The New England District Council (NEDC) of RSL sub-branches elected its executive committee for 2020 at an annual general meeting hosted by the Walcha RSL sub-branch last Saturday, February 15.
Representatives from the affiliated sub-branches of Armidale, Bingara, Emmaville, Glen Innes, Guyra, Inverell, Manilla, Tamworth, Tenterfield, Tingha, Uralla, Walcha and Warialda were all in attendance while Barraba sent an apology.
Gordon Taylor of Glen Innes was voted in to lead the NEDC for the sixth concurrent year along with senior vice president Jayne McCarthy of Tamworth and junior vice president Roy Westfold of Walcha.
After serving as secretary for six years, Ken Michell resigned as secretary and Mr Westfold's daughter Tanya will now take on the role.
Also in attendance were acting NSW RSL president Ray James and NSW RSL board director Sandra Lambkin. Mr James spoke at length about the strategic direction of the RSL and said he would be in Tamworth and Inverell in March along with both the NSW RSL secretary and chief executive officer to discuss this further.
We're just starting to get back to what we used to do - but in an honest wayGordon Taylor RSL NEDC president
Mr James' wife Pauline is the NSW RSL Auxiliary coordinator, and last weekend in Walcha she spoke about her focus on trying to invigorate the RSL auxiliary organisations which have been closing in past years.
"The auxiliary is becoming very popular again now, and there are a lot of young people getting involved," Mr Taylor said.
"Auxiliary members are now entitled to formal membership of the RSL - which they never were before. That was change was made at the last RSL Congress in Albury in October 2019."
At that same RSL Congress, a new constitution was adopted following a tumultuous few years after the actions of former Armidale RSL sub-branch president Don Rowe sparked the scrutiny of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) in 2016 and subsequent NSW government announcement in 2017 of the Bergin Inquiry into three RSL NSW entities under the Charitable Fundraising Act.
During the independent inquiry into the misuse of expenses and "widespread ignorance" of fundraising laws at RSL NSW, all fundraising activities were banned. The ban was only lifted in July last year.
I think a lot of people pulled away from the RSL because of the goings-on over the last few years, but I believe they are starting to come back againGordon Taylor - RSL NEDC president
Mr Taylor said in Walcha on the weekend the discussion was about getting back to the grassroots of caring for veterans and their families and making sure the structure to support that fits within the ACNC regulations and that everyone is on the same page.
"Mr James spoke about the direction of the RSL , what our purpose is, always has been, and always will be - the welfare of veterans," he said.
"His visit next month to Tamworth and Inverell is to formulate the direction of the RSL and to not allow it to go where it went before.
"I think a lot of people pulled away from the RSL because of the goings-on over the last few years, but I believe they are starting to come back again and of course when we had to cease fundraising we had to stop some of the services we provide to the veteran community because we weren't allowed to spend money. A lot of people we used to do things for weren't very happy, but it wasn't really our fault.
"We're just starting to get back to what we used to do - but in an honest way."
Mr Taylor said one of the most critical things in the RSL strategic plan was a greater connection with young veterans, particularly in the areas of mental health and suicide prevention.