IN DEPTH

RSL fundraising is back on track after two-year ban | Photos, pictures

A BAN on fundraising that lasted almost two years and periods of turmoil have left RSL members calling for widespread change within the charity.

RSL sub-branch leaders in Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo are looking to move forward and strengthen the charity organisation to look after veterans in a new century.

An RSL member of more than a decade, Chris Colvin, said changes in the statewide organisation must happen.

He and counterparts at Bathurst and Dubbo expressed confidence RSL NSW was getting back on track after a period of turmoil.

The charity recently lifted an almost two-year ban on sub-branches fundraising, put in place as its activities came under the spotlight of a public inquiry established by the NSW government.

Orange RSL Sub-Branch senior vice president and trustee Chris Colvin.

Orange RSL Sub-Branch senior vice president and trustee Chris Colvin.

The league embarked on its own overhaul, while the government passed the RSL NSW Act 2018 last year.

Mr Colvin, Orange RSL Sub-Branch senior vice president and trustee, said the past two years had been "an eye-opener" for the community as a whole, and for veterans and RSL members in particular.

"The RSL NSW will come out of this for the better and we will have a better direction of where we're going," he said.

"It probably should have happened, the management of the whole organisation should have changed probably five, 10 years ago....

"Unfortunately we probably got caught and the changes that will come bring us into the 21st century."

Bathurst RSL Sub-Branch president David Mills said members were looking forward to the opportunity to get the final draft constitution and to look at the organisation's future structure.

Bathurst RSL Sub-Branch president David Mills.

Bathurst RSL Sub-Branch president David Mills.

They supported the proposals in general, and were waiting on the detail to review, he said.

"But at this stage we're supportive of the new constitution and we're supportive of moving forward so we can do what we do best, and that's to link with veterans and look after their welfare, and provide a basis of commemoration for the service and sacrifice of members of the Bathurst region," he said.

Dubbo RSL Sub-Branch committee member and past president Greg Salmon welcomed the progress after "a major hiccup with the system".

Dubbo RSL Sub-Branch committee member and past president Greg Salmon.

Dubbo RSL Sub-Branch committee member and past president Greg Salmon.

"We're slowly on top of it and we're back charity raising now," he said.

"...It's great we can get back into action and be out there.

"We're an organisation that people recognise, and they still respect it, even though we've gone through a bit of a rough time, I think we've come out of it the other end and we're still a beacon of charitable organisation."

The toll of misconduct and governance failures

ON A MISSION: RSL NSW acting president Ray James at Dubbo. Photo: AMY MCINTYRE

ON A MISSION: RSL NSW acting president Ray James at Dubbo. Photo: AMY MCINTYRE

Vietnam veteran Ray James is firmly on the frontline of efforts to restore faith in RSL NSW and ensure its focus is on its "core business" of supporting those who put on a uniform to serve their country, and their families.

Acting president of the organisation since July, Mr James does not shy away from the toll misconduct and governance failures found by a public inquiry have taken on members.

"Look, we all hurt," he said when asked about morale in the 103-year-old charity during a visit to Dubbo this month.

His candour about the impact of the organisation's woes is matched by his determination to secure its future.

As he continued the task at Dubbo, he appealed to the community to "keep supporting your RSL sub-branch".

Mr James, an RSL member for 44 years, has become acting president at a crucial time for the veterans' charity, which has 35,000 members in 348 sub-branches across NSW.

A public inquiry established by the NSW government in 2017 and led by former NSW Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin SC shone a spotlight on the RSL's charitable fundraising activities.

In August 2017, RSL NSW suspended fundraising by sub-branches amid concerns compliance failures coming to light in the Bergin inquiry could expose volunteers to penalties under the law.

We've got to move forward, we're a very prominent and well-known organisation, we're 103 years old.

Vietnam veteran Ray James

NSW Parliament passed the RSL NSW Act 2018 in September last year, which the government said was aimed at restoring the heart of the veterans' organisation and ensuring greater accountability to its members.

After almost two years and as a new draft constitution was released in June, the RSL lifted its fundraising ban, meaning sub-branches would be able to apply to obtain the necessary authority to hold sausage sizzles, cake stalls, meat raffles, trivia nights and auctions to raise funds for veterans and their families.

In Dubbo this month, Mr James said the Bergin inquiry had identified compliance issues within the RSL throughout the state, "from sub-branch level right up to state level".

REMEMBERING: A girl places a poppy to remember the fallen. Photo: JUSTIN MCMANUS

REMEMBERING: A girl places a poppy to remember the fallen. Photo: JUSTIN MCMANUS

"We're on the road of fixing all of that, and we've really made inroads in the last two years, [moving] across the state to make sure that compliance issues and applying the act, the Charitable Act of 1991 and the RSL Act of 2018, that we are doing exactly what we're supposed to be doing by complying to those regulations," he said.

"We've got to move forward, we're a very prominent and well-known organisation, we're 103 years old.

"We're well-respected, we've got servicemen and women from across the spectra."

The needs of current and former defence force members is motivation for bringing RSL NSW into the 21st century.

"The RSL sub-branch is there for the veterans and the community and their family members and we'd like the support to keep coming.

Vietnam veteran Ray James

It owns 36 aged care facilities under the heading of RSL Lifecare, including at Dubbo and Kandos.

RSL DefenceCare and RSL NSW Welfare and Benevolent Institution are another two of its arms.

The RSL was also "in the space of veterans' suicide" and setting up veterans' hubs to help with well-being, Mr James said.

Looking after veterans and their families was the RSL's job, its "core business", he said.

The acting president called on the community to help with the cause.

"I'd like to say to the people in Dubbo and the surrounding areas to keep supporting your RSL sub-branch," he said.

"The RSL sub-branch is there for the veterans and the community and their family members and we'd like the support to keep coming."

He asked people to "please buy a token on Anzac Day or Poppy Day", or other fundraising items in between times.

TAKING PART: Students marching in Bathurst on Anzac Day.

TAKING PART: Students marching in Bathurst on Anzac Day.

"We want to get across to everybody throughout Australia to help, especially with the veterans suicide, which is on the front pages of most papers, but not only them," Mr James said.

"We have a lot of veterans who are incarcerated, and they are in jail for whatever reason, and we should be supporting them as well, people sort of forget about that side of things.

"But veterans suicide, veterans incarcerated, it's a need, and especially the wives and family members of veterans, they need our help and that's where that money goes, to a good cause."

Members to have their say on RSL's future structure

MARCH: Anzac Day march in Orange attracts big crowds. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

MARCH: Anzac Day march in Orange attracts big crowds. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

RSL sub-branches in the Dubbo, Orange and Bathurst districts will cast their vote on a new constitution for RSL NSW at the annual state congress in October.

A first draft was released in June, ahead of a period of consultation with members, with feedback sent back to the organisation's head office.

A final proposed constitution is set to be released back to sub-branches at the end of this month.

RSL NSW acting president Ray James was at Dubbo earlier this month to attend the district council meeting.

He said that under the new RSL NSW Act 2018, every member would have a vote in the election of board directors.

The act also established the RSL would have a board with at least one independent director.

RSL NSW received 80 nominations for the two independent positions, Mr James said.

IN SUPPORT: Anzac Day, 2019 in Dubbo.

IN SUPPORT: Anzac Day, 2019 in Dubbo.

"That was whittled down to six, an independent company called People for Purpose orchestrated that and they work in the not-for-profit area of organisations and we've now got on board those two independent directors," he said.

"[They have] a lot of experience, they're lawyers, they're CEOs, they've got hats, they're on current boards, they bring a lot of experience to the new board."

Elections in the future will be conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission, Mr James said.

"...They will run the election, which will be totally independent of the board and the state branch," he said.

"Not unlike the local, state and federal elections, exactly the same."

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