed to request the DPC to review the Charter in accordance with the requirements, and to request the DPC to amend the Charter to ensure that the DPC focuses on matters impacting veterans and RSL NSW’s purpose rather than spending most of its time on matters of administration that do not help either veterans or the recruitment of new members.

Other Matters

Key Board Correspondence – The Board noted over 40 pieces of correspondence and directed actions as required.