On the road with Jon Black, CEO RSL NSW
RSL NSW CEO Jon Black shares the goals, outcomes and challenges of the initiatives and projects the RSL NSW team have been working on.
A week in the life of Jon Black is packed with meetings – face-to-face and virtual, in Sydney and across NSW – that address some of the key projects, challenges and opportunities facing RSL NSW today.
Jon’s role is split between dependent objectives aligned to the Strategic Plan, while keeping an eye to ensuring the future of the RSL in NSW. Everything is done within the context of the purpose of the RSL and helping veterans across the state get a fair go.
We took a virtual ride along with Jon to get an insight into the who, what, why and how of the issues and initiatives he’s helping to support and implement.
Here’s what he told us about his recent meetings and events.
RSL LifeCare AGM
RSL NSW refers to RSL LifeCare as its ‘charity partner’ – that’s the simple version. The more complex version of the relationship is that LifeCare is a separate company, with its own board of directors, that is also a charity. It’s a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, with RSL NSW as the sole member.
This essentially means RSL NSW is the sole ‘shareholder’, but unlike a for-profit company returning dividends, being a member of a not-for-profit charity means RSL NSW cannot obtain a financial benefit.
The role of RSL NSW as a member is to ensure the company’s Constitution is aligned to its charitable deed. Through this process RSL NSW has been able to achieve alignment of RSL LifeCare’s strategy with RSL NSW’s reform, particularly as RSL NSW’s service provider for critical veteran support services across all sub-Branches.
Conversely, RSL NSW (which includes all sub-Branches) supports RSL LifeCare in delivering the services across NSW including providing the funding needed. This is the RSL ‘family’ working together to be the premier organisation for veterans and their families.
At the AGM, as CEO RSL NSW I don’t have a role. I support our directors fulfilling their obligations and, in particular, the director appointed to be the member representative, John Hutcheson.
I help John Hutcheson prepare questions the directors of RSL NSW may choose to ask pertaining to the performance of LifeCare over the previous 12 months and, perhaps most importantly, the alignment of the strategy of RSL LifeCare to the RSL NSW strategy.
It was a very positive meeting, and the focus on veteran support services came through strongly.
Meeting with Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell
We were fortunate to obtain a meeting with the Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell. The first thing I noticed on arrival was the high level of energy around his office – it was a great atmosphere with a lot of enthusiasm.
My intention was to check in with the Chief who had agreed to present at our State Congress and give him an opportunity to ask me any questions ahead of the event.
We also spoke about the importance of such an iconic organisation as the RSL, the Defence Department’s strategy regarding transition from service and the role of charity in supporting those who leave Defence.
Meeting with Secretary of Department of Veterans’ Affairs Liz Cosson
This meeting was initiated so RSL NSW could effectively hand over a very important project to RSL Australia – the ‘Catalogue of Services’.
While initiated by RSL NSW through its Strategic Plan, such a project can only be successful if it has the support of the Departments of Defence and Veterans Affairs. Therefore, it is critical the project is led by the RSL’s national leadership.
Once complete, the comprehensive online catalogue of all service providers will enable sub-Branch members to know how to connect local veterans and their families to necessary services that cannot be provided by the sub-Branch.
With the Departments’ assistance, all ADF members will be introduced to the catalogue and will learn what the RSL stands for and does. In NSW, the vision is to have the sub-Branch and our members as central points of contact in local communities, so everyone who has served can be looked after with mateship and community and, as outlined above, connected with support services.
Veteran support services is a very confusing environment, and we heard in recent member research that people transitioning out of Defence don’t know who to contact for support. This project addresses this.
So if the RSL at a national level and all states are collaborating, as well as collaborating with other national charities, we can demonstrate to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs that we can provide what those veterans need, through the funding and the maintenance of a catalogue of services for people who are leaving Defence.
I was very pleased that the Secretary emphasised the importance of early engagement with serving Defence members, and I sensed a great level of support for the initiative.
Joining 15 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans on Remembrance Day
Seeing RSL Ambassador Peter Rudland lay a wreath in honour of those who served in Afghanistan was a particularly poignant moment – one I won’t forget. I could see the emotional impact it had on the younger veterans who were there, which was also felt by the wider community.
On Remembrance Day I also saw these younger veterans who had not been members of the RSL join up, because they could see the role of the RSL and what it stands for.
It was very moving to see younger members engaging with our older members. There is real passion and commitment there.
Appointing the Young Veterans’ Committee
The new Young Veterans’ Committee members bring energy and focus to their role of advising the Board, especially on engaging younger veterans with their local sub-Branches, so they can access support when it’s needed and develop their own skills in offering support to others.
Get to know some of the YVC members and see what they’re aiming to achieve with the committee and in their personal lives this year.
Staffing the RSL NSW Sport and Recreation Program
Sport and recreation is a vital pillar of veteran support – and enabling it is a significant project under Goal 3 of the RSL NSW Strategic Plan 2021-26.
The Project Manager will develop, implement and manage an inter-sub-Branch sport and recreation program across sub-Branches for veterans and their families, starting with pilot programs on the lower north coast and in the eastern Sydney metro area, with a strong focus on attracting and retaining RSL NSW members.
Discussing a merger with the Vietnam Veterans’ Association
Many Vietnam veterans were not welcomed by their local RSL sub-Branches when they returned. In opening our doors now to those who instead joined the Vietnam Veterans’ Association, we seek to correct that wrong.
It will be a long road to bring the Vietnam Veterans’ Association into RSL NSW, but we had a positive meeting with its leadership to discuss the resources the RSL can offer its members and a means to ensure the legacy of the Association, particularly the provision of pensions advocacy, is never forgotten.
Campaigning to establish additional Veteran Wellbeing Centres
Our Veteran Wellbeing Centres in Nowra and Wagga Wagga are a critical part of the provision of holistic veteran support services, and part of the Strategic Plan. Another five centres are now planned in strategic locations across the state including south-western Sydney, Sydney CBD, Hunter, mid-north coast and north coast, with locations in the north-west and central west Sydney under consideration.
Leading into the Federal election, we are lobbying for further funding to establish these centres so that veterans anywhere in the state will have access to a wellbeing centre for the highest standards of care and support.
Establishing the Veteran Support Fund
Our 2026 vision is for every veteran in NSW to know what the RSL stands for and what it does, and to want to be involved as a member. This is no easy feat. Working towards achieving it has been a great focus for me and for the RSL NSW team including our CFO Nicole Hasrouni, as funding is central to delivery.
We have worked extensively with the Board and external advisers, including former Commonwealth Bank CEO and Inaugural Chair of the Australian Government’s Future Fund Board of Guardians David Murray, to establish the Veteran Support Fund. It will fund the RSL NSW Strategic Plan 2021-26 and other strategic initiatives, by combining RSL NSW sub-Branch resources to achieve greater impact – such as the recent $2.1m donation to RSL LifeCare.
This will help us achieve our vision – for every veteran in NSW to want to be involved as a member – while valuing the autonomy of sub-Branches in asset management and decision-making, and delivering local initiatives..
Supporting the RSL NSW Royal Commission Office
RSL supported the the interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention Dr Bernadette Boss and we advocated for the implementation of all recommendations from all previous inquiries.
When the government established the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide mid-2021, however, we took a position to rally resources and support all veterans wishing to make submissions or get involved.
So we have set up and staffed the RSL NSW Royal Commission Office, and we are leading forward not only through our submissions but in response to the Royal Commission as it’s progressing.
Transition seminars and free online membership
We’ve had a presence at both virtual and face-to-face transition seminars, with the goal of ensuring every veteran understands what the RSL stands for and can offer them. We have also recently launched free, online membership to make joining RSL NSW a simpler proposition for those leaving Defence.
There are more than 3,500 other ex-serving organisations hoping to attract those veterans, who are vital to the future of RSL in this state. This is why our focus is on raising awareness of what the RSL stands for and what RSL NSW delivers, and making sure those who do understand can join the League easily and access the benefits of membership without fees.
We must increase member numbers, particularly of younger veterans – it is essential to the survival of RSL NSW and I’ll continue to advocate for this important change.
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