Circular 6/22 Congress Q&A update from RSL NSW CEO Jon Black

As a result of not having the opportunity to provide a comprehensive update to delegates at a face-to-face Congress, RSL NSW CEO Jon Black has prepared the following update based on the questions that the ANZAC House team received during the online event:

Strategic Plan

Implementation updates are available on the RSL NSW website here. Despite being hindered by the pandemic, ANZAC House is getting on with delivering the Goals of the Plan. Early positive indicators include increased membership as a result of scrapping fees and facilitating online applications. ANZAC House has deployed additional resources to process the increased volume of applications, including those received on Christmas Day.

All members have been sent a brief survey inviting their feedback as part of the annual Strategic Plan review process.

Funding Model (per Strategic Plan)

Part 1 – Aggregated Investment Manager

Participating sub-Branches will benefit from potentially higher returns on investments, ease of management and quality service through a positive strategic relationship with the selected service provider, Morgan Stanley.  One objective associated with this is to relieve sub-Branch volunteers of constant month-to-month financial management, enabling more focus on charitable activity (support to veterans) in our communities.

Detailed information on how a sub-Branch can choose to participate with Morgan Stanley will be provided by the end of February and it is noted some sub-Branches and Districts have already organised information gathering meetings. As conveyed at Congress, it’s important to stress that the relationship with Morgan Stanley is directly with the sub-Branch (NB: to take advantage of the low-fee structure sub-Branches with portfolio balances below $2.5m must appoint Custodian as a co-Trustee), recognising that members wanted to ensure sub-Branch ownership and control of funds remains with the sub-Branch.

Sub-Branch ownership and control is a principle enshrined in the model.  There are advantages to be derived for the whole of the RSL through the over-arching commercial agreement reached with Morgan Stanley.

Part 2 –  ‘Contribution Pool’, renamed the Veteran Support Fund (VSF)

This Discussion Paper outlining how this voluntary fund will operate was circulated to District Councils to be disseminated to members for review.  The feedback received by the CEO was generally supportive. The VSF will enable the positioning of the RSL as the leading charity to support our veterans and encourage them to join our ranks.

Many sub-Branches already donate to the RSL DefenceCare program and the Support and Assistance Fund which are two examples of strategic initiatives sub-Branches can donate into to ensure the RSL becomes renowned as the premier ex-service organisation that supports all veterans and their families.  The Discussion Paper is now being developed, along with necessary policies, into an SOP, to enable the VSF to be set up.  Once developed, it will be passed through the District Presidents’ Council.  Importantly, each individual sub-Branch donation is recognised individually.

Veteran Wellbeing Centres – Strategic Plan Goal 4

With the support of respective Districts, the campaign to lobby the Federal Government for more centres is underway. RSL NSW intends to establish a network of Centres across NSW, like Nowra and Wagga Wagga that are currently set up in temporary locations. These Wellbeing Centres, defined by the Federal Government’s model, are owned and operated by our partner charity RSL LifeCare, on behalf of the RSL, who run a ‘consortium’ or collaborative model to be inclusive of other service providers.

Priority for establishment of additional centres is to areas where we have large ADF garrisons because of potential ‘client’ numbers. This enables the delivery of sustainable centres with full-time, paid professional staff which is the advantage of having RSL LifeCare provide the critical common back of house systems such as IT, HR, property management, finance, training and development, communications/marketing etc. In turn, RSL NSW and its sub-Branches donate to financially enable the delivery of veteran support services from the Centres.

Critically, under our Strategic Plan every sub-Branch is a ‘hub’ connected to a regional Veterans Wellbeing Centre. Each ‘hub’ or sub-Branch can access veteran support services from RSL LifeCare now, but the centre strategy will help our veterans even more in accessing services beyond those provided by sub-Branch ‘hubs.’ Calling a ‘hub’ at a sub-Branch a ‘centre’ confuses veterans and makes it difficult to market what the RSL is doing to obtain funding support.

Incorporation of sub-Branches

The SOP, which required significant revision after the first version, is with the District Presidents’ Council for review, and the Council has requested more time for members’ review. The model Constitution to enable sub-Branches to incorporate as a company limited by guarantee has been approved by the Board and available for almost a year. However, the NSW Government has not yet approved a Stamp Duty Exemption for those sub-Branches wishing to incorporate that own real property that has to be transferred from Trustees. A further meeting has been set with the new NSW Minister for Veterans to progress this.

Some sub-Branches continue to ask about incorporating as an Association. This corporate structure does not support the RSL governance model – an organisation sharing a common Constitution, charitable goals, brand, and most importantly,  common membership (i.e. members are members of RSL NSW attached to a sub-Branch, as opposed to being solely members of a sub-Branch).  All Members of RSL NSW are obligated to ensure that they, and the sub-Branches to which they are attached operate in accordance with the RSL NSW Constitution, and it will be the same if a sub-Branch chooses to incorporate. The impact of incorporation will be that for sub-Branches doing so, ultimate governance responsibility for administering sub-Branch assets will be shifted to Directors from Trustees.

Trustees, Succession Planning and Training

In today’s relatively complex and demanding regulatory environment (i.e. bodies like the ACNC and NSW Fair Trading did not exist only decades ago) it is becoming more and more administratively onerous for a volunteer organisation like the RSL to meet regulatory requirements. Therefore, attracting volunteers to undertake executive or trustee roles is becoming more and more challenging. The CEO received notifications from volunteer office holders over the Christmas period to advise that they physically can’t continue in their role this year and have no identified successor.

Supporting sub-Branches is an ANZAC House and Board priority. In this regard, it remains unclear whether all sub-Branches know that they are able, under our Constitution, to request that RSL Custodian Pty Ltd (a trustee company) be appointed as sole or co-trustee for their sub-Branch. The trustee company has the same obligations to the sub-Branch as a sub-Branch trustee who is a natural person, but it alleviates the need for the sub-Branch to constantly find and maintain three trustees, or constantly seek (with expense) to update trust deeds when the sub-Branch is forced to change trustees.

The RSL NSW Board is committed to ensuring that as many sub-Branches are operating into the future as possible, and the CEO has observed an increase in sub-Branches exploring the RSL Custodian option because of the absence of volunteers to take on trustee roles. Therefore, having a trustee company able to discharge this responsibility for sub-branches is a big plus. Not having sub-Branch executives as trustees is also important as there is an inherent conflict of interest i.e. a person asking themself if a decision is consistent with the Constitution, where it is the trustee’s responsibility to provide oversight.

To assist sub-Branches, ANZAC House is tasked with coordinating ongoing governance training (on top of the TAFE training opportunity already provided) by June 2022.  You will see an RFP process commence soon for a suitable training provider, and sub-Branch representation on the selection panel will be sought by the CEO.

If your sub-Branch is interested in appointing RSL Custodian Pty Ltd as either sole or co-trustee, please send an email to the attention of the Custodian Pty Ltd at

Clubs and Fundraising

This issue was highlighted during the debate around conflict of interest. RSL and services clubs continue to play a huge role in supporting veterans, especially by providing access to facilities and funding for services. As a part of the Strategic Plan RSL NSW is negotiating a new MOU with ClubsNSW and the RSL and Services Clubs Association, and through discussions to date we have agreed to jointly lobby the State Government to make changes to the CLUBGrants systems so support to veterans becomes Category 1.

The CEO received an email from a sub-Branch late last year that said, “We get it”. It occurred to the members that, as a sub-Branch, they needed to apply to their affiliated club for a ClubGRANTS or other funding to support service delivery of the RSL DefenceCare program, under RSL LifeCare Ltd. This avoids any situation of real or perceived conflict because the sub-Branch is asking ‘their’ club to contribute to RSL LifeCare, not to the sub-Branch. We need clubs who operate under the name RSL, Diggers, Services etc to prioritise support to our RSL charity, supporting veterans and their families.  This helps shine a light on what the RSL stands for and does, and thereby increase the likelihood people will want to join the organisation.

Concurrently RSL NSW has requested that RSL LifeCare, which is supporting sub-Branches and veterans in every community, to provide geographical performance reporting. RSL NSW will actively highlight and promote those clubs that are supporting the RSL charity, and their associated sub-Branch.

President’s Shield (Part of the ‘Veteran Support Fund’)

While cutbacks were made by ANZAC House from 2019 to live within the income from the Hyde Park Inn, the pandemic has had a significant impact on this single income stream. The President’s Shield will be re-instated as support for ANZAC House funding is critical. In comparison to other like charities ANZAC House is a comparatively small corporate office, but support to sub-Branches and delivering strategic outcomes is becoming even more important, so it is essential that this function is funded more effectively.

Rather than seeking donations for ‘ANZAC House,’ the fundraising task has been re-named ‘President’s Shield’, which the CEO has been advised was the ‘old way’ sub-Branches contributed to the support function. This Shield will be presented annually to the sub-Branch contributing most to support ANZAC House. The President’s Shield is a part of the ‘Veteran Support Fund.’

ANZAC House will not be dependent on funding from the Hyde Park Inn after the sale settles (due sometime between July 2023 to December 2025) as it will be able to diversify and increase the income stream. This should also eliminate the need for large sub-Branch support too.